“Molly Campbell's posts are little confections of wit and honesty that make me feel slightly better about this notoriously ambiguous thing called, 'life.' If only 10% of blogs were this good, I'd-- actually, scratch that. Thank God the internet isn't full of blogs like Molly's otherwise I'd read them all and never leave my apartment.”
John Lopez, Contributor, Vanity Fair.com 

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Great Article From a Great Book Blogger

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Dayton, Ohio author Molly D. Campbell’s new YA novel “Keep the Ends Loose” has drawn widespread interest since its February 24th release. Well-known writers such as Beth Hoffman, Robin Black and Anita Hughes have lavished praise on the work, bestowing terms like “brilliant”, “charming”, and “insightful” on both the book and its writer. For Molly Campbell herself however, the novel, a coming-of-age story, about a quirky fifteen-year-old named Miranda Heath, is simply the end result of her interest in unusual names.
“I’m a humor blogger,” the two-time Erma Bombeck Writing Award winner said at a local coffee shop recently. “And I’ve been blogging for a long, long time. I was writing my blog and very active on social media, and apparently my mind works in strange ways. I’ve always been interested in names, particularly unusual names. Your own name, ‘Tim Walker’,” she continued, ”is a perfectly normal name – but if you were walking around with a name like ‘Reginald Arbithnot’, how would that affect you and your life? How would that change things?”
“So,” she said, “I started a Twitter account called “Characters in Search of a Novel”, where every day – and this was just for my own entertainment; I had no followers at first – I would post a person’s name and a one-sentence description of that person. And I did this every day for a year, and I wound up with a few hundred followers. I was just doing it for the heck of it. Then a very gifted writer named Robin Black contacted me and said ‘You know, you’re throwing these away. You need to hire an illustrator, and write a book, with a story written around each one of these characters.”
“So I did that,” Molly said. “And that became my first book, “Characters in Search of a Novel”, with local artist Randy Palmer illustrating the stories for me. And then one day while online I came across The Story Plant, who is the publisher of the new book – I thought it was a literary magazine, and I submitted one of my little character sketches to them. And they wrote back and said ‘We’re not a literary magazine, we’re a publisher – but have you written anything longer?’ I said no, and they said ‘Well you really need to consider doing that.’ At that point I thought they were crazy. I’m a blogger, so I said no. But they kept dogging me, and for a period of probably five years we had this ongoing conversation. So finally they convinced me to try and write a novel.”
Their persistence paid off, it seems. The five-year effort on the part of The Story Plant has been rewarded with an excellent Young Adult crossover novel, “Keep the Ends Loose”. Miranda Heath, the teenage protagonist, is just one of the many interesting characters – and yes, many of them do have unusual names – in Campbell’s second book. “It’s about a teenage girl, she’s fifteen,” Molly outlined when asked about the book. “Her mom recruits her to find this guy who’s her long-lost uncle, and all sorts of things happen. Family secrets are revealed, and chaos ensues.”
Written in a stream of consciousness style which immediately puts one in mind of Holden Caulfield, the book is a charming, poignant, and and often very funny slice of teenage life from a girl who views life through cinematic terms – every time she gets into a difficult situation, she imagines that it’s actually the plot of a movie.
Her older brother, her best friend, her father Roy Heath, her mother and her aunt Iris Fletcher all combine in Miranda’s eyes to make the novel a story of family, love and loss that will have you alternately tearing up and then laughing out loud. The familiar skyline of Dayton, Ohio makes an appearance as well.
“I’ve been in this area for a long, long time. I graduated from Miami, and taught English at Miami-Jacobs. Dayton is in the book – the family doesn’t live in Dayton, but they come to Dayton on one of their quests. The town they live in is totally fictitious, because I didn’t want to be tied down to anything factual where she lives. I had a bunch of information in the book that the publishers asked me to take out, but I asked them ‘Please let me leave the Dayton stuff in, because we’re from Dayton and it’s kind of a tribute’, so there is a lot of local stuff in there.”
Fiction lovers from all walks of life are sure to get a kick out of Miranda Heath’s quest and pithy observations on teenage life. And for those who read the book and wonder if there might be a sequel someday?
When asked if she has any other novels in the works, Campbell responds “Yes, because now that I know I can do it, why not?”
Follow Tim Walker’s blog!
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A FAN LETTER

Every author wants to write a bestseller. Few do. Many deserve that status, but I think that there are approximately three million books for sale on Amazon alone. Mine is one of them. Sales are brisk, thank you. However, I am not expecting a call from the New York Times just yet.

