Feb 212012

Hello everyone. Thank you for checking in on my website and Facebook, and of course for reading my books and supporting my work.

Supporting “my calling”, I ought to say, and I’d like to talk a little bit about that today and what it means.

As most of you may know, I did “retire” a few years back. I thought I was done. This was not really my decision, but a set of circumstances that led me to the conclusion that I was finished as a writer and there was no point in going forward. At that time, I figured I would just kinda coast and find out what else life had in store for me.

Well…it happened through another set of circumstances that I was “called” back. Yes, really. I heard that calling very clearly. Things happened that brought me back into the field of writing. I am not the same as I was and certainly not in the same place I was. It’s interesting to me that after ten years of being “back” many people who read my earlier work have no idea I am back writing. If they find out, it’s usually a big surprise to them. But I am working, and working very hard, and I believe my best book is still ahead of me.

I have always been very blessed to be able to “see” something in my head and write it down as I see it. I have been blessed to be able to put stories together, create people, and essentially build worlds that did not exist before. The creative process to me is still amazing. It’s mystic, really. A mystic journey into the unknown. I still don’t understand it, but I surely do appreciate it.

I am asked—as most writers are—where I get my ideas. There is no one answer to that. I just know I am “open”. Only recently I got a story idea from an old photograph in a book. The wheels started turning. As will happen, my mind will work this idea like a Rubik’s Cube over the next year or so, while I’m working on another book. There will be a place in my head where this book idea will be “tested” for strengths and flaws, and slowly but surely I’ll decide if it’s a viable subject and if I will remain interested enough in it for the seven to nine months it takes to get the story written. This is how it happens. An overheard comment…a photograph…a dream…a news story…a wish or a fear: the book may be born from all those, and more.

An important thing, this is…I want to be able to write what I feel I want to read, but I can never read it unless I write it. It of course has to hold my interest over a long period of time. It has to have a depth that fascinates me and keeps me going. I have said it’s like a painting that comes to life, revealing all sorts of  colors and layers that you didn’t know were going to be there where you made the first brushstroke.

It’s a long journey, to be sure. Each book has a different personality. Each has its own problems to be solved and offers its own rewards. I’ve worked on books that posed tremendous problems of timing, in that characters had to “be” in a certain place at a certain time. I’ve worked on books that worked on me in my sleep, causing me to try to solve their problems in dreams. I’ve worked on books where characters resisted the actions I wanted them to perform, and seemed to “correct” me or take off on their own.

Oh yeah…the characters. I’m working on something now where I’d planned the lead character to die in what would have been—hopefully—a very  wrenching scene. Well, this bad boy says “No way, Mac! After what you put me through, I ain’t goin’ out!” So there you go…he refuses to be killed as a reward for his bravery, and so he will live to fight another day.

As I say, it’s a mystic journey. I don’t work from an outline, so sometimes I am very surprised as to how things develop. I think the work is more difficult and slower because I don’t use an outline and haven’t solved all the problems beforehand, but to me the work stays fresh this way and I always am excited to come back to it.

Someone asked me if I ever get “stuck”. No, I don’t. Here’s my secret: when I finish writing for the day, before I get up from my desk I always type one letter for the next line. The letter is random. D…H…K…B…whatever. So when I come back to work, I begin the next sentence with that letter. Might not work for everyone, but it does work for me.

My calling. I’ve often thought what else I might have done or been in this life. I always come up thinking that, for better or for worse, I am exactly where I need to be. I don’t think I chose writing as a career, I think it chose me. Does that sound strange or pretentious? I was writing short stories in the first grade. I was “seeing” things that I wanted to express and describe at a very early age. My calling. It called me, even when I thought I was done. Especially when I thought I was done. It reached out for me and brought me back.

Now, it didn’t and does not and never will promise an easy road. I will tell you that this is one of the most difficult callings a person can have.  Imagine…you have a story to tell and you must tell it, you have characters to birth and worlds to create and you must—you must—do this to be true to the fire that illuminates you…yet you must do this alone. No one can help you define and refine these visions. You must be apart from other people, for such a long time. It is a very lonely calling. No one can do this for you. The mystic journey cannot be shared by anyone else.

