The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Archive for the category “Hero’s Journey”

Tarot and Writing

Everything old is new again, if you wait long enough. Every now and then, I run across an author on the internet who says, “I just had an amazing idea! I’m going to use Tarot cards in my next story! I bet nobody’s ever done that before!”

via Writing and the Tarot – Indies Unlimited

I enjoyed reading Lynne Cantwell’s post because (a) I’ve used Tarot cards ever since I was in high school, (b) They appear in some of my novels, and (c) They have definitely been used for hundreds of years in stories and novels

She’s right when she says that the so-called “Fool’s Journey” (Major Arcana 0) has similarities to the Hero’s Journey popularized first by Joseph Campbell in the 1940s and that there are nice associations between Jung’s archetypes and the cards. The Kabbalistic Tree of Life is also linked to the cards.


I use a different deck than Lynne, the Thoth Deck. You can learn more about it and the Tarot in general at Raven Tarot.

Darkness on the Hero’s Journey

In the “Hero’s Journey,” Joseph Campbell provides a roadmap of the stages we go through to carry accomplish missions not just for ourselves but for the greater good: Separation, Initiation, and Return, all necessary stops on the healing path.

via Honoring The Darkness On The Healer’s Journey – Dreamcatcher Reality

The hero’s journey is not only a wonderful road map for understanding epic myths and creating larger-than-life fiction, but a path for ourselves whether we’re seekers on the path or spiritual healers.

We have to experience the darkness as a seed experiences the the earth during the gathering of forces time of winter.

Very nice article by Lisa Shaw.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the hero’s journey novel “The Sun Singer” and the heroine’s journey novel “Sarabande.”

Hero’s Journey Give-Away April 6-8, 2016

TSSJourneysThe Sun Singer will be free on Kindle April 6 through April 8. The first edition of this novel was a finalist in the Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Awards.

Featuring the mountains of Montana (and a look-alike universe next door), this contemporary fantasy brings you the story of young Robert Adams who goes on a family vacation and suddenly faces more dangers than he knew existed.

He could blame his avatar grandfather, but he doesn’t–well, not for long. He’s too busy learning how to tell the good guys and bad guys apart, reclaim his psychic gifts, and discover whether a magical staff is strong enough to bend time itself. See why the book has a 4.9-star reader review average while you sit back and enjoy the story.

If you’ve ever visited the Swiftcurrent Valley region of Montana’s Glacier National Park, perhaps you will recognize some of the settings, including the historic Many Glacier Hotel, the Garden Wall, and the Ptarmigan Tunnel.



‘The Sun Singer’ released on Kindle in new 4th edition

SunSinger4coverMy contemporary fantasy The Sun Singer is now available in a new 4th edition on Kindle. Set in the mountains of Montana, the novel tells the story of young Robert Adams who must find a parallel universe and complete a dangerous mission left undone by his avatar Grandfather. This edition features the stunning cover illustration by Benjamin Mowers.

Praise for The Sun Singer

“The Sun Singer is gloriously convoluted, with threads that turn on themselves and lyrical prose on which you can float down the mysterious, sun-shaded channels of this charmingly liquid story.” — Diana Gabaldon, Echo in the Bone (Outlander)

“It is high adventure that his grandfather plans for Robert and for all in the family. We are not surprised to learn that Mother disapproves of the journey. Do not mothers always disapprove of the fun grandfathers plan for the boy in the family? It is not just fun, in this case, that Mother opposes; she is against dabbling in magic.— Living Jackson Magazine

“This magical coming-of-age tale takes the reader through a labyrinth as a teenage boy/man sets off into the cosmic dimensions of the unknown to redeem his grandfather’s kingdom and rightfully claim his position in life as a true leader. What I’d give to have Malcolm Campbell’s imagination, wisdom, wit, and mastery of the written word.” –Mel Mathews, SamSara (Malcolm Clay Series)

