Read an Excerpt
The Pagan Writers' Guide
Writing for Pagan and MB&S Publications
By Mélusine Draco
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Mélusine Draco
All rights reserved.
In The Beginning There Was The Word
'I want to be a pagan author and write for the pagan community' ... 'Can you tell me how to get published?'
Two separate postings on the Internet suggested that pagan writing has finally moved from the 'hidden' into mainstream where readers are becoming more circumspect in their choice of material; and that it was time to produce a serious guide for would-be pagan writers. Firstly, in answer to the blog posting, writing for the pagan community is no different from writing for any other readership – so we need to learn the basic rules before deciding whether we have any talent worth pursuing. After that, it will depend on the level of our own expertise as to whether anyone will look favourably on our submissions.
Pagan publishing has now spread across the world and there is no shortage of opportunities for writers, whether it be in print or on-line. The pagan voice is 'heard on every wind' and there are markets everywhere in the English-speaking world. The online community spreads the word to the furthest reaches of the globe, and book reviews give pagan authors far more coverage than they could have generated in years of traditional marketing.
One mainstream review was in response to Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore and the second posting – on Andy Lloyd's Book Reviews – suggested there might be an opening for a serious guide. 'The learning is multi-disciplinary, and feels almost as if one is studying a textbook written by a poet. Yet the science collated in these pages is interesting and pragmatic,' wrote the kindly Mr Lloyd. 'Intermingled with the factual information is much about rituals, superstitions, beach treasures to collect for magical means and, of course, spell-casting.'
Generally speaking, today's paganism falls into four different elements, which in turn separates the different approaches and levels of magical practice, and subsequently, the writing. Each category requires that it should be written for, and read by, followers at that level of 'learning' to avoid any misunderstandings. A considerable amount of magical writing can be incomprehensible to those who have not been schooled in that particular path or tradition – so we begin at the beginning and work ourselves up through the spheres of Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding. And we start by accepting that there is a divide between the various approaches to paganism and magical practice.
Animistic: The belief that everything animate and inanimate has its own life force, such as that which forms the basis of shamanism, Shinto, Aboriginal, Native American, etc.,
Eclectic: Selecting or borrowing from a variety of styles, systems, theories, beliefs, etc., as commonly found in modern paganism and Wicca.
Syncretic: The attempt to reconcile different systems of belief; the fusion or blending of religions, as by identification of gods, taking over of observances, or selection of whatever seems best in each; often producing a seemingly illogical compromise in belief. This approach is found in many aspects of Western Ritual Magic, and the initiatory branches of the European and British esoteric groups.
Synergetic: Combined or co-ordinated action; increased effect of two elements obtained by using them together. The combining of ancient wisdom with modern magical applications, as in the case of the Egyptian Mystery Tradition, Old Craft, the Norse traditions and Druidism.
Regardless of our own personal levels of esoteric learning, we need to go back to the basics of creative writing and see what tricks of the trade we can utilise. We will see why editors and publishers are inundated with submissions of a certain kind – and what we can do to give our writing 'editor appeal'. We will learn how to develop ideas via lateral thinking, and develop the art of 'seeing' through an editor's eyes, i.e. visualisation.
Back To Basics
How many times do we read (or heed) the advice about hooking an editor's attention? How many writers fail to appreciate that if the editor (or publisher) isn't hooked right from the start our submission will be rejected? And it doesn't matter whether we are talking about non-fiction or fiction, short stories or novels, poetry or prose – it must have something to make the reader want to turn the page. If it fails to entice in the opening sentences, then we will be lucky if the professional reader even bothers to go to the next paragraph.
What exactly is a hook?
It is a simple device for introducing our subject with impact, rather than long-winded preamble. That opening line or first paragraph is the most important part of the whole piece. It may be a challenging statement. A question. Brilliant use of language or analogy. Evocative description of a person, place or thing. And it doesn't matter how brilliant the rest of our work may be – an editor isn't even going to read it unless we've hooked their attention right from the start.
Our first exercise is to study a selection of pagan magazines.
We may already subscribe to one or more; in which case we will be familiar with the differences in house-style. Begin by reading the editorial and any submission guidelines – these are included in the magazine, or found on the website – and make notes about the type of material in each publication. Into which categories do the majority of these subjects fall? Divination ... herb craft ... Tarot ... astrology ... healing ... crystals ... witchcraft ... magic? Which of these are your favourite subjects – and the one you know most about?