One thing that I did not expect is fan letters. When a person takes the time to sit down and write one, it means a lot. I have gotten a few so far, and I am very grateful. One person said that “you make me laugh, and even snort.” Doesn’t every novelist aspire to snorting readers?

Another person told me that she “wishes she were me.” Now that one gave me pause. Because I have never imagined that anyone would want to have my life, complete with dustballs, dirty laundry, low carbohydrates, and an Accordionist practicing in the dining room. But I was thrilled.

So far, I have received a handful of such letters. Wow. It makes me want to sit down and write some to my favorite writers. Many of them are no longer living, so that would be hard. But here are some of the things I would say:

To L. M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books: Thank you for writing such wonderful stories about little girls with big imaginations and vocabularies to match. You inspired me, and I named one of my children Anne.

To Louisa May Alcott: Thank you for writing about a happy, cozy, and brilliant poor family of girls. I think you were the originator of “shabby chic.” You made the Civil War seem somehow romantic.

To James Agee: A Death in the Family is a book I will never forget. It portrayed family and loss in a way that was moving and beautiful. I reread it every few years.

To Ayn Rand: I loved your books, as did every high school girl in the 60’s. The politics went way over my head, but Howard Roark was my first love.

To Erma Bombeck: Thank you for being such a brilliant role model. You are the pride of Dayton, and I am so glad to have won an award in your name.

There you have it. If you have a favorite living writer, get on Facebook or Twitter, and tell that person you are a fan. He or she will be thrilled beyond belief.

CONGRATULATIONS to Julie Gillespie, the winner of the Keep the Ends Loose book giveaway. And thank all of you who entered!

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KEEP THE ENDS LOOSE GIVEAWAY

I would like to give away a copy of my book to one of my tens of blog readers who have followed me for a long, long time. I feel I need to “pay it forward.”

Keep the Ends Loose is a Young Adult/Crossover novel. This means that it has a fifteen-year-old narrator, but I wrote it for both young and grown-up readers. It is humorous, a little bit insightful, and quirky. Certainly not a serious read. Good for plane, vacation, or “take a break from War and Peace for something light” reading.

So. Here goes. If you would like to enter to win a SIGNED copy of my book, you need only use the contact tab in the black bar across the top of this blog! Just shoot me an email saying why you want to win a copy of my book! I will choose the most original entry! The contest begins today, and will be over at midnight, Saturday, March 21!

And for the rest of you who have already read Keep the Ends Loose? I would be THRILLED if you would post an Amazon review! Thank you!

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Featured on Catherine Hyde’s Blog!

I am thrilled to be on Catherine Ryan Hyde’s blog today. She is one of my favorite authors, and Pay it Forward is an all time great novel and movie. Thanks, Catherine!

Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I’ve launched a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they’d enjoy reading them.

molly

This is the fourteenth post in the series. The author is Molly D. Campbell and the book is Keep the Ends Loose. It’s available in Kindle, and in paperback as of today. (Hooray, book birthdays!)

Me: Molly, please tell my readers, in your own words, a little about your novel.

Molly: Keep the Ends Loose started as a character study of a woman who lived alone, happy in her little cottage. But it ran away with me as I began, and it morphed into a book about family secrets, the wisdom of youth, and the idea of forgiveness—what is it, really, and how do actual people deal with forgiving those whom they feel have wronged them. I wrote it in first person, through the eyes of a very precocious fifteen year old girl. Mandy Heath is an amalgam of all of the youthful protagonists I have read and loved through the years, especially Anne Shirley, Holden Caulfield, Jo March, and Flavia De Luce. Mandy is able to talk about her family crisis as a member not directly “hit over the head” with the debacle, but as a somewhat objective observer. And, of course, the book has a humorous and ironic tone, as I am a humor writer at heart.

