Robert McCammon: On the Eve of Halloween, or “Awesome”

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Oct 292018

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 21: Author Robert R. McCammon attends PBS’ The Great American Read Grand Finale at Masonic Hall on October 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)

I’m writing this a few nights before Halloween, and I thought about titling it “Awesome,” because I’ve been using that word quite a bit lately.

The first “Awesome” I have to talk about is my experience at the finale of The Great American Read in New York City. If you don’t already know about the GAR, it was sponsored by Public Broadcasting and put a spotlight on what they considered to be the 100 best-loved books in America. To my surprise, I found out a couple of months ago that Swan Song was among them, and you could’ve knocked me out with a gnat’s wing…or, keeping to the season…a bat’s wing.

I was asked by PBS to be a presenter at the finale of The Great American Read, and again I will use that word “Awesome,” because it really was. I got to meet the authors Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club), William Paul Young (The Shack), Markus Zusak (The Book Thief), and to meet again the charming and wonderful Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series. Coming in at Number One on the list was To Kill A Mockingbird, and at Number Two was the Outlander series, which makes Diana the most living author of a best-loved book, in this case series of books. Go, Diana!

Among the mind-boggling list of authors whose books were included in this show were Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, John Irving, Ayn Rand, Stephen King, Alice Walker, F. Scott Fitzgerald…I mean, really…the heavy, heavy hitters of the world of books and ideas. Wow, what a group to be included in! I’m still lit up. It was simply a great night. Meredith Vieira was the MC, was funny and personable, and put everyone at ease. The crew was also excellent, from the camera guys to the lighting experts and the production staff…and it was really cool to see what goes on behind the scenes at an event like this. These guys spared no expense to put together a first-class show that was a terrific benefit to writers, readers and really to the whole publishing business. My agent, Cameron McClure, met me at the show, and afterward there was a reception at a nearby Italian restaurant… again…Awesome!

The “capper” to this night was that after everything had quietened down I decided to go get a drink and have dinner at my hotel. At the bar I asked the bartender to make a drink I had created I called the “Palomino,” because it’s beautifully gold-colored and has a little white froth at the top like a “mane”.

This is how it went.

Me: “Whiskey, and do you have apple juice?”

Bartender: “I have apple cider.”

Me: “Better yet. Do you have sour mix?”

Bartender: “I make my own.”

Me: “Great! Well, shake with ice and pour over ice.”

Okay, so after I finished the drink, the bartender said he’d put it on my dinner bill. When I got the bill, the drink wasn’t on there, and I asked the waiter to check with the bartender to remind him to add the drink to the bill.

The waiter comes back.

Waiter: “He says he likes the drink so much he’s adding it to his repertoire, so there’s no charge.”


Cardinal Black is on the horizon. Late January is when the Cardinal slides (squims? oozes?) into view. That’s number Seven in Matthew’s story, with two more books to go. I’m working on Number Eight now, titled The King Of Shadows.

I’m doing a fun author’s photograph for Cardinal Black, using the Awesome talents of an Alabama-based photographer named Amanda Chapman. If you get a chance, Google her name, and take a look at her work, in particular her spectacular makeups. A couple of years ago, she did a series of pictures titled “The Thirty-One Days Of Halloween,” in which she created a different makeup for every day. This is beyond awesome! I am super excited about employing her magic to do a creative and interesting (and fun, of course) author’s photo, and that will happen here very soon.

Also very soon on the website will be a new Matthew short story titled “The Pale Pipesmoker,” featuring Katherine Herrald and Minx Cutter. I’ve found that the really cool thing about Matthew’s world is that I can use any number of characters to tell an interesting story and it doesn’t necessarily have to “star” Matthew. If you recall a story I did featuring Minx and a strange piece of jewelry that allowed one a glimpse of the future, I think you’ll know what I mean.

Now…another thing…is that I’m doing a music video to be put on the website and also on YouTube. Yes. I am. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and I finally decided to go for it. I did the music at home and went into a recording studio to do the vocals. We’ll be filming in the next couple of weeks, and hopefully the video will be up sometime toward the end of November. Fingers crossed!

A few more words about Cardinal Black…this one puts Matthew in a position where it seems impossible to escape a gruesome death, but the fun is in getting him out of such situations.  I’m sure he appreciates it as well! But a character who has been in just about every book does meet a gruesome end, and that’s about all I can say about this person, but there’s a purpose to the demise.

I hope you enjoy Matthew’s continuing adventures in Cardinal Black, and again I want to thank you loyal readers who have taken Matthew and his world to heart and look forward to, at least for a while, entering the time machine that these books represent. Without your support there would be no Matthew, and without your support there would have been no Swan Song on the list of 100 Best-Loved Books at The Great American Read. In fact without the support of loyal readers, no matter what interest or genre, there would have been no Great American Read at all. I thank you for your love of reading, and I will end with only three more words.

You are awesome!

Robert McCammon




WHAT’S UP (OR COMING UP) — An update from Robert McCammon

 Cardinal Black, Robert McCammon update, The Listener  Comments Off on WHAT’S UP (OR COMING UP) — An update from Robert McCammon
May 132017

Robert McCammon

Hello, all. It’s been a while since I’ve checked in and talked about my work and what’s coming up, so it’s time to do that.

Actually, there are some projects working that haven’t been announced yet, so I can’t talk about those, but there’s a lot going on and a lot to come.

Due to scheduling conflicts, my next book—titled The Listener—won’t be out until February of 2018, from Cemetery Dance.  I finished this book last year, but sometimes in the publishing world “stuff” gets in the way and you (meaning me) have to just understand it and go with the flow. The Listener is about the kidnapping of two children and is set in New Orleans in 1934. This is a book I’ve been wanting to write for several years, since I discovered what an epidemic  (a tragic epidemic, at that) kidnapping became during the desperation of the Great Depression. It got to be so bad that the New York Times began running a box at the top of the front page listing who had been kidnapped, and among those victims, which ones had been returned to their families. Desperate times, indeed.

The Listener isn’t exactly supernatural, though there is a “strange” element. I understand we all enjoy reading about vampires, werewolves, ghoulies, and other creatures of the night, but the most fearsome and deadly monster is the human being…and I believe I have created two of the most fearsome and horrific human beings in The Listener that you could ever fear to meet. And these people, I think, are likely the kind who would kidnap two children and not have much concern whether the kids lived or died. Grim stuff, but you can be sure there’s someone in The Listener who embodies all the good qualities of the human kind who will move Heaven and Earth to find the children…though he’s probably the last person anyone would think of as a “hero”.

Now…to the next Matthew Corbett book, Cardinal Black. I’ve begun that, but because The Listener won’t be out for a while, neither will Cardinal Black. Matthew is fighting time to find the book of potions stolen by Cardinal Black, and time is running out for Berry lest she become permanently mentally afflicted by the drug given her by Professor Fell. Matthew is being helped by one of Fell’s men…and this particular man has his own story and motives, and I think he’s going to be one of the most interesting characters in the entire series. When I created him in Freedom of the Mask, I just had a feeling that he was going to play an important role in Matthew’s future, and so he shall.