“The Sun Singer is a book that will transport you to other realms, realms that shadow ours. Campbell’s story is not only about how one character must complete what his grandfather began, it is about how one must come to terms with loss and death too. Robert undertakes a journey not only to other realities, but to his genetic heritage, a heritage that he must fully accept in order to become free.” — Nora Caron, Journey to the Heart

“I will take more journeys with Robert Adams as he has now taken residence in my imagination. The Sun Singer isn’t just a book, it’s an enlightening. It’s a pass to worlds beyond the mundane of closed thought and mediocrity. Perhaps ‘home’ is in the unopened doors of imagination after all.” — Susan Haley, Rainy Day People

“It is a very structured intelligent novel, each word placed exactly where the author intends and this author intends to stretch the rules, so stay strapped in and bring along your bookmarker—it is not a book to be read quickly.” — Nick Oliva, Only Moments

Limiting your hero’s powers

Without fail, even literature’s greatest warriors, heroes, superheroes, armies, magical rings/wands/stones, and even gods and goddesses have had weaknesses. Some limitations ramp up the story when good heroes go astray; most keep the hero from solving the story’s plot lines and challenges on the first page.

Superman in 1986 storylines

Superman in 1986 storylines

Everyone who reads Superman comics knows he can be weakened by red or green kryptonite and that since his powers are natural, he has trouble fighting villains who use magic. Batman, of course, is human and while he has more strength than most men–not to mention high-tech equipment–he will tire sooner or later and may be injured.

You’ll find a handy list of ways to limit your hero’s power in a 2011 post on Superhero Nation called How to Limit Your Superpowers for Dramatic Effect. B. McKenzie writes that your hero’s powers may variously be unavailable, lacking precision or skill levels, socially questionable, require materials not at hand, limited in power and scope or susceptible (like Superman) to certain conditions or “evil” powers.

The most recent Dresden Files novel.

The most recent Dresden Files novel.

If you’re a fan of Jim Butcher’s contemporary fantasy series called The Dresden Files about a wizard/private eye working with police when “odd” and other supernatural crimes occur, you know that Harry Dresden doesn’t have the powers, say, of Voldemort and Dumbledore. In fact, the Harry Potter series always kept the most powerful teacher/wizards off stage to allow Harry and the other students to meet the primary challenges.

As Gandalf is not all powerful in Tolkien’s stories, Harry Dresden is not all powerful in Jim Butcher’s 15-book series. If he were, there would be no story, much less any danger or page-turner drama. One thing that weakens Dresden’s powers is that his magic spells only work when backed up with a certain amount of mental agility, passion and willpower. So, if he is tired or injured or distracted, he’s going to get into trouble.

Wikipedia photo and article

Wikipedia photo and article

Growing up, I read a lot of Hardy Boys type books where young people solved crimes and met challenges that the adults in the story could have solved a lot faster had they been in the right place at the right time. I also read a lot of superhero comics, so I was always very conscious of the kinds of limitations that kept superheroes from winning battles too quickly.

By the time the Harry Potter books came, I was–as a writer–especially interested in the devices J. K. Rowling would use to ensure that the Hogwarts School teachers–almost all of whom had very advanced powers as we saw near the end of the series–were never available to take on monsters and other challenges early on in each book. Had they been, Harry would have had nothing to do inasmuch as his skills were a fraction of his teacher’s skills.

New writers of fantasy–as well as writers in many other genres–can be helped by taking a look at the best novels, comics, and films of the past with an eye toward one question: how did the author limit his/her hero’s powers or availability?

However you do this, that limitation needs to be shown to the reader fairly early on in the story. You can’t wait until your 3/4 of the way through the story to suddenly “announce” that the hero can’t fight in the rain or some other lame rationale that hasn’t been foreshadowed and isn’t believable because (as a lawyer often states in court) there’s no foundation for it prior to the climax of the story.

