The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Are you writing for immediate impact or to create a legacy?

In an interview in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Lidia Yuknavitch (The Book of Joan) said that a well known male writer friend is “always talking about how he wants to leave a legacy with his books, and I’m always talking about how I want to create energy in the present tense among other mammals and I could give a shit about a legacy … What I’m finding is, I am more interested in the intense, temporary energy books create.”

Up until Amazon and self-publishing made it easier for more authors to see their books in print, I’m guessing that more writers thought about legacy than immediate impact (other than getting on the bestseller list, perhaps). After all, we grew up with the idea of a writer’s legacy because most of the books we read in school were part of the writing legacy of a famous author; after that, many readers shifted over to current well-known writers who are creating a legacy now.

Several things seem to have changed. First, self-publishing has made getting words into print so easy that I see a lot of writers rushing books into print, trying to create instant bestsellers, publishing free books for the purpose of capturing readers’ attention and then directing them through links in the book to the books the author is charging for, and basically trying to keep a roller coaster of writing and promotion and platform and mailing lists constantly growing and building.

I’m not convinced those authors are thinking ahead to such things as legacy; it’s almost like they’re in a mad rush to build a following. And then, maybe, once they have it, they intend to shift over to writing books that will last and be their legacy.

The other thing is Donald Trump’s election and the campaign that led up to it. This has stirred an interest among both mainstream GOP and mainstream Democrat writers to create novels, plays, poems and nonfiction that matter now. These writers are– like Yuknavitch, perhaps–so focused on the polarized political climate and how it impacts their core values about diversity, big business, the environment, immigration, education, birth control and other issues, that they want books that focus on these issues right now in the present.

I’ve thought about the idea of immediate impact lately because there’s such a push amongst writers for all of us to get involved in writing something with a tie-in to current issues. I realize that I don’t do that. Sure, I make a few comments on Facebook (and usually get burned for saying anything), support various environmental and social service groups, and occasionally post things on my other blog about environmental issues. But my fiction hasn’t changed with Trump’s election any more than it would have changed with Hillary Clinton’s election–or anyone else’s election.

I care about the political issues and have an opinion about them. Most people do. I’m just not moved to write about it. As for a legacy, no, I don’t care about that either because short of having Oprah call me out of the blue, my books will be forgotten soon after I depart for the writing room in the sky. I’m realistic about that. So it comes down to just telling stories, hoping people like them, and in being aware that something in this story or that story might impact how a person feels about my stories’ themes.

That said, I tend to agree with Yuknavitch’s point of view because it seems to me that consciously trying to create a legacy destroys the experience of writing a meaningful story in about the same way that posing for hundreds of selfies destroys a person’s involvement in the tourist locations they’re visiting. Legacy creation probably ruined a lot of otherwise promising careers because those who approached storytelling this way were overly particular and/or restrained because they imagined what their words would look life when they were engraved in stone. In a way, those writers are like the politician who always minds his words because a camera might be recording him as he speaks.

Of course, we may end up with both immediate energy and a legacy if we don’t try to force the issue.

FREE KINDLE BOOKS

Carrying Snakes into Eden (two short stories) and The Lady of the Blue Hour (short story) will be free on Kindle April 22 through April 24, 2017.

–Malcolm

 

 

Upcoming Contest Deadlines

Winning or placing in a contest brings writers validation, publicity that gives weight to resumes and platforms, some handy prize money, and free copies of anthologies/magazine issues containing the winning entry that can be handed out at book fairs and conventions. We can’t enter them all or we’ll go broke paying the entry fees. My suggestion: if you’re just getting started, don’t try the most prestigious contests first because your competition will include widely known authors. Look for those where you have your best chance in terms of that competition and the contest theme.

