How to make art happen (or writing or dance or painting)

“The students are at the start of their creative lives, and I remember well what those years felt like — when you think you know what art requires, and then the realization comes that you must go deeper and deeper still (if you’re serious at all) into the unknowable, uncomfortable, vulnerable place where the root of creativity lies…which is to say, you must go deeper and deeper into yourself, which can be daunting indeed. Even now, after all these years, I still have days of sharp (or anxious, or befuddled) resistance to this act of deep surrendering…but the joy of age is that I know my own process now, the daily habits, practices, and mindset that will carry me past each block and obstacle and back into the work.” Terry Windling in “When the Magic is working” from Myth And Moor.

This 2014 post from Windling’s blog shows you why I like her work and why I return to her Typepad blog so often for fresh inspiration. I might also note that I read Theoroda Goss’ novels and blogs for the same reason. And so, too the former Endicott studio journal, featuring the work of Windling, Jane Yolen, Midori Snyder, and others. To read their work is to re-discover anew a deep well hidden in a sacred copse where magic lives in the deep water. Drink, and you’re transformed and living within, as Windling wrote, that deep and “vulnerable place where the root of creativity lies.

Life, as philosophers and comedians say, “ain’t easy.” The slings and arrows of daily life wound us again and again until the magic within our souls just about drains away. So we return to the well and drink again.

Every artist/writer/painter finds his/her own muse and his/her hidden well where s/he drinks and is refreshed. It might be an author (or group of authors) and their novels, essays, and poems; it might be the witch who lives down the street, or perhaps the “older generation” in one’s own family. We all must find the source of our magic and what makes it flow through our veins like holy fire.

You may not have anything in common with those who inspire you except for the inspiration they provide. None of the people associated with the blogs and studios listed above know me. We move in different circles. To great extent, they are interested in faerie and mythic worlds while I’m interested in contemporary fantasy and magical realism.

In time, the magic will live within you and you’ll find that you no longer have to return to that well (unless you’re sightseeing) to start your work. You will know what to see in your mind’s eye or how to adjust your breathing or your office or your desk because you will have done it so often that it will become, not second nature, but first nature. First nature for your art perhaps; or first nature for the way you live your life. The second approach works better for me: what I write on the page comes from how I live and what I believe rather than as a prop for making art.

I used to listen to music when I wrote. For one book it was “Nirvana Road.” For Another book, it was “Beneath The Raven Moon.” Music, I find, becomes associated with the work and with the magic behind it. Playing the music is like turning the ignition key in a car–or, these days, like holding down the brake while pushing the “start” button. Then things are purring at the right level and plain of existence, the writing flows because the magic is working.



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.






All that inspiration for just a few dollars

When I walk out of a theater after watching a wonderful movie where good and love triumph, I feel inspired. Perhaps it’s simply the story, whether derring-do or comedy or noir. Or music. Or the cinematography. Often it’s the acting. When I was young, I’d walk down the street after seeing such a movie and think I can do those things. I’d imagine myself beating up the bad guys, taking a hill with a company of marines, finding the magic in the secret cave.

Now I walk out of such movies thinking that I can do my things, whatever my goals may be.

I feel that way when I finish well-written books. Somehow the book or the movie works as a spell and unlocks dreams and abilities and willpower I didn’t know I had. (Or that had gone dormant.) Sometimes they work more like a confidence potion or maybe an angel’s gift. At some level, I suppose, it’s all just a fantasy. There are times, though, when I see differences in my life. Usually, an infusion of energy or a renewed devotion to a long-time project.

I often wonder how many others feel this way after seeing a movie or reading a book. Reading gurus have many theories about the impact of a good story. I don’t have any theories that I know of because having them seems to jinx the whole business. If your theory is that watching a certain movie or reading a certain book is going to turn you into a god or an avatar, then forget it. But, if you don’t think that, you may well be transformed.

