Why do I write?

Why do I write?

The short answer to that question is, “I don’t know.”

When asked, I usually respond with:

Why do you read?

Most people have trouble answering that question other than listing the reasons other people read and using them to make people go away.

I know why I read: so I have less time to write. I was actually a writing mentor once and gave it up after a while when I realized I was teaching my mentees all my bad habits. My bad writing habits have saved me from a life in an institution, a university or a mental institution, places like that.

When people ask me why I write, I usually tell them that as I got older the gigolo business wasn’t supporting the lifestyle to which I’d become accustomed. As it turns out, writing isn’t supporting that either.

Storytelling, perhaps.

We’re told by gurus that we read and write stories because they tell us the important things about the world. I think I’ve learned more from reading fiction than from history books or the nightly news. I’ve probably discovered a lot more from writing than I have from any other journey. But then people ask me why I write, I can’t really say that because it sounds crazy.

Writers who sound crazy tend to earn more and find more readers than writers who sound sane. I think this is because sanity is boring. Books that are boring don’t end up on the New York Times bestseller list. Or in Oscar-winning movies.

What’s Important?

I think we all want to know. We see that the world appears to be in a mess: War. climate change. Murder. One religion vs. another. BS on the evening news every night.

Most of us want to know the truth, the real truth behind all the BS. We learned early on that stories, especially old stories that we linked to ancient legends and myths, might have clues for us. I think that’s why I read and write.

The clues I’ve found, or think I’ve found, don’t make sense if I discuss them at the local Waffle House. People say, “Well, that’s just crazy.” I know it sounds crazy, but then that’s why I think it’s true. That’s the great paradox of living in this world, I suspect. The truth always sounds like it isn’t the truth.

Yet, we continue to believe that while reading and writing, we catch glimpses of the truth. So, we keep on playing our games with words. It’s like a journey into the unknown. When I start reading or writing, I have no idea where I’ll end up. Yet, I see a pattern to what I’m doing as I read books with a common theme that support each other and as I write books with common themes that support each other.

When people ask me why I write, I give them the short answer: “It beats driving a truck.” The real answer is too difficult to pin down just as the real answer for why I read what I read is hard to fathom. What about you. Do you have a short (and true) answer for why you read an/or write?


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Lena.”


Savoring where you are

“When my students finished a draft, all I wanted them to do was sit inside of it for longer than was comfortable. To acknowledge and celebrate what they’d accomplished. To not let their brains yet look toward what it must become for it to have worth.” – Lynn Steger Strong in “So, You’ve Finished Your Book”

There’s so much to think about when the first draft of a story or novel is finished.

Unfortunately, we often dive right into thinking about the next draft, our writer’s platform, our submission list, potential reviewers, and the whole publishing thing before we allow ourselves to enjoy what we’ve done already. We’ve taken a ream of paper or an empty DOC file and created the seed of a story. To think about where that seed might go at this moment would be like a husband and wife hearing the news that the wife was pregnant and immediate thinking about what graduate school the child should go to instead of living in the moment of that news and what its like to hear it and know it and feel it.

The reader savors your work if your work is true.

Publishing, if not the world, has made us this way. We have short attention spans with little time for savoring where we are right now. To get ahead (of what or whom, I don’t know) we have to intuit or logically plan the future before the lessons of the current experience can be sorted out and enjoyed and–as Stong says–“celebrated.”

I can’t prove it, but I think our lack of savoring this moment not only spoils where we hope we’re heading but–if we’re writers–also tends to dumb down the material we’re working on so that it fits prospective sales demographics rather than becoming more true and whole within itself when we begin subsequent drafts of the story.

In fact, some marketing gurus boldly tell us to figure out our niche, its demographics, and its movers and shakers before we even begin writing a new story. They want us to write for a specific group/fad/genre before we even pick up a pen. I have little use for those people because I believe the art is more important than the selling of the art.

You may remember an old expression, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” I don’t believe that, actually. But the gurus who want to sell to an audience think it’s easier to simply sell the sow’s ear because, well, people will be brainwashed into buying it and, worse yet, won’t know the difference between it and the silk purse.

I’m discouraged when I think of such things and fear they’re truer than I know.

If you celebrate your beginnings and your first drafts and your hopes, I believe that sooner or later you’ll not only have art that’s true to itself but a genuine “silk purse” that people will be drawn to without marketing trickery. And, you’ll be happy with what you’ve accomplished.