Me: I first planned to ask you for a little bit more of a plot synopsis. But then it hit me that your book is very character-driven. There’s plot there, but it’s the quirkiness of the characters that’s really your stylistic signature. So instead would you please tell my readers a little about your major characters and what makes them each such individuals?

Molly: I have always been more interested in characterization than plot. When a book has both fascinating characters and a brilliant plot, I am amazed. Here are the people that drive Keep the Ends Loose:

Mandy Heath is fifteen, very smart, and a wry observer. She sees herself as boringly average, and when she compares herself to her mother, Winnie, Mandy feels a bit inferior. Mandy clings tenaciously to childhood, because she fears all the things that adulthood offers: college, career choices, leaving home, and of course, sex. Mandy has no idea how mature and competent she really is. She has a keen sense of irony, and her story telling ability is what sets Keep the Ends Loose apart from other novels about teens. I have always been drawn to precocious narrators, since I read Anne of Green Gables as a child and completely identified with Anne Shirley.

Barley Crowder is Mandy’s best friend. Barley and Mandy are complete opposites. Where Mandy plods, Barley glides. Mandy is overwhelmingly average. Barley is a junior-high superstar. Barley has gleaming blonde hair, a perfect complexion and figure, and she is wildly popular at school. Mandy enjoys life safely in Barley’s shadow. Barley is a take-charge type who is the catalyst for much of the plot resolution—she is a lot like Winnie, actually.

Roy Heath is the kind and gentle pharmacist who is Mandy’s dad. Mandy sees him as saintly, in compared to her mother. I modeled Roy on my husband, who is the definition of unconditional love.

Adam Heath is a typical teenaged boy. Mandy’s older brother is, of course, portrayed through her lens, and so we see him as very one-dimensional: the way most siblings view one another. He is annoying, stupid, and monosyllabic. Until he isn’t.

Iris Heath is Mandy’s aunt. She is another complete opposite–of her sister Winnie. She is willowy, beautiful, musical, and graceful. But, as Mandy reports, there just isn’t much in there…Iris is bland. I invented this bland woman around whom the entire plot revolves, because once again, I like the contrast between the two sisters, and I also wanted to focus the plot around Mandy and her immediate family without too much complication from Iris. Iris, of course, is not what she seems, because once again, she is portrayed only as Mandy sees her. As the plot unfolds, Iris gains dimension, and we see how Mandy’s view of her aunt, and actually her entire family, evolves as the book progresses and as Mandy matures.

Winnie Heath is the chubby dynamo about whom Keep the Ends Loose swirls. She is determined, bossy, and she doesn’t have one bit of impulse control once she has made her mind up to do something. The book is in large part about forgiveness, and in Winnie, we see a woman who is obsessed with “tying up that one loose end” that has hounded her for years. That is all I can say without spoilers, but I have often wished I had a little more of her dogged determination!

Mandy is able to tell the story of her family’s debacle through a wry and slightly detached lens. She is really me—I have always been a watcher. I wanted to tell this story through a humorous and slightly innocent viewpoint, and this is how Mandy is. She can be both upset and hilarious at the same time.

Me: You’ve done something unusual with Winnie. You’ve made her a big woman—that is, overweight—but also attractive and sexy, someone who has never had trouble getting men’s interest. That’s unusual. In most books, big characters seem purposely placed as tragic and unfulfilled figures. I like it better your way. What inspired you to break that (unusually moldy) mold?

Molly:  I had a good friend in high school who was very popular with boys. I could never understand it, because she wasn’t really pretty. She was  a little overweight– extremely confident, however, and seemed to think of herself as a siren. And it worked. I thought of her as I created Winnie—and I loved the idea of a chubby woman as a mankiller. I like to tweak stereotypes.

Me: What’s your ideal target audience for this book? Your main character is a teen, of course, so Young Adult seems to go without saying. But did you write this fairly exclusively for young adults, or are you hoping to appeal to a variety of ages? Who is/are your ideal readers?

Molly:  I wrote it for adult readers, but then halfway through, I realized that it would have appeal to young adult readers as well. I am very comfortable writing as a young girl, because I actually feel as if I am still a teenager inside.