As I read this week about a religious pilgrimage that occurred many years ago in the kingdom of Sikkim (now part of India) I find myself thinking more positively about myself and the world than usual even though I have no desire to go there and follow the seeker’s paths. For one thing, I don’t have the patience to spend hours in meditation. I never have. I know I should do it, but I don’t. All that seems so cumbersome to me. But reading about the journey and the seeker’s devotion seems to change me for the better.

And, the book and the movie only cost a few dollars. What a bargain!

Subconsciously, maybe all of us know that in addition to the escapist fun of reading a great novel or seeing a wonderful movie, we will be changed for the better by the experience. I read for the fun of it, not as a spiritual practice. But when I put the book down, I realize I’m a different person than the one who picked up the book.

Perhaps this happens to you as well.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Widely Scattered Ghosts,” a new collection of short stories from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.


About waiting for inspiration

“As writers, we don’t wait for inspiration. Inspiration waits for us.” – Simon Van Booy in his Publishers & Writers essay “Craft Capsule: A Bird in the Sky.”

Long-time professional writers scoff at the notion of beginning writers sitting around waiting for inspiration. Generally, they (the professionals) say they go to the office and write every day because that’s their job; they don’t sit around waiting for inspiration.

Nothing beats a wonderful story idea that appears out of “nowhere.” But can we count on this approach to be financially successful as novelists or freelance creative nonfiction writers? My answer is no.

Louis Pasteur once said that “chance favors the prepared mind.” I think writers who think that way find more inspiration than those who don’t.

In one of my posts about magic, I said that many psychic occurrences begin when an individual relaxes and imagines that something is happening–and then, suddenly, it is happening. That is, your imagination transforms into a link that shows you the location, person, or situation you wanted to view in a so-called paranormal way.

For me, inspiration works the same way. If I find myself without any story ideas, the best thing for me to do is search the Internet (or my bookshelf) for books about subjects I love writing about. If I do this casually–without putting pressure on myself to discover an idea–and just read or poke about for the fun of it, that is when I start thinking of prospective story ideas.

Usually, the half-born idea leads to reading through more of the books or websites that made me think of my potential story until more ideas come together and then I start wondering such things as “what if a person went to this place and did ABC?” or “what if people found a way to twist this kind of information into a evil business?”

Then I set the ideas aside for an hour or so while doing something relatively mindless, from mowing the yard to playing a video game–and while I’m doing that and not worrying about the story ideas, my mind is somehow open to additional thoughts that help the story take form.

I have no idea how or why this works, but it seems better than staring at the wall and waiting for the great American novel to show up out of nowhere.



My muse wants to know what I’ve done for her lately

Today at high noon, while the storm was frightening my cats,  I got an e-mail from my muse that said, “Do not forsake me, O My Darling.”

Darling? What’s that about?

I let that ride in my reply: “Say what?”

“What have you done for me lately?” she asked.

According to tradition, falling trees take precedence over writing new stuff.
According to tradition, falling trees take precedence over writing new stuff.

Well, a lot of things. I thought about writing something. I mulled over some ideas. I wondered whether or not to dream up a short story for the Harper’s Bazaar contest. And I read the kinds of books that fire up my imagination and make it more likely I’ll write something. I told her all this.

Her response was, “pfffft.”

I wanted to tell her that writers, like normal people, become preoccupied with life. We’re concerned about GMOs in our food, fellow writers who are under the weather, why Cote de Pablo is leaving “NCIS,” and whether or not the Copyright Office has heard of our books. Okay, sometimes we wonder if anyone has heard of our books, but the muse doesn’t want to hear whiny points of view like that.

Some writers say that if we don’t write every day, we’re screwed, we’re going to lose our touch, we’re not being true to our art and craft. To that, I say (as Colonel Potter said on M*A*S*H): “Horsehockey.”

On the other hand, if there’s no manuscript in progress, then chances are good there won’t be, say, a Pulitzer Prize coming in the mail next year.

Many of us go through periods of limbo when, frankly, we have nothing to say. My friend Smoky Zeidel calls these “fallow times.” I like that. We need times when we can renew ourselves.

My muse told me, “At your age, you don’t have time for fallow times.”