Watch out for the characters of Lioness Savauge and Rakeback Lizzie in Cardinal Black…both deadly, in different ways.

I will say that from here on out I won’t be writing any books between those in the Matthew series, so once we get on track again past The Listener, I’ll be writing only about Matthew, which should eliminate the (unfortunately) long wait between episodes of Master Corbett’s story.

Bear with me, if you will, in this period. I can promise you that Cardinal Black and after that the remaining two books in the series will be well worth waiting for, as Matthew discovers what Professor Fell has been searching for, and why, and why Matthew has to keep him from getting what he desires…though the deal has been made that Matthew must help Fell find it, or watch Berry and Hudson perish.

Oh, the scrapes and tight squeezes these people get into! How do they manage it?

As always, I thank you for your continued support and readership, and I will say again that without readers a writer is nothing…only a whisper of wind moving from here to there. So I appreciate very much your eyes on the page, your very gratifying interest in the adventures of Master Corbett and the denizens of his world, and your understanding of the time it sometimes takes (in this strange publishing world of the 21st century) to get my vision and work to your hands.

Thank you once more, I hope you will look forward to both The Listener and to Cardinal Black, as well as those other projects I can’t yet speak of, and I hope you have the best summer ever.

Best Wishes,
Robert McCammon


Robert McCammon: Outer Space, Inner Space, and Colonial Gothic

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Oct 292015

Hello all, and greetings of the (Halloween) season.

I wanted to take a few minutes to check in, which I haven’t done in awhile, and talk briefly about my last book, The Border, and some things that are coming up.

I decided a few years ago that I wanted to do an alien invasion novel, but I wanted it to be different from the ones that had come before. Usually, Earthlings are threatened by one alien species and have to fight back to survive, of course, but I wanted to go a little bigger than that so I chose to go the way of two alien civilizations fighting over the Earth (or rather, what they perceive is a tenuous border between their territories) and basically we Earthlings are reduced to insects to be exterminated, ignored or experimented upon.

There’s another angle to The Border, though. It’s really a political novel in disguise. This is why one alien civilization uses weapons that show red and the other weapons that show blue. Hey, I’m down on both political parties. I think the entire system is a mess. So in The Border you have two extremely powerful (but basically stupid, when you think about it) civilizations fighting back and forth a war that just continues to escalate, and caught in the middle are the “Gray Men” who have been contaminated by the poisons these red-and-bluers spout out into the atmosphere. Political lobbyists and extremists, anyone? Which leaves the “ordinary citizens,” the middle class if you will, fighting to survive against three power structures that seem hell-bent on destroying the entire system just for the sake of gaining more power.

Yep, I’m down on both parties, and I’m making no apologies about that. The Gorgons are “Smash And Grab,” and the Cyphers cannot be prevented from walking through any wall to get into the space a person thought was protected. Which are the Republicans and which are the Democrats? Easy enough to figure that out, just follow the colors.

Years ago I heard some political commentators talking about the conditions at the time, and one basically threw up his hands and with a “sheepish” grin said the only solution was to roll back time and start all over again.

I may be giving something away here to those who haven’t read The Border, but the guy was right. It’s the only way, and luckily fiction can do what reality can not.

So…forging, shambling or crawling ahead…

I believe Subterranean Press’s edition of Stinger is just out, which is another foray into science-fiction. The challenge of that one was setting it in a period of twenty-four hours, and I recall that when I got to the part where I needed to physically describe the interior of Stinger’s spaceship I drew a blank and really had to dig deep. I certainly didn’t want it to look like it was made up from an Earthling’s limited imagination…which it was, but that gave me some grief until I got it down on paper.

The second I Travel by Night, subtitled Last Train from Perdition, was finished last October (as I recall) and won’t be out until I believe next October or so. I recently got an inquiry from an interviewer asking why I work so slowly. Well…I do a book a year and usually more than that, but from Subterranean’s viewpoint it’s not a good thing to put out books that might compete with others, and so doing all the reprints of my earlier work that Sub Press has done interrupts the flow of my newer work. I’m not complaining in the least, as I’m very thankful Sub Press is doing such beautiful work on my older books and creating editions that will last, I’m just pointing out the reality of the situation. The reprints bump the newer work back, and this is why it may appear to some that I’m a slow writer. Really…I do a book a year, plus a novella or two, and that I think is a good enough pace.

Now, to the next Matthew book, which I finished in April.

I believe Freedom of the Mask is scheduled for the Spring. In it, Matthew becomes a pawn in a game between the golden-masked crime avenger Albion and Professor Fell, and he winds up unmasking a traitor in the professor’s midst and finding himself allied with Fell against a common enemy. There’s a lot going on in this one. For those interested, I turned in Freedom of the Mask at five hundred and forty-something pages.

I approach the Matthew series as what I would call “Colonial Gothic.” I tend to look at the books I do as movies for the mind, so my perception here is that I’m writing a series of movies made by Hammer Films. I always intended the Matthew series to become more macabre and off-the-wall as the books continued—not necessarily in a supernatural sense, but simply the creepiness of that candle-lit, dark-shadowed era and of twisted human nature in general. Also, I have great fun writing that series because I can play with language so freely, which I can’t do in more contemporary work. I think, for whatever reason, that writing about this era just suits me. Maybe it’s because I really did enjoy those old period-piece Hammer films and this is my way of carrying that forward.

Anyway, I’m putting together the next Matthew, titled Cardinal Black, and will be working on that next autumn. For now I’m researching and starting on a book called The Listener, which is set in New Orleans during the Great Depression and that’s about all I can say. I’ll also be finishing up the third I Travel by Night, subtitled The Bloody Badlands.

I’m toying with the idea of my summer project next year being an homage to the spaghetti western, a “double-feature” of two books in one. My daughter Skye and I have gotten on a spaghetti western kick and been watching some on YouTube, and as I’ve always liked the style of those (the good ones, not the bad and the ugly), I may give it a “shot.” Titles? Four Rode from Hell and They Call Him Mister Six. Six bullets in a revolver and six nails in a coffin, right?

Anyway, I’m titled up to the gills but I have to create the books to go with them!

Again, happy Halloween season and as always thank you for buying and reading my work. As I’ve expressed before, a writer is nothing without readers, and I consider myself blessed to be able to continue to work, to do the variety of books I choose to do, and hopefully continue to grow at my craft.

Until later, as Matthew might say, I remain your servant and malleable to your desires,
Robert McCammon

Dec 182014

Hello, everyone. I wanted to take the opportunity to wish all a great and happy Christmas, Holiday Season or whatever nomenclature you would prefer. Me, I have to go with the old-fashioned “Christmas”. But anyway, here’s hoping yours is excellent and truly memorable.

