The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the tag “Harry Potter”

Book Bits: Junot Díaz, Theodora Goss, Harry Potter

Whenever I’m working on a novel–which is most of the time–my desk gets cluttered with notes and stacks of nonfiction books that focus on the location where my story is set. Right now, for example, the two books hogging desk space are Florida’s Wetlands and Florida Wildflowers. As much as I enjoy these reference books, it’s a pleasure finding time to read fiction. What a surprise, then, to pick up a copy of Theodora Goss’ The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and discover I was reading the best fiction I’ve read in years. See my review below (Item 2).

Books an Authors Links

  1. Upcoming Title: Next From the Novelist Junot Díaz? A Picture Book, by Alexandra Alter – “Even by Mr. Díaz’s glacial standards, his latest book, ‘Islandborn,’ is long overdue — about 20 years past deadline. And it’s a mere 48 pages long. ‘Islandborn’ is a picture book — Mr. Díaz’s first work of fiction for young readers. It grew out of a promise that he made to his goddaughters two decades ago, when they asked him to write a book that featured characters like them, Dominican girls living in the Bronx.” New York Times
  2. Review: “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter,” by Theodora Goss – “Imagine “monsters” from science fiction and horror classics written by H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Robert Lewis Stevenson working together with Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade to track down the killers in a string of gory London murders.” Malcolm’s Round Table
  3. News: Libraries Clear First Budget Hurdle in Congress, by Andrew Albanese – “The budget battle is kicking up again in Washington, but this time with a note of optimism for libraries and library supporters. Last week, a House Appropriations subcommittee voted to recommend level funding for libraries in FY2018, which would mean roughly $231 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), $183 million for the Library Services and Technology Act, and $27 million for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program.” Publishers Weekly
  4. News: Bloomsbury goes full Hermione, set to release two Harry Potter ‘History of Magic’ titles in the fall, by Proma Khosla – “Bloomsbury has yet to share an official press release, cover art, or exact dates for the titles, but they will release in October alongside the exhibition opening. It’s unclear if or how J.K. Rowling is involved since the texts have historical context, but they will undoubtedly tempt the obsessive Potter fan.” Mashable
  5. Interview: JOSHILYN JACKSON: “Lives are this way. They have many pieces, and all the pieces touch,” with Andrew Catá – “Well, sure. I am such a coward. I never want to go down into the places that hurt, or might make me look bad, or where I confront my ugliest self. But my characters always seem to want to, and I have learned that if I fight them, I end up with 30,000 words of drivel I have to throw away.” Book Page
  6. Essay: Rebecca Solnit on a Childhood of Reading and Wandering, by Rebecca Solnit – “There are ecological reasons to question how books are made out of trees but metaphysical reasons to rejoice in the linkage between forests and libraries, here in this public library, in the town I grew up in, with the fiber from tens of thousands of trees rolled out into paper, printed and then bound into books, stacked up in rows on the shelves that fill this place and make narrow corridors for readers to travel through, a labyrinth of words that is also an invitation to wander inside the texts. The same kind of shade and shelter that can be found in an aisle of books and an avenue of trees, and in the longevity of both, and the mere fact that both, if not butchered or burned, may outlive us.” Literary Hub
  7. Feature: What makes us curious? New book asks ‘Why?,’ by Matt McCarthy – “I have a friend who is immune to clickbait. She can stare down the link to a provocative article, ponder its potential significance, stifle her own curiosity, and move on with her day. How does she do this, I have often wondered, and why am I such a sucker?” USA Today
  8. Quotation: That’s one of the things setting us apart from the big box bookstores.  They have a lot more things, but we have some highly curated, important things. I hate to sound cheesy, but it also creates buy-in for the staff. This is their section. They’re proud of it. They keep it tidy. They write shelf-talkers so people know what books they’re excited about.” – Aja Martin, Indigo Bridge Books, Lincoln, Nebraska, from Shelf Awareness

“Book Bits” is compiled randomly by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and folklore novels and short stories.



Book Bits: Günter Grass, ‘All Who Go Do Not Return,’ Literary Hub

BookBitsFar be it from me to criticize another author, but Jo Rowling, my unsolicited advice is to call the Harry Potter series complete as it is just as Bill Watterson said his Calvin and Hobbes comic strip was ending in 1995 because it was complete. There was nothing left to say. It’s too late to go back and capture the magic now. (Item 3)

Note: If you are new to Book Bits, the links for book covers lead to B&N listings, logos lead to the organization and author pictures lead to their websites or Wikipedia pages.

