Category Archives: magic

Re-reading a classic: ‘The House of the Spirits’

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“One of the strongest impressions I took away from this book was that despite everything there is an optimism about the book’s ending. Throughout the book one has felt strongly the inevitability of events – that the blindness of the right-wing Esteban to the liberalism of his family, which one might argue is inherited from his wife’s parents, will lead to disaster, that Esteban’s casual abuse and rape of peasants will rebound on future generations of the family – and yet at the end Alba breaks the cycle of anger and hatred.” Zoe Brooks in Magical Realism

Books change each time we read them–unless we’re cursed with a photographic memory. Presumably, the words don’t re-arranged themselves on the pages, nor do heretofore unknown pages creep into the book with new characters and subplots from Central Casting.

The world is probably stranger than we know, so it’s safe to assume we change in between the readings. I’m not the same person I was when I first read The House of The Spirits in 1986 when my Bantam mass market paperback edition was published. Years have passed and governments and attitudes have come and gone since then.

Imagine the differences in first-reading perception of this 433-page saga between the rushed college student who has a few weeks to read it for a 400-level college course in order to compare and contrast it with the somewhat similar multi-generational magical realism sagas The Hummingbird’s Daughter and One Hundred Years of Solitude, and his/her twin reading the book on a rainy afternoon in a mountain cabin.

The first will be speed reading, taking notes, and writing in the margins. The second, (depending on whether the rain has interrupted planned outdoor activities or not) may be either relaxed or bored. They won’t see the same book. A third person who is reading the book leisurely in order to savor every line will come away with a very different memory of the story.

Like The Hummingbird’s Daughter (Mexican setting) and One Hundred Years of Solitude (South American setting), The House of Spirits (unspecified Latin American setting, but presumably Chile) includes peasant workers and their beliefs, strong patróns who control the people’s temporal destiny, harsh and potentially unstable governments, and leftist or other guerrillas seeking change.

To my mind, the magic in One Hundred Years of Solitude is more overt and widespread than the magic in the other two books, one with the young girl Teresita (in the very mystical “Hummingbird” based on  a real person) who can heal, the other with the family matriarch, Clara, who talks to spirits and moves objects without touching them. Before re-reading The House of the Spirits during the last several days, my memory of the book was that it contained a lot more magic than it does.  I remembered its gritty realism, but had blocked out the worst of it.

Had I taken a lie-detector test about the story in Allende’s debut novel several weeks ago, it would probably show (with no hint of fabrication) that my mind had mixed some of the characters and circumstances with those from her other books and that I recalled a much more ethereal tale than physically exists on the pages of my 31-year-old paperback. I don’t read books with the eye of a college English professor who also reads critical reviews and in-depth analyses of the books s/he teaches in class and/or writes papers about. So, if somebody asks me to tell them what the books I’ve read are about, my knowledge of the plots and characters will always be imperfect.

Somehow, books read by many an avid reader often run together over time unless the stories are constantly studied and compared with other books in the same genre. If there’s a blessing in a poor memory, it’s that in re-reading a book, the opportunity for fresh discoveries is all the greater for it. I suspect The House of the Spirits changed me more this time than it did in 1986, for now I am seeing more clearly a story that I had mythologized over the years. I am older, so I see the aging Clara with fresh but older eyes and, having come to terms to some extent with the amount of hatred and evil in the world, I see Alba’s hope at the end of her horrid torture as more authentic than when my anger–as a younger, more volatile man–at her treatment blinded me to her transformation.

Like absent old friends, old books usually aren’t the books we remember exactly. That’s the beauty of meeting up with them again and then going away all the wiser for it.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”

 

Tarot cards after all these years

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“Tarot reading is an excellent way to learn more about one’s self, have a closer look at your inner self or to examine your very own intentions and ambitions.”

Raven’s Tarot Site

I’ve been tinkering with the I Ching and the Tarot since I was in high school. I don’t do readings for other people. In fact, most people don’t know that I know anything about these divination systems because once they know, they walk on the other side of the street whenever they see you.

knightofswordsI was happy that C. LaVielle contributed a Tarot and storytelling guest post on January 11th because she focused one of the reasons I like both the I Ching and the Tarot: understanding the characters in my stories.

Like Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, both the I Ching and the Tarot present ways of looking at the world. The Tarot, of course, is closely linked to the Tree of Life of the Kabbalists.  The future isn’t fixed. At least I don’t think it is. So I don’t use any of these ways of looking at the world for predicting the future. In fact, they tell me what I know that I don’t know that I know. That is to say, they tell me what the unconscious part of me knows to be true even though the conscious part of me hasn’t figured it out yet.

