The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “fiction”

Writing Craft: Staying out of the reader’s way

The intention of the writer of a novel is to guide readers into a dream-like state where the story comes alive in their minds, and they forget about everything else. Including – especially including – the fact that there is an author manipulating their emotions. Every time any reader is for any reason made aware of the presence of an author writing the story, that reader is tossed for a brief moment out of the emotional bond you have been working so hard to create.

via Make Your Writing Invisible – Indies Unlimited

The best authors and writing teachers have been saying this for years. Gordon Long approaches the idea a little differently in the way he leads into the paragraph I’ve quoted here. One way to allow his ideas to sink in, is to look for his examples of what you shouldn’t do while your reading novels in your favorite genre. Once you start noticing the flaws, it will be hard to “un-see” them. That may impact your pleasure reading for a while. But not forever because you’ll get used to putting up with authors’ mistakes and getting past them–unless they’re your own which aren’t too broke to fix.

As usual, helpful advice from Indies Unlimited.



Announcing ‘Mountain Song,’ a novel about first love and flawed childhood

Mountain Song is now available on Kindle. This companion novel to At Sea tells the story of two college students, one of whom lives “next door” to Montana’s shining mountains and one of who lives “next door” to Florida’s Tate’s Hell Swamp. They meet during a flood that sweeps away almost everything that matters.

mountainsongAmazon Description: David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?

Campbell, who grew up in north Florida, worked as a seasonal employee at a Glacier National Park while in college. His mountain climbing and hiking experiences would influence his fiction years later when he wrote The Sun Singer and Sarabande. Now, Mountain Song combines his love of the Florida Panhandle, where he set Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman, with his love for the Rocky Mountains into a story of prospective loss haunted by the conflicting realities of disparate worlds.




Keep your research within your character’s knowledge base

When you write in the third person, your characters’ thoughts and actions are not only stated from the person’s point of view, but are also constrained by what that character can possibly know.

sixthjupiterbrassUnlike an omniscient narrator who can show what others are thinking, in third person, you can’t place your protagonist, let’s call him Jim, in a conversation with, say, Bob and in the middle of it show what Bob is thinking. Jim doesn’t know that. And in third person, you–as the author–can’t come in out of nowhere and tell the readers what Bob is thinking.

Likewise, main characters are a product of their time, their education, their skills, and their attitudes. If a character suddenly knows something outside of their realm of experience, it’s disconcerting. Sometimes when this happens, critics and reviewers will say that the author is letting his or her research show. That could be showing off or maybe it took time to gather the research and so the author adds it to the book.

Here’s a short paragraph from my novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” In this 1950s story, Eulalie is a conjure woman who lives in the piney woods and who uses folk magic and herbs based on what her mother taught her. However, her cat is the one telling the story. Here’s the snippet: “We didn’t have long to wait. Eulalie brought the deacon’s chair out on the porch, aligned it carefully at the top of the steps and sat down in it with her hands in her lap. She was dressed for church, a dark floral pattern dress with a wide-brimmed hat perching at a jaunty tilt on top of her granny knot. She wore a brass pendant, the sixth pentacle of Jupiter, highly polished and drawing down the light that conjured the cross within circle into the sun.”


Pentacle of Jupiter Talisman

Diagram from Mathers' book

Diagram from Mathers’ book

Like many hoodoo practitioners, Eulalie believed strongly in talismans. Strange as it might seem, these talismans contained a lot of renaissance-era magic that one might not expect a backwoods conjure woman to know. However, curio catalogues and mail order houses did a brisk trade in ancient wisdom. They sold inexpensive tracts that basically told the benefits of old spells, Bible verses, and magic ascribed to Moses and Solomon. A lot of what was known came from materials that originated and/or were translated and edited by the well-known Hermetic organization The Golden Dawn.

