About waiting for inspiration

“As writers, we don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration waits for us.” – Simon Van Booy in his Publishers & Writers essay “Craft Capsule: A Bird in the Sky.”

Long-time professional writers scoff at the notion of beginning writers sitting around waiting for inspiration. Generally, they (the professionals) say they go to the office and write every day because that’s their job; they don’t sit around waiting for inspiration.

Nothing beats a wonderful story idea that appears out of “nowhere.” But can we count on this approach to be financially successful as novelists or freelance creative nonfiction writers? My answer is no.

Louis Pasteur once said that “chance favors the prepared mind.” I think writers who think that way find more inspiration than those who don’t.

In one of my posts about magic, I said that many psychic occurrences begin when an individual relaxes and imagines that something is happening–and then, suddenly, it is happening. That is, your imagination transforms into a link that shows you the location, person, or situation you wanted to view in a so-called paranormal way.

For me, inspiration works the same way. If I find myself without any story ideas, the best thing for me to do is search the Internet (or my bookshelf) for books about subjects I love writing about. If I do this casually–without putting pressure on myself to discover an idea–and just read or poke about for the fun of it, that is when I start thinking of prospective story ideas.

Usually, the half-born idea leads to reading through more of the books or websites that made me think of my potential story until more ideas come together and then I start wondering such things as “what if a person went to this place and did ABC?” or “what if people found a way to twist this kind of information into a evil business?”

Then I set the ideas aside for an hour or so while doing something relatively mindless, from mowing the yard to playing a video game–and while I’m doing that and not worrying about the story ideas, my mind is somehow open to additional thoughts that help the story take form.

I have no idea how or why this works, but it seems better than staring at the wall and waiting for the great American novel to show up out of nowhere.

Malcolm

 

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Miscellany: New, upcoming, and around the Net

Here are a few updates about one thing and another, this and that, and things from that drawer most families have the kitchen that contains stuff that didn’t end up some place else.

New

  • EmilyaudioI’m happy to announce that my three-story Kindle set, Emily’s Stories, is now available as an audio book. The stories feature a fourteen-year-old girl who talks to birds and ghosts and, just possibly, tinkers a little bit with reality. That’s what I would expect from a curious, sharp and savvy young lady. Personally, it was strange (in a good way) to hear my words being read back to me by narrator Kelley Hazen. Kelley also narrates my Vanilla Heart Publishing colleague Marie Hampton’s Hunting Heartbreak. Stay tuned for more audio books from VHP later this year. It’s an exciting new way to tell you our stories.

Upcoming

  • I’m looking forward to posting reviews of two new books about Glacier National Park in late May, Best of Glacier and Glacier Park Lodge. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the famous lodge built by the former Great Northern Railway on the edge of the park. You can still get there by train via AMTRAK’s Empire Builder.cagedgravescover
  • Author Dianne Marenco Salerni (“We Hear the Dead” and her upcoming “The Caged Graves”) will be hear in two weeks with a spooky guest post. With today’s zombie fad, we usually hear about protecting the living from the dead.  However, there have been times when the dead needed to be protected from the living. It’s a great post with some wonderful photographs. Dianne and I used to contribute book reviews to the same review site, so it’s doubly fun to see her latest novels coming out and showing up with glowing reader responses on similar sites.

Around the Net

You’ll find some of my favorite places in the blogroll. In my search for author and publishing news for my “Book Bits” posts on my Sun Singer’s Travels blog, I look at a great many blogs and sites each week. But here are some posts I wanted to share (including one of mine own) outside the realm of reviews and author news:

Smoky Zeidel photo
Smoky Zeidel photo
  • My friend and colleague at Vanilla Heart Publishing, Smoky Zeidel (“The Storyteller’s Bracelet”), has been blogging about the the beauty of the California coast. I haven’t been back to the state where I was born for many years, so I’m contenting myself to read about it in In Search of the Pacific Crest Trail. This is the second in a two-part posting. Smoky is known as the Earth Mage for good reason.
  • Since I have blogged here in the past about the hero’s journey, I see a lot of visitors stopping by after having searched for more information. I would like to suggest The ongoing series of posts on C. LaVielle’s Book Jacket Blog about the hero’s journey and the Major Arcana from the Tarot deck. The deck’s Major Arcana, when followed in numerical order, are a representation of not only the hero’s journey, but the seeker’s journey. Yesterday’s post is The Sun, Part I.
  • Montucky photo
    Montucky photo

