The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Free on Kindle: ‘The Sun Singer’

My contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer will be free on Kindle May 10th through May 12th.


Robert Adams is a normal teenager who raises tropical fish, makes money shoveling snow off his neighbors’ sidewalks, gets stuck washing the breakfast dishes, dreads trying to ask girls out on dates and enjoys listening to his grandfather’s tall tales about magic and the western mountains. Yet, Robert is cursed by a raw talent his parents refuse to talk to him about: his dreams show him what others cannot see.

When the family plans a vacation to the Montana high country, Grandfather Elliott tells Robert there’s more to the trip than his parents’ suspect. The mountains hide a hidden world where people the ailing old man no longer remembers need help and dangerous tasks remain unfinished. Thinking that he and his grandfather will visit that world together, Robert promises to help.

On the shore of a mountain lake, Robert steps alone through a doorway into a world at war where magic runs deeper than the glacier-fed rivers. Grandfather Elliott meant to return to this world before his health failed him and now Robert must resurrect a long-suppressed gift to fulfill his promises, uncover old secrets, undo the deeds of his grandfather’s foul betrayer, subdue brutal enemy soldiers in battle, and survive the trip home.

If you’re traveling to Glacier National Park, Montana this summer, take the book with you and experience the same trails and scenery described in the novel.


Lead readers to the water OR force them to drink?

“Different people will take different things from the story. I want to encourage readers to think rather than tell them what to think.” – Graeme Simsion (“The Best of Adam Sharp”) in a May 3 bookreporter interview.

What do you think?

Do you want to be led to the meanings behind an author’s characters, plots and themes? Or, do you want the author to tell you what it all means?

Author’s website photo.

When you read the classics,  you’ll sometimes find an authorial voice lurking directly or indirectly throughout the story, commenting on what’s happening. For example, in reading Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence again for the first time in years, I have to smile at the gentle mocking narrative in which Wharton makes it quite clear how she feels about the so-called upper class in New York’s society of the 1870s.

Yes, it’s fun to see that when I look back on a classic but, other than in satire, overt opinions from the author of a novel are generally frowned upon today. You can easily see them for what they are when something snarky is said about a character without any attribution. There’s a big difference between writing, Bob and his friends never looked for guidance from a supreme being because they thought them knew it all AND writing, Sam and his brother often said that Bob and in friends never looked for guidance from a supreme being because they thought them knew it all.

The first version is the author’s opinion that “forces you” to drink in what s/he thinks. That’s a weak way to write. It’s a little better to have another character say it or think it. It’s much better to show (in this case) Bob and his friends talking and acting in ways that lead you, as the reader, to the conclusion they have no need for God.

I enjoy puzzles in the books I read and write. So, the fewer tips from the author, the better I like it. Other readers, from what I hear, prefer a few hints as long as those hints aren’t too blatant.

Of course, if you want a bit of satire–and can remain consistent without throughout your story–you can write, Gentle Reader, are you beginning to wonder if Sam think’s he created the Lord in seven days?

Otherwise, strong hints bother me. In fact, they make me feel like the author is (a) Too lazy to keep his/her beliefs out of the book and/or (b) Thinks I’m too stupid to figure what the deeper points of the story are.

How about you? (Please don’t tell me you skip to the end of the book first to make sure the main characters don’t end up dead!) Are you in the mood for hints or puzzles?


Writing is not a calling

Working in the creative field is unusual in that we are driven to create, regardless of the outcome. But is it sacrilegious to want to earn a living from our artistic endeavours? The sooner we start treating writing as a profession rather than an unpaid calling, the better.

– Evie Gaughan in Fiction writers are real people too

Most people I meet day to day have no idea I’m a writer. Why not? As Evie Gaughan suggests in her wonderful essay about seeing writing for what it is, I don’t fit the mold.

I shop at regular stores. I’m not J. K. Rowling rich. I drive an old car. I don’t walk around quoting books. I don’t have a tattoo that says something elitist or precious like “take me to the library.” In fact, I dislike tattoos.

On the off chance somebody finds out I am a writer, they don’t say, “Wow” and run over to Barnes & Noble and buy my books. Why not? Because I’m a regular person and don’t seem like a writer. (So, how good could those books be?) Plus, they haven’t heard of me or any of my books. So, I’m not a real writer because if I were, they’d see my books on the grocery store shelves or find me listed on a bestseller list.

I have always wanted to say that these incorrect assumptions about writers and their books hurt the art and craft of our work because most writers will never be able to support themselves from their fiction. Being treated as “special” makes life harder.

We have regular jobs, and now that more and more people are expecting e-books to sell for 99₵, it’s more necessary than most readers suspect to be a teacher, civil servant, retail worker, or a laborer of some kind to make ends meet. But Gaughan has said what I might have said if I’d spent several hours working on this post. And, for those who don’t like the article, she takes the flak and I don’t. <g>

The few people who meet me who finally believe that I am a novelist start acting “funny.” Like I’m as unpredictable as a pit bull and might kill them. Like they have to clean up their act as though I’m the parson. Like they can’t speak because what do they know about language? Like I’ll put them in a book and turn them into hookers and con men and people who need to be in jail. Frankly, I want to shout, “For shit’s sake, just stop it.”