While Eulalie could have easily sent off for a pewter or brass pendant such as the one shown in this post, she probably wouldn’t have had a copy of the Golden Dawn leader S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers’ The Key of Solomon. So here are the decisions I made about that paragraph–just as a sample of one writer’s way of looking at the information.

  1. I could have said “a mail order brass pendant,” but I think that would have cheapened the thing and made it less mysterious.
  2. While it’s likely Eulalie would know that the Hebrew names on the cross are the angels who govern the four elements (Seraph, Cherub, Tharsis, and Ariel), saying that would have made the paragraph longer and slowed down getting to the action that came after it. The same can be said about the verse in Hebrew around the edge from Psalm 22. Plus, mentioning it might give readers the idea she spoke Hebrew which, of course, she wouldn’t have.
  3. I definitely think having a statement in the scene about Mathers or the Golden Dawn or ritual magic from the renaissance could push on the readers’ notions about what an ancient 1950s conjure woman would know. Plus, if she had known it, she wouldn’t have said it here because she didn’t need to say it. That is, she believed the talisman would work without having to cite references for it.

This paragraph could have been handled many ways. However it was done, it needed to fit what Eulalie knew and would be likely to say or think during the scene. (For those who have read the book, Eulalie’s cat tells the story, but in general the readers see that when it comes to magic, the cat more or less knows what Eulalie knows, but would be even less likely than Eulalie to cite reference books.)


ewbookcover“Eulalie and Washerwoman,” published by Thomas-Jacob of Florida, is available in e-book, paperback and audiobook editions.



New edition of ‘Carrying Snakes Into Eden’ is Free Feb 17-19

I’ve added a second short story to my Kindle book Carrying Snakes Into Eden in this new edition now available on Amazon.

Always free on Kindle Unlimited

Always free on Kindle Unlimited

Here’s the book’s new description:

The title story, “Carrying Snakes Into Eden,” is a whimsical 1960s-era tale about two students who skip church to meet some girls at the beach and end up picking up a hobo with a sack of snakes, and realize there may be long-term consequences.

“Hurricane in the Garden” is a folktale that explains why the snakes were swept out of Eden in the first place. The story features animal characters who made their debut in the three-story set called Land Between the Rivers.

New Edition is Free On Kindle – Feb 17-29

I always intended for this to be a two-story set because the hurricane tale adds depth to the title story, however I got diverted by work on my Florida Folk Magic series longer than I expected.

By the way, I was pleased to see that Midwest Book Review liked the second book in the series, Eulalie and Washerwoman, in a review just out this month:

“A simply riveting read from beginning to end, ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’ is very highly recommended for both personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections. It should be noted that ‘Eulalie and Washerwoman’ is also available in a Kindle format ($4.99).” – Julie Summers


Why The NEA Is So Vital To America

“The NEA’s Creative Writing Fellowships enable recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel, and career advancement. While this nealogosupport – both financial and non-financial — can be important at any stage of a writer’s journey, it can be particularly encouraging to someone just starting out, trying to gain recognition and get a foothold on what a writer’s life can be. Examples of this abound. Take Alice Walker: she received her NEA fellowship in 1970; in 1983, she became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for “The Color Purple.” There’s also Louise Erdrich, Michael Cunningham, Maxine Hong Kingston and current Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Hererra. More recent fellows include Celeste Ng, Major Jackson, Sandra Beasley, Teá Obreht, and Justin Torres.”

Source: Why The NEA Is So Vital To America – Culture –

If you’re an emerging author–or would like to become one–the NEA offers some programs that might help you. Check out their grants here.

You may also find their news and publications useful. (Check out their literature page.) The arts are what we do. The National Endowment for the Arts is one of our valuable resources for networking, information, trends and financial assistance.


Dear Nora and Catherine



Listen, I understand that romance authors have to use authors’ photographs on the back covers of their novels that make them look like the kind of people who know something about romance.

But give me a break. Catherine, you’r older than I am, yet your picture on the back of the FBI thriller Nemesis makes you look 20 years younger.