Of course, heroic characters often begin with little or no awareness of their powers. That’s how Harry Potter started out in Rowling’s series. So, his powers are limited from the beginning by lack of knowledge, lack of skill and lack of confidence in himself. That hero’s journey pattern has worked for a lot of authors.

Jim Butcher’s wizard Harry Dresden knows at the beginning of the first book that he’s a wizard. One of his challenges is not the ability to do spells, but proving to those who doubt the existence of the supernatural that he isn’t a fraud.

In my latest work in progress about a conjure woman in a town with a lot of bad people in it, I wanted my character’s abilities to generally coincide with what real conjure women can do–or, depending on your view point–are said to be able to do. So, she isn’t Dumbledore or Harry Dresden.

I remember becoming exasperated with a trilogy written highly popular author who usually writes books without paranormal characters when she suddenly gave witches powers that far exceed (in scope, tone and style) the powers of those who practice either Witchcraft or Wicca. Yes, a bit of artistic license is fine to add the the drama.

Wikipedia photo and article

Wikipedia photo and article

But, if a book is using witches as they are typically seen, those witches can’t suddenly have the powers of the wizards out of Lord of the Rings. Why not? It’s not believable if they have been portrayed in the way that real witches portray themselves. If you want Hollywood-style witches, then they need to start out the book as Hollywood-style witches.

Heroes without limits don’t work in fiction. If Dumbledore and Harry Dresden–each in their own environments–said a magic spell on the first page of the first book that got rid of evil, there wouldn’t be any more pages, much less any more books. Likewise, if they say a spell on the last page of the book that hasn’t been foreshadowed as possible for them to do–or to learn to do–there will be a lot of angry readers.

Figuring out how to limit your hero is just as vital as figuring out your story’s theme, location setting, villains and supporting characters and plot. Doing this can feel counter-intuitive because as human authors we like to give out super-human characters all the skills and powers they need to right the world’s wrongs.

Limiting our characters doesn’t mean limiting our imagination because a flawed, unskilled or non-all-powerful hero requires a lot more skill to write about than a hero who has more powers than the story can handle. And, when the last word has been written, such a protagonist makes for a wonderful story.




New Novel: The Students thought Central State was Heaven; the faculty knew it was hell

betrayedPicture this: you’re hired as a professor in the English Department of university with a beautiful campus, a renown faculty and  a highly regarded program.

When you arrive, you discover that the the administration is controlled by two-legged rats and snakes, that somebody is trying to kill you, and that a dark lady named Eve is hell bent to destroy your reputation and your life.

This is the reality of David Ward in my new contemporary fantasy novel The Betrayed which is now available for pre-order in multiple e-book formats on Smashwords. More venues will follow soon.

From the publisher: He comes home from Vietnam to save his marriage… only to find his dream job is a nightmare. David Ward runs from the truth into a future he can’t even imagine. Corruption… magic… deception…

Excerpt – David and Marlena Talk About David’s Future at the College

“I can read my fortune in your eyes,” he said when he noticed her reflection superimposed over the real world.

“You betrayed the administration,” she said. “For each free faculty member the college hires, it also hires a slave. Call it our misery compromise, our attempt to maintain a stagnant balance. You were one of the slaves. You were expected to remain in a slave state during your sentence at our fine institution—assuming you were docile and didn’t care about tenure.”

She talked fast, and her pauses and inflections were more suited to a lecture than a conversation, and he began to wonder if her organized presentation of the campus labor problem and the businesslike tone of her voice were primarily control mechanisms. When she was distracted, her eyes betrayed a cat-like wariness of people and events, and her hands rolled up napkins, facial tissues, straws, and her hair into tight springs, filled with energy, or possibly rage.

Before they left the diner to the chronic night hawks, she told him the future as she had promised. She said he would shame the devil and then tame him for a time. A victory, perhaps, but it would contain flaws.


