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Posts from the ‘writing’ Category

Briefly Noted: ‘Writing Contests with Hope’

C. Hope Clark has been advising authors through her weekly newsletter “Funds for Writers” for twenty years. I’m a long-time subscriber and look forward to Fridays and the arrival of the newsletter in my in-basket because it contains nuts and bolts tips, writing ideas and inspiration presented with a positive can-do attitude, and lists of upcoming writing opportunities.

Clark, who is also a novelist (The Carolina Slade Mysteries and The Edisto Island Mysteries) brings the best contest-related ideas from her newsletter to Writing Contests with Hope that was released in paperback and e-book in February. “This book has been a long time coming, “said Clark. “It speaks of the myths of contests, and shows how amazing contests can be for your career.”

From the Publisher

Everyone loves winning, but nobody enjoys losing. Writers are no exception. Contests in the writing profession offer opportunity in many forms, but so many writers fear entering. Whether they fear scans, rejection, or being judged, they hold back. On the other hand, others throw caution to the wind and enter every contest in sight, likewise winning nothing. Contests are a serious venture. They can catapult a career if entered thoughtfully with serious intent. Yes, intent. Contests aren’t a whimsical endeavor. With planning, practice, and research, writers can enter contests and genuinely improve their odds of success. 

A lot of writers I know don’t enter contests. That makes sense in they’re busy finishing their latest novel or meeting a deadline for a magazine article. Otherwise, I don’t understand why they don’t do it. Hope understands: in the book, she discusses some of the usual reasons writers don’t enter any of the dozens of competitions available each year. If you have concerns about contests, take a look at the What’s Inside feature on the book’s Amazon listing. The point of view there may change your mind. If it does, this book will increase your odds of success.


There is nothing that’s not God

“In philosophy, panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind, or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. Panpsychists see themselves as minds in a world of mind.” – Wikipedia

Yes, I believe everything has consciousness from the tree behind my house, to the hummingbird sitting in the tree, to the rocks lying at the base of the tree. Nothing else makes sense to me. Long before I heard the Huna phrase “there is nothing that is not God,” I saw the view outside my window as “God’s thoughts.”

Rather than focus here on a philosophical discussion for which nobody that I know of can prove one way or the other, I’ll just say that my view of the world has played hell (figuratively speaking) with the placement of my books and stories into one genre or another.

So, I tend to say that I write magical realism because that covers just about everything I want to do without having to argue about whether or not a thinking rock is a fantasy or realism. I consider thinking rocks to be real, but the publisher usually doesn’t. But magical realism, well, that’s another kettle of fish, isn’t it? I believe the landscape is, in fact, magical. So, if I place my books in the magical realism genre, I can say what realism won’t allow me to say.

Someday down the road, all of us will probably have to re-define what’s real and what isn’t real. As of now, in spite of what Quantum physics is telling us, we’re still trapped in a nuts and bolts version of reality insofar as publishers, governments, and news organizations are concerned. Basically, saying that I write magical realism has kept me out of the asylum because people who think trees are conscious are usually placed on the shortlist for shock treatments and straight jackets.

Since I think we create our own reality, it’s natural for my characters to have the same belief. My beliefs about this are quite literal. Most people see the matter as figurative, having more to do with attitudes about what’s happening rather than causing what’s happening. Here’s the good news. If I say all this in a story, I’m not picked up by the Feds and put in a home. Call it my artistic license.

I say what I’m writing is true. Publishers and most of my readers think it’s fantasy or magic. I’m okay with that because I know that once a reader reads it, s/he can’t unread it (so to speak). There will always be that nagging idea in readers’ minds that just maybe the stuff is real. Yes, it is. But there’s no rush to believe it. One day you will.




Are emerging writers desperate or acting desperate?

Every week on Facebook and in my e-mail in-basket, I see the following:

  • Podcasts and videos that promise to show me how my next book can be a bestseller.
  • Free PDF downloads that promise to show me how to get better coverage on Amazon and in Google searches by changing the keywords I use in my promotion copy–and even in my book title.
  • Publicists who want me to gamble, say, $5,000 to hire them to get more reviews, articles, TV appearances, and other promotional exposure for my novels.