Upcoming Deadlines:

  • Bellevue Literary Prize – Poetry and Prose. Three prizes of $1,000 each. Works about health, healing, illness, body, and mind. Online submission system. $20 entry fee. July 1 deadline.
  • Boston Review – Poetry. $1,500 and publication for a poem or group of poems. Up to five poems on no more than ten pages. $20 entry fee. June 1 deadline.
  • Glimmer Train – Short story award for new writers. Prize of $2,500 and publication for winning story between 1,000 and 12,000 words. $18 entry fee. Submit between May 1 and June 30.
  • Lost Horse Press – Idaho Prize for Poetry. $1,000 and publication. Submit manuscript of at least 48 pages. $20 to $30 entry fee depending on whether you submit by mail or online. May 15 deadline.
  • New American Press – New American Fiction Prize. $1,000 and publication. Submit a selection of short stories, flash fiction, novella or novel of at least 100 pages. $25 entry fee. June 15 deadline.
  • Philadelphia Stories – Marguerite McGlinn Prize for Fiction. $2,000 and publication. Winner will receive free travel ans lodging to read at Rosemont College in October. Short  story up to 8,000 words. $15 entry fee. June 15 deadline.

To keep up with contests throughout the year, look at the Poets & Writers database of Writing Contests, Grants & Awards

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Eulalie and Washerwoman, a story about a conjure woman fighting the Klan set in the Florida Panhandle of the 1950s.

Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award

The Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award is open for entries. The Kindle Storyteller Award is a new literary prize recognising newly published work in the English language across any genre and includes a £20,000 prize.

via Amazon UK Kindle Storyteller Award – Indies Unlimited

This looks like a great opportunity if you have a potential Kindle Direct Publishing manuscript ready or almost ready. The big plus, in addition to the award, is the publicity. That can be a nice boost for your writing career.

Thanks to Indies Unlimited for posting this.

Malcolm

Is language a prostitute queen?

“Nothing is so easy as to deceive one’s self when one does not lack wit and is familiar with all the niceties of language. Language is a prostitute queen who descends and rises to all roles. Disguises herself, arrays herself in fine apparel, hides her head and effaces herself; an advocate who has an answer for everything, who has always foreseen everything, and who assumes a thousand forms in order to be right. The most honorable of men is he who thinks best and acts best, but the most powerful is he who is best able to talk and write” – George Sand, in “Indiana”

A character in a TV show who was talking about abuse said that scars and bruises heal, but abusive words said to another person last forever. As soon as she said it, I thought of this passage in George Sand’s 1832 novel Indiana. It was written when sentiments in France were in a state of flux between being ruled by a hereditary monarch or a constitutional monarch. The debate was endless, but veiled somewhat behind the eloquence of well-practiced aristocratic conversations that were an art form well-outside the scope of today’s conversations at dinner and formal affairs.

Yet, as a writer, I am disturbed by the passage. Many people say that actions speak louder than words. There is truth in that, I think. But many people also believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. Over time, perhaps, though not on a battlefield.

Today, as we hear a lot of words from both sides of the political spectrum, we’re hearing a lot about biased news and fake news, so it becomes harder and harder to tell what the truth of any matter is. If language is, or can be used as a prostitute queen, people are being quite often swayed these days by more words than actions. Yet, I take issue with the suggestion that those of us who write are somehow in league with Voldemort–or the devil of your choice–and cannot be trusted.

I don’t think words are forever as the TV actress said on the show, but in the context of the scene, that idea made sense. Most words are, I think, forgotten. Or, their importance dims with time as people hear fresh words that make more sense, that seem more true to them, that they can prove by doing a little soul searching or fact checking.

Yet, I think that with times as they are now, a lot of people would agree with George Sand’s author’s comment in her novel. Personally, I don’t think the words–or language itself–are at fault. The people who use words badly, who have thinly veiled agendas, who seldom bother with the truth, who replace facts with opinions and/or slick writing–they are the ones making us distrust words while giving those words more power over us than they actually have.

–Malcolm

 

Yes, bookstores can order my paperback novels

I’ve added the Thomas-Jacob Publishing logo to my cover photograph because this wonderful traditional publisher has published some of my Kindle books, audiobooks and paperbacks.