It is a solitary trip, with an uncertain destination…because how can you be sure when this book is finished that any publisher will want it or anyone will want to read it?

But if it’s your calling, you have to take the risk. As a matter of fact, your entire life becomes a risk. How long do you devote to a project, if it’s not immediately coming to life? Is the breakthrough on the next page? In the next chapter? Would you be better off working on something else? But…if you give up…are you a failure? Or are you a failure if you keep on working at some creature that you thought would come to divine life only to find that it is a half-life, an artificial life, a forced life…and you should have known a hundred pages ago to let the creature sleep?

Risk and rewards. Or risk and no rewards. But always risk.

The book must be my Paradise. It must be a place I want to visit and revisit, and live in for not only seven to nine months but for the rest of my life…because it’s going to have my name on it. It may have gone through many hands…some tender and caring, some dumb and rough…but in the end, it always has my name on it and so I take responsibility for every word and every thought.

There are not very many other professions where one person signs their name to the work. One person. Opening yourself up to whatever may come to praise you or to bury you. So toughness is also part of this journey. That, and understanding you will never be perfect. You will never write the perfect book, the book that has no error (or typo!). But still, even knowing that…you do have to try.

And that I guess is the heart of my calling. The eternal effort. The trying and trying, as much as someone might try many keys on a difficult lock to open the door to a room that entices and beckons yet promises nothing. What is beyond that door? I don’t know…but I have to find out.

The eternal effort and the curiosity. The risk, the toughness, the work that can only be done alone. The feeling that no book can ever be perfect, yet the next one might be. The drive that says if you wish to read this, you must write it…because no one in the world, no one who has ever existed or ever will exist again, can create it in the same way that you will.

So I embrace my calling. I embrace all of it, the highs and the lows…the past, the present and the future. I am, as with every other writer, part of the heart and soul of the world of creation. We are the night workers, the daytime dreamers, the fighters in the trenches for so many things that lie on the edge of being lost. Our calling is huge, vital and important. Without the voice of the writer, who could sing? Who would speak for those who often can’t? And who would dream for those who have lost faith in dreams, in our troubled and very uncertain age?

I embrace my calling. And though it does not and never has promised an easy road on this mystic journey, I am sure without a doubt that it embraces me.

Thank you for being here, and thank you so much for reading my work.


Best Wishes,

Robert McCammon


  18 Responses to “My Calling”

  1. Thankyou for that, we all aspire to be writers , but has you said, to take it out of your head and place it on paper is a talent. Thankfully you are very good at it, and i have enjoyed the journeys you have taken me on. Please continue to take me away. A Faithful fan that is so very glad retirement was not for you yet.

    • Whatever you call it, a” calling” or whatever…it is fantastic!!! Thank you for many years of providing me with a wonderful escape into your writing!! My favorite book of all time is Swan Song. I have yet to find anything better.

  2. Very inspirational and well spoken.

    I look forward to your best to come. Having read and loved most of your books (especially Swan Song), I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us.

    Keep writing them, we’ll keep reading and enjoying them.


  3. I’m glad your calling wasn’t finished with you. Thanks to our mutual friend, the goathunter, I have enjoyed your work for years. Keep fighting the good fight, and I will continue to look forward to each new world you create.

    M.L. Forman

  4. Splendidly written. Thank you so much for sharing your calling.

    It’s a privilege to take the journey with you.


  5. Have enjoyed your work from your earliest work and was greatly relieved when you took up your calling again. I look forward to many more great adventures. Thank you for taking us along.


  6. Mr. McCammon,
    The day you “retired” was a dark day for me. When you came back…AWESOME!

    Having read all of your works (to date) and met you at a book signing in Michigan, I want you to know that you’re a true talent and one of the nicest authors I’ve ever met. I hope to be reading your works for a long time.