To bring all up to date, I’ve finished the second part of the I Travel By Night tetralogy, entitled Last Train from Perdition: I Travel By Night 2, and of course The Border will be out sometime (I believe) in the Spring or Summer of 2015. I’m hard at work now on the next book of the Matthew Corbett series, entitled Freedom of the Mask. A friend of mine up in Vancouver made a comment years ago that included that phrase, and I said then that it had to be a title for a “Matthew book”. So, God willing, it shall be.

I’m asked very often what books I read and what books I would say were “really good”, but of course that is a very subjective opinion.

Just for giggles and maybe some speculation, I’d like to list my “magnificent seven”. These are books I come to again and again because I know I’ll always find something new in them, or else in my subjective opinion I think they’re so good in some special way that I have to share them.

There will be some surprises, some head-scratching and some “Oh no, he didn’t say that” in this list, starting with:

Number Seven: Roy Rogers and the Ghost of Mystery Rancho, written by Walter A. Tompkins, published by the Whitman Publishing Company in 1950.

Whitman did a series of books for “young readers” starring Roy Rogers. I’ve read them all, and none of them come within miles of this extra-good western adventure. I get a hankerin’ for a good Western now and again and I prowl either Ebay or the local Mom and Pop bookstore for them. Usually I wind up with five or six paperbacks, but none of them have ever stood up to Ghost of Mystery Rancho. To say this was written just for “young readers” does the book a huge disservice, because it really was written by a masterful author. What grabbed me about this book is the fact that from the first page it puts you Right There. You feel the leather of the saddle and hear its creaking, you are Right There on the “cliff-rimmed sink”, reined up in the “sparse shade of a smoke tree” overhanging the Old Spanish Trail. You feel the heat, you “cuff back” your “dusty gray Stetson” and scan the untamed beauty of the badland. And that’s just the first two pages. I don’t know anything about Walter A. Tompkins, but he was a master at describing the elements of nature. This first scene quickly pulls you in and the story takes over from there. I call this book “magnificent” because it so completely feeds the senses, and what’s better than that? Oh, and it also has Roy Rogers and Trigger, of course. Roy is described here as a “picture of rugged, leaned-down fighting power”. Ahhhhhh, yes!

Number Six: The Auctioneer, by Joan Samson. I used to have the hardback of this, but I forget who published it. The paperback was published by Avon Books (my first publisher) in 1981.

Many, many writers I know have read and enjoyed The Auctioneer. It’s a quiet book that leads to an explosive ending made more powerful by its quiet. An auctioneer named Perly Dunsmore comes to the sleepy town of Harlowe in New Hampshire. The book, as I say, starts slowly and gathers speed as it moves along. Perly begins to auction off more things that are dear to the inhabitants of Harlowe, until basically he has stolen the entire town and is auctioning that off to the higher bidder to build an upscale community. One might say Perly is a demonic spirit who talks people into giving up what they hold as important in their lives…small things first, of course, but isn’t that how evil always works? One of the creepiest elements of this book is Perly’s dog Dixie, a Golden Retriever that is oh-so-gentle to all, but has a brief scene of turning into a snarling beast when the master is revealed. But every devil must have its familiar, yes?

This book is on my “magnificent list” because it says so much with so little. It’s a slim volume and a fast read, but it does beckon you back again and again. If you want to open a book and smell “woodsmoke”, this will give it to you. Again, a book with a remarkable sense of place and great craftsmanship in the characters. Sadly, Joan Samson only wrote the one book and died of cancer around the time of first publication.

Number Five: The Eyes of the Overworld, subtitled Quest at the End of Time, by Jack Vance, paperback published by Ace Books in 1966.

Where to begin with this one? Okay…Cugel the Clever, a loveable thief you would wish to murder in real life, offends Iucounu the Laughing Magician and is teleported halfway across the Dying Earth on a quest to find the Eyes of the Overworld and return them to Iucounu. To coax Cugel along on his task, a creature half-crab and half-scorpion named Firx has been magically implanted into our hero’s liver and delights in pinching and stinging his insides to keep the cunning but unlucky Cugel moving forward.

Which does not even begin to scratch the surface of what this rowdy and raucous book is about. Cugel travels from land to land and strange situation to one stranger still, leaving disaster—and many corpses—in his wake. He is always one step ahead of the wreckage he leaves behind, which in a way makes him an endearing figure struggling against the bonds of Fate though he has definitely brought this ordeal upon himself.

Monsters weird and awesome roam the pages of this book. What makes it a magnificent read is Jack Vance’s incredible imagination and his writing ability. Again, it’s a slim volume and a quick read, but it’s not one you’ll want to read quickly…if you’re like me, you’ll want to savor this as long as you can.

Another standout in the qualities here is the masterful use of color. Vance uses it to emphasize details, down to the lizards with their “blue tails”. The descriptions in this book are just beautiful. Eyes of the Overworld can be read again and again, and like a magic and glittering jewel, something new can be discovered in its one hundred and eighty-nine pages.

Number Four: The Shining, by Stephen King, published by Doubleday in 1977.

This is The Complete Book. It has everything. It captures a small space of time for a family in crisis, but it really encompasses the entire lives of those involved. The creation of these characters and this situation is absolutely magnificent, and this has the best scene of an alcoholic who is “on the wagon” seeing the “flaws” of being “on the wagon” that will probably ever be written. The malevolent spirits (and Guiding Spirit) of the haunted hotel aside, this is just a great  book about a man trying to hold his life and family together. This is so rich in description, symbolism and themes that you’d have to write a book praising the book. And of course, one of the central elements is timeless, that of an Evil force finding a weakness and exploiting it. That was ever true and will be true until the end of time.

I will digress here for just a minute and say that The Shining would not work nearly as well without multiple viewpoints…the Omniscient Third Person (or “God”) viewpoint. On looking up “Omniscient Third Person” on the Net, you find a description that says this viewpoint technique is most identified with novels of the nineteenth century. In other words, according to this description, it’s considered creaky and old-fashioned.

What the &***???????

I recently saw George Martin on TV defending his use of the Omniscient Viewpoint in Game of Thrones. Again…I’m puzzled. What’s so troubling about the God viewpoint? I’ve had my own run-ins with editors over this, and I can’t figure it out. A book with many characters and a lot going on can’t be written without multiple viewpoints. It simply adds to the richness of the book. Is it the reader now who can’t handle multiple voices? The editors? It seems to me that trying to consign the God viewpoint to the “old-fashioned” trashbin is a way of saying, “Modern writers don’t use that technique.” And…honestly…someone has said that to me.

Never in my wildest dreams or nightmares would I have thought that a writing technique I depend upon to tell a story would be considered a liability. I am told that “modern” readers can’t keep the voices and viewpoints of the characters straight. Is that true? I do know that many of the novels we as a society consider classics were written in the Third Person Omniscient. What is this denouncement of TPO saying about our society now?

