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Archive for the tag “fiction”

Review: ‘Unfinished’ by Pat Bertram

Author Pat Bertram, who previously explored her own encounter with the loss of a loved one in Grief: The Great Yearning (2016), has brought her wisdom into the world of fiction in Unfinished (Stairway Press, June 27, 2017). The story will capture your heart and soul, while shining a spotlight on the fact that most people want those who grieve to get over it quickly because they make us uncomfortable.

Like many spouses, Amanda Ray defined herself as one half of a married team, leaving her without a sense of self when her husband David dies at 59 after a long illness. Her husband was a minister. Amanda’s role as the traditional minister’s wife  (hostess, assistant, secretary, and help meet) didn’t lend itself to separate goals or careers.  While she doesn’t know if she would cope with her loss differently if she’d had her own career to fall back on after her husband died, Amanda does know that the same friends whose visits grew more and more sparse during David’s illness have little or nothing comforting to say during or after the memorial service.

“I’m sorry for your loss” and “It’s time to get on with your life” are among the most popular sentiments. Yet, the grief is like a tide that’s always high and always coming in. Her daughter, already grown and on her own, exhibits an overt lack lack of empathy or sympathy when Amanda cries at everything, can’t sleep, can’t eat, and can hardly hope. Amanda looks for David, expects him to be in his study, wonders why he did this to her and why he was so distant once he learned that his illness was a terminal and painful cancer.

One small hope is a prospective relationship with a man she met at an online forum for cancer caregivers before David died. Sam’s wife also has cancer and isn’t expected to survive it. Amanda and Sam are drawn to each other in part because Sam doesn’t react to her tears and doubts with cliched platitudes. Some of their online chats become steamy. At times, she wonders whether he’s sincere or a predator because while he claims to love her–though they’ve never met in person–Amanda sees that he has less time for her than everyone else in his life. Is there a future here or not?

David, kept secrets from her. They are hidden in a computer file he didn’t want her to read until after he was gone. Now she can’t find the password. She did find the gun in the pocket of his robe and wonders if he bought it to end his life when the pain became more than he could bear. But then she discovers the gun has a longer history. At times, Amanda thinks she’s grieving for a man she didn’t wholly know, and that’s one of the things that makes her feel like everything is unfinished.

Bertram knows grief’s uneven terrain and has created a believable, three-dimensional protagonist who must not only deal with the uproar inside her head and body, but the secrets, the online comings and goings of Sam and the fact that she must face and box up all the mementos of her life with David and quickly move out of the church’s parsonage. Sam, while slightly less believable due to his gushing online endearments, plays a realistic role as a sounding board and–after most of the tears have fallen–a prospective future. The secrets unravel in a cruel progression that keep Amanda–as well as the book’s readers–off balance as though there’s continually another shoe waiting to drop.

Amanda’s story is a poignant story that delivers a heavy punch in a relatively short book. The lessons to be learned will last long after the last page has been turned.

Malcolm

 

 

New E-book for lovers of folklore and humor

My new short story “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” has been released on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iTunes by Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

Description

Every spring, fast food junkie Peter Martin packs his wife, Mary, and son, John, into his SUV and crisscrosses the back country of the Florida Panhandle searching for Diddy-Wah-Diddy, a legendary town offering travelers all the free food they can eat. Mary thinks they’ll never find it. John draws maps to show where they’ve been in years past. Peter has more hunches than fleas on a hound dog about the town’s location. More often than not, they get lost.

This year, they find Diddy-Wah-Diddy. It’s better than they expected. They begin to eat more than they should. Then Peter has a horrifying accident and disappears. While the powers that be treat Peter’s fall from grace as business as usual, Mary and John wait for him, and while they wait they keep eating all they can eat.

Author’s Note

Diddy-Wah-Diddy is, perhaps, the best known of Florida’s mythical places. The original story about a hidden-away town with unlimited food was among the folk tales collected by Zora Neale Hurston while working with the Federal Writers Project in 1938. Hurston wrote that Diddy-Wah-Diddy was “reached by a road that curves so much that a mule pulling a wagonload of fodder can eat off the back of the wagon as he goes.”

Bo Diddley further popularized the legendary town in his song “Diddy Wah Diddy” recorded for Checker Records in 1955. You can find an unadorned re-telling of the original folktale in Kristin G. Congdon’s Uncle Monday and other Florida Tales. “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” is a re-imagining of the town in modern times.

Malcolm

If you know where you’re going, you shouldn’t be going there

If you’re writing a piece of fiction, I’d urge you not to try to show anything—instead, try to discover something. There’s no way to write anything powerful unless your unconscious takes charge. – Ethan Canin in The Best Writing Advice of 2016

When I was in  school, authors and writing teachers preached the dogma that the first thing a writer had to do before writing a story was figure out the ending and then write in that direction. This advice was supported by psychologists and coaches who said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”

My response to the psychologists and coaches is that I’m always exactly where I need to be. There is no there to head toward. And to those authors and writing teachers, I prefer to discover the ending rather than sabotaging the story by engraving the results of the experiment in stone before I begin.

Let’s stipulate that a lot of great authors knew where they were going, got there, and delivered entertaining and meaningful fiction in the progress. Perhaps their unconscious minds tipped them off and they were left to figure out how such an ending could possibly occur. Or, perhaps they succeeded in spite of their methods.

More and more authors these days are looking at their writing as a grand experiment, one without advance parameters (including various “rules”) that is in every way an act of faith and a means of discovery like walking into the forest primeval without a compass or a map or a box of matches. Why would one do such things?

To see what will happen. En route to that, the author discovers a lot about this evolving theme and characters because s/he’s given them free will. They do what they do and we write that down. If they’re puppets, then they’re simply computers following a code that’s all lock-step toward the only solution(s) the programmer or the writer will allow.

Joseph Campbell maintained that if you’re following a trail, it’s somebody else’s trail. There’s no spontaneity in that. few surprises, and the end result is that you end up where somebody else has already been. As writers, we don’t want to do that.

We need to surprise ourselves–and our readers as well.

Malcolm

 

 

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.

–Malcolm

 

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.

Malcolm

 

 

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.)

–Malcolm

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 – Forward.com

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.

–Malcolm

Dear Nora and Catherine

Nora

Nora

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.

Catherine

Catherine

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.

–Malcolm

 

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.

Malcolm

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