When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Interviewers, especially those who aren’t very creative, inevitably ask emerging writers that question. I don’t think readers care.

Since I don’t like the question, my flip answer is, “When I got too old for the gigolo business.”

My wife and I have seen so many 1940s movies where the characters, when asked why they did something stupid, said, “Well, there was a war on,” that that has become our standard rationale for just about everything.

My father, Laurence, teaching journalism at Florida State University – (State Archives of Florida/Kerce)

I guess that’s my real excuse. Those were desperate times and people did desperate things, blew their savings in a poker game, married somebody in Vegas whom they’d known for twenty minutes, wrote the words “once upon a time” on a scrap of paper grabbed from the clutches of an ill wind on a dark street corner.

Truthfully, I could say that both of my parents were teachers and writers and that they passed the curse down to me. I’m sure a sophisticated DNA test would prove that. They both read a lot of books, and passed that mixed blessing down to me. It’s mixed because it leads to a house full of books.

My folks, who didn’t know anything about the gigolo business or the fact that my life’s work started because there was a war on, were a bit pushy about my writing. When I called home, Mother asked, “Have you been keeping up with your writing?” before she asked how I was or if this was just another call for bail money.

Maybe she knew my distrust of straight answers made me unsuitable for other careers such as the ministry, police work, or counseling. Years before the movie “Fargo” was released, she worried that I’d throw my principles into a wood chipper and become a used car salesman.

She had good reason to worry: I made my worst grades in school in English classes. That never went over well when report cards came out. “My teachers hate me because they think I think I know more than they do.” Mother acknowledged that I might, but said, “I think those teachers are like dogs. They can smell fear.”

She was right about that.

My teachers also smelled lack of interest. I told them I was already fluent in English and shouldn’t have to take it.

Chances are, I have a negative attitude about all this.

Malcolm

 

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Thanks for trying out the free copies

I appreciate everyone who grabbed up a free copy of my Kindle short story “Waking Plain.” There used to be a TV bit called “Fractured Fairy Tales;” I suspect I got brainwashed by that so that I take sweet old stories and turn them upside down.

Meanwhile, my soon-to-be released novel Lena has made it past the editor. One always worries about hearing something like, “Malcolm, you know that guy who dies on page 23? How did he come back to life on page 97?” Oops.

Lena is the third and final book (you can quote me on that) in the Florida Folk Magic Series published by Thomas-Jacob. With luck, we’ll be able to show you the cover soon and then announce a release date.

Meanwhile, we have another late afternoon thunderstorm roaring through northwest Georgia. This is getting tedious because the low barometric pressure impacts both our (my wife and I) sinus conditions while all that water makes the grass grow faster than we can keep it mowed.

Fortunately, I have beef stew to warm up in the Dutch oven for supper, so no cooking required tonight. And, the cats have been fed; that means they’ve stopped hovering around my desk and bothering me.

My brother and his wife and grandson will be stopping here briefly next week. Oh hell, that means we have to clean up the house. We’ll have fun while they’re here, though.

Malcolm

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.

Malcolm

 

Do You Want to Write a Series?

“A series can be great for authors because it can draw in readers and keep them. If they like your first book and its characters, they’re likely to forge ahead and buy more books in the series. This is why there are so many series out there.”

Source: So, You Want to Write a Series? – Indies Unlimited

Very helpful post for authors, beginning with whether there’s one plot that continues throughout all the books or whether a character or a setting remains the same while the plots change.

When done well, a series will make for a continuing use of a great plot or a great protagonist and engage readers for (possibly) many years.

There’s a lot to consider, and R. J. Crayton does a great job with this thorough post.

–Malcolm

Starting your blog

“I love blogging and blogging has loved me back. I’ve been offered paid freelance writing gigs and paid speaking engagements because of my blogs and I’ve used the See Jane Write blog to grow a small women’s writing group into an award-winning business. A blog can also be a great way to build an audience for the book you want to write.

“Make 2018 the year you finally launch (or relaunch) your website and blog. Here’s a guide to get you started.”

via How to Start a Blog – See Jane Write

blogCLIPartFrom time to time, people see that I’ve been blogging for many years and ask me how to start a blog. Seriously, folks, I’m not the one to ask because I break too many of the rules and/or some aspects of blogging don’t interest me.

However, Javacia Harris Bowser does know how to blog and offers one of the best overviews about getting started. She begins with domain name and theme considerations and works her way through the steps to having consistent content. (I’m inconsistent, but I see that consistency is better for most bloggers.