My sun sign is Leo and the card representing me in the Tarot is the Knight of Swords (called King of Swords in most decks). This is why the URL for this site includes “knight of swords.” When I do Tarot readings for myself, the knight is me. When I do readings about novels I’m writing, the knight is always the logic of the story, cruel at times, to be sure, but nonetheless the fiery part of air as the card is described.

As a character in one of my novels said, he doesn’t want to see the future because that would spoil the surprise. It would also impact what he (or any of us) choose to do right now. Our power is always in the now. I see that, but the characters in my stories don’t always notice it. Plus, seeing the future would give us the false idea the whole shebang out there is engraved in stone when, actually, nothing except epitaphs are engraved in stone.

As a knight of swords, I’m a trickster (among other things), so that means I’m always stirring things up. That’s one reason I write fiction–to stir things up. That’s also why I like my Tarot deck: it shows me that even when I don’t consciously know I’m doing it, I’m stirring things up–and creating ideas that I let other people carry out to completion after I’ve wandered off to something new.

I see this as the author’s first duty–sowing seeds, suggesting things that bother people while making them think, suggesting that things aren’t what they appear to be, telling people that whatever goes bump in the night is real, finding the story inside everything that happens.

It’s one hell of a thing to do, but somebody’s got to do it. Fortunately, my Tarot deck “advises me” when it’s time to step back before the mob shows up on my door step.

–Malcolm

“Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, spammers?”

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As many of you know, I take a dim view of spammers because they show up and do their business here without taking part in the conversation or sharing my posts on Twitter or Facebook. Just imagine yourself having a dinner table conversation with your family about the best books you’ve ever read when somebody you don’t know walks into your house, sits down at the table, eats a plate full of mashed potatoes and gravy, and says, “So, y’all want a way to get some cheap condoms?”

That’s a spammer for you.

Spin the wheel of fortune when you leave spam on my posts

Spin the wheel of fortune when you leave spam on my posts – Wikipedia Photo

I appreciate the fact that WordPress weeds out most of the people who try to stop by our blogs to steal all the gravy. But, there’s more work to be done.

With that in mind, I’ve installed my Anti-Spammer Hex App that tracks down those who show up on this blog and on my “Sun Singer’s Travels” blog and try to sell us stuff that has nothing to do with my posts–and worse yet–don’t pay for advertising on my site.

While working on Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman, I took a lot of notes about spells, magic, candles, plants and especially protection hexes. If you ever hired a hoodoo practitioner, you might have been handed a mojo bag filled with the ingredients of the “law keep away” spell. (It does just what you think it does.)

Well, I’ve modified the “law keep away” spell with extra graveyard dirt obtained from cemeteries that cater to sociopaths and have merged that into the traditional mix while burning a black candle during the new moon as a squinch owl shouted curses from a longleaf pine tree. The resulting formula has undergone rigorous testing at a town near you or maybe even in your neighborhood. If there have been any recent outbreaks of green apple quick step, lice, or mysteriously appearing vulgar tattoos, a spammer or two just wasn’t lucky.

The luck comes into the mix through a random number generator subroutine I added to my assembly language code. This gives spammers a 1 in 100 chance of getting away with leaving a free message here on my blog without being hexed. See, I can be a good sport about this even though the odds favor the house.

So, if you’ve stopped by with a spam message, just ask yourself. . .well, you know what.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s two hoodoo novels can be found at Amazon in paperback and e-book editions. The audio edition of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” received an Earphones Award Winner at AudioFile Magazine.

When magic creates the ride, all the writer can do is hang on

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“A bit of advice
Given to a young Native American
At the time of his initiation:
As you go the way of life,
You will see a great chasm. Jump.
It is not as wide as you think.”
― Joseph Campbell

 

Magic is like drugs. However, once you let it take over, you’re not lost. You are found. Logic, the more addictive drug, will become your greatest trap because, like an old bad habit, it works on you, makes you think that magic is a a delusional part of your unconscious that’s escaped into your mind like devils, makes you doubt yourself.

magicbookWhenever I run back to logic, I stop writing. I stop writing because logic tells me loud and clear that hanging on to a magic carpet as my fingers type words on the screen is no way to write a book. It’s illogical. One must plot and plan and outline the who shebang from beginning to end. Yes, that makes sense. The thing is, I don’t know the story I’m telling until I’m telling it, and then all I know is what happens next.

When logic gets a hold of me, I’m scared to write: I don’t think I can do it because I don’t know how I do it. As I mentioned in my last post, we create our own reality. So, we meditate, play around with the law of attraction, go on shamanic journeys, repeat affirmations and cast spells, but how quickly that can fade in the chilling light of day when the car won’t start or your spouse is sick or the man you hired to build a fence around part of your property hasn’t shown up for six weeks or the trees in your yard of dying for lack of rain. Where’s the magic now?