Stories – Knowing what to leave out

“You need emotion to make a story compelling. But every story is really just a sequence of events that need to be told in the right order. Extraneous information slows a story down and can have people wondering about the ultimate point. It’s like telling a joke: You don’t go on detours about what the chicken was doing for the last three weeks before it crossed the road. You tell only the parts that propel the joke forward. The same applies to storytelling.” – Art of Charm

Campfires draw storytellers and audiences like moths to flames. The forest primeval, moon and stars, unknown animals hiding in the darkness, wind soughing through the trees, branches that snap, cries of birds, isolation from well-lit, safe, and civilized places, all these combine into a natural arena for the telling of tales.

If you read through sites like the Art of Charm, you’ll find many tips for telling a captivating story (with or without the campfire), including understanding that “Every story has an emotional core, and that emotional core is how the storyteller feels about the events they’re describing. Everything else is just window dressing.”

Don’t Duplicate Reality

Ineffective storytellers and those who can’t seem to tell a joke properly often think more is more. They not only put into too much window dressing but tell you how the windows were made and installed. The result is tedious because it’s not really a story, it’s a transcript.

While short passages of transcript-like, step-by-step narration can add impact, they usually destroy impact. They have all the excitement of a 24-hour webcam. The author and the storyteller must determine what’s not essential, what destroys the pacing, that dilutes the excitement and the fear and the derring-do.

Writing guidebooks frequently use the examples showing the difference between a recording of a real-life conversation and the same conversation as distilled by an author or a storyteller (because amateurs frequently believe that duplicating real life is the best way to convey a realistic story). While some say our lives are large-order stories, slices of life are not stories. For one thing, the reader/audience cannot spend the same amount of time reading or hearing a story as the same event took to unfold in front of that 24-hour webcam. Yes, you can say the webcam footage is real. But here’s the thing: real isn’t a story.

The successful author and captivating campfire storyteller will leave out most of that the webcam shows–or what their memories of the actual events they witnessed can recall. If you’re a reporter writing for a daily newspaper, you’ll take the most important moments of that webcam footage or that memory and put them first. Then you follow that up with increasingly minor details. That style is called the inverted pyramid because the most important stuff comes first.

Efficiently Moving from Beginning to End

The storyteller and the author do the exact opposite. They place the most important stuff at–or near the end–of their story or novel. As the story unfolds, the writer and the storyteller are very conscious about going from beginning to end in a dramatic way whether the story is driven by the plot or by a character. When thinking about what to leave in or leave out, the key is: does this fact, conversation, description, or thought propel the story forward? If not, it doesn’t belong there because it’s more transcript than art.

When a good editor says, “you need to tighten this up,” s/he means that the writer didn’t leave out enough of the stuff s/he should have left out and/or that even the important sentences are filled with extra words. When the Art of Charm says that the storyteller’s feelings about the story art important, we can take this advice in many ways. One way is that if the writer or storyteller doesn’t care, then neither will the readers or campfire audience. Another way is that when the writer or storyteller cares a lot, s/he will find it easier to pinpoint which “extra” scenes, descriptions, and dialogue weaken the tale-telling experience.

Knowing what to leave out is a true part of the art and craft of keeping the reader’s and listener’s participative attention.






The Fairytale Heroine’s Journey

“When I first started teaching fairy tales at the university level, I noticed that certain tales had a similar underlying structure. They were all tales about heroines, from childhood to marriage, and in those tales the heroines went through a series of life stages: they received gifts, they were required to leave home or lost their homes in some way, they wandered through dark forests, they found temporary homes where they could stay for a while, they encountered friends and helpers along their journey . . . I describe those stages in more detail on the Journey page of this website.”

Source: The Fairytale Heroine’s Journey

Author, researcher, and college professor Theodora Goss* is doing for fairy tales what Joseph Campbell did for myths. That is, she is looking for underlying themes that can be found in many tales. It’s a developing process, and I’m looking forward to seeing this website evolve over time.

*Goss is the author of three wonderful novels, “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter,”European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman,” and “The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl.”


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the heroine’s journey novel “Sarabande.” 

Writers, ‘If you want immediate money, get a job’

“Write because you enjoy it. Write for the long term. If you want immediate money, get a job. This writing career is about loving to tell stories. Readers want to hear about how great your story is, not how many copies you sold or how brilliant your promotion campaign was. Readers want to be lulled and drawn into a new world they love, not sold a popular fad.” – Hope Clark

If you’re on the staff of a magazine or newspaper, write news releases for a profit-making corporation or non-profit organization, write advertising copy, are among the listed writers for a television series, create computer documentation, or are employed in other positions that require you to create strings of words for pay, then you have a writing job and receive paycheck and possibly even have a benefits package.