    My Montana friend “Montucky” has been running his Montana Outdoors blog for some years now and has gathered over time a surprising variety of high country photographs. He spends a lot of time on trails and forest service roads and always has his camera. You’ll see scenics, river pictures, and hundreds of wildflowers. Most recently, he showed us the beauty of Lichens and moss. Montucky makes frequent posts, and I have found a lot of serenity in stopping by his blog of late to see the last snowfalls and the first spring flowers. His blog is almost as good as flying out to Montana, though considerably less expensive! (However, as soon as Hollywood calls and makes me an offer for this book or that, I’m buying a plane ticket or a suite on the Empire Builder.)

  • Florida Memory photo
    Florida Memory photo

    In my recent post on my Sun Singer’s Travels weblog, I couldn’t resist placing my characters in Florida’s Garden of Eden, I continue a series of novel-location-essays focused on my new contemporary fantasy novel The Seeker. In the 1960s when the novel is set, the Florida Panhandle preserve now called the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines was touted as being the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden. There were signs all over the place, including one that said “Here Adam and Eve Built Their First Home.” The Garden of Eden trail is still there, but a lot of the former rhetoric and publicity about Arks and gopher wood has faded into the past. The habitat is exceptionally rare no matter what you believe about its past. I habitually use many real settings in my novels and short stories as a way of contrasting fantasy and reality, adding depth to my locations, and (in a small way) keeping a bit of local history alive.

Malcolm

On the road to Christmas

Actions that are from our desire to receive for the self-alone connect us to the path of Darkness. Actions that are for our desire to share connect us to the path of Light.Michael Berg

Children traditionally experience the magic of Christmas in part by speculating about the gifts beneath the tree. They wonder what will Santa bring them and can hardly sleep the night before as they toss and turn thinking about opening their presents and shaking out their stockings.

As children grow older, they slowly begin to learn that a great part of the joy of Christmas comes from giving, from finding something special that another person will like. My parents and grandparents were far more excited about my reactions to the gifts I received than their own gifts.

There are some balancing acts here. One is keeping gifts and expectations within reason so that Christmas isn’t viewed as a time to get absurd amounts of loot. Another is keeping one’s ego out of the picture so that one is giving in order to share and to make the recipient happy, not to be praised and loved for the size of the gift.

At Christmas time, people frequently say they wish the magic of the Christmas tree were a part of their lives year-around. I don’t expect they’re talking about handing out gifts 24/7 every day of the year. The magic, I think, comes from being willing to share what we know and what we have and who we are. It comes from having a “you first” philosophy.

Perhaps we start first with our family and friends simply by being more available in the multiple senses of the word, and then we take another step and expand on that. And then another step after that. We all know how we’ve felt on Christmas mornings watching children open gifts from us they hardly dared hope for. Their surprise, their smiles, their delight–we can have that feeling again of witnessing that by giving of ourselves, our experience, our knowledge, our time, and our compassion.

NOTE: On December 11th, Shelagh Watkins, creator and editor of the recently published Forever Friends anthology will visit with us to talk about the book. I hope you’ll join us with comments and questions.

On the road to Thanksgiving

The excesively polarized political debate in recent years focused the consciousness of the nation on negatives, on what we purportedly lacked, on what we didn’t have, on what somebody somewhere was doing wrong. During this time, the country and our lives were not without value, yet the daily whining tended more than anything else to obscure what we could have been and should have been thankful for.

My belief system is quite unwielding on one point: What you resist, persists.

To our detriment, lack–even before the nasty political bickering of the last eight years–has long been a favorite topic of conversation, in barber shops, over the backyard fence, on street corners with strangers, beneath satin sheets with lovers, and one could almost laugh at it as the tragicomedy of the human experience if it weren’t making such a mess of our lives.

If one’s lumbago wasn’t acting up, if it weren’t too cold or too dry or too wet or too windy, if the President hadn’t just said something idiotic, if the promotion hadn’t gone to company clown, if the neighbor hadn’t just painted his house pink with green stripes, if if if if, then for goodness sakes, there was veritably nothing to talk about. Lack, for many, makes the world go around.

Like attracts like, the gurus tell us, and so it is that those who focus a fair amount of their waking thoughts–not to mention their dreams–on lack seem forever surprised on the constant deluge of additional lack into their lives. Many, as we have seen, have been quite willing to mortgage their souls as well as all of their temporal assets in a blind attempt to escape from lack.