You really know how to hurt a guy, I thought. I didn’t say that because I was busy saying: “I thought you’d forgotten my birthday, DARLING.”  (We were now in Facebook chat mode and we all know how klugey that is.)

“Heaven’s no,” she said. “I’m sending you a dream tonight about a prospective new novel that’s going to be bigger than The Cuckoo’s Calling.”

“Please tell me it’s not a private eye story about a body that falls and/or is thrown off a balcony with a name like The Ostrich’s Calling.”

“You’ve been sticking your head in the sand too long already,” she snapped. “What I have for you is a dark Southern charmer called Rabbit on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Fortunately, I heard the storm blow a tree down across the driveway, giving me an excuse to run outside in the rain and snap a blurry photograph. I wondered though: “When a tree falls outside a writer’s house, does his muse hear it?”


This and That, Mostly About Books

While Georgia’s heat wave continues, I’m doing just fine when I’m inside working on short stories. The A/C can hardly keep up with temps over 90, much less over 100. As long as I’m working on my story about a Florida river, I can imagine floating in its cool waters even though “in real life,” the river is a mess due to the recent flooding from Debby.

Lately, I’ve been wondering what’s going on in the world that’s causing so many people to search on the phrase “light conquers all.”  A year-old post here on Malcolm’s Round Table about author Pat Bertram’s novel Light Bringer has been getting dozens of hits per day for about two weeks now. If you’re one of the people searching for that phrase, leave a comment and tell me what’s happening.

After reading author and artist Terri Windling’s recent post about artistic inspiration, I felt inspired to use her words as a springboard and post a few words about where authors get their ideas on my Magic Moments blog. Stop by and tell me what inspires you to write, draw, compose music or make a quilt or create a new sculpture.

Long before I was born, my father’s family lived in Fort Collins, Colorado before moving to the California coast. Because my father loved the Colorado high country, I followed in his footsteps and climbed mountains there one summer before finishing school and being summoned by “my friends” at my local draft board to join the Navy. So it is, that I watch the news about the Colorado fires, the people who have been driven out of their homes and the heroic efforts of the fire fighters with horror and awe mixed together with memories of better times. The news from the fire lines seems better at the moment.

On July 9th, author Melinda Clayton will stop by for a chat about her third novel Entangled Thorns, including why a Florida author is lured to Appalachia again and again for her stories. I enjoyed the interview!

Publisher’s Description

Beth Sloan has spent the majority of her life trying to escape the memories of a difficult childhood. Born into the infamous Pritchett family of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia, she grew up hard, surrounded not only by homemade stills and corn liquor, but by an impoverished family that more often than not preferred life on the wrong side of the law.

After the mysterious death of her brother Luke at the age of thirteen, seventeen year old Beth and her younger sister Naomi ran away from home, never to return. As the years passed, Beth suppressed the painful memories and managed to create a comfortable, if troubled, life with her husband Mark and their two children in an upscale suburb outside of Memphis, Tennessee.

But the arrival of an unwelcome letter threatens to change all that.

Against her better judgment, and at the urging of her sister Naomi, Beth agrees to return to Cedar Hollow, to the memories she’s worked so hard to forget. When old resentments and family secrets are awakened, Beth must risk everything to face the truth about what really happened to Luke that long ago summer night.

With three out of four of my novels partly set in Glacier National Park, Montana, I’m usually distressed when I read about the continued absence of funding, especially for such mundane sounding line items as infrastructure and maintenance. The good news this summer is the Glacier National Park Fund’s plan to begin an adopt-a-trail program to help pay for the upkeep on the remaining 750 miles of trails (down 250 miles since I was first there). As a member of the Fund, I heard about the plan via a letter and a brochure. The details are not yet on the Fund’s web site, but I think they will be soon.

When I write my next Montana novel, I really don’t want to hear that more trails have been abandoned due to Congress’ continued lack of support. Maybe all of us can help pick up the slack.

Otherwise, I know newspapers, websites and magazines often feature the summer’s hot reads every year about this time. What with the heat wave, I’m ready for books about snow and ice.


Only $4.99 on Kindle