That’s right! I scored an interview with one of the most successful pagan writers today, Dorothy Morrison, to talk about her thoughts on ethical dilemmas, writer’s block and breaking into the pagan book market.
Q: First things first. What’s new? What have you been up to lately? Is there anything upcoming that you’d like us to know about?
A: First of all, I’m putting away my luggage. [Nineteen years on the road is enough for anybody! LOL!] I have one more appearance in July in Atlanta before I do, though. It’s Mystic South – details can be found at https://mystic-south.com/ – and I hope folks will come out for that. It’s going to be a great conference, with fabulous speakers, and lots of wonderful classes. And I can’t think of any place I’d rather finish my touring.
I’ve also put my “author’s pen” away – at least for a while – but that doesn’t mean I’m retiring. Instead, I’m concentrating my efforts toward Wicked Witch Studios – www.wickedwitchstudios.com – which offers my Hexology line of spell jars, and Wicked Witch Mojo line of candles and oil, as well as other magical supplies and accoutrements for the discriminating Witch. And since I handle everything – including making most of the offerings – and service several retail stores across the country, I’m going to be just as busy as ever.
Q: You’ve been writing about pagan topics for a long time. What was your favorite book to write? Which was the hardest for you?
A: That’s a really tough one, because books are a lot like children: Each one is unique, and you love them all.
If I had to choose, though, I’d have to say Utterly Wicked was the most fun to write, because I got to discuss a subject that most other authors wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole – and that was really exciting. That book also gave me a platform to say all the things I’d wanted to say but couldn’t, as there was no way to fit that much information into a 2-hour workshop time slot. Best of all, though, there was no heavy editing – my editor was wonderful – so my voice comes through loud and clear with every sentence, and the information is imparted just the way I intended.
The most difficult one was my novel, Lucinda’s Web. I had no previous experience writing fiction, and while I’m fairly good at drawing folks into a story, I was concerned about the dialogue – something that has to flow properly to give life to the characters. My good friend, M.R. Sellars – an award-winning novelist – was gracious enough to give me a few pointers, though, and it all turned out fine. It even won an award.
Q: Will you tell us a little about your writing process? Where do you go looking for inspiration?
A: When one lives as long as I have, finding inspiration is easy. For me, it’s found in personal experience, the mistakes made along the way- some of which have been real doozies – and what I learned in the aftermath. So, I take a trip down memory lane. There’s always a tidbit or two that stands out – something of value that I think might help someone else – so I grab it, and go from there.
My writing process is disciplined, but fairly simple. Since most manuscripts encompass 300 double-spaced pages – and are due six months after contract – my rule of thumb is to write three pages per day. Sometimes, I’m able to whip that out in fifteen minutes. Sometimes, it takes all day. If I’m on a roll and write twenty pages, so much the better – but writing more than the intended amount does not absolve me from having to write three pages the next day. I stay on task and on schedule until the manuscript is ready for submission. It’s really is that simple.
So…why the “three page a day” rule? For one thing, writing three pages isn’t overwhelming – and once that’s done, I can spend the rest of the day doing whatever I want. But just as important, I can complete nearly a third of a manuscript in thirty days, and the entire first draft in a little more than ninety. And with a six month deadline, I have time read it through, make any necessary changes, and still turn it in under schedule.
Q: You have decades of experience as a practicing witch. What was the most difficult ethical problem you faced as a practitioner, and how did you handle it?
A: Believe it or not, it had nothing to do with any magical effort on my part. Instead, it presented itself in those that other practitioners planned to perform – magical operations that went against my grain – and whether or not it was my place to stop them when they asked for my advice. That was tough for a couple of reasons. For one thing, butting into someone else’s business often does more harm than good; moreover, it can also keep someone from learning personal life lessons. The other thing, though, is that nothing in the world can stop someone from doing something they really want to do. The best you can hope for is a delay – and that’s just a temporary fix.
I finally decided that my ethical responsibility began and ended with saying something if I saw a problem. And with that realization came a solution that was simpler than I ever imagined. It was just a matter of asking the practitioner the right questions. What was the desired outcome? Was the proposed operation was going to bring the desired result? Or was it only going to relieve the practitioner’s frustration?
In asking those questions, I honored my ethical obligations. And the practitioner, in answering them, saw the bigger picture and what was necessary to achieve the desired results. It worked out well for everyone concerned.
Q: As a leader in the pagan community, what do you feel is the most important issue facing the pagan community today?
A: While I’m sure there are many who will disagree with me – and maybe even be appalled at my answer – I think it’s the lack of a good old-fashioned reality check among a large portion of its members.
For one thing, sweetness and light doesn’t solve everything. There are times when one has to grab some gumption, defend oneself, and fight. Someone who’s harming you or yours simply cannot be stopped with a hug, or an “I love you” – and it’s ludicrous to even think it might. What’s more, the deities with whom we align ourselves never took that route. And expecting Them to protect us when we won’t even try to protect ourselves is absolutely absurd.
Magic doesn’t solve everything, either. There are times when a conversation – no matter how uncomfortable – is in order. Times when a face-to-face confrontation is necessary. And times – mere words can’t even begin to express how important this is – to pick up the phone and call the police.