Well, I may have just answered my own question. By writing “TPO” instead of “Third Person Omniscient” to save time, I may have rolled over the rock to reveal that many readers now are so pressed for time so they want to get done with it as quickly as possible (the benefits of selling a book as “a fast read” and “action-packed”). I’ve done the same thing myself in describing Numbers Six and Five above.

I don’t know, I’m just wondering out loud about this. It is certainly true that a book with Third Person Omniscient will be more complex than one written in Third Person Limited. Maybe real life is so complex that it’s too hard to keep up with multiple character viewpoints in a book? Or at least book editors think that’s true?

Why anyone would think this is a problem escapes me. I’ve heard the Third Person Omniscient described as “jarring”. I don’t get this at all.

Anyway, The Shining is certainly written with multiple viewpoints and many of King’s other works are too. I don’t know if anyone’s ever pointed out this being a “problem” to him, but there I was sitting watching George Martin defend it on TV, and that’s a fact.

Number Three: A Bridge Too Far, by Cornelius Ryan, published by Simon and Schuster in 1974.

This magnificent book of military history first puts you in the planning room of the ill-fated Market-Garden operation in Holland in 1944. It takes you all the way to British paratroopers defending their position at one end of the Arnhem Bridge against a convoy of armored cars to the last bedraggled group of paratroopers trying to cross the Rhine river under fire…and the boats don’t come. As one commander says to another to sum up the entire operation, “Nothing’s right.”

Everything that can possibly go wrong goes wrong, in spectacular and devastating fashion. The power of this book is manyfold, but here are two of its powers: one, the ability to show that even when those in authority realize they have made a mistake they will ignore it no matter the consequences, and two, the ability to put the reader in those shell-blasted buildings with the British troopers and hunker down for the long fight even if it means total destruction.

This is one of those You Are Right There books, composed of multiple stories and multiple viewpoints, written not as a dry history of facts and figures, but as a series of events involving flesh-and-blood people who come vividly to life on these pages. The noise, the chaos, the desperation, the blood and the heroism too…it’s all here.

I will recount a passage of this book that has, strangely, stayed with me for the many years I first read it. I didn’t ask permission of Simon & Schuster to run this, but I’m sincerely plugging the book, so here goes.

The paratroopers are pinned in several buildings in Arnhem by a tremendous artillery barrage that goes on and on.

“Climbing to an upstairs room, (Chaplain) Pare knelt beside a badly-shocked young trooper. ‘Padre,’ the boy said, ‘will you tuck me in? I get so frightened with all the noise.’ Pare had no blanket but he pretended to cover the trooper. ‘That feels fine, Padre. I feel very well now. Will you do me one more favor?’ Pare nodded. ‘Say the Lord’s Prayer with me.’ Pare did. He soothed back the young man’s hair. ‘Now close your eyes,’ Pare told him. ‘Sleep well. God bless you.’ The trooper smiled. ‘Good night, Padre. God bless you.’ Two hours later a medic came for Pare. ‘You know that lad you said the prayers with?’

Pare asked, ‘What’s wrong?’

The medic shook his head. ‘He died just now. He said to tell you he couldn’t stand the noise outside’.”

This is a fantastic book and a magnificent achievement in telling a story about men at war.

Number Two: The Death of the Detective, by Mark Smith, published in  hardcover by Knopf  in 1977 and as a paperback with a flashy but very cool silver cover by Avon in 1982. Set in Chicago during the Korean War, a madman is crossing the city leaving corpses in his wake, and Detective Arnold Magnuson is on the hunt. Unfortunately, Detective Magnuson is on the verge of mental collapse himself, and so this book becomes a weirdly phantasmagoric contest of wills between the two men. It’s a long book with many memorable (and sometimes bizarre) characters, but the magnificence of this novel is that it brings Chicago to life in these two antagonists. They stand for both the dark and light (or less dark, as the case may be) sides of the city. And the city itself becomes a character, and never has a city been so blessed or cursed by a writer’s eye and hand as this one is. The sounds, smells, grit of the streets, the bloody juice dripping from meat in the butcher’s shop, the din of traffic, the rattle of the ‘L’ and the smoke of infernal chimneys drifting in yellow waves across Carl Sandburg’s City of the Big Shoulders… it’s all here, and nearly too much to absorb. This is a book that has to be read slowly, as the madman—the son of a rich man’s wife who was unfairly consigned to an asylum by her husband—and the beleaguered, psychologically damaged yet noble detective are drawn closer and closer together. Is it a mystery? A novel of nerve-twisting tension? A character study? This one defies Category, offering a steel-plated chin to the fist of Genre.

Which is maybe why I like it so much. It takes huge chances and sometimes it fails. But damn it…even in its failures it exudes a haughty magnificence, an arrogance, a sheer lumbering Forward Motion Power. And maybe that’s the essence of  Chicago, too?

This book is pretty dark and very complicated in its many plot progressions. It’s not for every reader, for sure. But boy, was it created by a great and courageous writer.

And my Number One is:

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, published by Bloomsbury in 2004.

Wow. And again…where to start with this magnificent masterpiece?

Okay, let me point out that when I first tried to read this book I was overwhelmed by all the detail and I had to put it aside. The second time…I don’t know, the second time it just totally charmed me. And by the time I got to the statues in the church scene, I was hooked on the magic.

This is the kind of book that a person spends a lifetime writing. It’s the book that demands blood, sweat and tears from the author, the kind of thing you hear that someone has taken twenty-five years to write and at the end of it all their creative fire has gone into lighting this flaming, golden torch. I mean, really…there’s a book (if not several) in the footnotes alone! And the footnotes go off on such delicious tangents, and stories within stories, and twisting and turning until you never think you’re going to get back to the journey of the main book again, but you have to read those footnotes and willingly be immersed in that world, because…

…well, because it’s magic.

The book is set in England in 1806, and introduces Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey (very many Dickensian names in this one, to great effect) who claims to be the only remaining natural magician on the Blessed Isle. Then along comes Jonathan Strange, a mild-mannered young man who basically has the ability to spin circles around Mr Norrell with his own brand of magic, and so we have a story of rivalry yet companionship between an isolated and haughty figure and one who is a little naive and trying to find his place in life.

Yet that’s only the surface. We have here a look into the world of Faerie, which is nothing like Disney’s version. Scattered bones litter the Faerie Land, the remains of warriors who fell in the constant battles that rage there between greedy and cunning foes. And we have a veritable “history” of magic in Britain, told through many of those footnotes that nearly comprise a book of their own. Not to mention the weaving together of magical past into magical present, and how ordinary people are captivated and pulled into a mysterious (and dangerous) land that seems to lie on the dark side of every mirror.

It’s a stunning achievement, and I don’t use that word ‘stunning’ very much because it’s overused by the publishing business to the point that it means nothing.

Well, it means something here. This book is stunning. A wonderful journey…one which I nearly didn’t take because maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for it at first…but it is quite the experience.


…this was Susanna Clarke’s very first novel.

Right there’s enough to knock any writer to his or her knees.

