That book on the end of the shelf

I’ve written a lot of words on this blog during the past two years about my three magical realism, conjure and crime novels set in north Florida: Conjure Woman’s Cat, Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena. But what’s the book on the end of the shelf?

That book, Sarabande, was the most difficult novel for me to write. Previously, I’d written The Sun Singer, a hero’s journey contemporary fantasy told from a young man’s point of view. But the hero’s journey is only half of the world’s mythic cosmic story. I needed the heroine’s journey, a novel told from a young woman’s point of view.

The hero’s journey is a series of events out of comparative mythology developed by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. While some authors have tried, the heroine’s journey cannot be shoe-horned into the hero’s journey scheme. It’s too different, more moon and seeds and underworld secrets than derring-do and sky-god stories and changing oneself while risking one’s life in the service of others.

As an author, it’s difficult for a man to put himself into a woman’s shoes and tell a woman’s story. While he may have worn such shoes in previous lifetimes, he doesn’t belong in those shoes in this lifetime. Fortunately, my main character, Sarabande also appeared in The Sun Singer and that meant I had known her for a long time, so there was a history there that was stronger than it would have been if I had used a new character.

I liked Sarabande in The Sun Singer and avoided writing a novel about her for many months because I didn’t want to see her go through the heroine’s journey, a journey that included a physical assault by a man and a vicious and life threatening sexual overture by a female denizen of the underworld. The book was a learning experience for me, though one that was most likely limited to the confines of the book rather than my coming anywhere close to truly knowing the trials and joys of women.

My happiest moment after the book was released was the comment by a female reviewer who said that the story was so real she had to keep reminding herself that it had been written by a male author.

Sarabande is a dark women’s story written primarily for women. The man’s hero’s journey, when it unfolds naturally, ends in transformation. Likewise, the woman’s heroine’s journey. Two paths, each undertaken out of the necessities of the real world, yet each ending in profound, spiritual changes on opposides of the male/female coin.

Sarabande is available in paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

Malcolm

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Tarot: Step inside the cards

Sooner or later, most good cooks throw away their recipe books. What they know is not rote memorization, but an understanding of food, the impact of heat and cold, and the results of mixing one thing with another.

Knight of Swords – Thoth Deck. Other decks use the term “King.

Effective Tarot card readers throw away books that list the standard meanings of each card because they have discovered that the card is a prompt–or perhaps a spirit–that directs the reader to his/her own intuition and knowledge.

Personally, I don’t believe the future is fixed in place, so I’m going to see a reading (whether it comes from the I Ching, Tarot Cards, Bones, or some other system) as a story about what is now the case or is developing. How the reader sees this matter will also impact how they react to either the so-called standard meanings of the cards and/or to their intuitive glimpses into the question on their minds that is prompted by seeing the cards in a certain order.

In time, the reader no longer needs the cards. That’s much simpler, but perhaps a long time coming for many people who pick up a Tarot deck and wonder if it will speak to them.

I am influenced when I look at the cards by knowing that they are “ruled” by the elements Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. Fire and Air are considered active. The Swords suit (modern-day spades) is within the realm of Air. Knights are always considered the fiery/active part of each element. The active nature of a Knight is shown in the movement of the figure on the card. As described on Raven Tarot, “The element of Air is the pure mind, the thought and the intellect, synthesis and analysis, the proceeding of the amorphous spirit of Fire and the unconscious emotion of Water into definitions and concepts. Air is both structure and conscious realization, both formation and abstraction.” 

Other readers come to the Tarot with other basic ideas and they will be influenced by those and they will find the cards to be catalysts to their intuition in a somewhat different way, though they “should” more or less come to the same conclusions about a subject as I do.

The deck I use.

Some people “learn the cards” by meditating on each one and allowing ideas about each card to come to them without actively trying to “figure out the card.” Others do multiple readings about things they will know in the “future” and see how what they saw in the “spread” (the card’s layout on the table) coincides to the unfolding future. When one does this, it helps to do readings about others because if you do them about yourself, you can always change the way things unfold an invalidate the reading.