No, you can’t create a bestseller by paying a publicist a few hundred dollars.

Some of these people mean well. Perhaps most of them mean well.

But I’m tired of all the offers because: (a) There are so many of them, (b) A large number see books as a value-added extra for people whose real business is doing something else, (c) They’re focused on non-fiction, (d) Use videos that are not closed-captioned, meaning that they are of little value to those of us who are hard of hearing, (e) Use podcasts that, while very popular, present information in a linear fashion that means–even if I could hear–I’d have to wade through the whole thing to get information I could see on a webpage in a fraction of the time.

There’s an old joke that people selling shovels made more money than those heading out as part of the gold rush. This seems similar to those promoting writers’ tools. People wanted to strike it rich in the goldfields. Apparently, writers want to strike it rich–or, at least all these sellers of so-called helpful information think we want to strike it rich.

Many of us on Facebook joke about the fact that whenever we go out on a website to buy gifts or check on prices for something we need, our Facebook screen is filled with advertisements for that very thing the following day. Maybe that’s why writers see all these promotions. The promoters find out we’re writers, so they display “how to write” advertisements in our e-mail in-baskets and Facebook timelines.

Frankly, I think a lot of these promotions are looking for writers with a short attention span, the writer who don’t want to “pay their dues” working their way up, and so we’re offered promises of instant riches. The whole thing would be amusing if it weren’t for the possibility that a lot of writers are paying money for “all this help” that probably won’t get them anywhere.

I wonder, how naïve can a person be who has just graduated from high school, self-publishes a book, and thinks that with a small investment of, say, $5,000 s/he will suddenly be in the stratosphere of writers by listening to a podcast? Yes, it could happen. But for most people, it won’t. The lottery probably has better odds of success.

My publisher and I joke about when Oprah will select one of my books for her book club and when Viola Davis wil read Conjure Woman’s Cat and want to play the role of Eulalie. Sure, these are nice dreams, but I can’t base my writing career on waiting for them to happen. Or, on thinking I can pay somebody to make them happen.

Writers everywhere are asking what it takes to get more reader reviews on Amazon, reviews in prestigious review sites like Publishers Weekly and Booklist, how does one build a platform that major publishers and major critics and the book-buying public notice, what does it take for a word-of-mouth campaign to bring in sales, and similar questions. When all of this is discussed online, it brings you a host of ads and purported deals that claim to help you get those things.

In most cases, they won’t. And, I think that the majority of people who spend money on such services are spending more than their books are likely to earn.

Yes, I think you can build a platform. I think you can do yourself a lot of good submitting short stories and essays to carefully chosen contests and magazines, I think you can make comments on the Facebook status updates of other writers as well as their blogs, I think you can develop a niche for your own blog and website that sooner or later captures the attention of readers, editors, and agents. But, there’s nothing certain about this process. Keep your day job and keep at it, and look at all those people selling shovels with a sceptical eye.



Etc – a mix of stuff

  • Enjoyed reading The Witches of New York by Ami McKay. One nice take-away quote from that novel is this infuriating information: “There was a definite double standard when it came to ‘occult practices’ in the Puritan communities of the day. If a woman practiced folk healing or Bible dipping or oomancy (a form of divination that employs pouring egg whites in water) then she was a witch. If a clergyman studied alchemy, then he was a learned scholar. As Stacy Schiff wrote: ‘Plenty of clergymen dabbled in alchemy. While inveighing against the occult popular magic was one thing, elite magic was another.'”
  • After my post asking where the hell my muse is, I got a telegram from her: “Calum, chan eil thu ag èisteachd!” For those of you who don’t speak Scots Gàidhlig, she said that I haven’t been listening. Okay, she’s right. I have had a story idea in mind, but I thought it was too close to my Florida Folk Magic Series which I had intended to wrap up with the recently released Lena.  Basically, a character whom readers meet in Lena goes on a rampage against the KKK. More later when I figure how just what that means.
  • One of the two roads into town.

    Today’s Facebook status update: It’s still raining. In fact, we’ve had monsoons all winter. By the time things dry out enough for me to cut the grass, I’ll have to borrow my neighbor’s tractor and bushhog because it (the grass) will be too high for my riding mower. (Okay, what’s the deal with the new type face for this paragraph?)