  1. News: Günter Grass, German Novelist and Social Critic, Dies at 87, by Stephen Kinzer – “Günter Grass, the German novelist, social critic and Nobel Prize winner whom many called his country’s moral conscience but who stunned Europe when he revealed in 2006 that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS during World War II, died on Monday. He was 87.”  The New York Times
  2. allwhogoReview: ‘All Who Go Do Not Return,’ by Shulem Deen, reviewed by Pamela Miller – “In this painful and elegiac memoir, Shulem Deen, a former Skverer Hasidic Jew from New York City, eloquently describes his agonizing fall from faith and ascendant longing to live in a less insular world than the subculture he grew up in and in which he became a husband and father of five. ”  Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  3. News: Harry Potter and the Eighth Novel?  by David Harding – “J. K. Rowling has told BBC she has not ruled out writing another book in the phenomenally successful series about the boy wizard.”  New York Daily News
  4. londonbookfairNews: London Book Fair 2015: In Pre-Fair Deals, Debut Sells to Knopf for Rumored 7 Figures, by Rachel Deahl – “Earlier this week there was concern among industry insiders about the dearth of major projects circulating in the run-up to the London Book Fair. The question people were asking: ‘Where are all the big books?’ Now, with the fair just days away—it begins on Tuesday—the chatter has turned to silence as a number of major sales have closed in the U.S., among them the acquisition of a debut novel, by a 25-year-old, for a rumored seven figures.”  Publishers Weekly
  5. poetnotebookReview: Into the Empty Regions: Clive James’ valedictory book of poetry criticism wrestles with how art is long, but life is short, by Katy Waldman – “With ‘Notebook,’ James, the Australian literary critic and poet (and TV reviewer and broadcaster and, to hear the Daily Mail sing it, unfaithful wag), has assembled a series of short essays, many originally penned for Poetry magazine. They’re brief and fluent—you rocket through, or stroll pensively—but they represent the distillation of years of thought and study, with all the shine of stones smoothed by the rush of river water over time.”  Slate
  6. lithubNews: Literary Hub Makes its Debut, by Sydney Jarrard – “Literary Hub made its official debut on April 8. Positioned as a daily source for literary content, the website’s initial showcase includes a lead profile on author Lydia Davis, a feature titled “How to Draw a Novel” by Martín Solares, a list of suggestions for surviving the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, and excerpts from titles by James Wood, James Hannaham, and Saul Bellow.” ABA
  7. Viewpoint: What Should a Book Cover Do? by Dale Megan Healey – “The cover of a book is at work long after it catches a reader’s eye from a shelf. It’s at work when she puts it down on her bedside table, or stands holding it on a crowded subway car. It extends the story after she turns the last page: I can’t count how many times I’ve come to the end of a book I wished ” Literary Hub
  8. amybutcherInterview: Amy Butcher (“Visiting Hours”), with Alex Layman – “In April 2009, one month before graduating from Gettysburg College, Amy Butcher walked back to her apartment with her close friend Kevin. They spoke about the future, post-graduation anxieties, and Kevin’s plan for a cross-country road trip, a freer way of living. Then he left. Two hours later, he stabbed his girlfriend, Emily Silverstein, 27 times. ‘Visiting Hours: A Memoir of Friendship and Murder’ chronicles the build-up and aftermath of that event: how a mind can be haunted, then break. ”  Kirkus
  9. acelaNews: Penguin Random House to Feature Books on Amtrak Trains, by Dianna Dilworth – “Penguin Random House is introducing a new feature for Amtrak riders: free eBook excerpts from select titles on the Acela Express. The publisher is the exclusive book content partner for the launch of AmtrakConnect’s newly designed on-board Wi-Fi page.”  Galley Cat
  10. Quotation: Art is so wonderfully irrational, exuberantly pointless, but necessary all the same. Pointless and yet necessary, that’s hard for a puritan to understand. – Günter Grass, in Günter Grass in quotes: 12 of the best The Guardian



Just two more days to enter the GoodReads giveaway for Conjure Woman’s Cat. Three copies of the paperback edition will be handed out, hex-free, toe the lucky winners.