When we focus on lack, what we already have is slid onto the back burner. We don’t think about it. We’re not grateful for it. We take it for granted. We even hide it on purpose because–should it be seen–it might diminish our argument that fate and other people have cast an unfair amount of lack into our lives.

As Thanksgiving approachs, a large part of our daily conversation remains focused on lack, on just how bad the Black Friday sales figures are likely to be or on how early we need to get up on that day after Thanksgiving to get to the store before anyone else does so we can beat them to the sales tables and get rid as much of our lack as possible at the lowest possible cost.

The cost, I think, is far too high regardless of the amount we spend, and the consequences of worshipping the daemons of lack are far too dear to leave the house with credit cards in hand.

I have an alternative proposal. It’s not my invention. Thousands have already said it and said it better. Stay home with what you have rather than going out in search of what you think you’re missing. It’s a difficult habit to break, I know, but it’s the only way to your heart’s desires.

Each day on the road to Thanksgiving, we have an opportunity to ponder that which we are likely to be grateful for if and when we give it a clear focus within the mind’s eye. What we have requires more of our attention than what we don’t have. Perhaps it’s a warm coat or a lover or a house filled with friends or a job or a perfect weekend or a full pantry or a pleasant disposition.

Gratefulness leads to more gratefulness and thanks leads to more thanks, do you think?

Seriously, I’m Not Really James Bond

When my friends answer their phones, I’m likely to say, “My name is Bond, James Bond.” Then, after they say, “Malcolm, I know that’s you,” we get on to the real reason I called.

In my heart of hearts, I realize I’m not James Bond. For one thing, my psychologist Dr. No Way has informed me that it’s “wrong” to pretend to be who you’re not. Years ago, Kurt Vonnegut warned that such pretense is dangerous.

What is less clear is who I really am.

Yes, I do know my name and I’m happy to tell you I remember it most of the time. But that name is merely a convenient label, perhaps like a brand such as Coke or Pepsi and General Motors or Ford. You know what’s what with such brand names, but with Malcolm Campbell you may be less sure, and I would agree.

Masha Malka begins her beautiful little book The One Minute Coach with this question: “Whose life are you living?” I’m not sure I can answer this question correctly. What about you?

The psychologist Eric Berne, widely known for his work with games and scripts, suggested that when we were young, we accepted so many of the “you should” and “you ought” admonitions from parents and other adults without question and that we still accept them today as gospel. Consciously, we might exclaim: HOW CRAZY IS THAT while subconsciously we still believe “you’ll never make anything of yourself” and “dreams like that are only for rich people.”

In a similar vein, author Nancy Whitney-Reiter says in her recent book (Unplugged: How to Disconnect from the Rat Race, Have an Existential Crisis, and Find Meaning and Fulfillment) that there are reasons most people aren’t happy even though they’ve achieved many of the goals we set out to achieve. Among them is the fact that we’re shoved into the school system and then into the world of work with goals that are programmed into us by parents, friends and society. We don’t have time to ask, “Do I really want to be a highly paid CEO of a giant company who lives in a million-dollar house and drives a $100,000 car?”

How many of us are trudging ahead from school to marriage to kids to jobs following either the expectations of others or the expectations we accepted without question?

Reiter urges us to “unplug” from the hustle and bustle of every day life, take some time for ourselves, and learn who we really are and what makes us happy. Malka urges us to spend time each day taking action steps that will lead us toward an authentic life. Why don’t we do such things?

We just don’t get to them, right? Remember all the things you told your friends you were going to do some day: learn another language, go back to school, maintain a savings account, lose weight, stop smoking? Like New Year’s resolutions, they sounded good, but they took a effort and seemed to be such endless processes that we didn’t get anywhere. So, whose life am I living? Whose life are you living?

In his e-book The Principles of Successful Manifesting, Thomas Herold observes that we’re going to make progress in those areas where we place our attention. This echoes a question that has been asked by Silva Method instructors: “If you spend 15 minutes three times a day thinking positive thoughts about yourself and your goals, but then spend the rest of the day thinking negative thoughts about your life and your job and your relationships, what kind of result will you end up with?”

Indeed. If we’re not attending to ourselves and our dreams, I don’t think we’ll find either of them.