  • Thank you to all the fine folks who received my publisher’s (Thomas-Jacob) newsletter and downloaded copies of Conjure Woman’s Cat. The first book in the trilogy seems to be everyone’s favorite. (I’m rather partial to it myself.)
  • There’s an ongoing Amazon giveaway here for my collection of short stories Widely Scattered Ghosts. Many of these stories are set in Florida, though they’re also from Montana, Missouri, and Illinois. You don’t have to do anything for a chance at a free copy other than follow me on Amazon.
  • Curiosity question: why is Grammarly trying to change all the spellings in this post to British spellings?
  • If you have a Facebook account, I invite you to LIKE my author’s page called Star Gazer. It’s mostly filled with links to reviews, authors, and book news.


Siobhan, cá bhfuil tú?

I’m searching for my muse. She’s a Scot, so I’m saying in Gaelic, “where are you?” If you’re not Scottish, I should tell you that that name “Siobhan” is pronounced “Shihvon,” not “See ohb han.”

Having gotten that out of the way, if you see a potentially drunk muse wandering through your neighborhood, tell her to come home and help me get started with a new story. Ever since sending the last short story out to a magazine, I haven’t come up with anything.

One reason I need a new story is because I need money. Siobhan taught me to drink the most expensive brands of single malt Scotch out there, but when I’m broke, all I can afford is swill. That’s like being stuck with Bourbon which I don’t like at all unless it’s hidden in a mixed drink.

Frankly, if a writer doesn’t have a badass muse, he’s pretty much out of business, a hopeless drunk who wakes up in bordellos and/or jail cells and wonders how he got there. Writing is more dangerous than most people think. Not writing is either more dangerous. Trust me on this because without Siobhan’s help, I have no way to explain it.

Siobhan lives in Hawai’i and sends me story ideas via telepathy because (obviously) I don’t have enough dough to travel to Oahu. Plus, if I told my wife I was traveling to Oahu to meet a woman, her reaction probably wouldn’t me all that great. “Wouldn’t a sat phone be cheaper than a plane ticket?” she would ask. “But it’s for literature,” I would protest.


So there it is.

If you see Siobhan on the beach at Kailua, tell her to give me a call. My fans are calling me every day screaming for new stories and they’re turning to James Patterson and Tom Clancy (even though he’s dead) in desperation.






Adventuresome writing – following the poem or story

“My main rule for writing is to follow the poem. You always start with the poem you want to write, but that’s not always the poem. The poem is usually smarter than you and it wants to go someplace that most likely will surprise you. If you give in and give up to the idea of following rather than forcing, the threads are easier to pull, and the poem allows you inside of it. It’s one of my favorite things about writing; I never know what’s going to happen.” – Ada Limón

When you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when you begin a new poem, short story, or novel, anything can happen. Once you try to force it, rather than follow it, you limit the possibilities of the work.

Not a fun way to drive, but this kind of tangle has wondrous writing possibilities.

Following the work doesn’t mean opening it up to chaos or something so experimental, few people will read it–unless that’s what you like to do. When you follow, you are turning your imagination and curiosity up on high and just writing. You are just letting the characters say and do what seems the most natural thing for them to say and do.

You can polish things a bit as you go or you can wait until the work is done. I tend to polish as I go whenever a character says or does something other than what they intended; or when I have stepped in out of nowhere and forced something to happen.

Like Limón, I like not knowing what’s going to happen. I like being surprised when I begin to see where the plot is heading. I usually have an idea when I begin whether I’m writing realism or magical realism, but things can change. I also tend to have a sense whether the story lends itself to a rather unemotional, straightforward approach or an exuberant and lyrical style. Yes, that might change, too, but it seldom does.

When authors try this approach for the first time, they’re not only surprised about the wild and wonderful things that happen, but that at the end of the first draft, the story or poem is more cohesive than they thought it would be.

I also hear authors saying that even if they really prefer outlines and storyboards, writing several stories this way helps free up their writing. Its scope increases as the writer takes more risks. Relax, I want to say. These risks aren’t life-threatening. The worst that can happen is having a story turn into a writing exercise. If you end up with something you don’t like, toss it in a drawer and start something new.