The Card as a Doorway

In my imagination, I visualize being in a nondescript room with a large doorway in it that’s painted like the card I want to learn more about. After I’ve relaxed and gotten rid of all the general chatter going on inside my head, I walk to the door and open it. What do I see outside? What do I hear? First impressions are important because they simply are and haven’t had time to get twisted into logical deductions about what’s going on. When I open the door painted like the Knight of Swords card, I see swirling fog, sometimes by day and sometimes by night, and hear the sound of the wind.

Sometimes my intuition leads me to sit on the doorstep there–as we’re supposed to do at a railroad crossing–and Stop, Look, and Listen. Sometimes my intuition leads me to step outside, and when I do that, I’m usually in the sky, swirling around like a leaf in the wind with no control of its own. There’s no fear in this, no sensation of falling, and no worry that I might be carried so far away from the door, I won’t know how to get back. Since this is “my card” in Tarot readings and as I see myself generally, floating, swirling, sailing, and tumbling in pure air is a basic, womb-like experience. I’m often content to do nothing and just soak of the nourishment of the moment.

I can exert control if I like, though it’s more intuitive than logical. Rather than, say, deciding to fly over a specific place, I simply wonder “what’s down there” or “what else is up here.” I might see cities and oceans the way I would seem them from a plane or stars the way I might see them through the lens of a telescope. Air carries me whither it wants to.

Doing this kind of meditation is not unique to me. Many intuitives have said that Tarot cards are, for them, like windows or doorways. I suppose, though, that I bring a shaman’s journey technique and, rather than seeing figurative worlds or literal places, I see what’s outside the door of each card.

And, in a sense, whenever we do a Tarot reading, we are looking at what’s outside the doorway of the present moment and our present time and current place.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of novels filled with magic.

 

 

 

Going to the library

“The library is a whispering post. You don’t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most peculiar book was written with that kind of courage — the writer’s belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past, and to what is still to come.”

― Susan Orlean, The Library Book

The library was my favorite place in my grade school, junior high school, and high school. Early on, some of my teachers would take their classes to the libraries the introduce them to what was there, how you found it, and how you borrowed it. I went back many times. My parents were active in the group that started my county’s public library. Once the doors opened for the first time, I found a new place to explore. University libraries, where I worked throughout college, had the same allure, though it was more mysterious with multiple floors and sections and sometimes old stairways and badly lighted stacks.

Los Angeles Library – Wikipedia Photo

Some of my classmates seemed lost, generally speaking, about who they were, where they were going, how they fit into the scheme of things, and what might be missing from their lives. I wanted to say, “Walk into the library and you’ll find everything you’ll ever need.” I didn’t say it, of course, because saying it would quickly put a student on the bullying list of everyone else in the school from class thugs to class leaders.

“A book feels like a thing alive in this moment, and also alive in a continuum, from the moment the thoughts about it first percolated in the writer’s mind to the moment it sprang from the printing press — a lifeline that continues as someone sits with it and marvels over it, and it continues on, …”
― Susan Orlean, The Library Book

I wonder about the future of libraries. Where will they end up in a world that is sliding into the morass of digital art that can be read on a screen without having to drive to that old building in the middle of town where the physical books not only take up a lot of expensive space, but can’t keep up with the deluge of each year’s new books. Frankly, I don’t think libraries will survive no matter how many new perks and services they add. I would like to be wrong about this. I would like to see viable ways to keep libraries up, running, and vital.

Chicago Public Library – Wikipedia Photo

The answer to “how do we keep libraries alive?” probably requires a look at ourselves first because since many of us didn’t walk into libraries when we were in school, we never figured out who we were and why knowledge and stories and rooms filled with books are important. So now, here we are. We don’t value what’s inside those buildings, so we don’t pay to keep the buildings and their contents alive: even our silly texts about mundane matters of the moment seem more important. The world often seems to have shrunk down to the mundane and endless cell phone texting between two people, each of whom thinks “It’s all about me.”

Meanwhile, the larger world, including books in libraries, awaits out attention if we dare to look at matters larger than ourselves and what we’re having for dinner tonight.

Malcolm

If you can’t find my novels in your library, ask the librarian to get them. If s/he can’t, perhaps you can donate your copies when you’re done reading them.

