Getting comfortable in your writing shoes

Comfortable doesn’t mean complacent. If you hike or climb mountains, you know that new shoes often hurt and need to be broken in before a major trek. The wrong kind of shoes and the wrong size shoes are often worse because the shoes have to match what you’re doing. The same thing is true of writers, figuratively speaking, because while genres and styles have a lot of things in common, each requires an approach you need to be comfortable with.

oldshoesDepending on which survey you look at, romance, action/adventure, science fiction and fantasy usually sell the most books. Unfortunately, some of the sub-genres in those groupings aren’t carried on the coattails of the most popular books.

For me, that means magical realism–which is what I write–is down at the 2% or 3% range of sales. Obviously, the the size of a writer’s audience will skew the figures for individual books, though J. K. Rowling discovered that as Snape said to Harry Potter, “fame isn’t everything” affects authors asd well as wizards. (Her fans hated “A Casual Vacancy.)

For me, “comfortable writing shoes” work best with magical realism. They work as poorly for other genres as wearing flip flops or high heels in the world series. To some extent, finding comfortable shoes is part of the journey to being comfortable with oneself. I’ve always wished I could be fluent in multiple language, play a Bach toccata and fugue on a massive pipe organ, water ski all the way across the bay and back without falling off, and knowing how to repair my own cars. After many years of discord about these things, I had to accept that they weren’t me.

I love writing and reading magical realism, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t wished I could turn out a great romance or spy novel from time to time to support my magical realism habit. But I can’t do it even though I have enjoyed many spy and FBI-related novels over the years just as I’ve enjoyed a lot of recordings of Bach over the years. But liking something doesn’t always translate into being good at it–though, it’s a nice start.

The hints and signs about our authentic selves are available for us to see early on, but we either don’t recognize them or actively deny them. Growing up, I spent most of my time out doors or reading about magic. These interests are closely linked in most magical realism. I learned more from nature than I did from school, especially my literature and other English classes. I was a fish out of water in those classes because the approach to writing and the great classics of the written word seemed counterproductive and false to me. I was the worst student in English classes and the most likely to openly defy the teachers.

I had one wonderful writing teacher. He didn’t give us theories, he asked us to write, and then we talked about what worked. This is how most of us learn most of what we know. We try things out. We experiment. Some things fail either because we don’t really like them or aren’t skillful in those areas or are just incompatible with them. Other things work. Finding out why they work is a Nirvana-like experience. You want to shout YES!!!!!!!!!!!!. Learning in this teacher’s class was about the only worthwhile course I had in my English minor in college. In that class, we focused on pure storytelling rather than on an approach better suited to a doctoral dissertation in literary or communications theory.

Like many others, I spent time trying to fit in because when you’re the only one in the class who disagrees with the teacher’s approach, it’s hard not to cave in to the pressure of the rest of the students and the system itself.

Now that I’m not in school–or teaching in one–I don’t have to answer to those who support the system. I can write what I want to write and wear the kinds of shoes and attitudes that fit my chosen genre. I’m comfortable with this now, though I certainly wasn’t comfortable with it in high school and college because I was a rebel when it came to the course syllabus and (as they call them) the expected “learning outcomes.”

I guess it comes down to the fact that I’d rather be happy than rich and I’d rather be comfortable as myself and as a writer than being part of the crowd making the scene at popular parties, bars like the fictional “Cheers,” or being the guy all the girls want to dance with. Life would have been so much easier if I’d figured all this out 40 years ago. So would my writing.

If you’re a writer, you probably know what you love to write even if nobody wants to buy it or Oprah doesn’t call or MGM doesn’t option your novels for movies. If you love writing fiction that catches on with huge numbers of readers, then that’s a mixed blessing. Financially, you’ll be secure, but as Snape said, “fame isn’t everything.” Fame tends to get in a person’s way and keep them from wearing their most comfortable shoes.

–Malcolm

ewkindlecoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released novel “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” a folk magic story set in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s. 

Speaking of shoes, Campbell still wears the climbing boots he bought in the 1960s even though his knees really complain if he tries to climb anything higher than an ant hill.

 

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.

–Malcolm

 

–Malcolm

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.

On Writing as Entertainment

Today’s guest post is by L. E. Harvey, author of “Loving Her,” “Unbreakable Hostage” and “Imperfect.” Lauren posts articles about writing and related joys on her blog “The writings & ramblings of a Philadelphian.”

On Writing as Entertainment

I recently caught a co-worker reading a well-known author’s book. Like any good writer, I asked her if she was an avid reader. She told me she was. My excitement level sky-rocketed. It was when I asked her what her favorite genre was, though, that I was surprised by her answer: smutty romances. The smuttier the better, in fact.

Now, she did have a point in the fact that we work at an intense, high-paced practice and that as medical professionals we deal with death, heart-break and the like. She wants to escape from reality and not think. She wants entertainment.

That caused me to think. As a writer, I’ll admit that I have never considered my books as entertainment. There was always a social or political purpose to them. No escapism here. So now, who is better: the famous author whose work is strictly mind-less entertainment or me, the no-name who writes with the purpose of making people think?

Can you really compare apples to oranges?

Not in my world.

Every writer, ever genre has its place. There is nothing wrong with any genre, nor is one genre better than another. Though not comparable, they are all equal.

I will admit that my bubble had been burst when my co-worker informed me of her lust for entertainment. This person in particular is someone who I would love to have read Imperfect. She still might. I am an optimist, after all.

So what does this mean to me? Do I abandon my genre and personal writing style to simply entertain?

No.

Do I write books and stories that are simply cerebral?

No.

Balancing Purpose and Entertainment

A good writer finds a balance between purpose and entertainment. I may not be there, but it is a good goal; something for which I will continue to strive.

At the same time, I cannot and will not dismiss my works thus far.

Imperfect is very emotional and thought-provoking. It is entertaining too. You can’t tell me that driving a muscle car on a perfect summer day, cranking out the classic rock music isn’t entertaining.

By all accounts, I’m a realist: my writing background is in historical and scientific non-fiction (not to mention the fact that I work in a scientific/medical field). Boring, I know. Black and white. Factual. Not entertaining. I am, however, coming around. Imperfect is my first full-length novel I ever attempted to write. The facts and reality may be in there, but there are definitely elements of entertainment as well.

My bottom line: the truth is, ALL stories are entertaining. My book is just as much a form of entertainment as that famous author’s book. It may not be smut, but it is definitely a story you can get swept into.

Celebrating Earth Day 2011

Lauren’s “A Summer of Butterflies” appears in Celebrating Earth Day 2011 from Vanilla Heart Publishing. Click on the book cover to download a PDF copy of this FREE GIFT from the Giveaway Anthology page at PayLoadz.

The book includes the work of Anne K. Albert, Charmaine Gordon, Chelle Cordero, L.E. Harvey, Malcolm R. Campbell, Marilyn Celeste Morris, Melinda Clayton, Robert Hays, S.R. Claridge, Smoky Trudeau Zeidel, Victoria Howard and Vila SpiderHawk.