Writers as minor gods? Possibly, maybe, maybe not.

“Why one writes is a question I can answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me — the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art.”   – Anaïs Nin

“And so I create a world in which I can live through stories and pictures of spirited landscapes steeped in Mystery, music, and quiet acts of women’s magic. I create myself every day here in the hills amid old stone walls and buttercup fields, out of scraps of paper and fragments of verse and morning coffee and dreams underfoot and books and bees and brambles and briar roses and a black dog at my side.” – Terri Windling

When writers write, they create worlds. Isn’t that a task left to the gods?

Yet, the term “worldbuilding” is often applied to writers, especially those who write fantasy and science fiction.

AvatarPosterWhen James Cameron created Avatar, he was worldbuilding. By 2154, when the story is set, humans have done what conservationists have been worried about: screwed up the Earth. Hence, the attraction of a moon named Pandora–a name that to any sensible person would be somewhat of an omen.

What we saw in the movie was worldbuilding.

throneslogoIf you’re a fan of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series and novels, you see another kind of worldbuilding. Yet this is a world not of the future like Avatar, but one inspired by the Wars of the Roses in the 1400s. Most of the characters in these books want to be king, want to support somebody else who wants to be king, or prefer to hide from everyone who has anything to do with one king or another.

peytonplaceWhile worldbuilding is often equated with epics of science fiction and fantasy, it applies to everything we write, including novels and stories set on the planet we know. When  Grace Metalious wrote Peyton Place in 1956 she created a new place that was unique even though it was said to be a composite of five New Hampshire towns. We can say the same for every country, town, street and region in every book we read whether the book is mainstream fiction of a techno-thriller.

Faulkner would set all but three of his novels in Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional world of his own creation. - Wikipedia photo

Faulkner would set all but three of his novels in Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional world of his own creation. – Wikipedia photo

“Worldbuilding,” writes Charlie Jane Anders in the 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding, “is an essential part of any work of fiction. But especially for science fiction or fantasy, it’s the lifeblood of storytelling. But when worldbuilding fails, it can wreck your whole story, and leave your characters feeling pointless.”

From the perspective of readers, the success of an author’s minor-god-like creation comes from its consistency and completeness and seeming reality. Things (usually) need to make sense there or have a very good explanation for why they don’t.

This is important whether an author is bringing to life a real place out of the real world or creating an imaginary place in a probable future.

HarryPotterThe reality of places that aren’t real draws us into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix and the Harry Potter books and movies. We may leave these places thinking of the characters and the action, but the worlds where all that happened were critical to the success of these stories.

We all create worlds in our dreams, daydreams and active imaginations. God like? Possibly, maybe, maybe not. Writers take the creative process a step further. They write stuff down.

Some say our very dreams create the world. I suspect that might be true, though I have no sure proof of it. But writers do create the worlds in their books whether they write realism or magical realism. It comes with the job.


KIndle cover 200x300Malcolm R. Campbell created the fictional town of Torreya in the Florida Panhandle as the setting for his 1950s-era novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

Limiting your hero’s powers

Without fail, even literature’s greatest warriors, heroes, superheroes, armies, magical rings/wands/stones, and even gods and goddesses have had weaknesses. Some limitations ramp up the story when good heroes go astray; most keep the hero from solving the story’s plot lines and challenges on the first page.

Superman in 1986 storylines

Superman in 1986 storylines

Everyone who reads Superman comics knows he can be weakened by red or green kryptonite and that since his powers are natural, he has trouble fighting villains who use magic. Batman, of course, is human and while he has more strength than most men–not to mention high-tech equipment–he will tire sooner or later and may be injured.

You’ll find a handy list of ways to limit your hero’s power in a 2011 post on Superhero Nation called How to Limit Your Superpowers for Dramatic Effect. B. McKenzie writes that your hero’s powers may variously be unavailable, lacking precision or skill levels, socially questionable, require materials not at hand, limited in power and scope or susceptible (like Superman) to certain conditions or “evil” powers.

The most recent Dresden Files novel.

The most recent Dresden Files novel.

If you’re a fan of Jim Butcher’s contemporary fantasy series called The Dresden Files about a wizard/private eye working with police when “odd” and other supernatural crimes occur, you know that Harry Dresden doesn’t have the powers, say, of Voldemort and Dumbledore. In fact, the Harry Potter series always kept the most powerful teacher/wizards off stage to allow Harry and the other students to meet the primary challenges.