What this means is that you can walk into your local bookstore for my books rather than buying on line. If they’re not already on the shelf, the folks there can order my paperbacks from their Ingram catalogue under the same standard bookstore terms and conditions that brought all the other books into their store. Some stores, including one in the town where I live have bookshelves reserved for local authors. We appreciate that.

This includes Sarabande, Conjure Woman’s Cat, and Eulalie and Washerwoman.

Personally, I prefer ordering books from local stores, especially the locally own, independents because that puts money back into the community through salaries, property taxes and business license feels. Beats sending those dollars off to the major online booksellers. And when you buy locally, you don’t have order more books that you really want to get free shipping.

–Malcolm

 

Do we really need to see Sylvia Plath’s private letters?

A story in The Guardian, “Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes,” focuses on letters Sylvia Plath wrote to her former therapist between 1960 and 1963, the last of which was sent a week before her suicide.

Sylvia Plath – Wikipedia photo

Scholars have sought information about this period of the author’s life for years and are drooling over the secrets contained in correspondence that isn’t part of any official public record (such as court proceedings) in hopes of understanding Plath, her poetry, and her marriage better. Frankly, I think the right of privacy shouldn’t end with a person’s death–and that goes to show that I would never make a literary scholar.

Fortunately, the letters won’t become wholly public yet because there’s a legal dispute over who owns them that may take a while to resolve. But the story in the Guardian gives everyone the gist of what, in my opinion, the public has no right to know.

I’ll stipulate that literary scholars and critics have always tried to more deeply understand authors’ influences, motivations, and output by looking at their lives through a microscope. This looking almost always includes studying and publicizing diaries, letters to friends and family, correspondence with agents and publishers, and other details that (when created) were considered to be private.

While the literary world sees the publication and analysis of such materials as scholarship, I see it as voyeurism that’s no higher in purpose than the scandal-oriented publications on display next to cash registers at grocery stores and gas station convenience stores. Sure, the analysis is usually better researched and better written, but it displays information that was never meant to be displayed.

Money often seems to drive such efforts. Person A, who was a close friend of Famous Person B, has a  box filled with the letters they received from that well-known author, actor, or artist. They see that they can make a lot of money by offering them to the public through an auction house. A scholar, museum or library archive buys them, Person A (who is now rich) believes without guilt that s/he has done nothing wrong, and the content of those letters is now open to everyone.

Unless Famous Person B tells Person A that it’s okay for the letters to be shown to biographers or donated to institutions engaged in scholarship, I believe such letters should be destroyed. They were never intended for public consumption and the death of Famous Person B doesn’t change that fact. Prying into an author’s private life may, indeed, shed additional light on his/her works, but the end does not justify the tawdry means.

–Malcolm

 

On location: Liberty County Florida

Traveling to the Florida Panhandle today.

These “On Location” posts show my rationale for choosing various place settings for my books. They’re not gospel! They might not even be viable rationale. But, I post them anyway as indirect tips for other writers to consider as they decide how to choose place settings for their stories.

I used Liberty County in my books Eulalie and Washerwoman, Conjure Woman’s Cat, The Land Between the Rivers, and Mountain Song. It’s Florida’s least populous county with easy access to the Apalachicola River, the forbidding Tate’s Hell Swamp, the Gulf Coast, and Florida’s “Garden of Eden” trail, along with many square miles of swamp land and forests.

Why I chose the county

  1. River Styx in Liberty County – Florida Memory Photo. Needless to say, place names like this one are made to order in a conjure book.

    I grew up in the adjacent Leon County (Tallahassee) and spent many hours of Boy Scout camping and family day trips at sites in or near the county. I was not only writing about what I know, but about a very diverse and unique landscape with rare trees, rare wildlife, and an environment that’s off the beaten trail of the kind of development and tourism found in the peninsula section of the state.

