The time at the tone is: NOW

“If I write in the present yet digress, is that real time? Real time, I reasoned, cannot be divided into sections like numbers of the face of a clock. If I write about the past as I simultaneously dwell in the present, am I still in real time. Perhaps there is no past or future, only the perpetual present that contains this trinity of memory.”

– Patti Smith in “M Train”

Writers are seldom in real time. We’re writing about yesterday or years ago and we’re writing about tomorrow and aeons into the future, creating time machines with words. If I’m sitting in a room in the purported here and now and you walk in and sit down in a vacant chair, you may soon observe that I’m not really there; I’ve gone deep into the past where time and space are so real that I can taste her breath in my mouth while noticing that the color of her lipstick matches the color of the dawn’s “sailor take warning sky.”

Patti Smith follows–figuratively speaking in her own time–the gurus who postulate an “eternal now.” Interesting, perhaps true, but that concept doesn’t help us get to work on time or remember when to feed the cats. Time used to be all mixed up before the railroads created time zones at high noon on November 8, 1883. Before that, time was a roll-your-own approximation of the sun, moon, stars and custom. But, you cannot run a railroad–other than the Polar Express–through roll your own or the eternal now.

As the New York Times said looking back at the date and time in 1983, “Some citizens grumbled about ‘railroad tyranny’ and tampering with ‘God’s time.’ The Mayor of Bangor, Me., deplored the change as an ‘attempt to change the immutable laws of God Almighty.’ The Indiana Sentinel lamented, ‘The sun is no longer boss of the job.'”

I’m reminded of the verse in Isaac Watts’s old hymn “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”:

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

That verse made quite an impression on me the first time I sang it in church. I felt small, awash in an almost-timeless universe, awash in the power of my own thoughts and words to take me away from the “now”–as defined by the railroads–into fluid moments so far away most people have forgotten them or not yet imagined them.

When a writer writes, the time is always now or, if not now, whatever we say it is. From time to time, I ask people, “Is it yesterday yet?” Nobody seems to know. They haven’t yet noticed that the right creative thought and/or the well written book will take them into yesterday with or without clocks and time zones.

I guess people notice the eternal now when they read and become lost in the story. Writers are always lost in the story, and I think that’s a blessing even though it plays hell with temporal appointments ruled by clocks.

1960 movie poster

When I read H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine, I thought what a wonderful invention that would be, this long before “Star Trek” invented the “temporal prime directive” stating that the people in our time couldn’t tamper with the people in another time.  Science fiction writers love playing with the notion that if a person simply strolls through the past, his/her presence there might change the world. What would happen to you if you accidentally killed your great great grandfather?

If there really is an eternal now, then the answer to that question is probably “nothing.” For years, writers have wondered if a time machine might make it possible to “go back” and save President Lincoln. Some say that, had he lived, reconstruction wouldn’t have become the hellish mess that it was. A character in Stephen King’s 11/22/63 figures out how to return to Dallas on the date in question and save President Kennedy. The world resulting from that was a horrible mess, darker than the dark ages. As it turns out, playing God is dangerous because we don’t know what God knows in the “evening gone” since Lincoln and Kennedy were shot.”

Yet, when we write, we are playing God. Sometimes I wonder if our play is confined to the pages of our novels. Perhaps our stories have impacts we can’t imagine and will never know. Best we can do is hope that our muses keep us on the straight and narrow so that we always write the right thing when the time is right.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels, a fact that shouldn’t surprise you after reading this post.


Too much interior monologue will kill a good story

“Interior monologue, in dramatic and nondramatic fiction, narrative technique that exhibits the thoughts passing through the minds of the protagonists. These ideas may be either loosely related impressions approaching free association or more rationally structured sequences of thought and emotion.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

True stream-of-consciousness fiction can yield a lot of exciting passages about a character’s inner life (which s/he may or may not confuse with reality) as well as plot-advancing impressions that mesh well with the story line.