Amazing, and magnificent.

I could add three more to make my Seven a Ten: Weaveworld, by Clive Barker; The Campaigns of Napoleon, by David Chandler; and Thorns, by Robert Silverberg.

But then I would have to add three more and three more and three more, and you would have many pages that comprise my library.

All magnificent, in their own way.

And I hope you have a magnificent season of joy, that your family is close at hand, that you have something good to eat, that the lights shine brightly where you are, that you get to sit in the warmth of a nice crackling fireplace, and that maybe your Christmas gift-receiving (or better, gift-giving) includes a book or two.

See you just around the corner, in 2015.

Best to you,

Robert McCammon

May 242014

Hello, all. I finished The Border about a month ago, but I wanted to wait to announce that until the book was out on the marketplace. I think it’s pretty good, and it’s certainly different from anything I’ve ever written. Hunter has read it and says he thinks it will appeal to fans of Swan Song and Stinger, so that sounds good to me.

I was asked recently about how long it takes to write a book and how long it takes for the book to be published. I replied that it takes me about nine months to write the book, but it can take another year for the publisher to put it into print. They have to do the cover, the marketing plan and all that, and “fit it” into the schedule. Then something unforeseen might happen and the book might be pushed back into a later pub slot, so it can appear that “I” am not working, but believe me, I am.

I have recently been involved in a legal situation with a past publisher (not TOR, who published The Five, nor Subterranean Press). This has gone on for nine months. It’s amazing how much time something like this takes, and how much of a drain on a person’s resources—financial, time, and mental. Just when I think the situation has been resolved, something else crops up and there you go again, back in the murky soup.

Someday further down the line I may write about my experiences in the publishing business. Most of you would not believe what has happened these past twenty years. Every writer I’ve told my situation to has the same response: “That is the worst story I’ve ever heard.” Honestly, every writer says that to me. But I keep soldiering on, even though it’s been sometimes (often) very difficult. Two things actually keep me going: your readership, and the fact that I have many more books I want to read, and the only way I can read them is to write them.

The publishing business is in a strange place right now. Dealing with the people there, you get the sense that some are in shock and sleepwalking due to abrupt changes in the business, yet their egos are swollen to the extent that they can’t see the forest due to the little bitty bugs on all the leaves. I keep up pretty much with the business, and it always fascinates me to see a book promoted and touted before it’s published…and yet as soon as it hits the shelves, it disappears with no fanfare. I have gone out looking for books that received great attention before its pub date, only to find that the book is gone or that the book was never even delivered to my local Barnes & Noble. I spent a whole summer two years ago looking for a book that was supposed to be published in June and part of a “Lord Of The Rings”-type trilogy, and I found one copy of it on a remainder table in October. There were no further additions to the “series”.

More true than ever is the experience of Vernon Thaxter from Boy’s Life. If you don’t know what I mean, read that section where Vernon is explaining to Cory about writing his book Moon Town. ‘Nuff said about that.

Some other writer has said that writing is one of the most brutal professions. Well…think of it. You are on your own. Everything comes from your mind. All the experiences that you’d had through your life color your work. There is no one to help you get through a scene, or make sense of a situation, or guide the work to a successful conclusion. You are on your own, kid. Think about the day-to-day pressure of that, because not only does the work have to be “good”, it has to be “extra-special” good, yet it can’t be too off-the-wall or too “daring”. In my experience, some publishers look for your work to follow a model of success that some other writer has created. I grew up with the idea that you should push yourself to create something that hasn’t existed before, to take chances, and in that way grow as a writer.

Well, I was wrong.

Wrong not in my belief, which I still think is right, but wrong in my idea that the publishing world would rush to embrace a new and different idea. That may have been so in the 1940s and 1950s, when there were primarily literary people in charge of the publishing world…less so in the 1960s and 1970s, when more business people began to come in…less so again the following two decades, and now I find that the business people are fully in charge, the stockholders are breathing down their necks, and any decision to take a chance on a book has to go through a committee, with the punishment of losing your job if you have backed an “under-performing” book. Yet book publishers still struggle to figure out how to promote a book, and most are thrown against the wall to see what sticks. In that kind of climate, very few are successful.

(And maybe I’m talking about the first two books of the Matthew Corbett series, and maybe not.)

Of course it all comes down to individual preference and what experiences have colored the life of any individual editor. The first Harry Potter book was turned down by a ridiculously large number of publishers…and I always thought it was funny, that if you went looking for the actual people who turned down books that later became extremely popular and successful, you would wind up with a handful of air.

Generally speaking, in my experience I have found that some professional people run from responsibility, would die—or kill—rather than admit a fault, and build stone walls to keep there from being any honest or constructive conversation. A publisher can scorn you and treat you like dirt, but any attempt on your part to fix a problem, or at least come to some deeper understanding, is rejected. Truly, you are supposed to become a mute slave, keep on working, and keep on taking any indignity that is pushed upon you. Any “backtalk” resigns you to the gutter.

Why do I stay in this kitchen, if it’s so hot and miasmic?

Because, as I say, I have your readership, your appreciation, and my desire to read books that only I can write. And this is not strictly an oversized ego speaking, but the awareness that to keep going in this business, you have to believe first and foremost in yourself, that you think only you can write this, that no one else can do it better, and by writing this you will be delivering what will hopefully mean something positive to someone and maybe cool off the particularly hot kitchen they might find themselves in. So…it’s for you, and it’s for me, and who else is there?

Moving ahead.

Next up is the second part of I Travel by Night, followed by the next Matthew book. After that will be a book I’ve been wanting to do for awhile, set in New Orleans during the Great Depression. It will be different, I promise that.

Thank you for your readership, your support, and your comments. Without those, where would I be? I shudder to think.

I hope you enjoy The River of Souls, which puts Matthew in quite a few dangerous situations and one at the end that is pretty much a cliff-hanger.

And as I say…moving ahead.

Robert McCammon

Aug 202013


Hello, all! I hope life has been good to everyone and your reading has also been rewarding. Ah, the pleasures of a book! I know e-readers are becoming more and more popular, and that’s well and good, but still…you just can’t capture the smell of a book with an e-reader! I realize this sounds funny, but when I was a kid I bought the novelization of “The Brides of Dracula” through the mail and when it arrived it smelled as if someone had doused the book in a strange, potent and very appealing perfume that I can recall to this day.

Likewise, when I was a kid on vacation in Florida one summer the motel we were staying at actually had a vending machine (!!!) from which you could buy paperbacks. I started buying the Nick Carter series there and found they too had an appealing, almost gunmetal-like aroma. My copies of the Hardy Boys series smell like oatmeal and high school letter jackets, wool and leather. My copy of the 10,000 Drinks recipe book smells like the newly-polished sheen of an upscale bar somewhere amid the twinkling lights of Manhattan. My copy of Cowboys Full, The Story of Poker, smells like the green felt of a gaming table.