Logic breeds on itself. The more I think I need it, the more I use it, doubting myself more and more in the process.  Sooner or later, I say to hell with that and jump the growing chasm of doubt. The rains come, the fence gets built, my wife gets well, and the words flow.

Some say magic gives the practitioner more control. I suppose if one thinks of magic is the wizards in the Harry Potter books hurling never-fail spells across the room, then perhaps it does. But there’s a paradox here. Exerting control is logical thinking. To live and write by magic means surrendering to the greater part of oneself and the universe and one understanding that the less one pushes, the smoother the ride.

A couple of days ago, I used the word “epitaph” in a figurative way in my work in progress. The moment I did it, I knew it wasn’t figurative at all. Magic knew where it was going before I did and logically it made so sense to go there. After resisting that idea for two days, I saw I had no choice but too get out of the way of the story in the same kinds of ways our greater selves ask us to step out of the way of the directions our lives are meant to go.

MRbloghop2016Too much logic ensures it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

When I was in the navy, I often heard the proverb “Smooth seas don’t make good sailors.” Maybe we need a few of those hard knocks of life to finally understand we’re going about it all wrong and start seriously looking for a better way.

I think I ran through every pothole the universe had to offer until I realized I was gripping the wheel as though my life and art depended on it. Early in life, we often become brainwashed into thinking we need to grip that wheel the way we do.

Whenever writer’s block looms  large before me, I remind myself to let go while I write. My hope is that my readers will let go while they read.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novella “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” available in paperback, e-book and audiobook.

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the frog button for a list of other blogs in the hop. Links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

Haints, Plate-Eyes and Demons, oh my

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Frankly, I don’t like reading specific directions for summoning evil spirits because I’m afraid I’ll accidentally think them or recite them and suddenly a hideous monster will appear.

demonFrom hoodoo to witchcraft to high magic, the lore is filled with cautions about the dangers of summoning bad stuff because unless you know what you’re doing, the bad stuff will come after you. This would be kind of like purchasing a rabid dog to keep traveling salesmen away from your door. The odds seem high that the dog will attack you first.

Another reason I don’t like reading specific directions for summoning evil spirits is the feds. They probably track this stuff and the last thing I need is the NSA telling the FBI that I used the search terms “black arts conjure oil” or “hoodoo demon-calling spell” enough times for it “to be a problem” as opposed to looking for crossword clues.

Writers often talk about stuff like this. We worry about doing research about how to kill people, make bombs, mix deadly and untraceable poisons, and making pacts with the devil. The people who have that kind of history on their computers usually tern out to be serial killers or the kind of nut cases who join ISIS and saying “I’m just writing a book” probably won’t cut it when the cops arrive.

I didn’t worry about this when I was writing Conjure Woman’s Cat because for that book, I was looking up good spells, good charms, and how to reverse jinxes. But in the sequel, my good conjure woman is combating a black arts root doctor and so I have to know more about that side of the business for her to be able to speculate about what he’s doing and how.

Since I try to make the spells and uses of herbs as realistic as possible within the world of conjure, I don’t feel right just making it up. Suffice it to say, the curses I’ve found aren’t going into the sequel verbatim. For one thing, I have to find a spell or recipe in multiple places before I’ll trust that it’s more than the imaginings of one resource. For another, what if the thing works as advertised? I don’t need to see on CNN that people are using my book to summon demons to go after their spouses’ lovers or to disrupt law-abiding governments (if any). So, everything has to be blurred around the edges: exact enough to make a real conjure woman nod in agreement but inexact enough to your child, spouse or neighborhood crook can’t use it.

By the way, plate-eyes aren’t seen very much any more, but generally they’re unpleasant, what with their glowing eyes the size of plates. If one bothers you, you can get rid of it with anything that smells bad. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to use any plate-eyes in the sequel to Conjure Woman’s Cat because nobody seems to know how to contact one of them. Haints, well, they’re okay, but they usually have their own agendas.

Demons, though, they’re looking pretty good, figuratively speaking, because they’re easier to summon that most people think and fewer people are going to question whether the author has used the right technique or the wrong technique to call them.

When the book comes out, I promise it won’t contain the exact technique for calling a demon. It will be close enough to make the book slightly dangerous. But that’s what readers want.

–Malcolm

KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and a batch of paranormal Kindle short stories.

Stop by my website.

 

Conjure Woman’s Cat is on Sale January 6

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If the King Curio Catalog were still published today, perhaps it would feature Conjure Woman’s Cat, a curious but hard hitting novella about a north Florida conjure woman who uses spells and tricks to fight the KKK. The Kindle edition is on sale January 6th.

