‘I write as if to save somebody’s life. Probably my own.’

I wonder if all writers feel this way. The quote is often shown in this form, though the complete thought comes from Clarice Lispector’s novel A Breath of Life: “I write as if to save somebody’s life. Probably my own. Life is a kind of madness that death makes. Long live the dead because we live in them.” Now, if you’re a writer do you still agree, or does the second part of the quote change your mind?

Lispector was a Ukrainian-born Brazilian novelist (1920-1977) who wrote novels and short stories in an unconventional style; very interior in approach. I may be proven wrong, but I suspect most readers don’t know of her, have never heard her name, much less read her books. She’s been compared to Joyce and Woolf, an idea she discounts.

I suspect many artists and musicians live (literally and figuratively) through their work. We often hear that creative people get drunk when they’re not composing, singing, painting, or writing. I can understand this. I’m sure people in other professions might feel this way as well, that they are not truly alive whenever they’re outside their element.

In a 1977 TV interview after she released The Hour of the Star, she said, “When I don’t write, I am dead. For the moment I’m dead. I’m speaking from my tomb.” She died later that year.

Most writers, including Lispector, I would think, create various forms of life support to keep them alive when they’re not writing. One of those is thinking about the next work in the queue while doing other tasks. Another is sitting at a table with others and not really listening because one’s characters are not only more interesting but need to have their say about what will be written next.

Perhaps a quote from The Hour of the Star, a novella I like a lot, brings more perspective: “I write because I have nothing better to do in this world: I am superfluous and last in the world of men. I write because I am desperate and weary. I can no longer bear the routine of my existence and, were it not for the constant novelty of writing, I should die symbolically each day.” 

Perhaps the writer isn’t literally dead when s/he’s not writing, but residing in a drunk tank or an asylum.

So much for retirement.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy.


Just starting out? Beware of Magical Realism

Once upon a time, when teachers said “You can’t do XYZ in your writing,” I listed famous authors who did it all the time. The teachers’ responses were all the same: “When you’re famous you can do that.”

MRbloghop2015Some publishers also have this theory and, I’ll stipulate that they’re not totally wrong. If you’re thinking about magical realism as your prospective genre of choice, be careful. Some publishers abhor the label and claim it’s merely an uppity name for fantasy and/or that it means the author has “literary fiction pretensions.”

In general, except when we’re talking big names and/or big advertising budgets, fantasy finds more readers than magical realism and commercial fiction finds more readers than literary fiction (or fiction perceived as literary).

What happens if you’ve written a magical realism novel? Don’t let the publisher sell it as fantasy. Fantasy readers expect certain things. Most genre readers do. So, if your magical realism novel is slotted into the fantasy genre, it probably won’t sell. Readers will either be disappointed or stay away in droves. Others will post negative reviews that are hard to survive.

It’s a catch-22 thing. Yes, magical realism is typically listed as a subset of fantasy. That’s a mistake, but “they didn’t ask me.” Magical realism uses magic that the characters don’t see as unusual or out of place in a setting that is otherwise very realistic. Fantasy readers aren’t going to buy that as fantasy. So, what do you do?

I guess if HarperCollins has given you a $100,000 advance, you keep your mouth shut. Otherwise, get another publisher or publish the book yourself. Or, if you want a slightly easier career, you might consider writing fantasy and then shifting into magical realism before you become to typecast as a fantasy writer only.

Three of my novels are out of print because the publisher not only sold them as fantasy but removed the more subtle magical realism in favor of the more overt magic of fantasy. I don’t have the stamina to re-write them. Of course, they might have been a dead horse: they might have crashed and burned no matter what genre we put them in.

I love the art and craft of writing and that means I write about the world the way I see the world. I see the subtle workings of magic in daily life. Am I a shaman? Am I psychic? Am I crazy? Am I in need of stronger medications?

Who cares?

breathoflifeThe late, highly creative Brazilian author Clarice Lispector (“A Breath of Life”) said, “I write as if to save somebody’s life. Probably my own.” Now that’s true of most of us who write. The reader doesn’t care whether we’re crazy as long as they’re getting a wonderful story.

Only you know how your writing ends up the way it does. That’s between you and your muse. Sure, others can help you make it better. They’re called editors and publishers (if you pick the right ones). But when the cows finally come home–and they will–you have to be happy with it because it is a part of you.

If you see magic in the world, don’t let anyone else say that you don’t and turn your novel into something it isn’t. You have to be who you are and let the spirits and spells fall where they may.




This post is part of the Magical Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magical realism. Please take the time to click on the button above to visit sit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.The button should go live on or after 12:01 a.m. July 29th.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a magical realism novella folk magic in the Jim Crow era of the Florida Panhandle where granny and her cat take on the Klan.