Friday Morning Nostalgia and Storytelling

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” – Marianne Williamson

The Sun Singer's Setting

The Sun Singer’s Setting

It’s rainy and gloomy in northeast Georgia as it has been for days. (My lawn mower can’t cope with the fast-growing yard and neither can I.) Rainy days work well for me as a writer. My imagination is sharper and my intuition fills my notebook with ideas.

Rain also brings memories. Even though I’m working on another paranormal short story today while talking on Facebook and Twitter about my fifth novel, The Sailor, today’s memories are about my first novel, The Sun Singer.  It came out in 2004 with a second edition in in 2010.

In this book, I stirred my passions for Glacier National Park, magic, and the hero’s journey tradition of storytelling into a contemporary fantasy about a young man who is suddenly thrust into a parallel universe where a small resistance group is battling an evil king. He learns a lot about himself and his psychic abilities while trying to figure out where he is and what’s going on.

Only $4.99 on Kindle.

Only $4.99 on Kindle.

I will always maintain that hero’s journeys and magic are real even though my publisher and the bookselling world are always going to place such novels on the fantasy shelves. (That’s okay: I read a lot of fantasy.) Yet, when I wrote The Sun Singer, I saw all the magic performed in the book has possible. I still do.

At the end of a hero’s journey, one expects the hero to be transformed. One way or another, s/he is smarter, wiser, and potentially more spiritual and compassionate than s/he was when the journey begin. I have this hope for each of us on our individual journeys no matter what our occupations and avocations may be. When I wrote The Sun Singer, I didn’t intentionally put a message in it. Today when I read it, I see that it has one: If young Robert Adams can discover and develop his talents under trying circumstances and become an avatar, so can each of us.

Joseph Campbell, who popularized the hero’s journey in his 1940s book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, saw myths and journeys as inspiration for every man and every woman, not just the larger-than-life personages found in mythology books. Robert Adams learns, as I have been learning, “who am I not to be?”

Storytelling (with or without the rain) often helps us find our answers.


Connecting With the Earth in the Present

From the archives…

This exercise—and similar ones that you devise—will help you begin to reattune yourself with the natural world of the heropath, clarifying and magnifying the outer landscape through which you walk and the inner landscape through which you create. The concept of present, past and future used in step 3 comes from David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous, New York, Vintage Books, 1996. The self-hypnosis technique of relaxation used in step 4 is similar to the method taught by the Silva Method.

The goals of this exercise are these: (a) Observe in detail, with all of your senses, the natural world around you; (b) Focus your mind on the here and now of yourself in communion with the trees, grasses, flowers, birds, animals, insects, clouds, sky and wind.

  1. Find a quiet natural setting—your back yard, a park, a favorite trail or beach.
  2. If the weather and terrain permit, take off your shoes. (Don’t forget sunscreen and a hat.)
  3. Briefly survey your surroundings. For purposes of this exercise, the present is everything from your vantage point out to the visible horizon, the past is everything beneath the surface of the ground, and the future is everything over the horizon.
  4. Sense your environment at every level you know.

    Use your favorite relaxation technique and become at ease. If you don’t already have a relaxation or meditative technique, here’s one you can try: (a) Sit or lie down in a comfortable position with the soles of your feet flat against the grass, beach sand, or forest floor and focus on something interesting in the environment—a shadow on a rock, a flower, a tree branch, a blade of grass. (b) Take three deep breaths, slowly exhaling each time and visualize the tension draining out of you into the earth through the soles of your feet. (c) Then, slowly repeat (or think) the following: “I will now count from 10 to 1 and with each descending number, I will become more and more relaxed and rooted to the earth. Ten, nine, I feel myself relaxing and absorbing rich energy through my feet. Eight, seven, six…more and more relaxed. Five, four three…deeper and deeper into relaxation now. Two, one…I am now at a deeper level of relaxation, a level I can use to observe and communicate with the natural world.”