If we had started that savings account 25 years ago, it might be worth something now even though we could only deposit a little bit of money each week. If we had started learning another language ten years ago, we might have some fluency in it by now even though we only had time for one lesson a week. Had we placed more of our attention on learning who we really are and what we truly desire, we might now be free from parental admonitions, the un-verified assumptions, and the expecations of those who embrace the consumer matrix version of “life.”

Malka asks where we’ll be next year at this time. “Will you be doing the same things, going to the same places, spending time with the same people, wishing the same things, and realizing that with each year that passes, those wishes will probably never materialize?”

Those of us who have noticed that we might not really be who we want to be are told by friends and co-workers, “that’s the breaks” and “that’s just the way it is” and “you’re stuck now, so let’s just go grab a couple of beers and watch the ball game.”

We’re hearing more and more these days from more and more people that we’re not stuck, that we do have choices, and it’s not too late. In 1902, James Allen wrote his ground-breaking and inspiring book “As a Man Thinketh.” My father had an original-edition copy on his bookshelf and I read it as a young man thinking what a wonderful dream. Problem was, I saw it as a dream rather than a reality. One of the more positive developments I see in a time many are describing as chaotic, is that thousands of people are finally catching up with the beliefs Allen stated over a century ago.

Our choices are real and viable. Unlike tasks requiring bricks and mortar, Allen’s beliefs–and those of his modern-day counterparts–do not take years and years of painful 24/7 effort that are beyond are schedules and our capabilities. Seriously, they’re relative quick and painless if there’s a lot of passion behind them and oh, so little time.

Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes,
And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes
The tool of Thought, and, shaping what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills:—
He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:
Environment is but his looking-glass.

                                         –James Allen

Copyright (c) 2008 by Malcolm R. Campbell who takes this philosophy neither shaken nor stirred.

Join me on December 11th for a discussion with author and publisher Shelagh Watkins. She’ll be here to talk about Forever Friends, a new poetry and short story anthology released by Mandinam Press in October.

Do you agree that perception is reality?

“Most all of the current brain research is leading to one conclusion. Most of what we consider to be happening ‘out there’ is really occurring ‘in here’ within the confines of our own head. Perhaps this is why mystics refer to the external world as maya, or an illusion. It’s interesting to note the word ‘illusion’ is derived from the Latin root ‘illusere,’ which means ‘innerplay.'” –MaAnna Stephenson in The Sage Age, Blending Science with Intuitive Wisdom

What do you make of this quotation from MaAnna Stephenson’s new book?

Do you view perception is reality as figurative? That is, psychological in tone, warped or clarified by our attitudes, preconceptions, philosophies, likes and dislikes.

Or, do you view perception is reality as actual? That is, literally concrete, dynamic, and totally synchonistic with your intentions (conscious or otherwise) and mission here on the planet.

Or, do you view the notion as merely interesting and/or absurd?

We can step into a labyrinth here, suggesting that if you believe perception is reality, then it is, but that if you believe perception is not reality, then it isn’t.

Perhaps your perception of perception has a great impact on your view of how things work in the world, whether it’s a jungle or an oasis, whether it’s filled with hate or love, whether goals and intentions create the “future” or whether fate and the purported stronger wills of others bring tomorrow into actuality, whether there’s more room in our lives for fear or for hope.

As the Christmas song asks: Do you see what I see? I’m suggesting that you may or may not see what I see and vice versa, and that problems between people often occur because they presume their perceptions of reality, while necessarily synchronous in many basic respects, are hand-in-glove matches. To know, better yet to understand, another person or another group requires, I think, really seeing what they’re seeing, that is to say, knowing quite literally where they’re coming from and where the “live.”

Does this make sense? How do you perceive such ideas? Are they foreign or are they an integral part of your reality? Either way, I’m suggesting that the universe is responding to your opinions and your imagination. Or, it may be better to say, I perceive that it is within my reality.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Malcolm R. Campbell

 

Embark on the Journey, Follow the Fantasy, Create the Reality

The Sun Singer, new age literary fiction by Malcolm R. Campbell

Buy the e-book for only $5.33 at Powell’s Books

Sun Singer Interview

Yesterday, I enjoyed stopping by Yvonne Perry’s Writers in the Sky weblog to talk about my fantasy novel The Sun Singer. The interview was fun and it was nice to see a couple of folks from the long-gone WritingUp blog community stop by an say “hello.”