When writing is an adventure, you will never get bored or stuck. Writing is always hard work, but following the story also provides you with a sense of play.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism stories and novels, including the new collection of short stories, “Widely Scattered Ghosts.”


Be careful when asking for opinions about stories you haven’t started writing

“Hold off asking for opinion. The earlier you ask for feedback, the more likely you are to get deterred from what might be your best writing. The best judge of a good idea is you, but only after you’ve mulled it over for a long while, or tested it by writing a draft, or rewritten it three or four times. After you’ve read similar works to compare. After you’ve honed your writing skills to develop the chops to even write the concept.” C. Hope Clark

I can’t find the quotation now, but Hemingway once warned writers against talking their ideas away. That is, telling others the plots of stories they were about to write. After all was said and done, possibly at a table with several bottles of wine, the author would realize that in all the give and take about his or her prospective project, s/he had lost it.

In this week’s Funds for Writers newsletter, Hope Clark expressed similar reservations about rushing out and telling friends, fans, and other writers what you’re thinking about writing–all in hopes of getting feedback about its viability.

Personally, I don’t understand this at all unless, perhaps, you’re floating an idea with your publisher or agent about what you want to write next. Otherwise, early on, what the hell kind of feedback could anyone possibly offer? So, telling–let’s say–your usual beta readers that you’re starting a new series may elicit a lot of pats on the back with little useful feedback.

The more you say, the more likely it is that their comments and questions will derail the project or somehow change it into something outside the scope of what you want to do.

Personally, I don’t like or understand the concept of beta readers unless I’m writing nonfiction and am looking for an unofficial peer review of my approach before devoting too much time researching the project. So I never ask anybody what they think of a prospective story idea because any input I get is doing to be detrimental to what my muse and I are considering.

If you feel better asking for feedback, my suggestion is to wait until you have the first draft. At that point, you have enough of a story for others to understand your plot, theme, characters, and style. When you wait, you’re more sure of yourself and your story, including its focus and ending, and distracting and negative comments are less likely to derail you. Now, quality beta readers may, in fact, find holes in the story, inconsistencies, and other issues that fall far short of destroying your work in progress.





The Writer’s Solitude 

“A psychiatrist friend once pointed out to me that one of the definitions of psychosis is a fixed belief in an imaginary world lasting months or years, which no one but the patient himself is able to perceive. He wondered aloud if this wasn’t also a decent definition of a novelist. Having recently emerged from five years of concentration on my own imaginary world of my latest book, I think he has a point. Which has left me considering the disposition that leads people to write in the first place, and the relationship between their actual and imaginary lives.”

Source: The Perpetual Solitude of the Writer | Literary Hub

Adam Haslett adds that in order to interact with others through our writing, we have to have periods of alone time first.

It’s odd, I think, that those who choose solitude are viewed as antisocial, perhaps nuts, by others until they publish a well-received book. It’s culture shock to come out of one’s cave and interact with others and those others, while they like saying they know those authors, react to their emergence from that cave with the same concern they do when a mental patient escapes.

What a strange world writing is.


Do I want to go into the woods and write?

The short answer is no.

I subscribe to several writers’ magazines. I enjoy the articles and interviews. My eyes glaze over when I see ads for writer’s retreats. Many of these–some you pay for and some you compete for–feature cabins in the woods for writers who want to get away from it all and do nothing but write.

That’s supposed to be a writer’s ultimate dream, well, not counting having a bestseller, lunching with J. K. Rowling, or watching a blockbuster movie with your name in the credits.

The first thing that comes to mind about writing in the woods is that it’s not hard to live in the woods and that if a writer needs to live in the woods in order to write, then s/he would live in the woods all the time. The whole idea of traveling across country for 500 or 1000 miles (which is a lot of hassle) to stay in a special in-the-woods house seems like the worst thing I could possibly do because it would add pressure to the work.

Our family has rented vacation cabins in the woods. They’re often cheaper than hotels near tourist areas. We have a nice setting, plenty of space (especially when kids are around), and a place to use as our HQ for going on sight-seeing day trips. Plus, we can cook a lot of our meals there cheaper than restaurants, play games, and enjoy quality family time.