 

Your writing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats

Do you ever feel like you’re swimming against the tide in your creative life?As authors, we have a vast array of ways to spend our time. Time is our only non-renewable resource. Given how precious it is, are you truly making the most of yours? Without a properly calibrated creative compass, it’s easy to spend time on urgent, rather than important, activities. One way to regain control and peace of mind as an author is the SWOT framework.

Source: Take Charge of Your Creative Life: The SWOT Analysis | Jane Friedman

 

As writers, we’re often not very realistic about our time. NYT bestselling authors who keep churning out multiple books a year while scheduling readings/signings, speech, conventions, and other appearances probably have to be realistic because they have schedules to keep and their writing contracts often have deadlines.

But, will SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) help? It annoys my sense of comfortable chaos and living off of intuition to even consider it. But, I present it here as something that might well help others.

Malcolm

Amazon Kindle cover.

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, fantasy, and paranormal stories and novels, including “Florida Folk Magic Stories.”

A perfect Thanksgiving dinner on the first try

When we visited my daughter and her family in Maryland for Thanksgiving this year, we enjoyed side trips to Mt. Vernon and historic Alexandria. We especially liked the candlelight tour of Mt. Vernon.

But the surprise was the fact that my daughter’s husband decided that since he’d never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner before, he’d give it a try. He didn’t start out with a family recipe box or a tradition that’s passed down from parents to children every year so that one kind of knows how to fix the dinner from having watched others doing it.

Instead, he began with the Internet and (apparently) Googled how to cook a turkey, make candied yams, prepare an icebox cake, and create the side dishes. I probably would have used my mother’s old recipe books because, while I’ve found some great recipes on the Internet, I’ve noticed that some of the versions between one site and another have vastly different cooking times and oven temps; so, if you didn’t more or less know how to cook something, it would be hard to roll the dice with one version or another.

Frankly, I thought he looked like a mad scientist in the kitchen co-ordinating all the parts of the meal. And keeping things warm after they came out of the oven. (My mother had a double oven, so she had an easy way to keep multiple things hot.) But he juggled things in an out of the microwave and kept them covered.

The dinner was perfect. I told him that if he gets tired of his office job, he could probably sign on as a chef at a five-star Michelin restaurant.

The best thing was seeing family. With two granddaughters, they change so much every year it’s hard to keep up. And, I’m thinking that they have a good role model in a father who knows how to use the kitchen and then clean it up after the meal.

I hope your Thanksgiving was a good one as well.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Lena,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

Grail myths, where they came from, and how they were changed

I suppose I was probably destroyed <g> at an early age by the originals of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Or maybe the vicissitudes of magic led me into a mythic approach to understanding “the big picture” and the storytelling surrounding it. Be that as it may, I enjoy deepening my understanding (or further brainwashing myself) about myths and legends by constantly looking for new resources and re-reading old resources.

This past weekend, it was King Arthur and the Holy Grail. I can’t count the number of variations of this story I’ve read since childhood. Early on, I liked T. H. White’s Once and Future King, Mary Stewart’s trilogy, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s alternative approach in The Mists of Avalon. The approach of these and other authors is as varied as the approach of those credited with the early versions of the stories. This weekend’s reading was Joseph Campbell’s The Romance of the Grail.

Campbell, best known for The Hero with a Thousand Faces, spent a lifetime studying the Grail stories. In reading his book, we see immediately that there are two major approaches. One comes from Celtic sources and is probably indigenous to Ireland. This approach sees the Grail stories as a pagan manifestation of tales about fertility gods. The other major approach shows the stories as Christianized, that is to say, in which the Grail was considered to be the chalice from the Last Supper and the lance was said to be the one brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea. I see this second approach as a “cleaning up” of older stories so that they were acceptable to the church. Yet another theme, further “touches up” the stories with mythic stories and practices from mysteries out of ancient Greece.

Joseph Campbell died in 1987, a few years after Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982) was published, advancing the theory that Mary Magdalene was, in fact, the Grail, had been Jesus’ wife, and carried his bloodline. I wonder if Campbell was aware of this theory before he died.

