The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “Florida Panhandle”

On location: Liberty County Florida

Traveling to the Florida Panhandle today.

These “On Location” posts show my rationale for choosing various place settings for my books. They’re not gospel! They might not even be viable rationale. But, I post them anyway as indirect tips for other writers to consider as they decide how to choose place settings for their stories.

I used Liberty County in my books Eulalie and Washerwoman, Conjure Woman’s Cat, The Land Between the Rivers, and Mountain Song. It’s Florida’s least populous county with easy access to the Apalachicola River, the forbidding Tate’s Hell Swamp, the Gulf Coast, and Florida’s “Garden of Eden” trail, along with many square miles of swamp land and forests.

Why I chose the county

  1. River Styx in Liberty County – Florida Memory Photo. Needless to say, place names like this one are made to order in a conjure book.

    I grew up in the adjacent Leon County (Tallahassee) and spent many hours of Boy Scout camping and family day trips at sites in or near the county. I was not only writing about what I know, but about a very diverse and unique landscape with rare trees, rare wildlife, and an environment that’s off the beaten trail of the kind of development and tourism found in the peninsula section of the state.

  2.  My two conjure woman books lent themselves to a small-town environment in the part of the state known as “wire grass country.” That is, it was more natural to place a conjure woman in a far-away piney woods part of the state than a more populous area. The area also had a variety of legends, remnants of Indian settlements and their recurring cultural influence, and a small-town, insular world view.
  3. My old friend, the late Gloria Jahoda wrote a book about this part of the state called The Other Florida. For my purposes of telling a magical realism story, I wanted an area that was about as “other” as one can find. Her book also included legends that I grew up with, making them a lot easier to refer to in the story than the legends of a place I’d never visited with legends that would have been quite foreign to me. To some extent, magical realism uses legends and tall tales about a place as though they are real. These not only add ambiance to the book, but give readers from Florida bits and pieces of information they’re already familiar with.
  4. Florida, in years past, had a very strong KKK presence, a presence more pervasive in outlying areas. Since both of my conjure woman books pit a woman of magic against the Klan, this made the location a viable and historically accurate place for such a story even though I created a fictionalized small town to avoid any hard feelings (or law suits) with the residents and governments of an actual town. I named my town Torreya, after Florida’s unique and highly endangered tree that grows in this area and nowhere else.
  5. While my conjure books were set in the 1950s, The Land Between the Rivers at the dawn of time, and  Mountain Song in the 1960s, the area–when compared with major tourist destinations and development–is still remote. This helps an author do research because many of the attributes of the place in years gone by still exist today.

I consider a story’s place setting to be a very integral part of the fiction I write. If you like strong place settings, perhaps you will go through some of the same thought processes as I did when you choose the country, state, or town for your novel or short story.



In the spotlight: An old lady vs. the Klan

Today’s spotlight shines on my novel Conjure Woman’s Cat and brings you news of a three-day freebie for my Kindle novel At Sea.

Conjure Woman’s Cat

cwcnoshadowThe old lady, who says she’s older than dirt, is a conjure woman in a small Florida Panhandle town in the 1950s when the Klan in Florida was very strong, in bed with almost everybody in power, including the police, the mayor, and leading businessmen.

So, when a young black woman is raped and murdered by whites on the railroad tracks, there won’t be a police investigation. The minister of the local church doesn’t get involved because he’s afraid his church will get fire bombed at night.

The Klan already burnt Eulalie and her family out once, so she knows what that’s like. But, she’s got magic and guile on hand along with all the herbs a root doctor would ever need.

The story’s a mix of bad stuff, discrimination, lyrical prose and humor. Available in e-book, paperback and audiobook editions.

AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award WinnerWanda J. Dixon’s warmth and gorgeous singing voice are superb in this story about Conjure Woman Eulalie, which is told through the voice of her cat and spirit companion, Lena. Dixon zestfully portrays Eulalie, who is “older than dirt” and is kept busy casting spells, mixing potions, and advising people–that is, when the “sleeping” sign is removed from her door. Most distinctive is Eulalie’s recurring sigh, which conveys her frustration with Florida in the 1950s, when Jim Crow laws and “Colored Only” signs were routine. Dixon’s Lena is fully believable when she spies around town and reports to Eulalie that rednecks have raped and murdered a young women. They almost escape until Eulalie persuades a witness to come forward. Listeners will marvel at the magical realism in this story and benefit from the helpful glossary of the charming local dialect.

