Writers want to sweep you up into their stories

“Magic doesn’t sweep you away; it gathers you up into the body of the present moment so thoroughly that all your explanations fall away: the ordinary, in all its plain and simple outrageousness, begins to shine — to become luminously, impossibly so. Every facet of the world is awake, and you within it.” – David Abram, “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology”

An ancient campfire beneath a fetching moon. Trees standing close, listening to a storyteller spin out a tale that captures the imaginations of those sitting around the fire so completely that the listeners see no boundary lines between themselves and the characters within the story. Truly, there is no outside at this point, no separation between the words and the trees and the moonlight and the derring-do of the far-away people whom the storyteller conjures into the world of that very moment.

As Wikipedia says, “Through the telling of the story people become psychically close, developing a connection to one another through the communal experience. The storyteller reveals, and thus shares, him/her self through his/her telling and the listeners reveal and share themselves through their reception of the story.”

Creating such shared moments is more difficult in a book because the storyteller and reader are worlds away from each other physically until or unless the words are strong enough and vibrating powerfully enough to dissolve the illusion of physical distance. When the book works for a reader, the experience becomes as powerful as the campfire scene where all is connected.

To be sure, the connection between writer and reader depends not only on the skill of the writer, but the a reader’s (often) long-time experience with books (how they work), the subject matter, the reader’s state of mind and (probably) physical comfort. When conditions are optimal, the reader is swept up into the story as though s/he is sitting with the storyteller next to a fire in a quiet forest or within cabin’s sweet shadows.

Books for prospective writers try very hard to teach us what we need to do while researching and writing to ensure that conditions are optimal. My approach–which doesn’t necessarily work for all writers–is that the writer must first be swept up by the story and its characters before s/he can produce a novel that sweeps up readers in the way David Abram suggests.

No matter how a writer connects with his/her story, getting those conditions right takes practice. Nobody sounds like Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, or John Coltrane the first time they pick up a tenor sax. Nobody writes like Stephen King, John Hart, or Neil Gaiman the first time they pick up a pencil or sit down at a computer. All of these people evolved into the people they became. 

Time seems to fly while writers are becoming comfortable with words, plots, techniques, character development, and magic. In a world where many people want everything right now, it’s difficult to submit to the necessity of practice. Even the wizards at Hogwarts needed to practice their spells. So do storytellers dreaming of campfires and writers dreaming of books and short stories.

After that, the magic begins to work behind the scenes and become second nature to the man or woman with the pencil. 

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism series of novels that begins with “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and ends with “Fate’s Arrows.”

 

Those gurus, bless their hearts, say I need a newsletter

When I went away to college, my parents expected me to write home every couple of days. I said I wasn’t going to do that because I had nothing to say. That was true enough because every day was just like they day before it: I sat in a classroom, ate meals, studied, watched TV, went to bed, got up the next morning and sat in a classroom.

Some writers’ newsletters sound about like that. When they do, they’re so boring we can’t bring ourselves to write them, much less expect you to suffer through reading them. It’s hard enough thinking of something reasonably interesting to put in this blog. Heaven help me if I had to turn out a newsletter three or four times a month.

I’ve toyed with the idea of a fake newsletter. I could name it Trigger Warnings and fill it full of stuff that will push a lot of buttons that shouldn’t be pushed. Some folks used to argue that if a person put something nasty in quotes, they couldn’t be blamed for saying it. Trigger Warnings would be like that. I warn you with some introductory boilerplate, say stuff you don’t want to hear, and then hit the send button.

That kind of thing strikes my fancy because I have a trickster approach to life. If one just doesn’t say a thing, I want to say it.

Since quotation marks absolve me of misspeaking–as politicians often say–I could begin my newsletter with “Dear Bastards” and it would be okay. So then I could say, using an old-fashioned grin symbol <g> that while I appreciate your “congrats,” “great story,” and other fine comments on Facebook about my novels, I want to point out that if you don’t leave an Amazon reader review, my book is toast.

My wife–who has known me since 1979–is often surprised at what I say while we’re talking to “normal people.” Those “normal people” tend to get drunk after talking to me because I love saying what shouldn’t be said.

Trigger Warning: This might make you sick

Presumably, “normal people” would sign up for my newsletter and then immediately unsubscribe the first time I wrote about roadkill salad. On the plus side, roadkill salad is free unless you add mayo. And chopped pecans.

But I would want to be honest. That means if I was thinking about writing a poem about “roadkill salad,” I would have to tell you that and see what you thought. Sure, you might need a couple of Xanax to get through the newsletter, but it would still be liberating. See, that’s what tricksters do. We liberate you from everything that makes you sick, embarrassed, crazy, and politically inept.

Or, I might suggest that every subscriber had to buy 1,000 copies of my books and give them to relatives, prisoners, and random people on the street.

You can see, can’t you, why I don’t really think this newsletter is a great idea?

Malcolm