That’s relaxing. But to go to one of those same cabins, set up my computer, and say, “Okay, Malcolm, write something” pretty much guarantees that I won’t be able to write something. I don’t want to get away from it all to write because I really need “it all” to be able to write. That is, I write in my natural setting in between taking out the garbage, washing dishes, going to the grocery store, etc.

Sure, it’s harder to find time to write if one has to commute an hour to and from work, bring work projects home, or has a noisy family life in a small house. And, if that’s where a writer is and if s/he needs to escape for a week or a month to get any real creative work done, I’m okay with that.

It just doesn’t work for me. Neither does going to a college or a writer’s retreat where one has quiet time to write but is expected to meet other writers daily for specified amounts of time to talk about writing or to meet with students and give seminars about writing. Talking to other writers about writing bores me because I don’t care about everyone’s pet theories any more than they’re going to care about mine. I guess such discussions are supposed to help us grow. I’m overly cynical about those kinds of discussions because, well, I have no idea how I write because I just do it. So, I want to stay at home and not go someplace else where I have to talk about it in exchange for sitting in a cabin somewhere on the grounds of the retreat’s fields, woods, beach, or swamp.

On the flip side of the coin, what if I tried out the cabin in the woods or the writer’s retreat and got addicted to it? If that happened, I’d probably no longer be able to write at home. Well, there’s a built-in excuse for writer’s block as well as a justification for spending more money on renting cabins in the woods than my books can possibly earn.

It just seems easier to write where I am.


Coming soon, “Widely Scattered Ghosts,” a collection of nine stories. To learn more, click on the cover picture.

How do experienced editors find all the mistakes?

If you’ve come here looking for editing help, all hope is lost.

I asked the question because I’ve been going through my collection of nine ghost stories, cleaning up the typos and spelling errors. I finally sent off the corrected manuscript this afternoon.

Evil Spirit

But here’s the thing. I know for a certainty that if I read through the manuscript again, I’ll find more typos. They (various gurus) say that a writer is the last person that ought to be proofreading his or her work. They are right. We get distracted by the story and start tinkering with the dialogue or the action and forget all about looking for mistakes.

I’ve decided that experienced editors are bionic in some way or (if you’re a Star Trek fan) part of an inhuman collective called the BORG. Otherwise, they couldn’t find all the mistakes the rest of us miss. The trouble is, these people charge $100 a minute, much more than the book will probably earn. So, we proofread our own stuff and hope we don’t get dinged by a reviewer who writes, “This story was pretty good except for a shitload of errors.”

I’m not sure I want to trust a reviewer who uses the word “shitload.”

But readers trust those reviewers and once they see the book is sinking like a stone on Amazon (due to the weight of that shitload), they (the readers) start looking for more mistakes. BobsYourUncle from Champaign Illinois comments that he has never seen a green cardinal except in a bad dream. RomanceGirl from South Florida comments that the sex was unrealistic and that she ought to know. FlyingNun from Rome says the book has too many pagan references in it and that the author and all the characters are going to hell.

The whole shebang starts because somewhere in the novel, the author accidentally used “your” instead of “you’re.” Once those comments get started on Amazon, they spread to Twitter where mobs of unwashed critics slam the book even though they haven’t read it. If you’ve read the news lately, you know this can happen, especially in the YA world.

There are days when an author thanks his or her lucky stars that the grammar Nazis and the worst of the general public haven’t heard of him or her because if you miss a typo, you have a target on your back. So does your book.

Let me suggest a solution. If you learn hoodoo or Voodoo, you can hide hexes within your books. When you do this, innocent-looking descriptions and inane dialogue passages contain groups of letters that summon evil spirits who don’t like people who go on Twitter, Amazon, or GoodReads and say nasty things about books. Readers who aren’t doing anything wrong have nothing to worry about (usually).

According to a recent poll, evil spirits charge less than editors. So, when it comes to choosing whether to pay $100 a minute for an editor or mixing up some graveyard dirt and rusty nails for evil spirits, what do you think most savvy authors are going to do?