  5. Casually observe everything that interests you for as long as you can remain grounded in the present—10 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour. That is, when your mind wanders to yesterday’s joys and regrets or tomorrow’s challenges and excitements, pull your attention back to the environment—how the wind moves the tall grass or the waves, the shadows dancing in the tree tops, a line of ants moving across a flat rock, a bird looking for seeds or insects in the forest floor. What do you see? What do you hear? What does the air taste like? What do the things around you feel like to your bare feet, the caress of your hands? What smells can you detect? Move toward anything that draws you. Consider the possibility that everything you see can see (or sense) you and that everything that makes a sound can hear the sounds that you make; that when you touch a rock a woody shrub it is also touching you. Imagine that you are deeply engaged in a conversation with the plants, animals, rocks and earth, water, clouds and the wind and—like any other conversation—it would be rude, in a sense, if you allowed your mind to wander off in the middle of it to think about something you read in a book or something you need to pick up at the store.
  6. Let the scents of earth, bark and flowers draw you within.

    Over time, this exercise will help sensitize you to the environment and the lives and the information around you. Try different places, different times of day, different focuses for your attention, imagining with each visit that as you come to know and feel more comfortable at the places were you go, they too are coming to know you and trust you as well.

  7. After you have been going to one or more places for a while, also visualize going to them while you are relaxed in a comfortable chair or bed at home. Use a relaxation technique such as the one given in step four, close your eyes and then imagine yourself driving or walking to the selected place, sitting or lying down in your favorite spot, and looking around with all of your senses at the environment you already know so well. Pick a time when distracting household noises that will pull you away from the visualization are at a minimum and when your mind wanders off to other things, gently pull it back to your mental trip to your mental images of the natural world and what it is telling you.
  8. Experiment with both your on-site observations and your mental “trips” and discover what works best for you and what pulls you and seems important. If you wish, jot down a few notes and record your impressions over time. (Do this long after the exercise—while doing the exercise, try not to plan what you are going to say in your notes.) Like any good friend, repeated conversations with the natural world will impact your life, changing it and making it richer and deeper just as it always has done for seekers on the path and heroes on a quest.


Magic arises from the person, not the recipe

“The spells are made up. I have met people who assure me, very seriously, that they are trying to do them, and I can assure them, just as seriously, that they don’t work.” –  J.K. Rowling

A quick online search reveals that the sale of wands, staffs and other sorcerer/witch equipment is apparently a profitable business. Many of the sites focus on the use of this equipment in a toy/game mode, often in the context of recent sword and sorcery novels and the games inspired by them. Unfortunately, some people buying this stuff think it’s a shortcut route to becoming an adept.

J. K. Rowling’s series of books, beginning with the publication of  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, represent a strong influence in the way many people view magic. On balance, I feel that the impact of the books has been positive because—among other things—they encourage us to consider that magic (of one kind or another) just might exist and that everyday people (as opposed to only the rich and powerful) can learn it and use it to protect themselves and make their lives more successful.

The paradox here, as I see it, is that the Harry Potter books and movies celebrate the prospective power of the well-practiced individual on one hand while leading readers and viewers to infer that magic depends on wands/staffs that are purchased at a store and on generic spells taught in classes or learned out of books. This all makes very good fiction, wherein neophytes are taught that once they buy a compatible wand at the wand store (as opposed to making their own) and master a list of spells (as opposed to making their own), they will be able to do amazing things.

When I wrote the initial drafts of my contemporary fantasy adventure The Sun Singer, the Harry Potter books had not been published. While I was obviously aware of the long tradition of sorcerer/witch fantasy, I tried to stay away from it while writing my novel. First, I didn’t want to be accidentally influenced by it. Secondly, I viewed “real magic” as an art or craft that arises from within the individual rather than from purchased wands, so-called “power objects,” and recipe books of spells.

Magic – What Science Does Not Yet Understand

One of my influences

It is often said that we use the word magic when referring to mysteries and personal abilities that science has yet to understand, much less replicate. Magic, we might say, is a natural event/process coming out of the environment that certain sensitive people can, perhaps through their genes or through many years of meditation, detect and understand. In time, they learn how to interpret what they sense and/or how to participate in the process.

