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December 14, 2008

Clyde Ford: A Mythic Christmas Gift

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Today's guest blogger, Clyde Forde, is the author of several books, including the nautical thriller, PRECIOUS CARGO. Here, he traces his particular style of writing back to a gift he received many years ago, which sparked his interest on the subjects of mythology and folklore, which play a major role in his work.

My gift's long, rectangular shape, less than an inch thick, made the guessing easy. The book came wrapped in gift paper with an African mud cloth motif and an inscription from my ex-wife that read, "Toward a deeper understanding of the human story and our personal journey in its unfolding." I unwrapped it, thumbed through it, and set it on my shelf amidst medical and psychological texts, where THE POWER OF MYTH (Bantam, 1988), the edited transcripts of interviews of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers, remained unopened for several years. There's a belief in many traditional cultures that the most recondite knowledge requires no special protection. For it is received only by those ready for it, so remains well hidden in plain sight. A chance encounter with the audiotapes of these interviews led me back to this Christmas present, which then led me on to an even deeper study of mythology.

Eight years after the receipt of this present, I received another gift --- a call from a well-known New York editor asking me if I'd like to write a book about African mythology; a subject she recognized that no authors, including Campbell, had addressed beyond the level of folktales worthy of children. This editor had no idea of the many years I had now invested in the study of the mythology; she simply thought that based on my other nonfiction writing, I might do a credible job with the topic. The fruit of that call was the publication of the nonfiction book I am most proud of, THE HERO WITH AN AFRICAN FACE: Mythic Wisdom of Traditional Africa (Bantam, 1999).

Still, this was not the end of the gift giving of that original present, for it was not long after the publication of HERO that a fellow working in my local co-op said to me, "You've studied and written about some of the oldest stories known to man. You understand the power and structure of story. You ought to write your own stories now." Then, my life-partner challenged me to make the leap from nonfiction to fiction. The first fruit of that leap was THE LONG MILE (Midnight Ink, 2005), a suspense novel set in New York City, which was a transliteration of a traditional African myth, in which the original myth figured in the transliterated story. The critical success of THE LONG MILE and the honor it brought with it of winning the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award led to the inception of a west coast series of nautical suspense, the latest of which PRECIOUS CARGO (Vanguard, 2008) was just released this September. I tell people that mythology is the key to a Clyde Ford novel. If you understand the power and dynamics of mythology, than you can certainly see beyond the pages of my books into my characters, setting, and plot. What I haven't said, prior to this writing, is that the key to my writing is also directly traceable to the gift of a book I received at Christmas two decades ago.

Tomorrow, Adrienne Barbeau reveals why she actually doesn't like receiving books as presents, and shares what she prefers instead.