The Writer’s Journey

Malcolm R. Campbell, my guest today, worked as a college journalism instructor, corporate communications director, technical writer and grant writer before publishing The Sun Singer in 2004.  Malcolm says:

Writers’ journeys are filled with highs, lows and limbos, and down at the what’s-my-next-word level the path often looks like a mess. Joseph Campbell suggested that our lives often appear disorganized when viewed close up. Yet when the point of view is pulled back far enough, the route from here to there and back again stands out as perfect and well orchestrated. 

I wrote my fantasy adventure novel “The Sun Singer” in 1983 because there was a story inside my head that I thought I ought to tell. A young man suddenly becomes psychic when he visits a bronze statue of Apollo. At first, it’s fun. Then he sees a tragedy and his gift is immediately tarnished and he tries to ignore it until he ends up in a mysterious alternative universe in the western mountains. He needs the gift to survive and to complete a mission his avatar grandfather couldn’t complete. 

When I found an agent who liked the novel, that was definitely a “high.” While she thought literary fiction with a teenaged protagonist would be a challenge to market, she liked the story and settings and wanted to try Within a month, I withdrew the novel when she told me one of her other clients books suddenly became a bestseller. That meant my novel would sit on her shelf for potentially a year before she could actively work with it. This was definitely a “low.” 

The low got lower when the manuscript was rejected by about 100 publishers, many of whom liked the book but said that nobody could successfully sell a literary novel to teens or a teenager’s story to adults. This was pre-Harry Potter! They wouldn’t touch the book unless I added ten years to the character’s life. This began a 20-year period of limbo when “The Sun Singer” sat at the bottom of the sock drawer forgotten until I self-published it in 2004. 

The agent did me a favor. She saw the novel in a pre-PC era. The book was a paper manuscript typed with an electric typewriter. When I took it out of the sock drawer in 2004, I had to scan it into a file with an OCR program. What a mess. In the process, I fine-tuned the book a great deal. It became a much better story. 

I suspect most writers can tell similar stories. Manuscripts that look hot, then look cold. Stories buried in the back of a file cabinet that suddenly come to life years later. 

My upcoming novel, “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire” is quite a different story. I had been trying to market a companion book to “The Sun Singer” for over a year when a publisher told me that in today’s market, no publisher was going to take a risk on a 240,000-word, push-the-envelope literary novel by an unknown. 

Intended or not, I heard a challenge in those words: do something to become known. That meant putting another manuscript in the sock drawer and writing a much shorter book for a mainstream audience. I wrote the first draft straight through without stopping. The story seemed to tell itself because it was sitting right under my nose. My alter ego “Jock Stewart,” a hard-boiled 1940s-style reporter, had been running a blog called Morning Satirical News with exactly the style and focus I needed. 

After taking 20 years to publish “The Sun Singer” and 10 years to write the companion book, writing a book without all the angst of creation was a very empowering experience. It represented a jog in my writer’s journey that I had never foreseen. I’m still rather stunned by what’s happened. I have a feeling, though, that one day I’ll stand back and see everything from another perspective and feel that what happened had to happen as though the trail was always clearly marked on an old map I’d forgotten about.

See Also:
Pat Bertram and Malcolm R. Campbell Discuss the Writer’s Journey
Celebrating Five Years of The Sun Singer

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9 Responses to “The Writer’s Journey”

  1. knightofswords Says:

    Thank you so much, Pat, for inviting me here to talk about the world of The Sun Singer and the contrasting world of Jock Stewart. In one of my profiles somewhere, I say that I have a split personality. The celestial side of me wrote The Sun Singer and the rogue side of me wrote the Jock Stewart novel. But it’s all of a piece, for the two sides of the coin are still one coin.


  2. Sheila Deeth Says:

    Quite a story – sort of discouraging and encouraging both at once. Rather like your two sides of a coin image, I guess. I think I would enjoy your book.

  3. knightofswords Says:

    I have been discouraged many time, Sheila. But the high points have been worth going through all that. In some ways, the “bad” things made me stronger than the “good” things because I learned more from them. Thanks for stopping by today.


  4. Pat Bertram Says:

    Thank you for guesting, Malcolm. Great topic, great discussion! I wonder if all writers have two sides to them — I call my two sides the mystic and the logician.

  5. knightofswords Says:

    Mystic and logician: I really like that. In fact, that’s been a very strong focus in my life. I’m drawn to the power of logic, what I can see, what naturally leads to another thing and another thing. But I’m equally drawn to what I cannot see, the energy behind the illusion of logic. I used this “battle” between two sides of a coin in the companion book for “The Sun Singer.” That’s the 240,000-word “Garden of Heaven” that I’ve been seeking a publisher to take a risk on for over a year. I’m wondering if you have developed the interplay between these two sides in your upcoming novels.


  6. Pat Bertram Says:

    Malcolm, I didn’t think I developed the interplay between my two sides in any of novels, yet now that I think about it, they all have it. The logical progression of thought and then the leap into something a bit strange is most obvious in More Deaths Than One and Light Bringer (which will be published in November). It’s a good point, and one I will be considering now that I’m about ready to get back to my poor stagnating work in progress.

  7. knightofswords Says:

    So the acronym for that would be PSWIP? Whatever it is, it’s probably time for us to get back to work.


  8. Pat Bertram Says:

    No, it’s still a WIP — work-in-pause.

    I can’t believe you actually visited my quantum (uni)verse blog!!

  9. knightofswords Says:

    Anything with the word quantum is going to catch my attention. Fun blog.


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