Now check the opening lines of each article and see how each writer has introduced their subject. Is it with a bang – or a whimper? Are the title and sub-title eye-catching? Do they make strong, bold statements to introduce the topic, or paint a subtler picture? Is there a clear indication of what the article is about? Make a note of those beginnings you find striking ... and those that don't raise any interest at all. Now try writing a few introductions – one or two sentences – to your favourite subject, while we have a quick look how pagan publishing has evolved.
In The Beginning ...
Things were in the past a lot different with pagan or esoteric publishing. There were no glossy subscription magazines, although Psychic News (1932) and Prediction (1936) magazines could be found on the top shelf at the larger newsagents. The 1960s and 70s saw an embryonic sub-culture of esoteric magazines and newsletters begin to flourish as underground presses, including The Wiccan (1969), which later became Pagan Dawn (journal of the Pagan Federation), with The Cauldron, edited by Michael Howard, and the Fortean Times seeing the light of day in 1976.
But it was the Lamp of Thoth, edited by Chris Bray of the Sorcerer's Apprentice that for me conjures up fond memories and nostalgia for those 'bad old days'. LOT was published throughout the 1980s and it was via its pages many of us 'gained access to the wider world of the British occult scene' as Phil Hine wrote recently – he later began publishing Pagan News in the late 1980s.
There are a few of us who can remember the Gestetner, a stencil-duplicating machine; the first piece of office equipment to produce numerous copies of documents quickly and inexpensively ... and barely decipherably. The majority of pagan publications were produced by this means, which probably accounts for the defective eyesight of the old brigade! There were dozens of different publications produced at secret addresses, and it was a magical quest in itself tracking down those we wanted to read. As the era of desk-top publishing dawned, the production methods improved and, by the mid 1990s, the remaining titles evolved into professionally produced independent magazines such as Pentacle and The Cauldron.
One thing that has never changed, however, is these have always been non-paying markets, with individual contributors supporting them because of their commitment to the Old Ways, and the preservation of esoteric knowledge and traditions. As far as the would-be pagan writer is concerned, this is hardly likely to change – simply because the most well known authors are perfectly willing to submit material without a fee and will continue to do so. Because these magazines are non-paying, it should not be thought they are in any way inferior since those long-standing members of the pagan community judge the content more critically than would a more commercial readership.
For new writers, Pagan Dawn and Pentacle are the places to 'cut the writing teeth' because they offer the best introduction to the world of publishing that often straddles the pagan and 'mind, body and spirit' genres. Read these magazines regularly and it helps us discover what's what and who's who in the pagan book and magazine world – and this exercise should be viewed as serving an apprenticeship before attempting to move to paying outlets.
Positive Mental Attitude
Once a writer crosses that great divide between writing for profit rather than pleasure, there are certain realities that need to be taken into account. Twenty years ago, the world of pagan writing provided hundreds of outlets for writers with varying levels of talent. There were opportunities galore for even the most mediocre. All this has changed and even the amateur freelance now needs a highly professional approach if they wish to succeed in an extremely competitive industry.
In other words, we need to develop PMA (positive mental attitude) when it comes to writing because this re quires a process of conditioning. Unfor tunately, many tutors still foster the myth that everyone can be taught to write professionally and profitably – this is not so. As a parallel, you might manage a nifty round of golf, but it doesn't mean you're des tined for the Ryder Cup; you may achieve something in the local club event – but it's not Gleneagles. PMA demands that we analyse our own abilities and what we can realistically achieve. Reading about writing, attending workshops and subscribing to magazines does not make you a writer. Publication does – especially if it's paid and on a regular basis.
Having confidence in our own ability helps. So does understanding the basics of researching the markets; to grasp where we see ourselves fitting into the scheme of things. We also discover that those writing for fun and those writing for financial reward speak a different language, viewing the situation from a different perspective. People write for all sorts of reasons – and all of them valid – but the process of developing PMA towards the craft of writing means that we've got to choose between competing with the winners – or just talking with the also-rans.
The point often made about those 'scratching a living' from writing isn't exaggeration. Most freelances waste more time trying to drum up living expenses than they do writing. In fact, they need a stronger sense of PMA than those writing purely for pleasure. A serious writer cannot afford not to develop PMA if they are to survive in a competitive environment.
How can we define PMA?
Ambition or aspiration, perhaps. For either the writer still needs an extra ingredient – which can be more accurately described as 'the strength to dream'. As we get older, we lose the ability to hold onto a dream; life's disappointments knock the stuffing out of us, and our dreams turn to dust. Without ambition, without a dream, without positive mental attitude, any writer will struggle against the tide.