However, none of those positions are on people’s minds when they dream of becoming a writer. They’re dreaming of the Pulitzer Prize or the Nobel Prize or the New York Times bestseller list or of seeing the words “based on a story by. . .”in the credits of a blockbuster movie.

As Hope Clark said in a recent Funds for Writers newsletter that for most writers, sometimes it seems like nobody’s out there because few readers write Amazon reviews or comment on writers’ blogs. So that’s why she advises dreamers to write because they enjoy it.

When we’re young, and don’t know any better, we see our current novel in progress as the next bestseller published by a major New York Publisher. Subsequently, we’re depressed to learn they don’t look at unsolicited manuscripts and that most of the agents who send work to those publishers also don’t look at unsolicited manuscripts.

If you’re a Hollywood star or even a famous serial killer, you’ll probably get a contract from a major New York Publisher because they think your book will sell 50,000 copies or more. Seems unfair, doesn’t it? But then, publishing is a business. Yes, that seems unfair, too, doesn’t it? Perhaps it will seem less unfair if we acknowledge that most people in other professions don’t start at the top. They work their way up. Other than famous people, I think the same is true of writers.

We really have to like what we do. And when it comes down to the words on paper, we need to enjoy putting them there and acknowledge those words are there for our prospective readers. Those readers need to find something that inspires them, takes them into exciting places with exciting characters, or provides a respite from a long days at the office.

Yes, it’s hard to know what readers might want. I think that means that we have to do the best we can as writers and hope we connect with somebody out there who enjoys reading our words. Looking at writing as a lottery where we might strike it rich usually dooms us to failure. If it happens, it happens. Until them, telling stories is what inspires us more than seeing our names up in lights.


If you were God, what would you do next?

Most people are scared to answer that question. In fact, they’re down right superstitious about even hearing the question.

Those who do answer the question tend to say either: (a) I would smite so and so, or (b) I would create world peace. Smiting a bad guy is easy. Creating world peace is easier said than done because there are too many variables involved for a mere human to deal with.

Okay, here’s where you find out that’s a trick question.

Those who aren’t writers often say that within any given novel, the author is a god. S/he can smite everyone who needs smiting and decree world peace without having to worry about the mechanics of it.

There are risks of acting too God like while writing a novel or a short story. Presumably, God (Himself and/or Herself) doesn’t have to worry about bad press whenever He or She manifests and Act of God. Human beings, being what they are, tend to believe that if an Act of God occurs and it’s bad, it must be their fault. They sinned, and so an Act of God paid them back.

If a writer puts an Act of God into his/her story, chances are nobody will believe it and the author will be paid back with a slew of one-star reviews on Amazon, and God help him or her if the book sells well enough to attract the attention of critics who will say, “The book was a wondrous sweeping saga until the last chapter when the good guys were trapped and suddenly–without warning or proper foreshadowing–a tsunami kills all the bad guys.”

Critics and readers alike will say, “I hate it when that happens.”

Basically, critics and readers don’t want the author to play God as s/he writes because the resulting story is unsatisfying, outside the reality of the novel, an example of the author writing himself/herself into a hole and cheating to get out of it, and other nasty criticisms.

Readers, frankly, are never willing to say that the author moves in mysterious ways and let it go at that. Authors who move in mysterious ways are variously bad, experimental, sinful, crazy, or tetched. Critics and readers typically want more order than authors want. They want the books they read to be safe and to fit within the world as they see it.

The bottom line is, the author can’t play God and has to let the story unfold however it unfolds. If you–as the author–step in and take any action whatsoever, it has to be sneaky and impossible for critics and readers to detect.

So, the author’s answer to the question “If you were God, what would you do next?” is “Little to nothing.”

That’s the reality of being an author. You have the power, but you can’t use it.