The point is, we can’t fix any of the other issues facing our community-at-large until we fix ourselves. Until we grow up and stop living in a fantasy world. Until we stop hiding behind magic and take some responsibility for ourselves and our actions. Until we finally come to the realization that we live in the mundane world, and give it equal time with the spiritual. Only then will we be able to conquer any other problems that come our way.
Q: On a personal note, I very much appreciate your willingness to approach subjects others tend to shy away from. You’ve written about some pretty controversial topics in modern witchcraft. Particularly, the book Utterly Wicked: Curses, Hexes & Unsavory Notions comes to mind, among several others. Why did you feel it was important to contribute to discussions like these?
A: The reasons are many. But first and foremost, they involved subject matter about which everyone was curious, but no one in the community would discuss. At least, not out loud. And I thought it was high time that someone not only offered a reasonable explanation, but offered some good, solid, useable information.
Of course, one of my pet peeves with “modern Craft” has always the one-sided focus on the light – something that came about in an effort to make the ancient arts seem harmless, and appear more mainstream. It was one of those things that looked good on paper, but really didn’t serve anyone well, because it presented a skewed view of magical practices. Had that view not been passed on through generations of up and coming practitioners, it might not have been a problem. But it was. And that not only left magical practitioners without the tools to defend themselves, but scared to death that the sky might fall if they tried.
So, I felt it was important to remind folks that our world is designed on a system of checks and balances. That everything we encounter in this life- whether emotional, physical, or scientific – is balanced with a complete and opposite measure of equal value. We find those balances in night vs. day, yes vs. no, guilt vs. innocence, cold vs. hot, and on and on and on. That said, there is no way we can have the light without the dark – especially when it comes to the Craft.
The other thing is that everything that could even remotely be seen as “negative” seems to have gotten a really bad rap. Even worse, those who subscribe to the “harm none law” seem to have dismissed the fact that they, too, are part of those who should not be harmed. And those ideas have caused some real problems. How? Because to truly practice the ancient arts, one has to first come to an understanding of his or her emotions, and get them in balance to strengthen the spirit. And if they’re completely ignoring some, or pretending they don’t exist, that just isn’t going to happen. Embracing both the positive and negative with equal measure is imperative toward spiritual health. And when the spirit is healthy, what was once seen as dark ceases to be scary, it becomes more than reasonable to defend oneself, and worries about the sky falling fly right out the window.
Controversial or not, these are the sorts of things that really do bear discussion. Otherwise, the world winds up with magical practitioners who lack the tools to work effectively. And a practitioner who can’t work effectively doesn’t serve anyone well.
Q: With its diverse cast of colorful characters, whom among pagan writers do you admire most? What authors influenced you as you developed your writing style?
A: I admire all Pagan writers, for they willingly share their knowledge and techniques with the world. Those I admire most, though – far too numerous to list here – are those who do more than just write about the magical life. They live it. They breathe it. They walk their talk. They’re out there serving our community, and doing what needs to be done. They’re excellent role models and prime examples of that to which every Pagan leader should aspire.
I began writing long before I came to Paganism – I even won several extemporaneous writing competitions while in high school – so those who influenced my writing style weren’t really other authors, per se. A lot of credit goes to my mother, who was big on literacy, and never allowed us to write the language improperly. But it was Pat Moore, my senior English teacher, who believed in me, took me under her wing, and honed my skills. I only wish she’d lived long enough to see my first book published.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring pagan authors?
A: Don’t quit your day job! LOL!
The fact of the matter is that Pagan authors don’t make a lot of money. They spend six months writing a book that – unless they self-publish – could take up to two years to see publication. Once the book is published, they only make 10% of the wholesale price of the book – about 50% of the cover price – on books for which the book store has actually paid the publisher. And if the book store returns the books, that money is deducted from the author’s royalties. Of equal importance, royalties are paid only twice per year. What that means is that you won’t see a check for the period of July through December until April or May. So…it can be a long time between checks.
Going the self-publishing route might be a bit more lucrative, but I really don’t recommend that for a couple of reasons. For one thing, anyone can self-publish these days. So unless you’re an established author with a following – even if you’re an excellent writer and have a great book – there’s still a bit of a stigma attached to the self-publishing route, and that can be costly sales-wise. For another, even e-books can be returned now, and those returns will really take a bite out your profits.
Please understand that I’m not trying to discourage aspiring authors. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone has something to say and something to share, and there’s room in this business for everyone. It’s just that it would’ve been really helpful to me if I’d understood the business a bit better before jumping headfirst into the world of Pagan publishing!
Business issues aside, though, the most common concern of aspiring writers seems to be conquering writer’s block – so I thought I’d share my favorite remedy for that here, too. I simply picture myself having coffee with a dear friend, think about what I’d say about the subject matter in that time and place, and then…write it. I don’t worry about my sentence structure, or whether or not the explanation flows. All that matters at that point is getting something down on the page. Writer’s block is yesterday’s news, and it’s easy to go on from there.