Imagination? Possibly so, but this is what I get from books as well as the reading experience. E-books are grand and great, but…I just like the aroma that comes out of that paper, and that’s just me.

My own books smell to me like blood, sweat and tears. Ha. Not really. Well…kinda not.

This is a roundabout way of talking about the book I’m working on now, and…no…it is not going to be done in Smell-O-Type. (Though when I was about twelve I did go see a movie that was in Smell-O-Vision. The first scene showed a man peeling an orange, and you could smell the orange. Honest. Following scenes included, as I recall, a Chinese market in which you could smell the smoke of cooking fires. Really. How that was done I have no idea, but it was a pretty cool thing that had absolutely no future.)

Anyway…I’ve been smelling a lot of books lately. Particularly vital to my olfactory system are the old science-fiction magazines I’m reading right now. They have the titles of Amazing, Fantastic, Galaxy, Worlds of If, Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I have quite a collection of these, dating back to the 50s, and also some pulp magazines dating back to the 30s. Science fiction was my first love—the rocketships, the strange aliens and the stranger worlds, the stories of mankind dealing with life in the future and all that those visionary writers could imagine. What appealed to me about the first science fiction story I ever read, called “Descent Into The Maelstrom”, was that I simply could not understand it. It was a tale of telepaths communicating with each other, and their communicated sentences had asterisks instead of quotation marks. That caused me to start thinking “outside the box”, I guess.

Well, mine is an old story…when I went to college my grandmother threw out all my science fiction magazines along with my Batman comic collection. When I found out what she’d done, I hit her over the head with an axe and buried her body in the basement, but please don’t tell anyone about that.

So…jump forward quite a few years to when I discover Ebay and find that ALL my old science fiction buds are waiting for me to reclaim them. Not so the Batman comics…the ones from the 1950s are now more than worth their weight in gold, so out of spite I dug up my grandmother’s bones and fed them to the furnace.

Ahem. (Or should that be Amen?)

But I have all those science fiction magazines—and more—back again. Which brings me to the fact that I am working on a science fiction/horror novel that I began last year but had to put aside because I was not ready to do it yet.

This does happen. You think you’re ready, but you’re not. You need to put some more pieces together, you need a character to introduce himself or herself and take charge of the show, you need some kind of revelation to make the light bulb burn. I didn’t have it then, but I think—I hope—I have it now. I can’t say the title—you might know it already, I think I’ve probably talked about it before—because the title gives away part of the story, but I’m ready to go where my first literary heroes went—into the realm of mind-stretching fiction that strides among the stars, between worlds of if and fantastic amazing galaxies and puts our own beloved Earth in jeopardy of being torn to pieces.

What will that book smell like, you might ask?

I hope it will smell like the fire of imagination, the same fire of imagination that began my own burning and yearning many years ago. I have a ways to go on this one, but if it’s what I want it to be I think it’ll be pretty good.

So…rockets away! And wish me a good trip and a happy landing! In the meantime, you’ll have the next Matthew Corbett book, The River of Souls, in which Matthew joins a mob pursuing a murder suspect up a haunted river into a dangerous swamp, where something more dangerous begins to pursue the mob. Ya got alligators, snakes, quicksand…and the reappearance of three characters from Matthew’s past. I hope you enjoy this one.

From the past to the present and into the future…

Once again, as always, thank you for reading my work and thank you for your Facebook comments. Happy reading to you…and please, if you have a chance, take a moment to relax and smell the pages.

Best Wishes,

Robert McCammon


Sep 192012

Ummmm….worked. Mostly. Hung around my place. Watched some baseball. Took long walks, and…oh, yeah…!!

I went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a few days with my daughter Skye!

Please forgive that this missive has nothing to do with my writing. But I did want to report on this very cool trip Skye and I took in August, show some pictures, and talk about a real gem of a place we found that was unexpectedly excellent.

Well, first off when we got to Pigeon Forge—which is the town you go through just before you get to Gatlinburg, up in the Smokies—we had to, had to, HAD TO, stop at a Baskin-Robbins. There no longer is a Baskin-Robbins in our hometown of Birmingham, and why this is I don’t know. But I had double fudge brownie ice cream with chunks of brownies in it, and it was great. I forget what she had. Something chocolate, also? But I think mine was best so maybe that’s why I don’t remember hers…though she’ll let me know what it was soon enough.

Okay, we trundled on into Gatlinburg but on the way there you pass along a wide highway with “tourist attractions” on both sides. Now…some of these “tourist attractions” were shall we say a little less than attractive to Skye and myself, but still…they’re there if you want ’em. And if you love pancakes, there are about a hundred and forty three pancake restaurants on this highway, so have at it!! (Skye is still on my case that I had a waffle instead of pancakes. Somehow she thinks pancakes should be the main focus of a Gatlinburg breakfast, especially if they are chocolate-chip pancakes. Just sayin’.)

Being an aficionado of wax museums, Skye arrowed us right into the Hollywood Wax Museum on our first night. I will say that this museum is not the equal to Madame Tussaud’s, but still it was fun. See the pictures of us with some of the figures in there. I will not be responsible for anyone thinking Hugh Hefner (his wax figure, at least) and I had anything going on. The quality in this museum was mixed, but…the horror figure area was really very cool and very well-done. Skye did a lot of camping and vamping with the figures, and I got a new shot for my website and Facebook of me standing behind Lon Chaney’s “Phantom Of The Opera”. See, it’s supposed to be that I’m so hideous even The Phantom is afraid of me, and…oh well, if I have to explain it…as Skye might say, “Don’t go there, Dad.”

A fun evening at the wax museum. Of course Michael Jackson had to be there. And Tom Cruise. Interesting about the Tom Cruise figure…you were unable to tell how tall or short he is because he’s hanging suspended from cables overhead. Again, just sayin’.

Okay, we had a lot of fun and rode the SkyLift—which actually lifted a Skye—and we went up to the Ski Lodge and we went to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum and went to a comedy play where Skye was called up from the audience to play a part in a “silent movie” and other excellent stuffs, but here’s the real deal I wanted to tell you guys about.

The Titanic museum in Pigeon Forge.

From that central highway I mentioned, you see a pretty good-sized replica of the Titanic and a life-sized White Star ticket office. A very awesome thing is that when you buy your ticket, it’s imprinted with the name of an actual passenger who was aboard the Titanic, and in the museum’s final room there is a very stirring display with the names of those who lived and died and you learn the fate of “yourself”. I was Colonel Mustard, I believe, and I survived. Not really that name, but he really was a colonel and he did make it through. Skye’s character was Cherry…forgot the last name…but somebody who sounded like a dancehall girl, and she also made it. I’m being light here, but let me tell you that this final room is surprisingly emotionally-charged. It was neat also, as Skye and I toured this museum, that we realized 2012 is the hundredth-year anniversary of the disaster.

