Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Psychotherapy With My Muse

My guest today is a delightfully quirky Scot, Malcolm Campbell. He's worked in and around the writing field for some years and has taught college level journalism and does book reviews for several sites. He has also written a wonderful story, The Sun Singer. Today he talks a bit about the writing process and his muse, who seems to a be a rather multi-talented being.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: I was reared by dysfunctional alligators in the Everglades where I cut my teeth on panic grass, ate anhinga for dinner, and played cops and robbers with a Florida panther.

Potentially, I’m making that up. But if you’re a writer, you know this is what people think. Other than fate or flat out insanity, nothing else but this kind of upbringing can explain what environmental conditions cause writers to materialize.

Last October, my friend Chelle Cordero wrote an article in which she said, “Every now and then I feel like an alien living in my home. Often misunderstood, mostly tolerated and usually hidden away. When family members are asked what I do, their voices tend to lower, they avert their eyes and finally, after shuffling their feet, whisper in a clandestine tone – ‘She’s a writer.’”

I can identify.

While hearing voices inside my head and seeing things that haven’t happened seems completely normal to me, non-writers tend to think there’s something “a little off” about it. But then what would you expect from a guy who grew up in a real or imagined swamp?

Generally speaking, people understand quantum mechanics, psychology and aquatic macrophytes and rocket science. But they don’t understand writing. They actually come up to me during funerals and/or on busy street corners and ask why I write and where my ideas come from.

My short answer is “psychotherapy.”

Since people think I’m making that up or being purposefully obtuse, they go away and don’t ask me again. Sometimes I hear them talking amongst themselves, “Hey, you see that guy over there; his best friend was a Florida Panther. Now we know why they’re on the endangered list.”

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter about why I write and where my ideas come from sounds a lot more dramatic than it is. While it really is psychotherapy, you know, due to my childhood, etc., the whole writing session shebang is just me sitting at my desk wondering what the hell I think I’m doing. I know one thing from experience: my feelings about myself and the subject matter of the story won’t become clear until all has been said and done.

My writing sessions are psychotherapy sessions with my muse. She's the analyst; I'm the analysand. There's libido there before my appointment begins, energy of some kind, and when I tell my muse what it is, she knows--because we're sitting face to face--that I will stall before I come to the real point.

I've had dreams, whispers of intuition, and sensed the influence of archetypes, but I'm not yet sure whether I want to confront them directly. They are as yet unconscious, behind doors where shadows lurk. How will I be changed, by permitting full knowledge of them? I am seldom in a hurry to know.

As the heroes of myth traveled out into the unknown forests in search of treasure, the writer travels away from his ego into the vast and often forbidding landscape of himself to find the story he must tell. He tells the story to become whole. He tells it out of necessity rather than choice.

When I confront my stories face to face, I may see joy or beauty or frightening secrets. Then and only then do I know how I feel about them. While the reader may define the image as a novel, a short story, an essay, or as nonsense, I know it's a shard from the infinite mirror of my mind's eye.

THE SUN SINGER, published in 2004, is a magical fantasy adventure about a young man who learns how to bend time, change the past and become the Sun Singer.
"The Sun Singer is gloriously convoluted, with threads that turn on themselves and lyrical prose on which you can float down the mysterious, sun-shaded channels of this charmingly liquid story." Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes
In addition to his novel, Campbell’s writing has appeared in Nonprofit World, Living Jackson Magazine, Nostalgia Magazine, POD Book Reviews More and More, The Smoking Poet, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Rosicrucian Digest. He has worked as a college journalism instructor, technical writer; grant writer and corporate communications director. You can visit Malcolm at his website


Pat Bertram said...

Hi, Malcolm. It's nice to finally meet you face-to-face, so to speak. Great response to people who ask where you get your ideas. I wrote one book for psychotherapy, but it's hidden away where even I can't get to it. Well, I could, but I don't want to. It was pathetic, nothing so wonderful as a panther for a best friend. I enjoy hearing how/why other writers write. Me? I do it out of choice.

SueO said...

I must be REALLY weird. I never thought of being a writer (or a wannabe like me) as being an odd "Raised by psychotic vegetarian wolves" sort of existence. I'll follow your example and have a chat with my muse to see if she can straighten me out.