The majority of writers experience their first successes among what was at one time referred to as the 'small presses' – independent, sole-participant publications, but again the value of this marketplace should never be undervalued. But the day will come when you have to make the decision to break out and aim for mainstream pub lication. If you are content to remain with the 'one man and his dog' operation, fine, but don't criticise those who decide to aim higher. Over the years there have been some exceptional writers whose capabilities suggested greater things but because of a lack of PMA, they remained within the small presses, rather than risk rejection in a more challenging arena.
Positive mental attitude gives us the ability to access our own strengths and weaknesses.
It refuses to allow us to be precious about our own writing because if it's that good why isn't it selling?
It prevents us from convincing ourselves that an editor is an idiot because they haven't seen the point. If the editor hasn't seen it, it's because we haven't made it clearly enough.
It encourages us to compare our writing to that published in the various magazines where we would like to see our by-line appear.
It prevents us from setting our goals too high because this can quickly lead to disillusionment.
And it helps us to face the fact that rejection slips will come.
The bulk of pagan writing is non-fiction and everyone has some aspect of their life that can be worked into a publishable article, so let's see if we can learn a few of those tricks of the trade. Nonfiction isn't an easy way out; it has all the quirks of fiction writing and then some ... What it does provide is the discipline for writing, economy of language, the cut and thrust of submission and rejection, a higher rate of acceptances – and it pays better, too. And, while this is going on, you can still work on your novel, short stories and poetry, because mastering fiction writing can add that extra zest to brighten up the dullest fact in non-fiction. The best way of developing PMA is to get to know and understand ourselves – and who knows where it will lead if we retain the strength to dream.
Fiction and Verse – Earth, Air, Fire and Water
There is a dearth of outlets for pagan fiction, but hopefully this is gradually changing. If we go to the Moon Books Facebook page, we can see that there has been a long-running debate about the possibility of including pagan fiction and poetry despite the fact that this will probably not be a money-spinner for the publisher. As a compromise, publisher Trevor Greenfield has introduced 'subsidy' fiction (see Interview in Chapter Four) along the lines of the highly successful Troubador/Matador scheme; and is considering the addition of a 'poetry page' to the Moon Books blog.
Esoteric fiction has been around for a long time and is responsible for encouraging further exploration into the (then) hidden realms of witchcraft and ritual magic by genuine seekers after enlightenment. The most popular author being Dion Fortune, whose series of novels managed to impart sufficient information to set thousands on the quest for The Demon Lover, The Winged Bull, The Sea-Priestess, Moon Magic and The Goat-Foot God. Just as intriguing but less known were Aleister Crowley's Moon Child (originally The Butterfly Net) and The Scrutinies of Simon Iff.
Esoteric fiction differs from horror and fantasy in that it is based on genuine magical 'truths'. It shouldn't just 'suspend disbelief' – it needs to draw the reader into the 'hidden' world to such a degree that there is realisation of what genuine magic is all about – if we can only find the key. The fiction of American author H P Lovecraft, for example, gave birth to a whole new cult, based on some 'fifty-three stories and assorted fragments ... all of which are based upon a bizarre and terrifying occult mythology.' Originally written for the cheap pulp horror magazines of his time (1890-1937), they have subsequently gained a reputation for having genuinely powerful occult significance.
By contrast, Arthur Machen, regarded as one of the finest of Welsh mystical writers, was for a short time a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn, although most of his best stories have a 'hint of pantheist mystery about them, and are far away from the theatre of ritual'. His most popular works include The Great God Pan (1890), The Hill of Dreams (1895) and The Three Imposters (1895).
Good esoteric fiction doesn't rely on shock tactics to enthral the reader; it is the dripping of genuine occult lore into the story, so that the lines become blurred between fact and fiction, that matters. If the pagan reader is aware of glaring errors, then the story loses its power, although non-pagans will hardly be aware of the underlying occult significance. For example, this short story was originally written for the Canongate Prize with the theme of 'Sinning', but as that publishing house has more than a little Christian bias, it's not surprising it didn't find favour with the judges. The story was later accepted for publication by Dark Fiction magazine and The New Writer ... and contains quite a few 'truths' for the unsuspecting reader.
Excerpted from The Pagan Writers' Guide by Mélusine Draco. Copyright © 2013 Mélusine Draco. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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