Vietnam Navy Novel Freebie

AtSeaBookCoverAt Sea will be free on Kindle January 15 through January 17.

This is a story about a prospective conscientious objector who serves on board an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. The novel is not a book about battles or major military campaigns. Instead, it focuses on the trials of being against the war when everyone else thinks fighting the VC is a good thing, and daily life on the ship and the liberty town bars. As David Ward learns, the letters from home can be nastier than prospective shipboard dangers or the bar girls who want to take his money.

This story is inspired by my experiences on the former carrier U.S.S. Ranger which, sadly, the navy decided to scrap rather than turn into a museum. The ship’s motto during the war was “Top Gun, Bar None.” That was the spirit then and it became more fitting later when movie crews filmed some of the scenes for “Top Gun” on board the ship as it pretended to be the Enterprise. (I wish I’d been there to see that.”



New ‘Tate’s Hell Series’ short story to be released Friday, February 5th

My new short story “Visiting Aunt Ruby” will be released February 5th on Kindle by Thomas-Jacob Publishing. This is the fifth story published in the Stories from Tate’s Hell series. The story will be available for 99¢ and free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

From the Publisher

VisitingAuntRubyCoverWhen David travels to north Florida to see his girlfriend, Anne, he also meets her Aunt Ruby and learns that a secret lurks behind her Scotch whisky and her stories. The secret is Anne’s secret, too.

An old guidebook on the coffee table in the salmon-colored doublewide claims he’s entered “Florida, land of flowers, of radiance, of joyous days and dream-touched nights.” Time will tell. They eat meatloaf and key lime pie as a storm rolls in off the gulf coast and scatters the light in the aging trailer park.

Everyone needs an Aunt Ruby, a somewhat bawdy but loving relative who counteracts the sanitized version of life we get from our parents, teachers, and each other.

About Tate’s Hell

Tate’s Hell is a Florida state forest located in the panhandle counties of Franklin and Liberty. With diverse habitats, including a notorious swamp, it’s named after the legendary Cebe Tate who was killed by a rattlesnake while hunting a panther there in 1875. The swamp was badly damaged by logging interests up through the 1960s but is now being restored. It was a favorite place of mine. Ruby lives in the fishing village of Carrabelle on the edge on the swamp.

Other News

Our narrators are making great progress with the audio book editions of Conjure Woman’s Cat and Sarabande. Click on the titles to see book trailers that will tempt you to grab up copies of the audio books as soon as they’re available. Focusing in on the background of the Conjure Woman’s Cat trailer is a zen experience.

When I wrote The Sun Singer and Sarabande, both of which are set in the Montana mountains, I never figured I would write anything set in the Florida Panhandle where I grew up. But then, for no reason I can fathom, I started thinking of coastal and piney woods stories. It’s been fun telling stories about another place I know well.


emilycoverIn addition to Conjure Woman’s Cat and the Stories from Tate’s Hell series, Malcolm R. Campbell is also the author of Emily’s Stories available in paperback, e-book and audio book.

Emily’s Stories is “safe” for families an teens.

Thomas-Jacob to Publish Novella about Conjure, the Klan and 1950s North Florida

News-and-Reviews: The Conjure Woman’s Cat

KIndle cover 200x300(1)Lena, a shamanistic cat, and her conjure woman Eulalie live in a small town near the Apalachicola River in Florida’s lightly populated Liberty County, where longleaf pines own the world. In Eulalie’s time, women of color look after white children in the homes of white families and are respected, even loved, but distrusted and kept separated as a group. A palpable gloss, sweeter than the state’s prized tupelo honey, holds their worlds firmly apart. When that gloss fails, the Klan restores its own brand of order.
When some white boys rape and murder a black girl named Mattie near the sawmill, the police have no suspects and don’t intend to find any. Eulalie, who sees conjure as a way of helping the good Lord work His will, intends to set things right by “laying tricks.”