When I think of “too much interior monologue,” I’m not bashing well-written stream of consciousness techniques in spite of the fact that readers who don’t like literary fiction will hand out one- and two-star reviews for such novels on Amazon. When an author’s protagonist thinks about the situation s/he is in, that’s interior monologue.

Naturally, it’s normal and relevant to think about the situations we’re in. On the other hand, when this thinking does on for hundreds of words in multiple places in a novel, then it is likely to ruin the story. Writers are told that most of what they put in a novel should advance the plot. Overused interior monologue doesn’t advance the plot: instead it puts the plot on hold.

I just finished reading a novel with an interesting plot. A protagonist with a history of panic attacks which s/he manages with prescription medication (as much as possible) undergoes a traumatic experience before being put into an unrelated but more dangerous situation where her life and the lives of others is at risk.

I’m not going to identify the novel or even count the number of words in it and compute what percentage of it is plot-stalling interior monologue. My impression, though, is that 40% of the novel is interior monologue along the lines of. . .I need to keep my self from screaming. . .I need to relax. . .maybe I didn’t see what I think I saw. . .can I trust person XYZ. . .maybe if I told my story and/or got certain people to trust me, they would believe me and/or help me.

Stop Talking to Yourself and Do Something!

A little bit of this is fine. But when it goes on and on and on, there’s really nothing happening. Yes, maybe this would happen in real life, but writers are also told that writing fiction that copies real life–as a 24/7 video camera might view it–is bad because a lot of that real life stuff is trivial. In the novel I just finished, the character’s fight to keep her panic under control and her considerations about what may or may not be happening can be conveyed to the reader much faster.

When I see excessive amounts of interior monologue, my first thought is that the writer doesn’t really have enough depth in the plot to make a novel. That is, there are two few events and dialogue passages to sustain a book-length story. So, the interior monologue pads the length of the book out to the minimum number of words the author or publisher feels are necessary to call the book a novel rather than a short story, novelette, or novella.

I liked the plot of the novel I just finished. I liked the satisfactory ending and the fact that the protagonist’s experience ended up making her a stronger person ready to take stock of a lot of decisions about her life that had been stalled. I think it’s a shame, though, that the story was dragged down by the interior monologue instead of being pushed forward with a greater number of plot elements.

Dan Brown’s “Teaching Moments” Come to Mind

Dan Brown and others who write novels about ancient secrets with a modern twist to them are often criticized for stopping the action through the insertion of a lot of exposition in which one character tells another character what the ancient secrets are all about. This is a slick way of telling the reader what those secrets are about. If you were going to write a spoof of such books, you’d have one character pull a knife on another character and then–so to speak–freeze the action while the character tells somebody else why all this matters (for, say, a thousand words) and then go back to the knife fight.

That really tears apart the pacing of the action. It’s also very frustrating to the reader. Excessive interior monologue has the same negative impacts.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and other magical realism and fantasy novels.

How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?

In his Salon interview with five authors (“Figuring out that page-turning quality is tougher than it looks”), Teddy Wayne asked, “How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?”

I especially liked Sara Flannery Murphy’s (“The Possessions”) answer: “I always remind myself that I’m not entitled to anybody’s attention. That way, I feel a lot of gratitude for the people who do listen, knowing that they’re giving their attention to me freely and generously.”

Authors have been asked this question for years. Some are considered arrogant, egotistical, and vain, filled with self-importance as though they are kings and queens who must be served by millions of little readers. Some write that they write and hope the readers who like their plots and characters find their books.

Some authors are very commercial: they have a knack for knowing what sells well and how to keep writing it so that over time they develop a reputation for delivering stories in their genres of choice that are guaranteed to keep their fans forever turning pages and waiting for the next book.

Some authors are more comfortable in niches and (perhaps) believe they’re lucky if anyone finds their books.

Today, a lot of authors think the way to success is to sell stuff cheaply. Maybe that works. But really, the thing all authors are asking their readers to give them is their time. Whether those readers pay 99¢ or $29.95 for the book, the time it takes for them to read the novel, short story collection, or nonfiction is more valuable to them than the cash. Whether they read the book in an afternoon, a long weekend, or a few pages every night for weeks before going to bed, they had unlimited options for spending that time. But they chose the book.