Nora, you’re a bit younger than me yet–as I’ve often mentioned to my wife–I think you’ve been using the same high school yearbook photograph on your novels ever since, well, high school. I should compare the picture on the back of Island of Glass with your Montgomery Blair High School senior picture.

On the other hand, my author’s photograph is almost as bad as my driver’s license photograph. You can take that to mean I look like I just got out of prison and immediately turned to alcohol and TV dinners as my new lifestyle of choice.



If you ladies want me to think you look like the images of yourselves in those photographs when you gas up your cars and buy fresh radishes at the local farmer’s market, I don’t believe you. Yet, far be it from me to suggest that somebody took your driver’s license photographs and photoshopped them into stylish wonders suitable for the cover of “Vogue.”

If you subscribe to AARP magazine–and I’m sure you do–then you know that the back page of the magazine shows a lot of elderly people under the guise of “look how great these people look.” If you really look like one of those people, you have my compliments.

Just tone it down a bit because an everyday guy like me can’t compete at the bookstore with a goddess.



This and that about books (while drinking a glass of water)

Usually, a glass of wine is called for while writing my this and that posts. It’s too early in the day for that, and with the Georgia drought and its mandatory water restrictions, water may soon cost more than booze.

Here’s the latest news:

  • atravessiadecoraA Travessia a Cora, the Portuguese edition  of my paranormal short story “Cora’s Crossing” was released today on iTunes, Nook, Kobo, Sribd, and is coming soon on Kindle.  Publisher’s description: Two young men are mysteriously drawn to an old bridge during a rogue thunderstorm, where they discover the dead are waiting to speak and their lives are in jeopardy when they help an injured young woman they find beside the road. “Cora’s Crossing” was inspired by the now-abandoned Bellamy Bridge (which the author last saw 50 years ago) over the Chipola River near the town of Marianna in the Florida Panhandle, and the local folk legend that claims the bridge is haunted by a 175-year-old ghost who died tragically on her wedding night when her dress caught fire.
  • Conjure Woman’s Cat: Thank you to everyone who entered the recent free Amazon give-away in which Kindle copies went to to the five winners. I hope you enjoy this 1950s’-era novel set in the Florida Panhandle about a conjure woman who fights the KKK with folk magic.
  • ewkindlecoverEulalie and Washerwoman: My publisher is currently reviewing the narrator’s sound files for the upcoming audiobook edition. If all goes well, I hope it will be available before Christmas. Publisher’s short description: Torreya, a small 1950s Florida Panhandle town, is losing its men. They disappear on nights with no moon and no witnesses. Foreclosure signs appear in their yards the following day while thugs associated with the Klan take everything of value from inside treasured homes that will soon be torn down. The police won’t investigate, and the church keeps its distance from all social and political discord.
  • Smoky Zeidel Interview:  Here’s an interesting interview from one of my collegues at Thomas-Jacob Publishing. She’s the author of The Cabin (novel) and Sometimes I Think I Am Like Water (poetry), both of which are on sale today on Amazon.
  • claytonmisunderstoodA Woman Misunderstood, the second novel in Melinda Clayton’s Tennessee Delta Series will be released December 1 from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.  The novel follows Blessed Are the Wholly Broken (2013). Clayton is also the author of the Cedar Hollow Series. A Woman Misunderstood is available for pre-order on Amazon. Publisher’s short description: On a sweltering July morning in rural Tennessee, fifty-year-old Rebecca Reynolds visits the family farm, where she literally stumbles across the mutilated bodies of her parents and younger sister, a sister who had spent life in a wheelchair after a birth fraught with complications.

According to Georgia’s mandatory water restrictions, odd people get to water plants outside on Sundays and Thursdays after 4 p.m. and throughout the night. That means that while you’re watching football, taking a nap or getting ready for supper, I’ll be dragging a hose around the yard. Yeah, I know you’re worried about me.