  2.  My two conjure woman books lent themselves to a small-town environment in the part of the state known as “wire grass country.” That is, it was more natural to place a conjure woman in a far-away piney woods part of the state than a more populous area. The area also had a variety of legends, remnants of Indian settlements and their recurring cultural influence, and a small-town, insular world view.
  3. My old friend, the late Gloria Jahoda wrote a book about this part of the state called The Other Florida. For my purposes of telling a magical realism story, I wanted an area that was about as “other” as one can find. Her book also included legends that I grew up with, making them a lot easier to refer to in the story than the legends of a place I’d never visited with legends that would have been quite foreign to me. To some extent, magical realism uses legends and tall tales about a place as though they are real. These not only add ambiance to the book, but give readers from Florida bits and pieces of information they’re already familiar with.
  4. Florida, in years past, had a very strong KKK presence, a presence more pervasive in outlying areas. Since both of my conjure woman books pit a woman of magic against the Klan, this made the location a viable and historically accurate place for such a story even though I created a fictionalized small town to avoid any hard feelings (or law suits) with the residents and governments of an actual town. I named my town Torreya, after Florida’s unique and highly endangered tree that grows in this area and nowhere else.
  5. While my conjure books were set in the 1950s, The Land Between the Rivers at the dawn of time, and  Mountain Song in the 1960s, the area–when compared with major tourist destinations and development–is still remote. This helps an author do research because many of the attributes of the place in years gone by still exist today.

I consider a story’s place setting to be a very integral part of the fiction I write. If you like strong place settings, perhaps you will go through some of the same thought processes as I did when you choose the country, state, or town for your novel or short story.

Malcolm

I keep looking for a writing prompt in our on-going cow saga

Several days ago, I posted this status update on Facebook:

Here’s what we learned Monday night between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Black cows are hard to see in the dark. Lesa went out back to get the hummingbird feeder at 1 a.m. and heard stuff munching; turned out she was surrounded by maybe 30 cows.

The cows drifted both ways up and down the road, down to Lesa’s folks’ old house, across the road, lots of places at once. Just large sections of darkness moving around. The mooing and crunching did help us figure out where they were before we walked into many of them. The farmer and his wife weren’t happy, so the neighborly thing to do seemed to be to help them round them all up.

I went outside this morning rather tentatively, hoping they hadn’t busted out of the pasture again. So far, so good.

One of my writer friends wanted to re-write the first graph to say:

Here’s what we learned Monday night between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Black cows are hard to see in the dark. Lesa went out back to get the hummingbird feeder at 1 a.m. and heard stuff munching; turned out she was surrounded by maybe 30 cows. Then the murders began.

I told him we weren’t going there. Another writer friend said my update sounded like the beginning of a Dean Koontz novel. I may have read one of those, but that’s not my genre when it comes to writing.

Sure, they look cute in this Wikipedia photo, but in real life, they tear up stuff.

The cows have gotten out several times in the last week, and the farmer who owns the property adjacent than ours hasn’t yet found where/how they keep doing it. They were in the yard again last night, but it was another rainy night in Georgia and so we stayed inside while several guys worked for three hours to round up the cattle and put them back in the pasture.

Fences are always in need of repair. Goodness knows, when my wife’s folks owned the property the farmer now owns, cows got out from time to time, and more than once, we got pressed into service to get them back in the pasture. One stretch of bad fence was repaired a year ago. But there’s probably more work that needs to be done. Well, duh, has people often say.

We fenced in the area of our property where the septic tank’s feeder lines run just because we couldn’t trust all those miles of fences to stay sound. The cows were all around our fenced in feeder lines. Had they gotten in there, their weight in the wet soil from several torrential rains would have caused a lot of damage.

Maybe a short story called “The Black Cow Murders” is the way to go. The thing is, I’m superstitious and worry that if I write about a herd of cattle in our yard, I’ll create the events in my short story–kind of of like self-fulfilling prophecy. So, I’m holding back on a fictionalize version of the cow thing.

It’s possible I can solve the problem by writing a story where the herd of cattle runs off and is never seen again. Hmm.

Malcolm

 

Strategies for Revising Your Novel

“You’ve done it: typed The End. Those two wonderful words mark your graduation from always-wanted-to-write-a-novel to someone-who-did. Congratulations. Other ideas might be cooking away in the back of your brain, making you eager to start a new project. Often, this is where the spirit wanes as new writers lose momentum for the old manuscript. Because, you didn’t finish, did you? You only finished the draft. Now you have to focus on revising your novel.”  