As Gandalf is not all powerful in Tolkien’s stories, Harry Dresden is not all powerful in Jim Butcher’s 15-book series. If he were, there would be no story, much less any danger or page-turner drama. One thing that weakens Dresden’s powers is that his magic spells only work when backed up with a certain amount of mental agility, passion and willpower. So, if he is tired or injured or distracted, he’s going to get into trouble.

Wikipedia photo and article

Wikipedia photo and article

Growing up, I read a lot of Hardy Boys type books where young people solved crimes and met challenges that the adults in the story could have solved a lot faster had they been in the right place at the right time. I also read a lot of superhero comics, so I was always very conscious of the kinds of limitations that kept superheroes from winning battles too quickly.

By the time the Harry Potter books came, I was–as a writer–especially interested in the devices J. K. Rowling would use to ensure that the Hogwarts School teachers–almost all of whom had very advanced powers as we saw near the end of the series–were never available to take on monsters and other challenges early on in each book. Had they been, Harry would have had nothing to do inasmuch as his skills were a fraction of his teacher’s skills.

New writers of fantasy–as well as writers in many other genres–can be helped by taking a look at the best novels, comics, and films of the past with an eye toward one question: how did the author limit his/her hero’s powers or availability?

However you do this, that limitation needs to be shown to the reader fairly early on in the story. You can’t wait until your 3/4 of the way through the story to suddenly “announce” that the hero can’t fight in the rain or some other lame rationale that hasn’t been foreshadowed and isn’t believable because (as a lawyer often states in court) there’s no foundation for it prior to the climax of the story.

Of course, heroic characters often begin with little or no awareness of their powers. That’s how Harry Potter started out in Rowling’s series. So, his powers are limited from the beginning by lack of knowledge, lack of skill and lack of confidence in himself. That hero’s journey pattern has worked for a lot of authors.

Jim Butcher’s wizard Harry Dresden knows at the beginning of the first book that he’s a wizard. One of his challenges is not the ability to do spells, but proving to those who doubt the existence of the supernatural that he isn’t a fraud.

In my latest work in progress about a conjure woman in a town with a lot of bad people in it, I wanted my character’s abilities to generally coincide with what real conjure women can do–or, depending on your view point–are said to be able to do. So, she isn’t Dumbledore or Harry Dresden.

I remember becoming exasperated with a trilogy written highly popular author who usually writes books without paranormal characters when she suddenly gave witches powers that far exceed (in scope, tone and style) the powers of those who practice either Witchcraft or Wicca. Yes, a bit of artistic license is fine to add the the drama.

Wikipedia photo and article

Wikipedia photo and article

But, if a book is using witches as they are typically seen, those witches can’t suddenly have the powers of the wizards out of Lord of the Rings. Why not? It’s not believable if they have been portrayed in the way that real witches portray themselves. If you want Hollywood-style witches, then they need to start out the book as Hollywood-style witches.

Heroes without limits don’t work in fiction. If Dumbledore and Harry Dresden–each in their own environments–said a magic spell on the first page of the first book that got rid of evil, there wouldn’t be any more pages, much less any more books. Likewise, if they say a spell on the last page of the book that hasn’t been foreshadowed as possible for them to do–or to learn to do–there will be a lot of angry readers.

Figuring out how to limit your hero is just as vital as figuring out your story’s theme, location setting, villains and supporting characters and plot. Doing this can feel counter-intuitive because as human authors we like to give out super-human characters all the skills and powers they need to right the world’s wrongs.

Limiting our characters doesn’t mean limiting our imagination because a flawed, unskilled or non-all-powerful hero requires a lot more skill to write about than a hero who has more powers than the story can handle. And, when the last word has been written, such a protagonist makes for a wonderful story.




Harry Potter turned into stage play

Harry Potter turned into stage play | Books | The Guardian.

JK Rowling collaborating on West End play for 2015 about the young wizard’s life before Hogwarts as an orphan and outcast

So, are we all heading to the UK to see this, or should be wait and see if the play comes to the U.S.?

One way or another, I think Harry Potter is going to be with us for the rest of our lives…and beyond.


Post Navigation