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Monday, November 5, 2012

(Indie) Book Talk: *Characters in Search of a Novel*, by Molly D. Campbell

My participation in Creative Alliance '12 prompted much consideration of my approach to my online life. As a book blogger, that life clearly includes books and authors...but it hasn’t included many from the swelling ranks of the “non-traditionally published.” Today it does, in the first of several posts on the topic of “indie authors” I have planned for this month (somehow, NaNoWriMo seems like good timing for it).

CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF A NOVEL: illustrations by Randy PalmerLoretta Squirrels. The Tarnations. Morty Portnoy. Scarlett Swells. Duke Devlin. Farley Spratt. And a couple dozen more, all born on Molly Campbell’s Twitter account--they’re in search of a novel, but they have found a book:
"Always curious about how a name might influence personality, Molly began a Twitter stream of names with one-sentence descriptions that soon took over her imagination. Loretta Squirrels, a moonshiner who also beats up her husband, gained notoriety on Twitter. Loretta was swiftly followed by eccentric dentists, dogs with human characteristics, cab drivers, Country and Western singers, and a movie star or two."
The most remarkable thing about Molly D. Campbell's Characters in Search of a Novel is that quite a few of these characters may not need one; in just a few hundred words, she's given them complete stories. The fact that each of these stories has a unique and distinctive voice is also remarkable. These characters were born out the author's fascination with odd names and first introduced themselves through her Twitter account, but she's really brought them to life in this unique collection of short fiction.

These stories are difficult to classify: extended character sketches that the author calls “micro-fiction,” most are comedic, and some have a unexpected amount of emotional depth. Many were first published online, but when Molly was ready to collect them into a book, she chose to publish it independently. She recognized that its unusual beginnings, coupled with the fact that each of the pieces is accompanied by an illustration of its subject by longtime Dayton (Ohio) Daily News artist Randy Palmer, made it just quirky enough that it might be challenged to find a place with a traditional publisher. The artwork made a high-quality print edition particularly important, and Molly worked with an editing and book-design team to produce hers (although Characters is also available as an e-book). Both the print and e-book editions are published through Amazon.com's Createspace platform and sold on Amazon.com.

CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF A NOVEL cover image, via Goodreads
Molly is a two-time Erma Bombeck Award winner, so the reader would expect to find humor in her stories--and it's there, but many of them also have a surprising poignancy and hint at unexplored facets to their characters. Those are the ones that I most hope will find their novels, especially since she concludes some of their tales with twists worthy of O. Henry, and I’d really like to know where they go from there!

Characters in Search of a Novel can be a quick cover-to-cover read, but may be best savored a few stories at a time. It provides some wonderful examples of the art of character creation--but more significantly, Molly Campbell has created characters you'll want to know.

And I’m happy to have had the chance to get to know its author. I received a copy of Characters from Molly at CA’12, where she read one of its selections, “The Maestro,” during the closing night’s Say It Salon. I originally posted my review of the book on Amazon.com (four stars) at her request, but I always meant to share it here as well. Characters is a light delight of a read that would make an excellent holiday gift (and unlike my top 2011 gift-book suggestion, Anna Lefler’s The CHICKtionary, its appeal crosses gender lines).

Characters in Search of a Novel
Molly D. Campbell (author) (Goodreads author page),
Randy Palmer (artist)
CreateSpace IPP (Sept. 2012), paperback (ISBN 1478399619 / 9781478399612)
Fiction, 204 pages
Review