Matthew Pallamary is an author who writes in multiple genres and seems to do everything well. Ray Bradbury praised his collection of horror stories, The Small Dark Room of the Soul as well as his historical novel dealing with shamanism and, as pervades much of his work, spirituality, Land Without Evil, saying, “Bravo! More!” Three of his works were award winning finalists in the International Book Awards: Cyber Christ in the Thriller/Adventure category, A Short Walk to the Other Side, his collection of short stories, and Eye of the Predator in the Visionary Fiction category. He’s written a memoir and edited a biography, both of which have received notable reviews. He’s also written a science fiction novel entitled Dreamland and a dark novel entitled Night Whispers.
Matt’s work has appeared in Oui, New Dimensions, The Iconoclast, Starbright, Infinity, Passport, The Short Story Digest, Redcat, The San Diego Writer’s Monthly, Connotations, Phantasm, Essentially You, The Haven Journal, and many others. His fiction has been featured in The San Diego Union Tribune, for which he has also reviewed books, and his work has been heard on KPBS-FM in San Diego, KUCI FM in Irvine, television Channel Three in Santa Barbara, and The Susan Cameron Block Show in Vancouver. He has been a guest on the following nationally syndicated talk shows: Paul Rodriguez, In The Light with Michelle Whitedove, Susun Weed, Medicine Woman, Inner Journey with Greg Friedman, and Environmental Directions Radio series. He has received the Man of the Year 2000 from San Diego Writer’s Monthly Magazine and has taught a fiction workshop at the Southern California Writers’ Conference in San Diego, Palm Springs, and Los Angeles, and at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference for twenty five years. He has lectured at the Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Conference, the Getting It Write conference in Oregon, the Saddleback Writers’ Conference and numerous others. He is presently Editor in Chief of Mystic Ink Publishing.
Your endeavors are so varied, it was difficult to decide where to begin. Since spirituality is at the core of everything you do, I am focusing on Land Without Evil and your shamanic approach to writing and teaching others how to write.
Over the years, you’ve made several trips to the Amazon rain forest. How did these trips feed Land Without Evil and your writing courses?
I took an honors course in anthropology titled “A Forest of Symbols – Orientation and Meaning of South American Indian Religions” which is where I learned of the actual Guarani story of the Land Without Evil, which is what the book is based on, so I actually wrote and published the book before ever going into the jungle. Prior to that course I was researching the lycanthropy mythos, (Werewolves), for my novel Eye of the Predator which led me to shape shifting. The jungles of South America have the strongest shape shifting traditions and these were tied to visionary plants. I have had a lifelong fascination with altered states and shamanism and one of the things that struck me the most through my research in anthropology was the fact that shamanism is based on experiential knowledge. You can read textbooks about it for the rest of your life, but you will have no real conception of what it is and what it entails. You can’t learn much of anything about it by watching or observing native people performing rituals. The only way you can truly learn is through direct subjective experience, which means taking part in the rituals and ordeals to learn first hand what the teacher plants have to teach you – if you prove you are worthy.
You’ve been teaching writers for a quarter of a century, packing the house I might add. And now you’ve translated your courses into a book. Without giving away all of your course’s or Phantastic Fiction’s teachings, will you provide one or two salient points that might encourage visiting authors to explore the rest of what you teach?
In the shamanic world view, absolutely everything is energy. When we write and create we are manipulating energies on multiple levels and we are working in-depth with our subconscious, so we are in essence manipulating energy, whether it is plotting, pacing, dialogue exchanges, emotions, punctuation, and many more variables. Additionally, the shaman’s descent into the underworld where he experiences death, dismemberment, and rebirth in order to become a “man of power” is exactly what happens on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, which is the essence of story that has been around in this transformational process since prehistoric times, long, long, before the written word came into being.
How is it being received?