That’s why I like Murphy’s answer. And frankly, there’s no way to truly thank a reader who has spent many hours “freely and generously” reading something we’ve written other than doing our best to tell the story well.



Facebook Suffering Typewriter Infestation

It begins subtly.

There’s a small ad in the right-hand column from a nostalgia stock photo agency showing a guy with a pipe writing the great American novel on an ancient Underwood typeriter.

typewriterclipartA few days later, a woman is shown in a sponsored post typing her memoir, or perhaps journaling, via a somewhat more modern (but non-electric) portable.

Few people notice.

The following week, typewriters begin to appear in book promotion posts, inspirational status updates about the myth of writer’s block, and in pleas from publishers asking us to send them our best work (albeit in a DOCX file).

So far, the Centers for Disease Control appears not to have noticed the infestation.

Speculation from conspiracy fans is rife: (a) Those who distrust writers want to hypnotize us into using outmoded equipment, (b) there’s been a security breach at an Area-51 lab experimenting with sending hexed typewriters to third-world planets, (c) Somebody found an abandoned warehouse filled with typewriters and is trying to unload them on aspiring writers before they (the writers) learn there’s no place to buy typewriter ribbon.

Is Facebook’s typewriter infestation innocent nostalgia, an on-gong “Throw Back Thursday” of yesteryear images, or just a lot of overworked copywriters copying each other?


I don’t have any proof yet, but I suspect the glut of typewriters appearing on Facebook is more nefarious than we can imagine and that if you look closely at any of Nostradamus’ more obscure prophecies, you’ll see that he said this was going to happen.

If you’re a writer, run for your life.



Tell me a story

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
 I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
 Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
 In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you
–Bob Dylan

We who write are tambourine men, poets, liars, con men, dreamers, pied pipers, spinners of yarn, spinners of mirages, tinkerers with reality, profane disciples of all that’s engraved in the sand on a beach, creators and destroyers of worlds, demons and tricksters and gods, snakes in the grass, and golden eagles flying high above the divides between night, day, worlds, sleep and consciousness.

minotaurWe who write intend to lead you astray for that is where you will find yourself, your salvation, your journey’s beginning, your lover, your treasure and everything that matters and gives substance to life.

If you read our words, if you follow the jingle jangle of our stories, we promise you that whatever you thought was engraved in stone was in fact fluid and that whatever you thought was fluid was your imagination and that reality is always a deck of cards that you can choose to play face down or face up depending upon your penchant for fate and destiny.

We who write cannot be trusted to give you a straight answer for we only know dark and crooked roads and the stories that live alongside them. But do not take care or look behind you for the prize comes with the unexpected, the epiphany hidden amongst devils and the light that shines on the darkest night for those who walk with their eyes wide open.

Believe what you will, but when you follow tambourine men, poets, and liars there is no turning back though you may believe some dream or illusion that you have turned back as we all go deeper into the labyrinth toward Minotaurs that will–if the gods be kind–tell us the secrets of life if we survive the journey.

We who write are always en route to the center of the labyrinth where all stories lead us, and where they will lead you, too, if you dare to say, “Tell me a story.”


P.S. Now it’s time to put this blog into storage for a few weeks or so. Thank you for your support, visits and comments.

Seeker for promo 1Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Seeker,” “The Sailor,” “The Betrayed,” and other dangerous fiction.

When you write, are you happy?

“I believe that half the trouble in the world comes from people asking ‘What have I achieved?’ rather than ‘What have I enjoyed?’ I’ve been writing about a subject I love as long as I can remember — horses and the people associated with them, anyplace, anywhere, anytime. I couldn’t be happier knowing that young people are reading my books. But even more important to me is that I’ve enjoyed so much the writing of them.”   – Walter Farley (author of The Black Stallion)

writerAt book signings, I see long lines of readers waiting for one widely known author or another to arrive, and this is good, of course, because the people love books and want to meet the bestselling authors they usually only see on TV. Of course, I’m there, too, in the same line waiting for my 30 seconds with the author where s/he is signing books so quickly, it seems like his or her tired hand will need a lot of Aspercreme at the end of the evening.