But, you know how people are when they’re acting “funny.” They pretend like they’re no acting “funny.” If they think you think they’re acting “funny,” they deny it and start acting totally insane. Sure, this provides good story material but it makes meaningful conversations more of a challenge.

So, thank you for your wisdom, Evie Gaughan. I hope some people will hear you and, you know, won’t start acting crazy–that’s the last thing any of us want.




A contest that wants work outside the box

The Unclassifiables Contest is officially open. This is our third year of reading manuscripts that don’t quite fit the rigid labels of prose or poetry. Send us work that blurs, bends, blends, erases, or obliterates genre and other labels.

via The Unclassifiables Contest is Now Open – Arts and Letters

Writers are often constrained by the rules of the genres they favor. When a genre is involved, it’s hard to think or write outside the box. So it’s nice to find contests, magazines, and publishers who want you to think outside the box.

So here’s an opportunity to bend the rules or forget the rules. The deadline in July 1.


Where do you get your ideas – a few examples

As any writer who has ever given a talk will know all too well, there is one question which is invariably asked. Where do you get your inspiration? Or, where do you get your ideas?

via Inspiration – Ann Swinfen

This is a well-thought-out post about some of the sources of writers’ inspiration. It cites examples and authors’ books to as examples.

Sometimes authors know where their ideas come from. Sometimes they really don’t know for sure. You may enjoy the inspiring look at inspiration.


The following people should be shot for the good of the country

. . .with a tranquilizer dart, perhaps. 

People who:

  • Run sites that offer free copies of an author’s books and then don’t respond to take-down notices.
  • Subscribe to authors’ newsletters to get a free book and then unsubscribe as soon as they get it.
  • Protest a book and/or want it removed from the library even though they’ve never read it.

    (Rum not included)

  • Post one-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads because the author wore the wrong color shirt or because they accidentally bought a book in a genre they don’t normally read and feel like having a tantrum.
  • Find a way of introducing statements about their personal issues into Facebook status updates that have nothing to do with those issues.
  • Have Twitter feeds that are 99% SPAM.
  • Write blog posts about shooting people with tranquilizer darts because getting shot with a dart is a way of getting the drug without the prescription.
  • Believe that unknown authors (who actually need the income) should get $0.99 for the same kind of book that the rich, big-name author is selling for $15.00.
  • Think that movie stars who own three houses worth more than most people’s neighborhoods really care about liberal programs designed to help the poor.
  • Don’t drink Scotch and/or drink fruity drinks that taste like stale Kool-Aid.
  • Don’t understand how detrimental to the arts it is to defund NEA and NHA.
  • Don’t know the difference between interesting personal tidbits and TMI.
  • Spread quizzes on Facebook with titles like “What Native American Tribe Are You From?” or “What’s Your Scottish Name?”  like there’s some glory from an algorithm’s fake response.
  • Don’t realize today is Friday.


Promotions: What Type to Use When

“As indie authors, we have a wealth of types of marketing and promotional opportunities available to us. However, some types aren’t as effective as others, and some are more effective when you’re farther along in your career. As a newbie, where should you concentrate your efforts? As a more seasoned indie, what will boost you to the next level of visibility and sales?

“Here’s one list, together with our recommendations for when best to employ each type. Some are free; some, not so much. I’ve included a $ next to the ones that will cost you money.”

via Promotions: What Type to Use When – Indies Unlimited

Authors constantly debate which promotion strategies really work. Sometimes, those with high acclaim seem to have worn themselves out before most of us find them.

A lot of Indie authors are reporting that sales are down. Some blame a change in Amazon algorithms which purportedly favor the higher priced books from large mainstream presses over the modestly priced books that are self-published or that come from small presses.

Lynne Cantwell has done a great job compiling a list of strategies to try. Regardless of whether (or if) Amazon is tweaking its site to make more off the higher priced books, we still need to get the word out–and, perhaps, raise our prices.


Muse’s thoughts: if it hurts you, then write about it

The late, rough-and-tumble author Harry Crews once said in an interview, “I don’t think it takes much perception, or very keen sensibilities, to see that it takes great courage—I know it’s me saying this and what it makes me sound like, but I don’t care—it takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself, in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings, your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause, or whatever—to look at them and make something of them. Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about.”

I agree. In some ways, this comment answers the question: where do you get your ideas. My answer is “from what bothers me.” Many authors feel the same way. They write about the issues they’re trying to cope with. Sometimes personal experience is involved and needs to be sorted out; or the issue is something on the national stage the author thinks is unfair.

I’m reading a novel about an investigative reporter whose boss sent her to a small town to investigate a crime very similar to one she experienced herself. She knows her boss understood that in getting to the bottom of what happened and why, she will come to better understand what happened to her. This is one reason many of us write about what we write about.

I wrote The Sun Singer to better understand self doubt, Sarabande because I disliked assaults on women, my two conjure woman novels because I needed to come to terms with the Florida of my youth, At Sea to better understand my tour of duty aboard an aircraft carrier, and Mountain Song to sort out why the young woman I planned to marry ran away.

I don’t think these rationale make writers vain because it (the writing) isn’t a bunch of words about us. Those words tell stories with psychic links to what we’ve experienced or wondered about. I don’t know if Crews is right when he says that others avoid thinking about such things. I tend to doubt it. But writers approach such things head on and try to make compelling stories out of their own trials and tribulations.


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.


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.




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 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.

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