But Eulalie has secrets of her own, and it’s hard not to look back on her own life and ponder how the decisions she made while drinking and singing at the local juke were, perhaps, the beginning of Mattie’s ending.

The novella will be released in March in Kindle and paperback editions.

More book news

  • BookBitsCommentary: Why Harper Lee remained silent for so many years – “Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird and then remained silent for 55 years, Philip Hensher examines the trouble with being a literary heavyweight.” The Telegraph
  • News: ISIS ransacks libraries, destroys books in Iraqi city – “BAGHDAD — When Islamic State militants invaded the Central Library of Mosul last month, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people’s ideas.” – The Boston Globe
  • Interview: George R.R. Martin, with Cat Acree – “Without question, Tolkien set the standard for worldbuilding. Readers of epic fantasy aren’t content with a few generations of kings mentioned in some measly footnotes; they want a world so vast and detailed that it could be real. With Tolkien’s template in mind, George R.R. Martin addresses fans’ demands for a truly epic history.” – BookPage
  • Click here for how-to articles about writing and careers.

    Click here for how-to articles about writing and careers.

    News: Literary luminaries to attend 27th Jerusalem International Book Fair – “The 27th bi-annual Jerusalem International Book Fair, featuring hundreds of the world’s most respected literary figures and numerous events, will take place Sunday through February 12 at the First Station complex, and other locations throughout the capital.” – The Jerusalem Post

  • How To: How I Found a Steady Stream of Writing Clients in 9 Months Flat – “I’d freelanced off and on for years. But every time I got close to plunging into it full time, I got scared. I pulled back for the security of a paycheck. Then, about a year and a half ago, I knew it was time to go for the life and career I’d always dreamed of.” – Leslie Jordan Clary in How To Make a Living Writing

Getting in Touch with the Place Where I Grew Up

Tallahassee's College Avenue as it was

Tallahassee’s College Avenue as it was

I grew up in the Florida Panhandle and have used that setting for several short stories and for scenes in my upcoming novels in the Garden of Heaven Trilogy starting with The Seeker next month. While I’ve visited family in Orlando and Gainesville in the last several years, I haven’t been in the panhandle since the 1980s. For my novels and short stories, that’s fine. They’re set in the 1960s and 1970s.

But now as I talk about the locations I used and all the years that have passed since I’ve seen them, I feel that while I’m getting in touch with the places I knew so well when I was in high school, I’m really out of date when it comes to Tallahassee, St. Marks, Panacea and Carrabelle as they are now. If time and money were more plentiful, I’d go back to Tallahassee for a month and drive around with a camera catching up on what’s happened there as well as everywhere else within 50 miles of my old house.

I have been asking people who still live there what happened to this place and that place, and I’m hearing that “they closed ten years ago” and that “everything that didn’t burn down on another property, got wrecked by a hurricane or has otherwise fallen into ruin.”

Do you have trouble with getting used to the vast differences between the oh-so-clear memories of your home town when you were growing up as compared to the “I don’t have a clue” knowledge you have of that place now?

I look at Google’s maps and accompanying pictures of my favorite roads and streets and think I’m looking at a town I never lived in, When people go back home for high school reunions, this kind of disconnect must happen more often than not.

Life carried me away from Tallahassee and the swamps, piney woods and swamps of the Florida Panhandle, but now I miss it. I suppose I miss it as it was, If I moved  back or drove down from Atlanta for a visit, perhaps the nostalgia would wear off quickly.

I may never go back. But I like my memories, so that’s one of the reasons I set some of my short stories there as well as scenes from my books.

It might take winning the lottery to bring in enough cash to afford a visit. Until then, I’m living in and remembering north Florida as it was a long time ago.


MoonLightandGhostsMy Kindle/Nook short story “Moonlight and Ghosts” is set in Tallahassee. My Kindle/Nook short story “Cora’s Crossing” is set in nearby Marianna. Parts of the upcoming fantasy “The Seeker” are set in Tallahassee, Panacea, and Carrabelle.

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