I tend to like the original sources of myths rather than the glosses painted over them by subsequent poets. So, I see the Christianized versions of the Grail stories as deviant. Yet, those are the versions most people know and accept as part of the entire King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table storyline. It’s too late to change that, I suppose. Yet, paradoxically, I do wonder about the realities of Mary Magdalene even though she’s outside the Grail romances.

One issue that arises when the myths are retold properly (Elliott’s The Waste Land) or badly (Tennyson’s “Balin and Balan” in Idylls of the King) is that modern authors may or may not understand the deeper meanings of the original myths. So, those stories become–to put it crudely–writing prompts that can be spun out into all kinds of fiction that–due to egotism or ignorance–distort the intent of the basic story.

Writers of local and regional myths and legends from their own countries face the same problem. We want to base our stories to one extent or another on the legends surrounding the place, but may not have the time or resources to fully explore where those legends came from or why they were passed down through the ages. As writers, we do the best we can because, unlike Joseph Campbell and the Grail stories, we don’t have a lifetime’s worth of scholarship with which to shore up our stories.

Malcolm

You can find more information about Joseph Campbell and his work on the Joseph Campbell Foundation website.

 

 

 

 

I have no idea why I can’t proofread worth a darn

“Nothing can affect my voice, it’s so bad.” – Bob Dylan

Likewise, nothing will help my proofreading because it’s so bad. Fortunately, an Internet program called Grammarly has weeded out most of the typos from my Facebook posts. But, I’m cheap and have a free version. That one doesn’t seem to help much with Word files.

So, today I’m going through the manuscript for an upcoming short story collection for the 5th time looking for typos. I keep finding them. After I go through the manuscript, I always think, “Finally, it’s now error free.”

Except it isn’t. If I go through it again, I find more typos. I don’t know I miss them. My publisher sends my books to an editor and she always finds more.

I feel slightly better about the situation when I read that many experts think the worst person to proofread a manuscript is the person who wrote it. S/he always starts reading for a sense of the story and misses the same errors that got missed the first time.  Typos are a big problem with many self-published books because authors try to proofread them and miss a lot of mistakes. They’re advised to hire editors, but many editors charge more than the authors think the books will earn.

My editor has been doing her job for a long time, so I’m pleased to say that she catches what I miss. Thank goodness. My publisher relies on our editor as well. When I send her a new story, she’s reading it to see what happens in the story and whether that story will be a reasonable addition to the catalogue. So, she misses some of the same stuff I miss. She grumbles at this because she’s also a writer and thinks, as I do, that at some point our proofreading will be worth a darn.

Some authors have a team of beta readers who go through manuscripts in progress and make suggestions. Naturally, these readers will catch a lot of the errors. However, I dislike the concept. I never know where my stories are going when I start writing them, so the last thing I want is a committee making suggestions about what’s happening and what ought to happen next. That would totally screw up my chaotic writing process.

My wife is a big help, though. She worked for a daily newspaper and has also done a lot of writing. She finds many of the errors in my work that I don’t see. Sometimes she catches continuity problems such as “Hey, didn’t Bart die in chapter three? If so, what’s he doing sneaking around in chapter eight?” Oops.

In my Florida Folk Magic trilogy, my conjure woman Eulalie claims she’s older than dirt. I’m not that old yet, but I’m getting close. That means that I’ve been writing long enough to have figured out how to be a better proofreader. What I think happened is this: James Patterson and Nora Roberts started worrying that I’d knock their books off the bestseller list. So they put a hex on me. That’s the only reasonable excuse I can think of.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea” which is free on Kindle for a few more hours.

 

Writing Advice from Isabel Allende

“So how do writers make sense of it all? Observe. Take notes. Question your own assumptions. Recognize the struggles of people around you, acknowledge your struggles, and be generous to both. In Allende’s words, “If we listen to another person’s story, if we tell our own story … we realize that the similarities that bring us together are many more than the differences that separate us.”

Source: Isabel Allende’s National Book Awards Speech: Writing Advice – The Atlantic

Isabel Allende has become the first Spanish-language writer to receive an honorary National Book Award medal. In her acceptance speech, which you’ll find covered in “The Atlantic” at the link above, she talks about how being constantly uprooted has not only impacted the themes in much of her fiction but her approach to writing itself.

