We’re told to write what we know. That doesn’t stop us from doing research and ending up knowing more. Perhaps what we know and what we want to learn about play into the list of things we care about.
I’m not talking about caring about mom and apple pie or caring about getting rid of war, poverty and prejudice, though those things are good to care about. What writers care about is often a mix of locations, themes, character types, story types and the related issues that attract their attention.
My earliest passions–other than having a slice of apple pie with a healthy slab of sharp cheddar cheese–were nature and psychic phenomena. Family vacations and Boy Scout camping trips introduced me to a lot of wild places and what it took to live in the woods. Books introduced me to intuition, transcendent experiences, improving one’s natural hunches and the kinds of things that might go bump in the night.
Perhaps this is why I write fantasy and magical realism with a strong sense of the natural world that surrounds my stories and characters.
A belief in unseen worlds and inner transformation turned me into the kind of person who detests conformity, authoritarian and/or patriarchal control of individuals, and brute-force lawless action whether it manifests in the KKK and Jim Crow, the Armenian genocide, Hitler or ISIS.
I grew up in Florida, a state that made its living and fame off of orange groves and tourist attractions. At the same time, the state was in the “top five” when it came to lynchings, Klan activity and corrupted government officials. Florida, to my mind, equals nature that has been compromised by development and a very ugly past that nobody likes to talk about.
I have a fondness for longleaf pines, blackwater rivers, Gulf Coast estuaries and beaches. I have an inherent dislike of the Klan because they were the devil I knew and feared as a child even though I am white.
All of these things led me to write my upcoming novella Conjure Woman’s Cat, a book about the natural world, folk magic, 1950s-era discrimination and the Klan.
The ever-popular question where do you get your ideas is one I detest because most people who ask it are doing so in an interview, or perhaps in an elevator, and expect a short answer such as “in the newspaper” or “from people watching” or “from my grandfather’s stories.”
The real answer is so much more complex that I don’t know how to put it into a 25-word answer that satisfies anybody. Ideas come from years of feeling strongly about one thing and another until somehow a story idea springs out of “nowhere” and I start writing.
This doesn’t add up to any recipe advice for people who want to write. Recipe advice tends to do more harm than good anyway. The real advice is to nurture oneself, follow one’s intuition and harvest all of that into a mix that accentuates one’s favorite (good or bad) areas of interest. And then, no matter what you believe, try not to preach, allowing the story to speak for itself.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the fantasy novels “The Seeker,” “The Sailor,” and “The Betrayed” and the paranormal short stories “Moonlight and Ghosts,” “Cora’s Crossing,” and “Emily’s Stories.”