That elusive racial equality

A 2014 USA Today article “Equality still elusive 50 years after Civil Rights Act” notes that “Blacks have made many economic and educational gains, but progress still falls short.”

After so much recent racial unrest, some people might say that article is an understatement. I frankly don’t know, partly because fake news sites are putting out erroneous stories from both sides of the political aisle that skew what we know. And, some major news outlets slant their coverage so that news that might balance out stories about nasty incidents isn’t covered.

President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.

President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.

I grew up in a segregated state that had a strong KKK. When any progress toward equality was made, or even suggested, the Klan showed up. My church split into two churches when the main downtown church welcomed Blacks. I wondered how many people in the group that split off were members of the Klan. The thing is, one seldom knew. This environment impacted my childhood due to the fear, unrest, discord and unfairness of the status quo.

Frankly, once the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, I thought we’d begin to see progress. It never dawned on me then that 50 years later that so much racial inequality, distrust and outright hatred would still exist. I guess I was more naive than I knew.

I didn’t write Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman because I thought they would impact the current national dialogue about race. I wrote them primarily because I needed to speak to the fear and uncertainty I saw as a child in hopes of finding closure, and secondarily to remind people of a discouraging part of our history. It goes without saying, I suppose, that I also wanted to tell interesting and compelling stories.

I also grew up seeing that the Black church and the folk magic components of Black culture were being maligned. So I wanted to present fair and hopefully accurate stories that took those realities seriously–along with the blues music so closely associated with them–instead of as the targets of stereotype slurs I still hear too much of today. I hope readers will enjoy a look at these realities that’s both entertaining and a breath of fresh air.

I’m writing this post because racial issues are so much in the news today that I’m constantly forced back into memories of my childhood where–as I said somewhere in another post–I lost my innocence about our school lessons teaching us that everyone is treated equally socially, economically and legally. Writing these novels helped me sort out a lot of things, but I’m still waiting for closure.


Click on the graphic to see my website:


Amazon Give-Away – ‘Conjure Woman’s Cat’

KIndle cover 200x300I’m giving away 5 free Kindle copies of Conjure Woman’s Cat on Amazon.

Hurry if you want a chance to win one of them because these things go by really fast.

Here’s the link.

Memory Lane: Studebaker’s Popular 1949 Pickup Truck

Researching a novel set in the 1950s–during my childhood–brought me many memories as I looked at the political issues, the fads and the products. Among these were the cars and trucks people drove. If the word “badass” had been around in those days, I would have said that I preferred the badass look of the late 1940s models over the sleek early-1950s models–especially when the cars came out with fins.

2rtruckIn Junior high and high school, a group of us rode out to a farm every Saturday morning in a hulking old 1940s black car that almost had as much room in it as a Checker Marathon. I know longer remember what it was. But it ran fine and if I could have found one, I would have preferred it over the family’s 1953 Chevy. When that Chevy broke down, the dealer’s loners–which my parents despised–were clunky 1948 and 1949 cars that, frankly, looked like they had been shot up in a war movie.

So, I had fun with the memories of all this when I thought about the vehicles I wanted to use in Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman. I decided that Lane Walker, owner of the local general store needed a cool looking 1949 Studebaker truck because the war had postponed his buying new wheels.

Automakers switched to production for World War II between 1942 and 1945, so when the war ended, civilians were ready for something classy. They got new designs, paint schemes and engines, and among these was Studebaker’s popular series of 2R trucks that had a very streamlined look when compared with earlier models. While the 1949-1953 2R had a lot in common under the body with the older model M, it had a very modern look with its double-walled sides and the absence of running boards. The 2R has been called Studebaker’s most successful truck, increasing the company’s share of the truck market. I selected Clover Green for its color.

Every once in a while, I see a 1940s car or truck on  the road. They’re almost like living, breathing time machines.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s new 1950s novel is called “Eulalie and Washerwoman.” It’s the story of a conjure woman who uses folk magic to fight a corrupt businessman in her small Florida Panhandle town.

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