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Posts from the ‘writing’ Category

How much politics do you want in the novels you read?

Poets, fiction writers, essayists, and other artists have long been at the forefront of protests against unfair regimes, laws, and negative cultural practices. They still are being censored, imprisoned, and killed. So, I find it hard to protest against the increased amount of political discussion on writers’ sites these days. I suppose if a reader stays within a specific genre or group of authors and mostly reads their material, this increase in politics might be less noticeable. I see it because I’m always searching for writing news sites for information for my author’s page on Facebook.

On that page, I provide four-to-five links a day about recent book news. But my sources are becoming more and more political and making that harder for me to do without politizing the page. That is, I’m finding less information about new releases and author interviews and writing tips, and more information about authors’ views about present-day politics. If I link to such articles very often, I’ve become a political site rather than a books and authors site.

I applaud writers who speak out even if I don’t agree with them. But speaking out is good! Let’s face it, my Florida Folk Magic Series of three novels speaks out against the KKK and the Jim Crow laws of the 1950s.

Let’s face it, politics in the United States at the present moment is–for want of a better analysis–a fractured, polarized mess. It’s natural for writers to speak out about it. Even so, many readers turn to fiction and poetry for entertainment, the discovery of new ideas, and to experience their love of words. I really think some, perhaps many, of those readers do not want the worst of the daily news embedded in every novel and poem they read.

I tend to avoid political books that focus on the current moment because I don’t want to pay $25.00 for a book that contains the same stuff I see on the daily news and that will be out of date in a few years. Even my favorite writers have to wait for the Kindle or mass market paperback versions of their novels to come out before I buy them. As a writer, I think that “too much” current politics dates a novel and makes it unlikely to be read five years from now. So, I’m not going to write a novel about a bunch of people who want to impeach Trump or who want to keep him from being impeached. Stephen King might be able to carry it off, but it’s beyond me, and once Trump is gone, who’s going to read the book?

What about you. Do you look for novels that explore or exploit the current political debates of the day? Or, do you read what you usually read and hope it doesn’t sound like either CNN or FOX news?

Malcolm

 

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You have to write what you can write

One thing I hear from other authors is how easily they become discouraged when they look at the websites of other authors and/or the authors’ listings on directories such as the one maintained by Poet’s and Writer’s Magazine.

Even though many of these authors are publishing books, stories, or articles, they feel they’re coming up short when they look at the bios of other authors and see lists of grants, awards, fellowships, and literary magazines. It’s always worse, I think, to see that an author one has never heard of has been published in literary magazines that have rejected one’s work.

I’ve never been able to get a short story of mine published by Glimmer Train Magazine. They’ve been around for 30 years and are notoriously difficult to get into. They pay better than most, so they attract the best. When I heard that the magazine was discontinuing publication at the end of this year, I tried one more time. No dice. Had the story been accepted, I would have received a nice payment and some wonderful resume material.

But, there’s no sense dwelling on that. I have to accept that in addition to nonfiction, my strength is novels rather than short stories. So, I am grateful for that rather than the fact my shorter fiction work hasn’t found an audience. And, as for poetry, forget it!

Dwelling on what one usually cannot write is, for sake of a better analogy, rather like a successful tennis player wishing that s/he was also a successful Olympic swimmer. There are different skill sets involved. So, why not improve the one where your talents excel rather than feeling down and out about the venues where your talents don’t seem to fit? Nonetheless, I like submitting stories (and even poems) to a few contests a year because it’s good practice. Sure, one usually ends up editing and polishing material that might not win or even be called a finalist, but I think this work helps make our writing better.

If you’re interested in finding contests that might give you a chance to practice your craft, “Poets and Writers Magazine” has a well-maintained listing of opportunities on its website. Also, check out the listings on Funds for Writers: they have a free newsletter as well as a more extensive newsletter you can subscribe to.

As “they” often say with the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t pay. The same is true for grants and contests: if you don’t enter, you can’t win. (Even being listed as a finalist looks good on your website.) Unlike the lottery, contests require some work. That’s time well spent.

Malcolm

 

 

One of my better lives

About fifty years ago, a psychic told me that this was going to be one of my better lives.

Compared to those whose families are snuffed out by crime, war, disease, death, and other misfortunes, she got it right. This lifetime has been rather volatile and problematic enough that sometimes I wonder, “better than what?”

Well, I know what happened in some of those past lives, and sure as heck wouldn’t want to return to them. I died in at least one war and was an abused child in another life. I carry such memories just like memories of times gone by in this life.

