Three Questions for... Malcolm R. Campbell

This month, I'm launching a mini-version of my Five Questions interview series featuring my fellow authors at Vanilla Heart Publishing. I created a list of 10 questions and asked each author to pick three. First up is Malcolm R. Campbell, author of The Sun Singer, Garden of Heaven: An Odyssey, Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire and his latest, Sarabande. You can find out more about Malcolm at his website.

What have you learned from writing your novels? 
Years ago, author and teacher Richard Eastman said that authors don’t truly have an outlook about a subject until after they’ve written about it. I’ve discovered this to be true for both my fiction and nonfiction. It’s as though the very act of writing works like a philosopher’s stone on the raw Prima Materia that has the potential of becoming a blog post, poem, feature article, short story or novel. Author Mark David Gerson (Voice of the Muse) believes our prospective stories are waiting out there (who knows where?) until we are ready to listen and being writing them down. Perhaps that’s true to some extent. I tend to think, though, that the story occurs in the process of writing it. The result is that each novel I write teaches me many things that I knew little or nothing about when I decided to tell the stories. It’s a matter of trust, really, that the story will manifest when the writer is ready.

Do you have a writing routine or ritual?
My primary ritual is making sure that no ritual occurs. Rituals bother me because I can easily become superstitious about a series of steps, and once I do, I am trapped into always writing in that way. I don’t ever want to believe that I must sharpen a handful of pencils before I can write or that three candles must be lighted next to my computer. What a crutch such things would be. I would always be a cripple when I wrote and that’s not the way I could remain open to the alchemy of creating the story. Lighting those candles would be just as bad as creating an outline or making a list of all my characters and their traits. I try not to allow anything to be engraved in stone before I start writing because it would represent a barrier between myself and the story I am discovering as I write.

Do you use an outline or just begin with an idea and write toward a conclusion?
My high school and college composition classes just about killed my hopes of becoming a writer because they introduced so much regimentation, tradition and keeping within the spirit of what’s already been done into the art and craft of writing that my spirit nearly imploded. In high school, we were taught/forced to create note cards and outlines and lists of sources before we began writing. I couldn’t do it because I had no clue what I was writing about until I was writing about it. So, I wrote the essays and then created all the note cards after the fact. So no, there is no outline involved when I sit down to begin writing a book, review or feature article. There are a lot of scraps of paper lying around where I’ve jotted down random ideas and URLs. When I begin a story, I know the major characters, the primary plot twists and the conclusion. Everything in between is filled in as I write. If I have any mantra at all for this whole chaotic process called “being an author,” it’s Kafka’s notion: Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry; this occurs repeatedly, again and again: finally it can be reckoned upon beforehand and becomes part of the ceremony. Whatever happens while I’m writing is always a synchronistic event with the work. If leopards break into the ceremony or the novel, then it means they were inadvertently missing from the initial concept of the ceremony or the story. Whatever happens, happens, and that is the destiny of the work.


Sun Singer said…
Thank you for the opportunity to stop by and chat about leopards, note cards and whatever it is that happens when we write.

Family Fun & Faith said…
I always enjoy your take o things, Malcolm.
Melinda said…
Funny, I always created the note cards last, too. I never could understand how in the world I was supposed to know what to put on them before I'd actually written the paper.
I know nothing about what's called the craft of writing. An idea comes and I write. Sounds simple. No. But so far, I'm afraid if I actually learn how to write, I won't. Malcolm, I love the way you express yourself although I don't always understand. On that happy-go-lucky note, thanks to you and Collin for an interesting interview.
Sun Singer said…
Teachers claimed those of us faking the note cards were "cheating outselves." That was fine by me.

Sun Singer said…
I just make stuff up as I go along, Charmaine.

Chelle Cordero said…
I wonder how those teachers who said you cheated with the note cards would explain that one of your books is now required reading at a college... Great interview.
Sun Singer said…
They'd probably say it was random good luck, Chelle.


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