To many people, an author is the name on the book, the name they trust for the kind of reading they like, somebody who shows up on a talk show or who’s interviewed by Kirkus or Publishers Weekly. If you’re not a writer, you probably don’t think about what your favorite authors are like while they’re writing. I often wonder if those thinking about becoming authors are skewed off the road to reality by seeing authors as celebrities showing up with a lot of fanfare at a bookstore or a studio.

A favorite line of mine out of an old writing book went something like this: Most people don’t want to write, they want to have written. They’re looking only at what comes when the book is done; that’s only the tip of the iceberg in most authors’ lives. Most of the time, they’re alone with a pencil, pen, typewriter or computer. They’re wearing jeans and a tee shirt and look like they haven’t gotten enough sleep for years. It’s hard work, writing, and I think that people who imagine seeing their books on the bestseller lists don’t always think about exactly what they’ll have to do to make that happen.

Is the work fun?

booksartSince most of a author’s life is spent researching and writing, enjoying this part of the process seems to me to be an important prerequisite to considering poetry, short stories, novels and plays as part of one’s career. The writer at work, should be the picture of bliss and contentment. Okay, there’s frustration and profanity, too, and on the bad days, an extra glass of Scotch. But most of the time, authors who like being authors are happy while they’re writing.

In fact, writing is like drugs. Once an author finishes a book, s/he will variously be tired, excited, joyful, elated and (sometimes) relieved. But soon, s/he will have to be writing again because nothing else compares with it. Perhaps it’s a meaningful addiction or perhaps it’s a variation of the kind of high a runner often feels or a tennis player or a musician. Doing the work is the author’s focal point.

So, my two cents for today is to suggest that if the writing itself doesn’t make a person happy, perhaps they’re in the wrong career. At her sarcastic best, Dorothy Parker once said, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

It’s not an easy life and, when it comes down to it, most people really don’t like writing all that much, Reading, yes, but writing: forget it. They’re thinking about going on a talk show and having dinner with Jo Rowling, but not about the work.

If the work isn’t making a person happy, then it seems pointless to me to be writing fiction with big dreams but no sense of the day to day way most of one’s time will be spent. On the other hand, if it makes you happy, your friends and family make consider you a lost cause since–quite clearly–your addiction to your art is almost more important than anything else.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Emily’s Stories, The Seeker, Jock Stewart and the Missing See of Fire and other books that were a real hoot to write.


Day of Rest

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” –  Maya Angelou  (Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now)

relaxationWhen I saw this quotation on Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor blog, I started thinking that while a writer’s life must appear serene to those who work in more active jobs, it’s very hard to allow oneself to get that day of rest.

If one is actively writing a story, the characters seldom take a day off. They’re always jabbering away inside the writer’s head. Or, s/he is thinking of facts to check or scenes that require another look. If one is not actively writing a story, then it’s easy to feel the need to be posting something on a blog like this one or on a Facebook page.

Case in point: before I saw that quote about taking a day off, I was thinking of writing a post in response to a writer/reviewer who doesn’t think Rowling’s adult books are all that good. I don’t agree and was going to say why–not that it matters one way or another in the scheme of things what I think about Rowling’s books.

But in thinking about a day of rest–after I’ve already gone to the store and cleaned out the gutters over the front door—going through that reviewer’s negative Rowling points one by one, seemed very in-restful. So, I’m letting that go in favor of reading more of her latest “Robert Galbraith” detective story The Silkworm.

Growing up, I never looked forward to Sunday because–in that era and in that town–Sunday afternoons were reserved for calling on other people. My two brothers and I were ordered to stay in our Sunday clothes, keep our rooms clean, and not to get involved in any games that messed up the house. It was not a day of rest.