Keeping track of the old stories

“If you know or happen upon a story, record it in some way. As a voice memo on a phone. In written form. Do the same with your friends and relatives. And archive the stories or send them to someone who keeps folklore records. Because this preservation is vital to ensure that we do not lose our old traditions or beliefs. Never assume that everyone knows why a particular road, or field, is called by a certain name. If you know the history, record it. Otherwise you do not know what may be lost in the future.” – Jon Buckeridge in “Once Upon a Time: Folklore and Storytelling” in The Folklore Podcast

Wikipedia Photo – Dutch Proverbs

Folklore is easy to lose. Mainstream history often runs roughshod over local stories. The stories themselves may have been passed from person to person to the extent that details have been lost or exaggerated or even changed. Yet, if the participants and places aren’t famous, the stories may be forgotten.

As writers, we can help keep those stories alive by writing down those we know and disseminating them in nonfiction or as the basis of our fiction. These stories can add a lot of depth to a novel.

When my wife and I moved to a small Georgia town in 2002, the subdivision we chose was once part of a farm. The subdivision was named after one of the city fathers; his name can be found in local and county histories, and in walking tour notes. The subdivision’s streets were named after members of the farm family. We were the first owners of a house that had been built the year before. You could see in the property’s deeds who owned it before we did. But you won’t find the links there between the street names and the family members’ names.

Long-time residents had known the family, so in time we learned where the street names came from. The developer/builder also knew this. We moved out two years ago. I wonder how many people in that neighborhood today know where their street’s name came from. I don’t recall the homeowners association documents including any neighborhood history. In a brief Google search, I can’t find that information on line.

I’m sure somebody in town still knows it. But have they written it down? If not, the information will disappear in time along with any remembrances people had of the family members and what they did or where they ended up. Quite likely, none of them are famous and, to my knowledge, they didn’t factor into any city or county news stories of note. But in a lot of locales, the names of streets have histories connected to them that might make for good background information in a short story of a novel.

“Stories are the very basis and heart of folklore. Certainly, when you look back at cultures that did not have a recorded history per se, or who relied on outsiders to chronicle their histories, the essence of them is held in the stories. Without those stories they will die. We need people with passion and drive to not let them die. For Jon, it does not matter whether you believe that the supernatural elements of these stories are real; what matters is that the stories, the culture and the history, and heritage of those who call a place home is preserved and held up for future generations. It is something that every person has a right to.” – Podcast Introduction.

Many of us remember our parents and grandparents telling us family stories when we were young. We remember some of them, but unless we wrote them down, we’ve probably forgotten most of them. Too bad: that’s the kind of information that can be passed down to children and grandchildren and, when it figures into the local history and development of a town or county, it quite possibly should end up in local history books, short stories, and novels.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s Kindle short story (which is based on Florida folklore) “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” has been nominated the 2018 Pushcart Prize.

Being preoccupied – one hazard of being a writer

If somebody wrote a blues song about living with a writer, it might start out something like this:

My baby’s lyin’ next to me, but I ain’t here,
My baby’s lyin’ next to me, but I ain’t here,
I’m just a haint who ain’t dead, cause she’s off yonder inside her head.

My wife told me many years ago that she can always tell when I’m working on a novel or a short story because I’m not in the room even when I’m in the room. She says I’m preoccupied, but we both know it’s more than that. I haven’t gone off into a trance, but I’m getting close.

I can pull myself back from this preoccupation if I have to, if the cops bust into the room or the world ends, but otherwise the story in progress is so addictive that it has more power than “real life.”

dadreamWhen a writer’s in a writing trance, the sights and sounds of his/her story display in the mind’s eyes with greater clarity than memories and dreams. It’s almost like s/he is there with the hero being chased down the street by muggers, the people escaping from a burning building, the troubled woman on a swing, the lovers walking on a beach in the moonlight , or a room full of employees getting chewed out by the boss.

It you’re a writer, you know what I mean. If you live with a writer, you have my sympathies.

Once the story’s complete, the daydream quality of my non-writing hours disappears and I’m back to normal. Thankfully, I don’t work on multiple stories/novels at a time, so when I write the words “the end” on one story, I don’t immediately become preoccupied with the next. I say “thankfully” because being not fully present with others when you’re supposed to be watching a TV movie together, shooting the breeze on a car trip, or sharing a carafe of wine at a fine restaurant always comes off as disinterested uncaring.

One of my pet peeves is people who text or talk on their cell phones when having dinner with my wife and I or who have have come over to play cards or shoot the breeze over drinks. Few things are more rude than that even though most cell phone users think the world will stop if they don’t answer every call. While writers don’t mean to be rude and caught not listening or not responding to others in the room, they can’t always help it. And we come across as worse because we don’t have a cell phone plastered against our ear while everyone else around the dinner table sits in limbo while we yak about something inconsequential. Cell phone interruptions are an accepted kind of rudeness; daydreaming in front of others is not.