    Oh…and “He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door” still terrifies me!


  7. Rick,
    I’ve been with you since Baal was first published and will be with you till either I kick the bucket or you do. I hope to be around when you finally write what you consider to be your best novel. Right now, for me, it has to be Boy’s Life, followed by Speaks the Nightbird and Mister Slaughter. It doesn’t get much better than that. I look forward to The Providence Rider in a few months.

  8. Wow, sorry but that sure came off as extremely arrogant.

    Loved Swan Song, Boys Life, They Thirst, Gone South, and my fave The Wolf’s Hour.

  9. Whatever’s “calling” I hope it keeps on for years to come. Swan Song was givin to me by chance and never forgot it. Thanks to smart phones I found out you were writing again and have read 4 of your books since!! I plan on reading the rest this spring and summer. Keep up the good work.
    Mike M

  10. Most authors might be lucky enough to touch people with one book, I know multiple people who include several of your books in their top 10. I, for one, am glad to see you back in the game and that light shining out ahead of you again.

  11. There are writers and there are story tellers. You are the latter, Mr McCammon, and one of the best I’ve ever read.

    I don’t care how you do it, where you do it, when you do it, as long as you keep doing it! Write, write, write and we’ll read, read, read.

    Thanks for the late nights with the lamp on and my mom yelling at me

  12. I remember “discovering” Robert McCammon with SWAN SONG, and being sucked into this book body and soul. I’d read this book before reading Stephen King’s THE STAND and remember thinking after I’d read King’s book that his suffered by comparison to yours. Although this could possibly be attributed to my order in reading these great books, as some others who have the opposite preference have told me, but I don’t think so. The next thing I’d read was your collection BLUE WORLD. I had strong aspirations to be a writer and was looking for a mentor. I enjoyed King, Koontz, Rice as my entertainment, but your books came along at a time when I needed a strong role model to put me on my own rails towards the place I wanted to be. WOLF’S HOUR came, THEY THIRST, BAAL was found in an old bookstore, and then BOY’S LIFE fused me to you forever as a fan. And then you disappeared sometime after I’d read MINE (obviously I didn’t read your books chronologically), and I couldn’t believe such a great writer could just stop…and then here you are back again, and I’m back on the rails, looking for my own junction, and calling…it’s there, just up around the same bend, and my friend, you are my conductor. I’m glad you’re back.

    (note to moderator: post this one instead, I made necessary edits. Thanks!)

  13. When I went to the bookstore after finishing your last novel (around 1986) I was told that there was to be no more of your books,that you we’re not writing anymore.
    I did not want to believe is.
    So my search started.This was 1987 and I finally found you about 2 years ago at Cemetery sinsDance and this time instead of lending my copies I will keep them at home where they belong.
    I miss you so much. I knew you had to come back to us and continue where you had stopped.
    My favourite Bethany’s sins.
    Welcome back.

  14. […] posts of note from the past week or so:  one by Brian Keene about being prolific and another from Robert McCammon on writing as a calling.  Read up and take […]

  15. I discovered you first in “Boy’s Life” – one the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read, and luckily, I’d discovered after you returned. Since then, I’ve devoured so many of your other works: The Five, Usher’s Passing, Gone South, Mystery Walk, Swan Song…and I’m still collecting them all. Thank you for this, and thank you for your work.

  16. […] Now something quick for all you writers out there.  This last week one of my favorite authors posted on his blog and talked about his calling as a writer.  I thought I’d link it here so you all have a chance to read it.  Great writer, but his early stuff was all horror and may not be age appropriate for all of you.  Now he writes historical fiction, and again I’m not sure what age group it’s for… hmmm.   Well, whatever age group, his post on being a writer is good and I think you’ll like it.  https://www.robertmccammon.com/2012/02/21/my-calling/ […]

  17. […] more I read about Mr. McCammon, the more I respected him. And in his recent website article, “My Calling,” he openly discusses his absence and return. It takes a lot of courage to tell the world as he […]

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