Yes, I believe in reincarnation and that many of those involved with us in one life were involved with us in “earlier” lives. No, we are never rats or cats or zebras or any other animals. I’ve believed this since I was in high school. Suffice it to say, I was at odds with the beliefs of the Presbyterian Church on this matter (among others).

I read an article today about an author whose therapist suggested she write fiction or nonfiction about the things that brought her to therapy. Perhaps she could change the endings and show herself as triumphant rather than in deep depression. I’ve never been able to keep a journal, but many writers have found journals help them make sense of things.

Many things in my life had been fictionalized into themes and scenes and brief moments in a lot of my fiction. I wasn’t writing to “get even” (a common joke about crossing an author and ending up in his/her next novel) but to make sense of things. Oddly enough, the worst parts of this “better life” turned into my best fiction. Those moments were the kinds of conflict the stories needed. Had I lived in an ivory tower with $10000000000000 in my bank account, I wonder what the hell I would have written about.

Perhaps “better lives” means not getting killed but having enough angsty stuff to write about.¬†Okay, as a writer, I can see that.

If you write, do you find more “quality material” in the worst moments of your life than the best? If you don’t fictionalize those worst moments into books and stories you publish, do you come to terms with them in a journal and/or a bottle of Xanax?

Writing, whether it’s journaling or published fiction/non-fiction, is a good escape valve for all that ails us. At least, it’s kept me reasonably sane. (I’ve always thought being 100% sane is a mistake.) At any rate, I believe we create our the realities within which we live. So, I guess I can say that I wanted survivable slings and arrows. An old friend once told me she thought life as, at best, boring. I can’t see that at all. This “better life” has not been boring, far from it. I couldn’t have tolerated that.

But you, whether you write or not (one way or another), how do you feel about this lifetime (even if you believe you are given only one of them)? Has it been better than average–whatever that means? Yes or no on “better than average,” has it suited your needs? For me, the answer is “yes.” Like you, I am what I have lived, and it’s difficult to imagine anything else.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Endlessly Scrolling Through Twitter and Facebook

Writers often use Twitter and Facebook as part of their so-called media platforms, perhaps a necessary evil and/or a worthwhile publicity/networking part of the business that’s apparently indispensable to everyone who isn’t James Patterson or Alice Hoffman or Dean Koontz. Yet, as I read Damyanti Biswas’ recent post How much Time Do You Spend on #SociaMedia? How is It Affecting You?, I wondered how much social media time as necessary and how much was an addiction.

True, I have unblocked myself from my novels in progress by endlessly scrolling through Twitter and Facebook. Likewise, I’ve done the same thing to break cycles of clinical depression. Yet, I can also say that there are days I got little or nothing none due to some mindless need to keep up with the latest social media stuff more than necessary. Part of being a writer is keeping up with the business, supporting other writers, and learning more about one’s craft by “talking” to other writers and following blogs like Damyanti’s.

Obviously, at some point, too much social media time is too much and it’s getting in the way of the stuff we’re supposed to be doing whether it’s writing or anything else. The easiest thing to do, I think, is to set time limits. We can decide, can’t we, just how long we’ll read bloggers’ posts and Facebook status updates before leaving the Internet for the day and turning to our real work. I’ve known people who kept their TVs on 24/7, tuned into one network news feed or another to make sure they didn’t miss anything. Some folks seem to look at social media the same way. But seriously, what are you going to miss that’s more important than your own career and your family’s needs?

One mistake here, I believe, is assuming that whatever’s happening on Twitter and Facebook is more important than whatever else we might do with our day. It’s almost a phobia, this feeling that our lives will be ruined if an important tweet or post goes by without our knowing about it instantly. Meanwhile, to satisfy the infinite demands of that phobia, our own work is sitting there undone, and at the end of a day of “too much” social media, we feel really down about ourselves pretty much the same way a drunk feels after wasting another day being drunk.

When I worked as a technical writer for large corporations, management would occasionally subject us to time-management courses that showed that a large number of us spent too much time focusing on what wasn’t important. Among other things, we tended to clear low-importance stuff out of our in baskets before working on our primary projects. Now, I see many of us who write doing the same thing with social media. We handle it first and then we finally get around to our major priorities.

As important as social media can be for promoting our work and networking with others, they are not our primary mission. Social media tweets and updates and posts represent what others are doing, not what I’m (supposed to be) doing. I need to remind myself of that from time to time.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

 

 

 

What’s your story?

Sometimes “what’s your story” is a bully’s taunt. Sometimes it’s a provocative inquiry on a first date. More or less, it means “who are you and/or what are you doing here?”