If you’re serious about writing a blog, See Jane Write before you do anything else.

Malcolm

 

 

Sacred Earth, Spiritual Journeys

“Indigenous nations and peoples believe in the spiritual powers of the universe. We believe in the ultimate power and authority of a limitless energy beyond our comprehension. We believe in the order of the universe. We believe in the laws of creation and that all life is bound by these same natural laws. We call this essence the spirit of life. This is what gives the world the energy to create and procreate, and becomes the ponderous and powerful law of regeneration—the law of the seed.” – Oren Lyons.

View outside my living room window.

View outside my living room window.

When I look out the window and see the land, it’s much easier for me to believe in a sacred earth and the kinds of spiritual journeys that occur there than it is when I look at the Internet, the television set or a traffic jam on a city street.

I’ve had the same feelings in Apalachicola National Forest, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley and along the California coast at Pt. Reyes.

As the author of fantasy and magical realism novels and short stories, I can “get away with” suggesting that the land is sentient and that the animals one meets on the trail or sees above the mountain tops are wise and have lessons to teach us. Why? Because readers within my genre aren’t surprised by that view.

With most of the U.S. population living in cities, I wonder if those who live there long for the land as it’s shown them in spiritual ecology books and fantasy novels; or is there such a big disconnect between the land and daily life in the city, that environmental issues, spiritual journeys, and all the “Earth in peril” causes we hear about on the news or see on Facebook don’t seem real at all–outside of the novel on the nightstand.

Lake McDonald - NPS Glacier Park photo

Lake McDonald – NPS Glacier Park photo

I have no trouble writing fantasy that shows the Earth as alive because, whether it’s old childhood superstitions that grew out of so many days and nights spend camping, fishing and hiking or whether it’s wishful thinking, I see the land the way I write about it in my fiction.

I think it helps an author to not only have a passion for the themes in his/her storytelling, but to literally believe they’re true. When one believes, one tends to see a lot of things in nature (and elsewhere) that others do not see. Perhaps it’s an illusion or a tired hiker’s hallucination; I can’t say for sure. But it seems real, real enough to believe in.

Perhaps you have other passions. If you write stories and poems, create art, compose or sing songs, or work as a photographer, those passions and beliefs probably impact your work, making it more vibrant, believable and transcendent to those who see it or hear it. They may ask you where you get your ideas and you may tell them that within your belief system and your own journey, the ideas behind your work are quite natural.

In folk magic, everything is alive and interacts with people in their daily lives.

“Where do you get your ideas” is such a standard question authors hear, we’re often flippant about it and make up absurd answers because, frankly, we’re tired of the question and tired of trying to concretely say where those ideas come from. When we’re not being flippant, we say those ideas are part of our lives and so they’re echoed in everything we do.

For me, it’s a sacred Earth and a spiritual journey. Whatever your life and your passions are about, your art is going to reflect that if it’s honest art.

–Malcolm

This post originally appeared on “The Sun Singer’s Travels” in 2015.

 

 

How to become a famous writer

Years ago, ruffians from the English department posted a gag flyer on school bulletin boards showing a hopeless oaf pictured with the quote: “Yesterday I couldn’t even spell ‘writer.’ Now I are one.”

For me, that flyer began a long-time distrust of high school and college English departments. The reasons run deep and belong in another post. Suffice it to say, English departments aren’t high on my list of steps to take in becoming a famous writer. Instead, I suggest the following:

Don’t Write Good.

Readers don’t like good even though many of them claim them have to have read “the good book” and that they adore every novel that features people who helps the homeless or who starve their families while donating time and money to the Salvation Army.

What readers really want is bad. Why do you think they liked The Da Vinci Code? “Christ, you’re telling me Jesus was married? Where can I get my copy?” They like heroes who use unnecessary force (as seen on the show “24”) because those tactics bring the kinds of results that generate closure to readers fighting for simple answers that work in a complex, politically correct rules.

It goes without saying that readers also buy books with back-cover blurbs like “Nymphomaniac Defrocks Beloved Priest in Forgotten Monastery” and  “Shy Housewife Kills Terrorists in Downtown Chicago with Illegal Weapons Stolen from Wimpy Cops.”

Commit a Crime

Writers with platforms sell books. If you threw your mama from a train, you have a much better chance of writing salable books than a hapless MFA-graduate whose “platform” is (a) writing good, (b) An MFA, and (c) A resume filled with angst-ridden poems and short stories set in an unbelievable universe where angst-ridden stuff actually gets onto bestseller lists.

