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Leave it to Mark Twain to reach from beyond the grave and publish a book. And what a book it is!

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 is like no biography you’ve ever read before. There is nothing chronological about it. Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, dictated memoirs of his life’s major and minor events to his assistant as the mood struck him. One moment he’s chatting amiably about a humorous event in his life, the next he’s ranting about some injustice in the world. Along the way, the reader is treated to gut-busting humor as only Twain can write it; and we’re also treated to the more serious side of the man, a side rarely portrayed in his writings. It is the more serious side and the frank manner in which he speaks of people and events that made Twain dictate the autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death.

The gut-busting side: Twain relates the story of a turkey hunt he went on as a boy, where he “followed an ostensibly lame turkey over a considerable part of of the United States one morning.” What follows is an hilarious accounting of a young boy being outwitted by a bird, told in that remarkable tall-tale manner for which Twain is famous. (He never got the turkey, by the way.)

The more somber side: Twain tells the tale of the time he and his invalid wife stayed at a villa in Italy, and the nightmare he had dealing with the Countess who owned the estate. The Countess was cold, calculating, and cruel, and made life miserable for the Clemens family while they lived there. “I was  losing my belief in hell until I got acquainted with the Countess Massiglia, Twain writes.

Yet, even when Twain was speaking about political injustices, he managed to do so with humor. “…(M)y own seventieth birthday arrived … on the 30th of November, but Colonel Harvey was not able to celebrate it on that date because that date had been preempted by the President to be used as Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for—annually, not oftener—if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank for Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.”

This is a scholarly book, no doubt. It contains original notes he took over the years, photographs, and an extensive reference section. This additional material actually makes up the largest part of the book, and is why it is a whopping 735 pages. It weighs four pounds, which makes it difficult to read simply because you practically need heavy construction equipment to lift the thing. I never thought I would hear myself say this, but if I had a Kindle, I think I would have preferred this book in electronic format simply for ease of reading.

Yet, scholarly as it is, it is also very readable, because it is written in Twain’s wonderful conversational style. I laughed, I cried. But most of all, I fell in love all over again with the man who has delighted readers for well over a century with his Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and plethora of other books. How fortunate for Twain fans that 100 years have passed, and his wonderful autobiography is now available for all to read.

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I used to live in Central Illinois, and one of my favorite places near my home was Allerton Park in Monticello. I loved Allerton for many reasons, but one of the main attractions was the amazing statuary in the park. Among my favorite pieces was an enormous statue called The Sun Singer. It is, of course, a statue of Apollo, his arms stretched wide, welcoming the sun.

So when I learned author Malcolm R. Campbell had written a book called The Sun Singer, I knew I had to read it. I had high expectations; the statue is pretty spectacular, and any book inspired by it would have to be pretty spectacular, too, to get my seal of approval.

I was not disappointed. Campbell has written a novel that is both wildly exciting and quietly thought provoking, not an easy feat.

The story is that of young Robert Adams, the Soothsayer of West Wood Street, who receives the gift of prophecy when he first sees The Sun Singer in Allerton. But his gift does not allow him to save Julianne, his best friend’s sister, from dying a tragic death. Distraught, Robert shoves his gift into the recesses of his mind, where it remains … until his dying grandfather extracts from him a promise to finish a quest he himself had been unable to fulfill. Robert steps through a doorway to the alternate universe of Pyrrha, where he must re-awaken his gift in order to fulfill his promise to his grandfather, uncover the tragic mistake that resulted in Julianne’s death, and undo the deeds of the man who betrayed his grandfather. In doing so, he must learn to trust strangers who, at first, threaten to kill him; battle enemy soldiers, and learn to capture and harness the magical power of The Sun Singer in order to help save Pyrrha and return home alive.

The Sun Singer, Allerton Park

I recently had the honor of chatting with author Malcolm R. Campbell about his inspiring coming of age tale:

Smoky On Books: Young Robert Adams has some pretty amazing and prophetic dreams, and his grandfather tries to teach him how to control and guide his dreams. What do you dream about? Do you have prophetic dreams? Can you control your dreams?

Malcolm R. Campbell: I have no conscious control of my dreams and have always found them difficult to interpret. Like most people’s dreams, they are an ever-changing mix of people I know and don’t know involved in adventurous to mundane situations that make sense within the dream and are baffling when I wake up. In a sense, they’re coded messages from my deeper self and, over the years, have only made more sense to me as I’ve gotten to know myself better—that is, to make the unconscious conscious.

Smoky: There are three magical staffs that play important roles in the book, and they are each made of different wood. Is there significance to your choice of wood for each staff?