Wonderful blog. Glad to have read it!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey, Sue. Well I'm not sure about normal on any level. My muse wears leather, Stilleto boots, carries a whip and wants me to call mistress. But when she's cracking the whip, you can bet I'm working, lolol!

I loved Malcolm's post.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Pat, I've written quite a few things for psychotherapy and like you, there are a few that won't see the light of day, for various reasons.

But I do think writing is like therapy. Where else can you come back with all those zingers that you couldn't remember when it was happening? Oh and let not forget, since we're in charge of our book world, what can happen to characters that tick you off, lolol!

McMama said...

My muse is a lazy good-for-nothing couch potato bee-yotch. And she eats way too many Cheetos.

Great article, Sia and Malcolm. I enjoyed it.


Ken Coffman said...

I think writers have vivid imaginations and writing is an outlet; one of few ways of expressing and venting our detailed flights of fancy.

Let's do a thought experiment. I have a big, ugly knitting needle. It's very sharp. I'm walking toward you. I plan to jab you with this needle. Not only am I getting close, but the tip touchs your arm. I'm going to shove it through. You see it in my eyes. I'm going to do it and you can't do anything about it.

How do you like that? Not much? Did you get a chill? Can you almost feel that spot on your arm?

That's why you're a writer.

~Sia McKye~ said...

You keep that needle away from me Ken Coffman. Sheesh, you left a mark *rubbing the spot with my hand.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey Cathy! Perhaps you can dole out the Cheetos as an incentive? lolol!

Sheila Deeth said...

I loved this post. But oh, how I dream of family members saying "She's a writer," in hushed tones, head turned away, looking on with pity, or whatever. "She's still looking for a job" is such a put-down.

Sun Singer said...


Maybe that book you've hidden away is true than you thought. ;-)


Sun Singer said...


Yeah, muses have a way of doing that.


Sun Singer said...


Your muse sounds frightening and a little kinky. Mine drinks Scotch and rides a black horse.


~Sia McKye~ said...


Oh, she's definitely kinky and she too drinks scotch, neat. I figure she rocks my world enough without adding them to her drinks.

Pat Bertram said...

Malcolm, as it stands, it's more whine than truth, but if I ever finish apocalyptic fantasy/adventure I'm working on, I plan on dragging it out and redoing it. I like the basic story; in fact, that premise has been with me for more decades than I care to remember, so it's probably time for me to get it done right.

Sun Singer said...

Hi Cathy and thanks.

Sia makes good coffee.


Sun Singer said...

Ken, that was really terrible, about like somebody saying "don't think of your tongue" or pretend you're taking a swig out of a canteen of Real Lemon. Plus, I just wrote a short story about a kid who didn't like her parents (for good reasons) who stuck knitting needles in the eyes of voodoo dolls that looked like them.

Good old imagination.

Btw, if what's typing here is a mess of letters, I must note that my eyes are still somewhat dilated from having to go to the eye doctor.


Sun Singer said...


People have always assume (with me) that I am looking for a job because, you know, writers are on the bestseller list for all their friends and family to see. If one isn't on that list, so the thinking goes, they must not be actually writing anything.


Sun Singer said...

What you're working on now, Pat, sounds cool even though I don't know anything about genre writing to guess at whether it's like Star Wars with a bad ending and lots of sex or not.

Yeah, if you like the basic story of "Whine," then re-working it might be fun.


~Sia McKye~ said...

But of course, Malcolm. Only the best for my guests. (Psst, there's a wee dram for ye Malcolm)

There are also those that feel if you're not on the NYT or out of NY then you're not a writer either, lol!

Sun Singer said...

Thanks for the wee dram and thanks for inviting me to your place today. I had a good time.


Nick Oliva said...

But for a bit of Irish blarney, tis a fun interview with a man who is a Scotsman by teleportation!

Sun Singer said...

What about Scot's blarney? In addition to sex and fighting, Scots--by ancestry if not location--have always known how to tell a story.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Nick, thanks for stopping by. :-)

The Celts are well known for their blarney, lol!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Malcolm, thank you for sharing time with us over Coffee. I loved your article!

Thank you to all who stopped by. It was fun to get everyone's perspective on muses and writing.


Nora Caron said...

I love this blog, it sounds like I would also have a I-grew-up-with-alligators story for a childhood Malcolm. Swamps make a great place to learn about laws of survival don't they? Keep writing and keep shining!