Me: You called yourself a humor writer at heart. Talk to us a little about your background as a writer. Is this a debut novel, or is there a rich body of work behind it? And once you’ve told us a little more about your history, please tell us why your heart is drawn to comedy.

Molly:  I have always been “funny.” I initially wanted to be an actress, and comedy was my forte. I have always loved quirky people, and I am drawn to comedy. I think that pain is often very well expressed via comedy, and heartbreak often has a funny flip side. I love words as well, and I like to mix things up. For instance, in Keep the Ends Loose, Mandy calls her father “a cross between a genius and a stuffed animal.” This is just the way I think, I guess!

In terms of a rich body of work, yes. I spent an entire year making up character names and then writing a character sketch for each one. I self-published many of them in my first book, Characters in Search of a Novel. I have always wondered how a name might influence a person’s life: wouldn’t John Smith have a much less eventful life than Rollie Sidebottom?  And then about a year ago, I downloaded a drawing app, and I discovered how much I like to draw the faces of my characters. This opened up a whole new world of fun for me!

I also have blogged weekly for about nine years.  Practice, practice.

Me: What’s next for you?

Molly:  I am writing a book about a lonely woman who makes her living writing erotic fiction, and the friendship she makes with an eleven-year-old girl. They save one another. Wait—this sounds like a Catherine Ryan Hyde novel!

Me: Please write your own question, and answer it.

Molly: If you could have great talent in another area, what would you choose to do?

I would love to be an animal rescuer. I have always loved animals, and one of my goals in life is to hold a baby lion. This will never happen.  I would also like to hug a baby beaver. Again, no way.  Because I could never actually be a rescuer—I would end up trying to keep all the animals I rescued. I would be a complete failure. I know this, as I have five cats sitting in my kitchen at this very moment.  Catherine, thank you so much for having me!

Me: No, thank you, Molly. You are always fun. Readers can learn more about Molly by visiting HER WEBSITE, or you can follow her on Twitter.

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FOOD FATIGUE

I fully understand teamwork. Division of labor makes all kinds of sense. But somewhere along the line, the division of labor over here has become depressing. At least to me.

Of course, I am sure that my husband must get tired of mowing the lawn. But he only has to do it in the summer, and only once in awhile. And being outside, strolling behind the mower and stopping to talk with the neighbors doesn’t seem all that bad to me. Well, ok. Sweat. But otherwise.

Compare and contrast. People have to eat to survive. I hate this. I like it when I am sitting in a restaurant, looking at the menu and trying to decide between the lobster tails and the pasta with garlic and roasted vegetables. But cut to me, sitting in my kitchen with an empty icebox and a grocery list. Despair.

I have made dinner for my family just about every night for 45 years. Good God. At first, it was just me and my darling new husband, and Hamburger Helper was just fine with a couple of candles. But years passed. Children were involved. There was an acute awareness of the four food groups and the distressing amount of sugar in everything. I had to put a protein, a green thing, and a salad at everybody’s place at the table.

Things got even more challenging when I decided on a whim thirty years ago that we should become semi-vegetarian. Yup! No more red meat full of all those hormones and antibiotics! No way. Just free range, organic chicken and turkey. No fish, because I hate it. Wow. Soy protein became very popular. We ate turkey dogs. Good times.

The children are gone now. But damnation, there are still two people around here who need dinner every night! I am still the one providing it. I am completely burned out. I wake up in the morning, and dinner is hanging over me like an overdue term paper. What will it be? Can we just have scrambled eggs? Oh, wait—that was last night.

Chicken in a packet. Chicken fajitas. Oven baked. Turkey meat loaf—that was only once; we both hated it. Baked potatoes and salad? Great, but not filling. Cheese and crackers? Why not? Oh. He wants more. He actually asked me if I would consider making pot pies from scratch. I threw my Joy of Cooking at him.

So once again, I put on my coat, take my recyclable bags, and go to the store, where I roam the aisles listlessly, hoping for ideas. It gets harder every day. Maybe tonight, we’ll have

HEADLINE: WOMAN FOUND MUMBLING AND DROOLING IN PRODUCE SECTION OF LOCAL GROCERY CLUTCHING BLANK GROCERY LIST

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