We spend our lives writing our stories. We’re not always aware of the plots or even the themes. We stack up dreams and hopes like cordwood, or even denials and excuses. Perhaps our stories are more transparent to spouses and friends than they are to us. Not all of us can be read like great novels even though we’re impacted by the tales we discover in books and the memories of others shared around a quiet drink or a backyard barbecue.

If one looks at our stories with the combined eye of a mystic, a shaman, a conjurer, an alchemist, and a quantum scientist, the tapestry of the world’s people becomes a little clearer. We see synchronicities rather than coincidences. We toss out the idea of fate, if not destiny, and maybe on nights when the moon is bright and the flowers and birds are quiet, we glimpse the whole of the world’s stories.

As an author, I like to think that the stories in books–fiction and nonfiction–enlarge our perspectives and help us change course or re-dedicate ourselves to the course already chosen. My quantum view is that every story that can happen, will happen in one universe or another and that we can follow the chains of events that best meet our developing needs for the plots in our own stories.

Reading and listening and observing in a spirit of hope and wonder are so necessary for our progress, it’s difficult to understand why a lot of people don’t read or listen or observe. Have they chosen to close their lives off from the world and/or from themselves? I don’t know, but the result of whatever they’re doing doesn’t seem healthy–or helpful to the world.

I see studies from time to time showing that kids benefit from parents who read to them as well as growing up households full of books. Nonetheless, stories are everywhere and if we’re not finding them on the printed page, I hope we’re finding them in films and paintings and TV shows, and what others tell us whenever we ask “what’s your story?”

The world appears to me as a grand storybook with countless chapters, millions of characters, unlimited locations, and possibilities that expand outward at lightspeed. The fate of nations and peoples and justice and Earth itself has not yet been determined because many of us are writing blind or aren’t aware that the daily scenes in our personal stories contribute to the story of our planet. We’re all linked like the characters in the pages of a well-written novel; I think we’ll like where our combined story goes if we realize this and live accordingly.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat.

 

Southeastern Writers Conference Coming Soon

I wish I were going. The conference is held in a lovely setting with a great variety of workshops. For information, including a link to the workshop schedule, click on either one of the graphics.

 

 

 

If you go, have fun, take pictures, and learn a lot.

Malcolm

A good editor will help you get rid of your pet phrases

I’m not sure where pet phrases begin, but almost every novel I’ve written has ended up with the overuse of some phrase or word choice that my editors and I try to find and remove before publication.

Now some pet phrases help define a character. One character might typically say, “you got that right” and another might say “goodness gracious.” As long as they aren’t saying these things on every page, these phrases help define them.

However, things get out of hand if all the characters in your stories and novels are saying, “you got that right.” What are the odds that would ever happen? Some authors become aware of the fact they are using a phrase way too often before they finish the first draft, while others don’t notice it until they’re in the editing process.

If I suspect I’m using a phrase over and over, I search for that phrase in my Word Document to see if it shows up too often. When it does, I go through the manuscript and get rid of it.

I thought of this today while reading a mainstream novel by a popular author. When the police or FBI investigators informed a character of some fact or event, the characters often respond with “did she?” While such a response could equally be a favorite of one character, it can’t possibly fit all the characters in the book. So, the phrase stands out because it has been overused as a response in the story. A good editor should have caught this.

I notice it because “did she” and “did she really” are phrases that I’ve seen in U. K. novels and films of another era and seem a bit out of place when they appear over and over in an American novel. The phrase, as far as I know, is not part of a fad in this country. If it were, you could use it more often, though it would–of course–date the novel.

It has always amazed me how often I can use what I think is a fresh and creative way of saying something, only to find out that I’ve used it twenty times already in the manuscript.

–Malcolm

 

Review: ‘Redemption Road’ by John Hart

Redemption RoadRedemption Road by John Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s enough darkness in this book to cause an eclipse of the sun soon after you begin reading. Elizabeth, the protagonist is a good cop with a good heart that is filled with life-affirming love and infinite grit. Her past was cruel to her and it’s neither gone nor forgotten.

Her story in this thriller will carry you through the darkness stemming from multiple characters whose self-righteous evil is as unflinching as Elizabeth’s heart. Thirteen years prior to the beginning of the novel, a policeman was convicted of killing a young woman and leaving her body on the altar of the church where Elizabeth’s father preaches. Elizabeth, who was a rookie cop at the time thought he was wrongly convicted. As a cop, he has a hard time surviving prison. When he gets out, the killings start again with the same MO. This appears to prove that everyone else on the police force is right about him and that Elizabeth is naive.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is having her own troubles with the authorities over a case she’s involved in. The plot is complex and well constructed, the writing is superb, and the characters have more dimensions, secrets, and agonies than you can shake a stick at. At all times, the notion of a redemption road out of this chaos seems to many as an unlikely nirvana or simply a dead end.