CWCkingSale

January 6th is variously known as Epiphany, Twelfth Night and Three Kings Day. Odd as it may seem, there is a strong connection between conjure and Christianity, with practitioners featuring Psalms and Saints in their work alongside spells and charms.

On Three Kings Day, conjure women would be protecting their houses with Three Kings Water and by writing the initials (C+M+B) of the kings in chalk on their doorsteps. They might also be making Three Kings Oil and Three Kings Incense.

I grew up in north Florida during the 1950s where this story is set and have tried very hard to convey the times, the racial turmoils, and the belief in folk magic in this story as closely as possible to the realities I saw. If you download the novella on Three Kings Day, you’ll save $3.00.

Then, lose yourself in another world for only 99 cents.

Malcolm

P.S. My contemporary fantasy Sarabande is also on sale for 99 cents on January 6.

 

I write magical realism so of course I’m superstitious

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A shark pursuing a ship means bad luck, especially if there are sick people on board.

Some say black cats bring good luck and some say they bring bad luck. (I opt for good.) - Wikipedia photo

Some say black cats bring good luck and some say they bring bad luck. (I opt for good.) – Wikipedia photo

A superstitious person sees the supernatural everywhere. As a superstitious person, I’m attuned to signs, omens and other hints that good or bad luck is about to follow unless I quickly change course. If I accidentally make a “wrong turn” while driving, I assume I was supposed to make that wrong term in order to avoid something bad on my regular route or to find something good on my new route.

During a brief time when I was the primary driver in a work car pool, my riders asked why I seldom drove to the office the same way twice. I gave them a throw-away answer: going the same way bores me. But I saw darker forces at work.

Don’t sweep dirt out the front door after the sun goes down or bad luck will come to your home.

I've never a talisman as ostentatious as the Talisman of Charlemagne.

I’ve never carried a talisman as ostentatious as the Talisman of Charlemagne.

When I was growing up, people my father’s age constantly asked me if I was Sir Malcolm Campbell, the famous British driving ace who broke many land and water speed records in his famous Bluebirds. I thought then that if I ever had a blue car, good luck would follow me if I named it “Bluebird”

In 1967, another Syracuse University student and I walked past a newsstand where the headline said DONALD CAMPBELL KILLED IN BLUEBIRD RECORD ATTEMPT. I don’t remember what I said, but my friend said “you look like you’ve seen a ghost: are you related?” Well, of course not, though if I ever had a son, I never would have named him Donald because the famous “Donald” was the famous “Malcolm’s” son.

If one has a realistic bad dream, the next morning breakfast must be eaten before the dream can be mentioned or discussed. Otherwise, the bad dream will come true.

Some omens and signs are good. Mine are what work for me, so I love seeing black cars and ravens.

Some omens and signs are good. Mine are what work for me, so I love seeing black cars and ravens.

I won’t say that when I wrote Conjure Woman’s Cat, I believed in all the spells, practices and good/bad luck admonitions of my main character. But, being superstitious, I could relate because magic and realism aren’t all that different in my panpsychism world view. A conjure woman might tell me to bore a hole in a Mercury dime, put it on a red string, and wear it around my ankle or neck for protection and good luck. I don’t go that far, but I do tend to save rocks, pieces of wood and other objects that seem “charged with power” when I find them.

If you start to go somewhere and come back for something you will have bad luck.

Nope, I don’t go along with that one. I assume that if I go back for something, I was supposed to go back either because, say, I left the stove on or forgot to lock the door, or, that if I hadn’t gone back, something bad would have happened at some place along the road. Seriously, I’m not obsessive/compulsive about this: if I were, I’d check the door locks and stove a dozen times before leaving the house.

Walking past a pole with someone it is bad luck to split up and each go around on different sides of it.

Those who know the pole omen know that saying “bread and butter” counteracts the bad luck. Some omens just don’t work for me, like “Drop a fork an a woman will show up.” I dropped a lot of forks in high school and college, and no women ever showed up. Omens and signs must pick “their kind of people” to have any impact.

In reality, I think the universe gives us signs we can each recognize, so I justify my superstitions by saying “this is my coded way” of seeing the world. Of course, that might be bullshit, but it works for me. And it also helps me write the kinds of stories I write. Kind of handy, that way.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it–mainly because not sticking to it brings bad luck and/or makes one look like they’re lying.

–Malcolm

SarabandeCover2015Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of true stories that his publishers label as fantasy or magical realism.

PS – When you hang a horse shoe on the wall, never hang it facing down or all the luck will run out of it.