A New Age Fantasy
A New Age Fantasy

The day before, writer/reviewer Geri Ahearn posted a very positive review on her site, Amazon and B&N. Here’s my favorite part:

Malcolm R. Campbell takes the reader on a magnificent, magic carpet ride to the past, the present, and the future. The story is enlightening, and tugs at the reader’s heart as the adventure becomes a journey that strikes a chord in every reader, while looking back into the years of growing up. This novel is packed with riveting intensity, and is hauntingly powerful. As each page in “The Sun Singer” fits another piece to the mysterious puzzle that Robert is determined to put together, the story becomes more entertaining, and touching. The author created a brilliant, must-read fantasy that makes you crave for a sequel. –Geraldine Ahearn

Last month, I took part in a 24-hour read-a-thon to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of a book store in nearby Gainesville, Georgia. Our profits were donated to the county’s literary alliance. It was fun talking about the novel again in a reading/signing environment. We had a good group of people even though it was a rainy night.

As an author, I see such things as gifts, for when a book has been out for a while (four years) one isn’t involved in the heady hoopla of promotion attendant to launch dates. It means a lot when, for example, a person comments on a weblog and says they lent the book to a friend who liked it and lent it to another friend or family member.

Writing is a rather solitary profession, and those of us who don’t get out much and who don’t know how to act when we do get out, relish the moments when somebody rings the door bell or shows up at a book signing or leaves a review on B&N or Amazon or stops by a Facebook or a Myspace profile and says, “hey clown, I hope you’re having a good weekend.” 🙂

The Illusion of Separation

Zero Degrees of Separation
Zero Degrees of Separation
Within the sweet labyrinth of my reality, no one ever dies. “Death” is a moment of unlimited remembrance and birth is a moment of limited forgetting.

Knowing my point of view about such moments, the universe placed a copy of Sandra Hatfield’s delightful novel Zero Degrees of Separation on my desk when it came time for me to review a book for the November issue of Georgia’s Living Jackson Magazine.

Sandra Hatfield, whom I haven’t knowingly met in this lifetime, lives a few miles up the road. Yet, we may well have walked some of the same pathways as we each found ourselves drawn to remember how the universe works; especially “death,” “dying,” and the “afterlife.” As I read Zero Degrees of Separation, I discovered a fictionalized account of my own belief system in which “death” as call it and fear it and avoid it is a very natural transition between realms.

Most readers of Zero Degrees of Separation will clearly see before Hatfield’s main character Christina sees it, that she has died. Even so, she finds herself thinking that she’s never felt better in her life, for gone is the hospital bed where she lay dying where her family experiences the grief of our universal experience when we appear to be separated from family and loved ones for all eternity.

The novel provides us with a window into an afterlife that contrasts sharply with the traditional versions most of us grew up with. Whether Hatfield’s version seems plausible or not as you read, Christina’s experiences make for an interesting story. So, too, Christina’s compassionate feeling for those left behind who are experiencing grief at her absence.

No doubt, Hatfield’s many years of experience with Hospice and The Twilight Brigade, helped her write the novel’s scenes about grief in a way that is not only real to readers, but potentially empathetic and helpful in their own lives.

Hatfield’s novel, which I think you’ll enjoy, is available from her own website for $18.30 (including S&H) via check or Paypal.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Malcolm R. Campbell

Negatively Bound

“Revolution doesn’t have to do with smashing something, it has to do with bringing something forth. If you spend all your time thinking about that which you are attacking, then you are negatively bound to it. You have to find the zeal in yourself and bring that out.” —Joseph Campbell
in “Man and Myth”

How easy it is to become bound to that which we do not want. The more we argue, the more we worry, and the more we focus on negative conditions as we perceive them to be, the longer those conditions will remain.

We create through our thoughts, either more of the “bad” we are focusing on, or changes for the “good” as we dream and imagine them.

Malcolm

Discovering fire for the second time

“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of Love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered Fire.” –Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Will it make the news?

Down at the bottom of the half-hour local report, after sports and weather, just before the anchors look at each other and say something mildly lame that’s supposed to be funny, just before fading to black, “this just in, a man and woman standing at the summit of Going to the Sun Mountain discovered fire for the second time.”

“Gee, Bob, I hope they weren’t just playing with matches.”

Perhaps it won’t make the news.

Perhaps it’s an individual event and has already happened, and the rest of us are wandering on wondering what it will be like and whether or not we’ll get burned in the process.