Maybe I need a sign around my neck that says: Sorry to be rude, but my short story’s calling I’ve got to take this.

Most people will either think that’s a joke or that the writer is crazy, that is, unless they’ve lived with a writer and his/her trance-like moments and understand what’s going on.

Seriously, it’s not that really want to ignore you. It’s just that I haven’t yet found a twelve-step program to cure my writing addiction.


Still addicted after all these years, Malcolm R. Campbell is currently preoccupied with the sequel to “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” 



Storytelling, dreams, and magic

Life in Truth (as opposed to the “life actual” world we see with our eyes) “tells us of the world as it should be. It holds certain values to be important. It makes issues clear. It is, if you will, a fiction based on great opposites, the clashing of opposing forces, question and answer, yin and yang, the great dance of opposites. And so the fantasy tale, the ‘I that is not you,’ becomes a rehearsal for the reader for life as it should be lived.” – Jane Yolen in “Touch Magic”

MRbloghop2016When we wake up from a dream, we’re aware of the fact that we didn’t realize we were dreaming while we were dreaming, but accepted what was happening as real no matter how improbable it seems in the light of day. Daydreams are somewhat the same. We’re imagining surfing in Hawaii or climbing Mt. Everest when somebody says, “you look like you’re a thousand miles away.”

Authors hope readers will react to their books like this. We want the reader to step into the story and, as the words flow forward along the pages, believe a little or a lot that the story is real. When a book is compelling, readers are often startled when the phone rings or somebody knocks on the front door and they find themselves back in “life actual” in somewhat the same way they react when they wake up from a compelling dream.

It’s said that Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested that when stories contain human interest and a semblance of truth, readers will temporarily suspend their judgement about the implausibility of the plot, setting and characters. Readers willingly suspend their disbelief and see the novel, short story, play or movie as life actual rather than life in truth.

A general fiction author will take us to a real place, or at least a realistic place, in our own comfortable domain of life actual (sometimes called “consensual reality”) and tell us a story that could happen (or might have happened) in the “real world.” (I put “real world” in quotation marks because both Quantum physicists and spiritual gurus have called into question whether the world we perceive as real is real.)

Contemporary fantasy authors will take you to a hidden place within the world we know where magical events occur. The Harry Potter series is a good example of this. Most of the magic within Rowling’s books was confined to Hogwarts and other magical locations. The consensual reality at Hogwarts was different from the consensual reality in London, and both readers and wizards knew that they were traveling between parts of the world with different rules.

perception2Magical realism authors bring magic into the world we know. In a magical realism story, the magic is part of the characters’ everyday life and is accepted as just as real and viable as the cars they drive and the pots and pans in their kitchens.  The characters don’t see magic as something with the world “maybe” attached to it whether that magic comes from the land, from ancestors or spirits, or from the spell casting or innate abilities of the people involved.

The authors of general fiction (or realistic genres), contemporary fantasy, and magical realism all want readers to suspend their natural disbelief in the reality presented in the novel, and accept it as real in the same way they accept dreams and daydreams as real. In some ways, readers are like those who go up on stage during a hypnotist’s or magician’s performance and say, “Yes, I’m willing to be hypnotized” or “Yes, I’m willing to be fooled by your illusions.”

Perception is Reality

Storytellers, hypnotists and stage magicians (illusionists) can place you into somewhat of a dream state in which you accept what’s happening as real because we believe that perception is reality in one or more of these ways:

  • Psychologists might say you see the same reality as everyone else, but are impacted by it differently because of how you feel about it or yourself.
  • Quantum physicists might say that reality is more than we perceive with our physical senses and that our thoughts or our presence impact it in ways we may not realize.
  • Those who study and accept what used to be called “new age” belief systems will say that our perception and our thoughts create the reality we experience and that we can be taught how to do this consciously.
  • And others will say that our perception of what is real can changed temporarily due to hypnosis, strong emotions or other traumas, alcohol or drugs, or some other life actual cause.

When it comes down to it, most authors don’t think about “perception is reality” while they’re writing. Learning one’s craft brings authors the techniques they need to tell a page-turning story that readers perceive as real while they’re reading it. Most of us want to be tricked one way or another when we watch a hypnotist’s or a stage magician’s performance. We don’t usually think about being tricked or enchanted or hypnotized when we pick up a novel, but that’s what happens if the story on that novel’s pages is well told.