“As a stranger … I observe and listen carefully. I ask questions, and I question everything. For my writing, I don’t need to invent much; I look around and take notes. I’m a collector of experiences,” she said.

That’s how writers–and perhaps almost everyone–make sense of moving to new towns, travel experiences, and the political and cultural upheavals of the times in which they live.  As the author of “The Atlantic” article, Rosa Inocencio Smith puts it, Allende’s speech “functions almost as a step-by-step guide for responding to such existential uncertainties. Surrounded by people with infinitely varied lives, writers, she advised, need not feel the pressure of making up stories from scratch. Confronted with problems in their plots or psyches, they can use their skills of observation to gain understanding.”

I like the advice, the article, and the speech itself (which you’ll find linked to the article).

Malcolm

Fast-Paced Books are the Pacifist’s Drano

Okay, the Drano comment isn’t totally fair. Many fast-paced books are well written, have inventive and cohesive plots, know how to keep readers guessing, and when all is said and done, sell to millions of readers. There’s a lot of art and craft to them in addition to marketing savvy.

I might have told this story here before. If so, bear with me. When the TV program “24” was running, a friend of mine and I realized that while we both have non-violent and anti-break-the-rules philosophies about police work and spy work, we puzzled out why we watched that series without fail. We decided that it was because the show brought us closure. That is to say, things got done, the bad guys went to jail, and the good guys (i.e., most of the population) weren’t made to sit in limbo waiting for government red tape and partisan politics to finally fix a problem.

I’m sure many of the viewers of shows like NCIS believe in the right to privacy, yet tolerate the show’s agents illegally hacking into private records because, at the end of the hour, the bad guys are dead or behind bars. I can understand why so many in the police and spy biz say the rules are tying their hands and why we keep hearing that our trusted agencies are doing things they shouldn’t do. Those things get results even though they go against everything this nation stands for.

In “real life,” I can’t support the black ops, off-the-grid actions of private agencies such as those in novels like Typhoon Fury. Half the stuff that happens is illegal as hell–and that’s the good guys. In the imaginary world of the novel, the bad guys get shut down. In the real world we live in, they probably don’t. Or if they do, they cause a lot more collateral damage before they’re stopped. Nonetheless, seeing the bad guys shut down in a novel provides a small measure of relief to all the frustrations that arise in the real world–and in my belief system.

So, I read these novels as a coping mechanism. As a writer, I also find it interesting to see how these novelists handle plots and characters and keep readers reading. But the closure is the important thing, even if it’s only in my thoughts and not in the world I see on the news. Perhaps these books are my heroin. Or maybe they’re the Drano that flushes out my anger at both the criminals and the government for (a) creating problems that harm us all, and (b) for creating regulations that compromise our privacy and other rights in exchange for more security.

Some people turn to booze, some to sex, some to violent sports, some to drugs, some to music, and others to staying late at the office when they really don’t need to ignore their families and stay late at the office. We all have our ways of coping with the realities around us that are over the top. I can’t say that these methods, or reading James Patterson and Clive Cussler, are the best possible solutions.

But until we find and implement the best possible solutions, these escapes keep many of us out of mental institutions. I can’t say I’m proud of that, but I do feel better after flushing a lot of my frustrations about the way the world works out of my system with a slam-bang novel. And when my frustrations are flushed out, I’m less tempted to go over to the dark side.

Malcolm

 

 

FREE: ‘Mountain Song’ by Malcolm R. Campbell

This Kindle e-book, regularly priced at $7.99, will be free on Amazon November 15-17, 2018.

As I hear it, summer romances are usually bittersweet. Mine was. They begin with a surprise, evolve into passion, turn sad and desperate at summer’s end, and then in spite of promises and best intentions, they often fade away. Perhaps the two lovers in Mountain Song will beat the odds.

Description

David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?

The settings in this book are real. The mountains are those of Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. The swamp is the notorious Tate’s Hell Swamp along the gulf coast in the Florida Panhandle.