At least, that was my view of it when I wrote The Sun Singer. My protagonist Robert Adams is psychic, but since he cannot control what he sees, he runs from this talent for years until he ends up in a world where he must use it to survive. He carries a staff made by his grandfather. The staff, l in the context of the novel, directs energy that comes from within Robert when he connects “correctly” with the energies of the world which are all around him. Staffs and wands focus energy: they don’t create it.

Another strong influence

Robert does not use “spells.” If he did, they would be personally created spells for a specific purpose that he has meditated on for some time, and then created a “trigger word” to implement. The trigger word, like a mantra or a post hypnotic suggestion, implements a “personal event.” If Robert associates healing with the word “sunlight,” it’s because he has created this connection himself, not because he went to a class where a teacher said, “Point your staff or wand at a sick person and, with great passion and belief, say ‘sunlight.'”

We can train ourselves to use trigger words through meditation and practice. If, for example, you practice biofeedback or relaxation techniques and always begin them by saying or thinking a word that (for you) comfortably fits the process, you will ultimately be able to say or think the word and accomplish the same end as the set of steps you had to use at the beginning to control pain, reduce your stress

A long-time influence

level, or go to sleep. This, I believe, is the world of the “real spells.” They are always personal and arise out of associating words with expected results.

At least, that’s my experience and the kind of magic I wanted to use as a theme in my fantasy adventure The Sun Singer, and later in Sarabande. The novels, first of all, are adventure stories. I hope they also might suggest to readers that everything Robert Adams and Sarabande do, they can learn to do with practice.


The three logos shown here are linked to organizations which have influenced my point of view in my fantasies. None of these groups refers to its work as magic. I have also been strongly influenced by practitioners of shamanism, traditional witchcraft (as opposed to Wicca) and other organic methods of developing one’s connections with the natural world.


Hero’s Journey: The Call

from The Sun Singer’s Travels archive:

Traditionally, heroes take the first step on their quest and seekers take the first step on their spiritual path after receiving the call. Though the timing of the call may be surprising and seemingly random, both the hero and the seeker experience the call when they are consciously or subconsciously ready to proceed on their adventure.

In classic mythology, the call was frequently associated with an unexpected supernatural or unusual event. Joseph Campbell writes of a fairytale in which the beautiful young daughter of a king drops her favorite toy, a golden ball, into a deep spring in a dark forest. When the ball sinks to the bottom of the spring, she is understandably distraught. A frog hears her crying and says he will retrieve her ball if she will promise to befriend and care for him. She consents and the frog plunges into the water, soon to return with her toy.

This disappearing ball, the appearance of the talking frog, and the daughter’s promise are all a part of the call in this particular story. While a quest typically involves a physical mission into a dangerous land where great feats of bravery are expected, the call always signifies a spiritual passage–the death of an old way and the birth of a new.

It is not unusual for the person hearing the call to hold back at first, fearful to take the first step, for both the quest and the spiritual path represent a separation from the safe, everyday world that is known. While we are physically, emotionally, and spiritually ready to proceed, we may well experience a separation anxiety (similar to that of an 8-month-old infant when his or her mother leaves the room) as we contemplate leaving our familiar world and heading out into the unknown.

Yet the call does not come before we are ready to find important answers to important questions. As Denise Linn reminds us, the quest “is an ancient rite of passage; it’s a journey to the center of your soul…a powerful way to reclaim a sense of wonder and connection to the earth.”

For Reference

Campbell, Joseph, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1968. (This classic reference is also available in more recent editions.)  The Joseph Campbell archives are maintained by the Joseph Campbell Foundation. In addition to information about Campbell’s books and other published materials, the site includes article, events and a mythology bulletin board.

Linn, Denise, “Quest – A Guide for Creating Your Own Vision Quest,” New York, Ballatine Books, 1997. Denise Linn’s website.

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