Traditionally, I think of Sunday as a day of rest even though a fair number of people are working at the restaurants, movie theaters, malls and other places where many people go to rest. Folks are still working their yards, though possibly not starting up their lawn mowers quite as early as they do on Saturday.

There’s always football and beer, and whether one slumps on the couch with a six pack or has friends over for grilling, that’s probably better than heading off to the office to catch up on paperwork or clearing the thicket of privet out of the backyard. There’s always taking a nap. For some, there are hobbies that provide some of the best relaxation on the planet. Perhaps one can also call it rest.

We need more than we’re getting even if we have to trick ourselves into resting rather than thinking of all the stuff we ought to be doing. Thank goodness, the era of people dropping by to call on Sunday afternoons is long gone. For a kid or a writer, boring conversation is hell rather than rest.

Now, time to pick up my copy of The Silkworm in spite of what that reviewer said about it, and get some well-deserved rest after yesterday afternoon’s yard work. Later this afternoon, there’s a U. S. Open Tennis game I want to watch, er, with a glass of wine rather than a six pack of anything


P.S. Thank you, Mel Mathews for your kind words about The Sun Singer in ‘The Sun Singer’ – The Hero’s Journey par Excellence




Blog Traffic is Often a Puzzlement

I appreciate those of you who regularly stop by, read, leave comments, and subscribe. Without Google Analytics, I often wonder where some of the other blog traffic comes from.

Suddenly, a two-year-old review of “Labyrinth” by Kate Mosse gets 35 viewers. Last week, an old article called “Branding at Sea” about the USS Ranger was ranked as a top post. Sometimes I can figure out these puzzles. A news story prompts a sudden search. An author comes out with a new book, leading people here to reviews of earlier books. But most of the time, I can’t track down the why of sudden bursts of traffic to old posts.

I often post news and articles about Glacier National Park, the hero’s journey, and the heroine’s journey, so I’m not too surprised to see search terms listed on my dashboard from readers looking for more information. My new novel “The Seeker” will be coming out soon. That means more fantasy and magical realism posts. Later this year, I plan to visit Glacier National Park, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see more posts about Swiftcurrent Valley and Many Glacier Hotel.

Coming soon, is a very interesting guest post from author Dianne K. Salerni (“We Hear the Dead”). If I told you the subject, you’d probably think I was making it up. I’m already wondering what kind of search terms will lead people to that post.

I’ll have another book review to post in several weeks. I liked this author’s collection of short stories. It’s fun seeing him focus his talents on a novel. When I post reviews, I often see more traffic for the older reviews.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for here, check out my Magic Moments blog for more posts about fantasy, the natural world and sometimes a bit of Zen. Several times a week, I post links to book and author news, writing tips, and book reviews in “Book Bits” which appears on Sun Singer’s Travels.

The traffic on the older posts on those blogs is also a puzzlement, but I figure the Universe, Google and the Internet in general pretty much know who needs to stop by for a visit. When I start following links, I often end up at sites and blogs I’ve never heard of and find that it’s almost as though I was destined to go to them and read a specific article or post that somehow applies to whatever I’m doing.

Even if Google Analytics were available for WordPress blogs, I’m not sure it could figure out the logic of traffic that the fates send to one place or another.


Keeping up with author and book news

Have you found my re-started “Book Bits” posts yet?

They run twice a week on my Sun Singer’s Travels weblog. An earlier version ran daily, but after a hundred posts, I realized that keeping up with author and book news wasn’t leaving me any time to write. This time, the posts featuring links to book news, author interviews, book reviews, writing tips and features, and commentary about today’s publishing world are under control. Hmm, well, they seem to be.

Not long after shutting down the daily “Book Bits,” I started to miss it. Plus, I was still spending time reading about authors and books. So, why not bring it back? I’m enjoying it. I hope you will, too.