A criminal record shows prospective agents and publishers you know how to catch the public’s attention and produce a novel that will sell 50,000 copies or more and attract options from Warner Brothers and 20th Century-Fox. What you don’t want is a novel that might attract options from the Hallmark Channel because it produces material from authors who write good.

Caution: Judges and lawmakers generally won’t allow a person to profit from a crime. If you write a novel called How I Threw Mama from the Train, your earnings will be confiscated if you really threw your mama from a train. Write about something else, using your fame as a criminal to get the attention of agents, publishers and readers. Your stuff might sell if you write good even though writing bad is better.

Become a Movie Star

If you’re a movie star or a famous Hollywood personality who looks like a slut or a stud on the red carpet, you can become a bestselling author even if you’re illiterate. How? Ghostwriters, darling. A sure way to get a publisher’s attention is by “writing” a memoir or novel based on a true story that dishes out plenty of scandal about your co-stars, lovers, and agents. The public adores stories that tell them their favorite stars aren’t really as pure as the driven snow. A bonus for movie stars is writing a book about an issue even if an expert writes it for you. Do this, and you’ll soon be testifying at Congressional hearings even though you probably know less about the issue than the average man or woman on the street.

The famous movie star approach also works for famous senators, representatives, governors, politicians and other idiots who are smart enough to understand that readers want your name on their coffee tables even if they never read a word of the drivel between the covers.

Plagiarize, Get Caught, Repent

Create a novel with a compelling plot, multidimensional characters, and a jaw-dropping title that, under normal conditions, will probably sell only one hundred copies.  Not to worry. This novel will have a secret weapon, and the big payoff comes when the secret is discovered: you’ve stolen thousands of its words from famous novels. When people find out, you’ll deny it, of course. Your readers will hate you. As your crime becomes harder to deny, you’ll claim “fair use.” That won’t work, but it may keep the wolves from your door for a while.

Finally, you’ll issue a news releasing claiming that Satan told you to do it and that your heartily sorry and never meant to harm anyone. You’ll refund the money you’ve made off the book and check yourself into a rehab center. Several years will go by. People will forget you. That’s when you strike with a book written in your own words. Readers will buy it like hotcakes because folks love repentant sinners who reform and start walking the straight and narrow. Even the New York Times bestseller list and Oprah will love you.

Your English teachers will never share any of these secrets with you. That’s okay, because nobody really needs those people as they much one needs oneself and a plan for success that really brings in the big bucks.

Malcolm

 

Take our characters into your hearts, minds, souls and worst nightmares

“Publishing is hard. No doubt about it. But sometimes authors get so caught up in the publishing aspect of the profession that we forget the reader doesn’t give a darn how the book was made, researched, written, published, or promoted.” – Hope Clark

 We really don’t want to tell you all that because why would you want to know that any more than you want the details about how your prospective new lawnmower was made? Instead, we much prefer you knowing that we hope you’ll enjoy a good story and then take our characters into your hearts, minds, souls and worst nightmares.

Hope Clark wants to be persuaded a book has a story that will probably interest her more than that it’s cheap or free or the author’s hard-fought debut novel. I feel the same way.

On the other hand, unless a writer is well known and can fill his or her blog with news about upcoming book signings, conventions and other appearances, or–perhaps–the progress of a feature fill that’s being made from one of his/her books, the rest of us don’t have bookish information to provide in a weekly blog.

So, we talk about the subject matter in our books hoping, for example, that people who love mountain climbing will read a post about it and then see that the author has written a novel with a mountain climbing theme with a plot sounds interesting and a story fits within one of the genres the individual likes. The gurus say that if an author writes weekly posts–or even tweets–that say nothing but “buy my book” s/he is spamming his/her own readers. I agree.

That leaves us with talking about the subjects and genres we love and hoping that our posts attract the kinds of discerning readers who are will see possibilities in our books. However, I’ve learned a few cautionary things about this idea:

Caution

  • Murderers don’t read mystery thrillers about murder and mayhem unless the novelist includes how-to-do-it tips.
  • Using a lawnmower in your story line doesn’t attract people who mow yards or sell lawnmowers.
  • If you whine to prospective readers that writing your latest novel made you insane, they will be too superstitious to buy it.
  • Footnotes attached to everything in the novel you researched (cited with sources) or experienced (cited with names of witnesses) do not “ramp up” your story’s appeal. (I know, Lincoln in the Bardo breaks this rule.)
  • Forget about the idea of committing a sensational crime and then writing a based-on-a-true story novel about it. Most jurisdictions have laws that won’t let you profit from the bad that you do unless you only imagined it.)
  • If you put spells or subliminal messages in your books that force your readers to buy more of your books, it’s probably best not to mention it.
  • Saying your novel is just like the novel of a famous writer will cause (a) more people to read the famous person’s novel,  and (b) people to ask why your novel isn’t also on the bestseller list and the well-known review sites.