Honestly, I urge everybody to go to this museum. It is awesome. You get the backstory of how the ship was constructed as well as a “tour” of the ship, and it is extremely well-done. At one point you’re walking along and suddenly water begins to flood down some steps and into the room you’re in…almost, but then this cleverly-devised illusion behind a glass wall drains the water off and…well, it’s just fascinating. So you go up the Grand Staircase and see staterooms and the Gentlemen’s Smoking Room, and it’s all done so well and the employees and guides are dressed as Titanic officers and crew and…wow.

Then you get to the bridge. Ahead of you the stars are as they were in the sky that night of April 14th at about 11:40. You go outside the bridge into the deep blue night and face an iceberg…really kind of an ice-sheet, but interesting nevertheless. Then one of the uniformed “officers” suggests putting your hand over “the side” and into…

…a tank of 28-degree water, which is what the water temperature was when the Titanic sank two hours and forty minutes after hitting the berg.

This is where it gets to you.

I said to Skye, “Try to put your whole arm in”.

Yes, 28-degree water is…this is where it gets to you.

A deadly embrace for a body to have to fall into. I’ll never forget what that felt like.

So when you get to that final room with the names written there, and you see that many families were survived by wife and children while the father’s name is on the other list, and you see that most of the drowned were third-class passengers with foreign names, and you see that the great majority of the crew perished, and of course the captain went down with the ship and so did the Titanic’s architect, Thomas Andrews…I’ll tell you, you feel in your heart for people who perished so long ago and yet one hundred years falls away in an instant. This room is a small church that speaks of all the motives and emotions and joys and agonies of humankind…for in two hours and forty minutes, so many choices had to be made. It’s a heartbreaking room, seeing those names and their ages, and seeing young and old, the elderly and small children, and men and women in the prime of life who went into that 28-degree water.

Quite a place, that is. And I have to say, unexpected in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Go if you can. Tour the ship. Feel that water. Go into that room and read the names. Quite a place, that is. We were unable to take pictures there, but somehow that’s okay. Maybe it’s better that the pictures you took were in your head, for yourself alone.

Well, Skye and I had a super time. I am blessed to have a very cool daughter. I am blessed, in so many ways. And oh yeah we played Skee Ball and won about three hundred tickets, enough for a plastic snake worth a Chinese quarter.

That was part of my summer. I hope you had a great one, too.

Robert McCammon

Skye and Michael Jackson

Skye and Michael Jackson

Jason and Skye

Jason and Skye

Skye and Men in Black

Skye and Men In Black

Hugh Hefner and Robert McCammon

Hugh Hefner and Robert McCammon (“Just friends”)

Skye and Tom Hanks

Skye and Tom Hanks (“Life is like a box of chocolates….”)

Robert McCammon big chair

Robert McCammon and the big chair at Ripley’s

Aug 072012

Hello, all. I was contemplating calling this “My Silence”, because it’s true I’ve been silent for a long while, and it’s time to break that silence. Which I’m doing now. With this little missive, which is titled “I Travel By Night”.

Confused yet? Hang on, it gets better.

I recently finished a novella for Subterranean Press titled I TRAVEL BY NIGHT, which I think will be out next May or so. It’s set in the 1880s and is about a gunslinger/vampire/adventurer who seeks to reverse his state of vampirism and rejoin the human race. How he can do this is—at least in my mythology—to drink the “ichor” from the vampire who “turned” him. This creature being a beautiful woman called LaRouge, and protected by the Dark Society of vampires and shapeshifters who populate the underworld around her. A difficult task for my hero…and maybe an impossible one, at this stage of his search. So we’ll see where his story may go from this hard-fought and darkly-tainted tale.

The truth is, I do travel by night.

I believe most already know I do my writing at night, starting around ten o’clock or so and going until I’m “done” for the night, or for the early morning for that matter. Why is this? I’ve always had a fascination with the night. As a kid I listened to radio (dating myself here) late until the small hours, hearing the distant voices slip in and out as I roamed the airwaves. Later, I got airline schedules from the Birmingham airport and when the night flights passed over my house I could tell where they were going. Funny…there were more night flights then than there are now. Something has slipped…has regressed…and I’m not quite sure what it is.

But the night remains constant. A comfortable darkness, for me. A satisfying solitude. A time when I can travel, unfettered by daylight and the cares of  the daytime world, into whatever world I choose to create. The night, for me, has always been about creation. Or exploration, going inward across a land best  travelled by night, because the silence has always called me to go seeking what I do not yet know I am searching for.

I have had a difficult year. More than that, I can’t say. I will say, in passing, that the life of a writer can be harrowing. It demands. It does not rest. It burns very hot, and that fire can easily destroy as well as create.

I will quote here a line I found that may be of interest. It’s from the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. And it is: “What gives light must endure burning”.

And another, also from Viktor Frankl: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.

Both of those quotes have great relevance and meaning to me. I have always had great hope that my work would “give light”, but producing it—keeping it whole and true—has burned me, and continues to burn. And the second quote…there are many situations in my life I cannot change, and thus I am challenged to change myself. I hope I can rise to this challenge, because it’s a vitally important one.

Now…the kinda confusing part…

I started work on my big science-fiction horror novel and decided I wasn’t ready to do it justice. So I put it aside to work on I TRAVEL BY NIGHT. Then I needed an “up”, and for me Matthew always does that. He brings me great joy, and I have such a good time living in that world and playing with the language. Okay. So I did about fifty pages of the next Matthew when the science-fiction horror novel began to call to me again, and this fits into my schedule of doing a “Matthew book” and then a “contemporary novel”. So I am back working steadily on that, which means there may be a little while before the next Matthew book sees the light of day.

And yet…

I have an idea that may allow me to finish both books by next summer. I’m not promising, and the next Matthew book may not be what you expect, but still…Matthew may make an appearance next summer, but it would still be another year before that one is published.

I will tell you the truth, guys. The New York publishing world has little use for Matthew. They see that I am a “horror writer”—and kind of a “has been” at that—and Matthew is not “horror” but some kind of  boring “historical piece”, so what do I think I’m doing?

Well…I think I’m aiming at a target that no one can see but me. I trust myself. I will hit that target in the space of ten books, and you can count on it.

Getting back with a New York-based publisher means cultivating a wider audience. This is very important for any writer’s future. I have a loyal and steady audience, it’s true, but my contemporary work is more appealing to “New York” than the Matthew series, so this is why I really do need to alternate Matthew with the contemporary books. Those books have the greatest chance of getting promoted, reviewed and noticed, and put into bookstores…whereas Matthew, for all his charm and worth and manners, is not welcome in very many Barnes & Nobles. One might say the era of the brick-and-mortar bookstore is  coming to an end, but my work must be on the shelves of as many bookstores as possible, or I will find myself laboring at a “hobby” instead of having a “career”.

It is true, I have many more Matthew books ahead of me. It is equally true I have many more ideas for contemporary novels. I must alternate them in this way, as my best chance for success…and, actually, the wider reach of the contemporary novels will hopefully bring more Matthew readers into the fold. So it can be a win-win situation if I stick to my schedule.