The story is adeptly told and highly recommended.

–Malcolm

View all my reviews

Wow, I’m gonna be rich

Eulalie and Washerwoman

No, I didn’t enter the lottery or the latest Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.

There’s a slight glitch on the title page in the proof copy of Eulalie and Washerwoman. Fortunately, it was easily fixed.

You’ve read about misprints on stamps and how they turn into exceedingly rare collectors’ items that are worth $100000000. I figure this misprinted title page is going to make this proof copy a one-of-a-kind rarity that, say, a hundred years from now, will be worth millions of dollars or euros or whatever we’re spending in those days.

I’m going to hide this copy under a fake rock in the flower bed or some other place nobody would look for it until it’s time to cash in.

Widely Scattered Ghosts

I dedicated my new short story collection to my granddaughters. They don’t know it yet because they’re seven and ten and not old enough to read ghost stories. So, I sent two signed copies to my daughter and she said she’d hide them until the girls are old enough for some like-weight spooky stuff. By the way, I posted a brief excerpt from one of these stories on my web site here.

Dark Arrows, Dark Targets

This is the working title of a new novel based on the Pollyanna character you met in Lena. However, I haven’t made a lot of progress with it other than researching 1940s women’s clothing and the kinds of bows and arrows that were popular in the early 1950s.

I’ve never been able to write when anything stressful is happening. This time it’s a scheduled biopsy on Thursday. I’ve been worrying about the negative results of a blood test for months and now it’s gotten bad enough to see what’s causing the high number. It might be, you know, or it might not.

As usual, the characters want to know just what the hell I’m doing when I’m not working on their stories.

Mother’s Day

It’s raining here for Mother’s Day, but since I’m a dad, that’s not my problem. I did wish my daughter, who lives faraway in Maryland–where there’s a 47% chance of rain–a happy Mother’s Day AND one of my granddaughters a happy birthday.

If you’re a mom, I hope the weather is wonderful wherever you are.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

What’s a writer’s first goal: sharing ideas or making money?

“Recently, though, it occurred to me that the end goal for aspiring writers always seems to be ‘getting a book deal’ or ‘getting published,’ and the more I thought about it, the more I realized I might not be entirely happy about that.” – Paul Hogan in his writing newsletter “Destroy Your Safe and Happy Lives.”

Hogan, a successful writer, writing consultant, and blogger at the granddaddy of literary blogs (Beatrice) finds it interesting that a lot of people pick up hobbies such as painting or guitar playing with no thought whatsoever of becoming an illustrator, performer, composer, or anything else that has to do with making money. Yet, when people decide to start writing, they soon turn toward the question of becoming a professional one way or the other.

If this is your number one goal, you might be putting the cart before the horse.

I might speculate that with traditional writing and diary keeping being less of a fad these days than they were in our parents’ and grandparents’ and great grandparents’ eras, people don’t generally perceive writing as a form of recreation. While painting and guitar playing are a form of communication, people als0 see them as relaxing ways to play. Somehow, writing as relaxation falls away in people’s minds. They see it as communication. And not long afterwards, a way of making money whether they have a monetized blog, write freelance articles, or turn to fiction.

Hogan thinks aspiring writers will be happier if they are less frantic about making money and more interested in deciding why they are writing. He suggests discovering your passions (and possibly yourself) and developing those as something you wish to share with others. Is all this fulfilling? If so, then perhaps it leads to something that makes money at some point. If a writer begins that way and ultimately becomes a professional, s/he might be better off in the long run–and happier on his/her way to wherever that passion might lead.

An article in The Guardian “Writing at risk of becoming an ‘elitist’ profession, report warns” notes that working writers’ incomes are continuing to fall making it more necessary for professionals to be subsidized. The subsidy usually comes through the writer’s primary job and/or from the money brought into the household by a spouse or other partner. One point of the article is that people with lower paying jobs won’t have enough money to subsidize the kind of writing schedule required to a professional author.

The falling income part of the equation might make writers focusing first on profits and salability to be frustrated and frenzied than those who begin by developing and sharing passions before becoming overly concerned about writing income.

Hogan makes a good point when he suggests that getting a book deal shouldn’t be the first thing on an aspiring writer’s TO DO list.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels include The Sun Singer and Conjure Woman’s Cat.