When it comes down to it, I don’t even know why I read what I read, much less how to write something that somebody else will read. My reading habits are all over the map, so how anyone would include me in their target audience is beyond me. Most advertising/promotion software has probably figured out by now that the words “free” and “cheap” really turn me off. I suppose it’s possible that the NSA/CIA/FBI track the books I read and sell that information to publishers. If so, thanks for spying because I keep coincidentally finding plenty of wonderful stuff to read.

As for my own writing, I write about what interests me and hope that I’m not the only person on the planet who finds such stories fascinating.

Malcolm

Since so many people love fast food, I based my latest e-book short story, “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” on fast food. So far, McDonalds hasn’t agreed to included a copy with each Happy Meal.

 

 

Some days, writers are flat too tired to write

Even the words of a decent blog post don’t come to mind.

This list of the day’s events doesn’t sound that arduous:

  1. Up at 7 a.m.. after five hours of sleep (typical)
  2. Emptied the dishwasher
  3. Ate breakfast.
  4. Cleaned frying pan and put plate in empty dishwasher
  5. Picked up garden soil and potting soil at Home Depot (still in the trunk of the car)
  6. Got four new tires put on the car and found out the alignment was messed up (wait time = 90 minutes)
  7. Bought a new coffee pot (took two stores to find one)
  8. Picked up a few groceries
  9. Lunch (not proud, it was a cheap TV dinner)
  10. Made a vat of beef stew (still simmering)
  11. Watered new veggies and flowers outside
  12. Wheeled garbage bin back up next to the house
  13. Cleaned up a hairball
  14. Fed the cats
  15. Publisher reminds me Eulalie and Washerwoman will be on sale on Kindle on Friday (don’t want to get in trouble by neglecting to mention that)
  16. Poured a glass of wine (just before burning myself out on this exciting post)

–Malcolm

The many worlds of fiction are calling you away

“I know I walk in and out of several worlds each day.” – Joy Harjo

I won’t try to second guess what Harjo, winner of the 2017 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, meant exactly when she mentioned several worlds. If you’ve read her 1983 book She Had Some Horses, you might suspect–as I do–that her “several worlds” are more than figurative. The title poem, which I can never read often enough, says the horses are sand, are maps, contain ocean water, are the sky’s air, fur and teeth, breakable clay, and splintered from a cliff. Throughout the poem, those horses are everything else.

Nothing figurative there. I see it as real because when I’m there, reading, I’m in that world, and she did not say, like sand, like maps, like fur and teeth, etc. When you read and when you are where the words take you, you are no longer in your safe bed or your easy chair or at your desk. You are in a place where “She had horses with eyes of trains.”

NASA Photo

If you write, you are where the words have taken you, perhaps with Joy Harjo, in a place where “She had horses who licked razor blades.” The typewriter, yellow tablet, or PC slip away, and now you see the bright cold day where the clocks were striking thirteen, where the screaming comes across the sky, where there was a dark and stormy night where the rain was falling in torrents, where Mrs. Dalloway bought flowers for herself, or where stars are living and dying.

If you read and/or write, it is hard not to talk in and out of several worlds each day. The words conjure you there. Those words are your quantum entanglement, placing you simultaneously at one place and another place, and the place with the strongest attraction is where you attention is, often more within the book than your safe bed or easy chair. Perhaps the call of sleep, the ringing of a phone, another person entering the room, or a thunderstorm will draw you away from the horses “who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.”

That sudden change of worlds can be like dying or being born. It’s often wrenching like being pulled suddenly out of weep water or stepping into a fire. Sometimes the worlds blur the way dreams and waking moments tangle together at dawn. Sometimes you’re sure you safe bad is made of sand, is a map, contains ocean water, is fur and teeth, breakable clay, and a splintered sliver from a red cliff. Worlds can tangle for readers, writers, dreamers, and anyone else with an free-ranging imagination.

You become a shaman when you read or write. To the logical observer, you appear to be a man or woman reading in bed or a man or woman writing a book at his or her computer. They can’t quite see that you are the sky’s air and the ocean’s water.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”