Anyway…I am not only travelling by night, I feel I am babbling by night.

I will ask you, my readers, to do one important thing that many publishers do not do for their talent, and this oversight winds up with a lot of broken dreams and unrealized ambitions.

Trust me.

This is the greatest gift you can give me. Trust me, that I am doing the right thing both for the growth of my career and the future of Matthew Corbett. I am going to work very hard.

You know I am. I always have. Trust me, that I will hit the target only I can yet see…and you will see it happen too, in time. And this I promise you…it will be amazing.

About the new science-fiction horror novel…a worldwide scale, a big cast of characters, a lot of action and some creepy stuff…actually, much creepy stuff. But this is an idea I’ve had brewing for some time, and now it’s ready to be born. I am ready to travel by night, into this wild, frightening and challenging realm.

Matthew has to wait awhile. And gentleman that he is, I think he would take a seat at the Trot Then Gallop, play chess with Effrem and drink with Hudson, ponder Professor Fell’s whereabouts in the world and pine for Berry, and then say to his creator, “Sir…I trust you, too.”

What more can I ask?

Matthew’s candle is burning on his table, there at the Trot.

Never fear.

It won’t burn out. And it will continue to give a very warm and merry light.

Thank you for your patience and for your listening ear.


All best to everyone,

Robert McCammon 


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

Nov 122011

Hi, everyone! Summer has passed, the chill has begun here in the South, the leaves are falling…must be autumn, and maybe time to talk a little bit about where I am and my future projects before the onslaught of winter.

I got back not long ago from the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, held in Surrey, British Columbia, toward the end of October every year. This was my third visit. One of the great pleasures this conference gives me is ‘teaching’ or really rather ‘guiding’ a couple of seminars. The ones I did this year were on the importance and power of names and how to write accents in dialogue. Very much fun. Got to see a lot of old friends and make some new ones. The conference is really worthwhile, because beginning writers get to sit across a table from more established writers at what are called “Blue Pencil” sessions, to show three or four pages of a manuscript and get immediate feedback on their work. So…a little scary for both people involved in that exchange, but again…very rewarding.

I would suggest that if you’re at all interested in learning more about the art and craft of writing, you seriously consider attending the Surrey International Writer’s Conference in October of 2012. I can guarantee you will enjoy it AND take something valuable away with you. Plus Surrey is not very far from Vancouver, which in itself is worth a few extra days. A most beautiful area in a great country.

The website you should take a look at, if you’re interested in this, is

On to other things…

Yes, autumn has arrived and that means intense worktime for me. Before I talk about what I’m working on next, let me say that The Hunter from the Woods is nearing publication and also the fourth Matthew Corbett adventure, The Providence Rider, will be released in (I think) March. I’ll tell you that in this one we leave New York for a while to visit a mysterious island in the Bermudas, and that Matthew comes face-to-face (?) with Professor Fell.

A note also on the title. I have a book that lists all the inhabitants of New York during the timeframe I’m writing about. Some of the names of the townspeople I use are real. So I’m looking through the names and one jumps out at me…Providence Ryder. Is that a great name, or what???

Anyway, that name started my thought process. And the book came out of that, of course. So that kinda goes back to my seminar on the importance and power of names at the Surrey conference, huh?

Speaking of names…let’s touch on Michael Gallatin for a minute. I am so proud and excited about the imminent publication of The Hunter from the Woods. It goes back and forth in time from the Wolf’s Hour period to document several episodes in Michael’s life. It hopefully adds to the character and also answers a few questions that some have posed to me over the years. Does it raise more questions? Of course! I wouldn’t be worth much as a writer if I didn’t leave the “soulcage” open for more of Michael’s adventures. So I have…and we’ll see what the future holds there.

Ah, yes. The future.

I am entering a period where I’ll be writing about the future, as opposed to the era of World War II and of course Matthew’s colonial era. Next up for me is a novella I’m doing for Sub Press, entitled Lawson. It’s set about seventy-something years in the future (though I never say the exact year) and involves a mercenary assassin in a megacity in a world run by corporations. The corporations are always at some level of warfare with each other, thus the need for men like Lawson who will go anywhere and kill any man, woman or child for a few extra “credits”. Lawson’s only friend and companion is his sex-doll robot, and he really doesn’t have much reason to live. Until…he meets the target of his next mission…

Lot more to Lawson, and to Lawson, than I’m telling, naturally. This will have a lot of action in it and I think will emphasize a new, more spare writing style I’m trying to develop. Do not fear…this “new” style will not affect the Matthew books…

Okay…onward to my next “big” project.

Many reviewers of The Five have mentioned that the supernatural element is very low-key and muted. That was done on purpose, to make the human element stronger. I recall I was telling someone I could always have gone the route of having a scene where a guitar comes to evil life and wraps around the player’s throat like a python. I was kidding, but this person’s eyes got huge with delight.

No, no, and no! The Five was not meant to be a special-effects showcase. It was a solid story, and I wanted to keep the book grounded in reality while having a supernatural undertone. But the next big project will be a Hell-On-Wheels extravaganza (I hope!!!).

Next up is a science-fiction/horror novel with a huge scope and I am planning to go over the top with this one. Tastefully, of course! But yes, it’ll have some scenes that I hope will both terrify and haunt and creep-out and resonate and all that good stuff. I may have mentioned the title before. I won’t mention it again, though…just let it sit, and trust that this will be worth the wait. Actually, I’m hoping to finish it up around April/May.

Other things…for all five or six of you who seem to enjoy them, I’m going back to doing Radio 678 shows. Why, you ask? Why should I be doing radio shows when I should be writing? Because I like doing them and I get to use some of my special-effects music equipment. So there you go…Radio 678 is fun for me, so that’s the bottom line.

I will offer you this: the next Matthew Corbett book after Providence Rider will be titled The River of Souls and is set in the Carolina colony. I think it will be two books in one, in a way, with the ideas coming together to form a single story…sort of like streams merging to form a river, yes? So I’ll be working on that when I finish the sci-fi/horror tome.

I get a lot of this: that people think I am a slow writer. Guys! It’s always been the publisher who’s been slow. I’ve always had things sitting on the shelf waiting for publication, or things in the pipeline. I think it’s because I do so many “different” things…I don’t know. But I can tell you that I am working full-speed ahead now, so when I hear somebody say I’m a slow writer…well…let’s just say I try to be “exact” in what I want to say, but usually the projects are stacked up and ready to go.

Okay…this autumn’s tale is nearly concluded. This is where I am and where I’m going. As always, I am pleased and honored to have you along for the ride. I have years of good stuff ahead…can hardly wait to get at some of the ideas, but everything has to “cook” at its own time and temperature.

And speaking of temperature…it’s cold outside. Light the fire and pull up the blanket, get something tasty to drink and lose yourself in an engrossing and involving book…there’s nothing better!


Robert McCammon