While I do not mention this in The Sun Singer, the three staffs equate to the three pillars of the Tree of Life. The middle pillar, which equates to Robert Adams’ Staff of Equilibrium, is thought to be the most balanced approach to enlightenment, bringing to mind peace, joy, love and harmony. So this works well for a young man who is learning about magic. While tree and flower symbolism is a tangle of beliefs depending on the cultures and traditions involved, apple has been said to have or bring about qualities similar to that middle pillar. The Staff of Wisdom, carried by Robert’s grandfather prior to the beginning of the novel, is made of oak, a wood often seen as substantial, royal, powerful and solar. The Staff of Intelligence, carried by David Ward is made of Rowan—also called Mountain Ash, and available within Glacier Park. It was a favorite of the Druids and can be used for many purposes, including repelling lightning and predicting the future. This staff plays into the plot and theme of my novel about David Ward, Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey.

Smoky:  Ah, Garden of Heaven is in my stack of books to read and discuss in the upcoming months! ‘m eager to read more about David Ward, the man who was so instrumental in assisting Robert Adams in making his journey to Pyrrha. But back to The Sun Singer. The story is set in Glacier National Park, mostly in the alternate universe of Pyrrha, which occupies the same space. Why Glacier? Why not Yellowstone, or Yosemite?

Campbell: I worked two summers in Glacier as a bellman at one of the rustic resort hotels and, basically, fell in love with the place. Working there put me into a mountain environment from the end of April through the beginning of September. The group I hung out with wanted to hike as many of the trails as possible: we thought nothing of a 25-30 mile hike. Some of us climbed, too. After college, I did some volunteer work for the Glacier Association, wrote articles about the park, was actively involved in environmental issues, and kept accumulating more and more books, memories and trips as possible over the years. I like to balance magic with realism. Knowing Glacier as I do, I can be very precise about the trails, plants, rock formations, and wild life. This provides a stable foundation for the magic and the mystical and, I think, makes the supernatural more believable.

Smoky:  Is any part of The Sun Singer autobiographical? Is your personality infused into Robert, or Aton, or any of the characters? Which character do you most identify with?

Campbell:  Robert Adams grows up on West Wood Street in Decatur, Illinois. My grandparents lived in that house, though of course I don’t mention the address in the book!. As a child, I saw that neighborhood a lot, mostly on return visits. I have many childhood memories of that street and the style of the houses on it as well as the nearby Fairview Park. Like Robert, my grandfather took me on a day trip from Decatur over to Monticello to see Allerton Park where a statue called the Sun Singer stands. Robert’s reaction to the statue is what mine was. He felt a strong energy flowing through him from the sun and from the statue. Like me, his homeward trip out of the park occurred during a violent thunderstorm in which the lightning flashes seemed to bring the park’s other statues to life. Afterwards, he began to dream about future events involving people he know. The Sun Singer statue was a fixture of my dreams for a long time, while the other statues—including the Fu Dogs, Primitive Man, and the Death of the Last Centaur—appeared in my nightmares. Like Robert, I have been at war within myself trying to balance my logical side with my intuitive side. In the book, Robert is forced by dangerous circumstances to confront the power and magic of his dreams: that’s all fiction since I have never been forced into a fight with bad guys carrying swords and bows and arrows!

Smoky:  Is there anything else you’d like to say about the book?

Campbell: Robert Adams’ adventure is a “hero’s journey” adventure, a sequence of steps popularized by mythologist Joseph Campbell. These steps are quite obvious in the Star Wars movies, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings. Basically, a hero or potential hero leaves his every day world and sails across a unknown sea or travels through a dark forest where he finds demons and tricksters and dangerous circumstances as well as allies. All the while, he is seeking something magical and wonderful while, possibly, rescuing a damsel from a tower or dragon, that he will bring back to his everyday world. While the hero’s journey involves physical dangers, the most important thing is what happens to the hero within himself. He is meeting the terrors of his unconscious mind, seeing his faults mirrored in the world he is traveling through, and if he triumphs, he ends up as a much better person, one who truly knows himself. In mythology, of course, heroes are equated with larger than life men and women or demigods. In the view of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, the hero’s journey is rather like a rite of passage, the process of growing up and learning that there is much more to us than our logic, our ego, and our five physical senses.

I ended the interview on that note.

The Sun Singer is indeed a hero’s journey as defined by Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, yet it is an utterly accessible read. While the protagonist is a teenager, and while teens certainly will enjoy the book, it most certainly isn’t young adult literature. Malcolm R. Campbell has created a fantasy world at its finest, and written a real page-turner that rivals the best in the fantasy genre. I have heard rumors he is writing a new novel centered around one of the characters created in The Sun Singer. I hope it is a rumor that proves true, for I long to return to Pyrrha.

The Sun Singer is from Vanilla Heart Publishing, and is available in multiple e-book formats as well as in print. To read an excerpt from The Sun Singer, visit http://www.freado.com/read/6882/the-sun-singer.

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