7 Strategies for Revising Your Novel, Writer’s Digest

I generally take a dim view of checklists, laundry lists and other recipe-approaches to writing and rewriting. However, this Writer’s Digest article has decent ideas for what we should/might/sort of consider doing after we finish the first draft.

Here’s an interesting quote: “The rewrite is tougher than the draft. The draft is infatuation. The right rewrite strengthens your fiction into something that lasts to publication and gains a significant readership.” That seems to be the way it is. We roar through the first draft, having fun, slipping past the known flaws and lame sentences, because we’re blazing a trail into new territory.

Once that’s done, we need to see the story the way the reader might see it, or want to see it, and even though this article presents a checklist, it’s not half bad.

–Malcolm

 

 

Why does the blank page or empty screen scare so many people?

When the page or screen is empty, anything can be written on it. Looked at in another way, that page/screen represents infinity before you touch it; it represents the universe and the world as science understands them, and it represents all the probable worlds and possible futures and imagined places and circumstance the writer is capable of writing down or dreaming up.

No wonder it’s frightening. It has no boundaries to it.

Fence out what you don’t need.

Psychologists say we need personal boundaries in order to define who we are and who we’re not, what we believe in and what we don’t, and what we’re willing to do or say or think–or not. Sometimes people who don’t have sound emotional boundaries feel worthless.

Perhaps we get a sense of that worthless feeling when we stare at a blank page/screen and can’t seem to get our story, novel, essay or report started. Writing, while usually presented as a creative, mind-expanding activity (as in, “how to you think up stuff like this?”) is also a limiting activity.

If an empty page equals infinity, then a page with several words on it equals infinity narrowed down to what you wrote. One word, or at least, one sentence, cancels out a lot of the things that could have been on that page or screen. Scientists say that the human mind cannot logically or emotionally conceive of infinity. So, we have to start chipping away at the possibilities and probabilities until we have something manageable.

Suppose the first sentence you write is “Bob walked into the sunlit gulf waters at Apalachicola, Florida.” The limits set by that one sentence are huge. Most of what could have been said, is now out of consideration because it doesn’t fit with a real-world story set in the gulf waters off the Florida Panhandle.

Some writing gurus suggest that when you can’t think of the precise way you want to begin your story or essay, it’s better to write something–anything–rather than stare at the page or the screen for hours. For one thing, if you stare for a long time, then maybe you’re trying to think of a first sentence as what it will be in the final draft of the material when you’re just now starting the first draft. Tip: it’s easier to edit a sloppy sentence into a great final draft sentence than to try to think it up from scratch.

In order to chip away at the scary infinity of that empty page or screen, you don’t even have to write a bad opening sentence. You can simply say, “this is going to be an essay about how love conquers all even in a state prison” or “this is the beginning of my short story about Bob going swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and coming eye to eye with a shark.”

See, you’ve suddenly counteracted the “everything is possible” immensity of the blank page or screen. You’ve set some boundaries within which you plan to tell your story or state your philosophy. Any statement about what you think you might do is almost as valuable as a shoddy, first draft sentence. Or, if you love key words, you can type LOVE, POWER, PRISON or BOB, GULF, FLORIDA, SHARK. If you’re a Twitter person, put a # symbol at the beginning of each word and you’re getting to the gist of your intentions with hashtags.

If you have an outline, it might help. If you have a list of key points, it might help. Anything that “ropes off” your intended subject from the rest of the known universe gives you something your mind and the reader’s mind can deal with. Your little acre of infinity might indeed be mind expanding and totally outside the box when you get done with it. All of that’s easier to get down on paper or on  your Microsoft Word screen once you set some limits to infinity.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism, fantasy, and paranormal stories and novels. However, the idea of getting something down on the page worked equally well when he wrote news stories, educational materials and computer documentation.

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