Magical Realism or Just Plain Realism?

I see the world as a child of the new age. I’ve had arguments with publishers about whether my novels and short stories should be called general fiction or magical realism because I believe everything in my stories is real. But, publishers, bookstores and readers tend to like seeing the genre labels because those labels help them choose the ways they like being hypnotized or enchanted (in a magical sense) by an author.

What do you see?
What do you see?

I’ve always written about the world I perceive. Until others pointed it out, I didn’t realize I was writing magical realism. I had to ask, “What makes my stories fit into that genre?” Publishers, editors and writing gurus kept telling me, “You and your characters. . .”

  1. View the spell for creating a pillar of fire or jinxing a troublesome neighbor as no different than a recipe for mac and cheese.
  2. Assume haints and other spirits are just as likely to be in the forest as deer and raccoons.
  3. Give myths and legends just as much credence as recorded history–or suggest they’re more accurate
  4. Think trees, rocks, storms and the land itself are conscious.

I said, “Yes, of course I perceive everything that way. Doesn’t everyone?”

As it turned out, most other people don’t share my perception of reality in their day-to-day lives; however, enough of them like being lured into short stories and novels with that kind of perception to make magical realism a popular genre.

I think I was the last to know.

The world as we know it draws lines between our dreams and our waking hours, between illusion and five-senses perception, between magic and non-magic, and between life actual and life in truth. Magical realism takes away all those lines.


This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the frog button for a list of other blogs in the hop. Links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

A something or other with no name

“To name a thing is to acknowledge its existence as separate from everything else that has a name; to confer upon it the dignity of autonomy while at the same time affirming its belonging with the rest of the namable world; to transform its strangeness into familiarity, which is the root of empathy. To name is to pay attention; to name is to love.” – Maria Popova in How Naming Confers Dignity Upon Life and Gives Meaning to Existence

We tend to view the world through the lens of our language. Students taking language classes are often surprised that many of their pet phrases and notions have no twin in the language they’re being taught. Why not? The native speakers of that language see the world differently. My stories about, say, Glacier National Park, would be much different if they had been written in Blackfeet or Kootenai.

As a storyteller (writing in English for others who speak English), I see that naming things is both a sign of respect and acknowledgement as well as a limiting factor. When you name a mountain “Chair Rock,” you’re doing a normal thing. But you’re also making it difficult to see the rock any other way. If you see a translation of a story that includes “Chair Rock,” the name may suddenly be further away from your world view than the author will ever know.

In many cultures, people hide their true names–sometimes called “basket names”–from people outside the family because those names are linked to their true selves and telling them gives others a power over you. I can respect that. When I write, there is much that I refuse to say.

americahorsewithnonameThere’s an old gag about Dewey Bunnell’s song “A Horse with No Name,” recorded by America in 1971, that what with all that time in the desert, couldn’t the guy name the horse?

It’s hard to visualize the song, originally called “Desert,” with a horse named Fury or Flicka or Mr. Ed. Perhaps he didn’t respect the horse other than to say he was, in fact, riding a horse rather than something or other. Or, perhaps, the horse didn’t want its true name to be known.

Here, I’m respecting Dewey Bunnell and America by mentioning them. For a writer, that’s intentional because–as is often the case–those names have been forgotten while–in this case–the song is still widely known.

The specifics we include in our storytelling are there not because we are are name dropping or “adding a bunch of description” (as some call it) or playing with a place names dictionary or a “this date in history” website.

They are in the story because they confer the “dignity of autonomy” and because they’re an affirmation of their existence, as Maria Popova calls it. The realities in a story tie the story to a time and place as part of what happened their or how the world moved there. They are also in the story because the characters living in that time or place would know them and have empathy for them–as perhaps you, the reader, will know them as you read.

I included a glossary in the back of Conjure Woman’s Cat because the story includes folk magic terms, blues songs and performers’ names that they characters in the story would know. If Conjure Woman’s Cat were nonfiction, I could have included footnotes. The glossary seemed less distracting.

Part of research is changing what a writer knows about his or her story in progress from a something or other to something specific and loved and known within the context of the tale and the language in which it’s told. To paraphrase Jim Croce, like the pine trees and the croaking toad, everything in the story has a name.

If an author gets those names right, s/he can immerse you into the real and/or fictional world where those names arise even though–like maps–they’re not the territory.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)EScover2014Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Emily’s Stories.”