I’ll continue to use this blog for book reviews, briefly noted posts about new books, writing ideas, and musings about some of my writing themes such as the recent Tarot card post. The readers’ and writers’ links, announcements and personal writing notes will be in Sun Singer’s Travels. Nature, natural cycles, magic, and fantasy will usually appear in Magic Moments.

You can keep up with all of us at Vanilla Heart Publishing via our Reader’s Group. Be the first to hear about new books, author presentations and talks, and a variety of other programs.

You’ll also find links to writing samplers, book trailers and websites for VHP’s authors: Smoky Trudeau Zeidel, Chelle Cordero, Marilyn C. Morris, Kate Evans, Robert Hays, L.E. Harvey, Collin Kelley, Malcolm Campbell, Charmaine GordonJanet Lane Walters, Anne K. Albert, S.R. Claridge, Melinda Clayton, Angela Kay Austin, Joice Overton, Ramey Channell, Scott Zeidel and Namid.

Have fun with all of the blogs. Leave comments. Ask questions. And, for goodness sakes, leave the online world every day and take some time reading.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary satire and satire novels. His paranormal story “Moonlight and Ghosts, how available on both Kindle and Nook, was published last month.

Take a look at locations you know for your best stories

The possibilities for swamp stories are infinite

Like most starving authors, I can—on a bad day—be jealous of authors who have the money for multiple research trips to Scotland, Paris or Japan. On the other hand, I’m not writing global thrillers or looking to my highland ancestors for what if romances about Mary Queen of Scots. So, I return again and again to the places I’ve lived and worked for my fictional settings.

Writers often debate whether the old admonition “write what you know” makes sense or is foolish. Obviously, writers do a lot of research to fill in the gaps. Nonetheless, I think it’s much easier to write about a place where you’ve been or an occupation you’ve had or have been exposed to than to have to make everything up from scratch.

If you lived in a town for years, you know the streets, the ambiance, the trees and flowers to be found there, and perhaps some of the history. If you vacation at the same beach, resort or National Park every year or so, these are also prime examples of “what you know.”

In my contemporary fantasies “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande,” I used Glacier National Park as a setting for the adventures because I worked there and later went back as a tourist. I placed some of the scenes in my magical realism novel “Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey” in Glacier, but also used the Philippines which I saw while in the Navy and the Florida Panhandle where I grew up. And this year, I’ve been writing short stories which have been set in Glacier, a north Florida swamp, and central Illinois where one side of my family came from.

My fiction always has a strong sense of place

To some extent, each of these stories could have unfolded in a dozen other places, but since I always have a strong “sense of location” in my fiction, it was easier to plunk down my characters in places I know well rather having to start from scratch. I know, for example, that you’re going to find chinkapin trees, titi thickets and scrub oak in the Florida Panhandle, and that there are several varieties of Indian Paintbrush flowers in the Montana mountains.

What I know about each location isn’t earth shaking, like state secrets, smuggling rings, or hair-raising stories from years gone by. But what I know does give me a jump start. I may well use Google to fill in a few facts, but knowing a location helps you know what to look for when you do your next Internet search. Yes, I still have dreams about going to the highlands of Scotland, but until then, I can be happy with East Glacier, Montana and Tate’s Hell Swamp on the Florida Coast.

Perhaps you can, too.

One of my favorite Glacier flowers gave me a new story idea – NPS Photo

I just saw a screen saver filled with Indian Paintbrush: ah, that leads me to another Montana short story. A week ago, I started thinking of the chuck-will’s-widow that sang all night in the woods behind the Florida house where I grew up. Oh, good, another story idea about those woods and my old neighborhood.

In many ways, I am probably always on the lookout for stories I can tell in my favorite settings because, well, I know the territory and the kinds of things that happen (or might happen) there. If the location settings in your fiction play a role, then where you’ve been is a lot easier to bring to life in words than a place you’ve always wanted to see.


You may also like: World of Wonder about nature as my primary inspiration as a writer. The post appears as part of an inspiration series running on author Smoky Zeidel’s weblog through June 27.