It’s been an eye opener for many people as it gets as far into the roots of what a story is as possible. These time honored concepts are deeply embedded in the psyche of humanity and have much to teach us about ourselves. Aside from its esoteric aspects, I have been blessed by the “wisdom of the masters” through all my years of being with the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and the Southern California Writers Conference where I was mentored and really adopted into the writing family of Ray Bradbury, Charles Schulz, Barnaby Conrad, Chuck Champlin, a leading L.A. Times Film Critic, and Paul Lazarus, former Vice President of Columbia Pictures as well as many others. They have all passed on and I find myself one of the few keepers of the wisdom and tradition they blessed me with, so I am also passing on much of what came from them.
Like all of your work, Land Without Evil has garnered high praise. In addition to the wonderful plaudits, it’s been made into a play. And now, I’ve heard rumors there’s something greater waiting in the wings. Would you care to elaborate on this new development, touching on key points of the book’s journey?
There was some interest from a producer in making Land Without Evil into a film, so I have written the script, but things appear to have come to a standstill there. What I am very excited about now is that Land Without Evil is being translated into Spanish. In the Lonely Planet Travel Guide under Paraguay, they say that if you want to learn about the history of Paraguay, read Land Without Evil, and it was listed as the top fiction pick on the Paraguayan Embassy web page. It’s a huge part of Latin American history, so I think it will find a good audience in Spanish.
Whose idea was it to have it translated? Yours or your publishers?
It was my idea to get Land Without Evil translated and I have been trying to make that happen for some years now.
What can you tell us about your translator?
Through a service called Babelcube I found Rosina Iglesias who works in Spanish Administration as a civil servant.
Are you able to participate in the translation process? If so, how and to what extent?
She also asks me questions from time to time when she has them regarding certain parts of the book.
Shifting the focus from your work to you as a writer, what is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
On an uninterrupted day, I like to hit it first thing in the morning after the first cup of coffee and morning email/business/posting chores are done, straight through until afternoon. After a bite and a break I hit it again until dinner time around 7:00.
It’s all about the discipline.
Indeed it is. Do you create an outline before you write?
I do, but it’s a bit different than what many might think. I have a chapter that goes into detail about it in Phantastic Fiction.
Why do you write?
Because I have to.
What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?
Fighting daily procrastination.
Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?
My work is quite varied. I have ten books in print. Land Without Evil is a historical novel. I also have two short story collections that are science fiction/horror in the Twilight Zone tradition, a memoir about my shamanic studies that ends in the Peruvian Amazon. Two science fiction novels, two nonfiction books, one about perfect form and motion, and the other about writing, and two novels that are thrillers, one of which is horror.
About your “other” life, do you have another job outside of writing?
I edit, critique, teach, and guide people toward publication.
Would you care to share something about your home life?
I am a nomad.
How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?
By understanding that everything is transitory and nothing is permanent. I have been through some extremely challenging ordeals in my life and have learned the art of flexibility. It didn’t kill me and yes it made me stronger.
What has been your greatest success in life?
There is not enough space to go into how Land Without Evil was made into a play. But, for those who are interested, you can find the complete story here: http://www.prweb.com/releases/SkyCandyAustin2012/LandWithoutEvil11/prweb10182711.htm
That said, what do you consider your biggest failure?
I’ve had many, but I am still alive, so the game is not up yet.
Do you have any pet projects?
I am presently collaborating on a book about the history of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference which is now in its 43rd year.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
I’d have to say Ray Bradbury. But the biggest of all time was my Mom, who was my very best friend. She left the planet about twelve years ago.
Before I present an excerpt from Land Without Evil and provide your book buy and social media links, I’d like to finish as I usually do with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:
My best friend would tell you I’m a …
Bit crazy and eccentric.
The one thing I would change about my life:
I would have made different relationship and financial decisions if I had any inkling of where they might have gone, but then again, I may not have learned what I needed.
My biggest peeve is:
The thing I’m most satisfied with is:
My writing and the craft that goes with it.
Now, without further ado, Land Without Evil:
Avá-Tapé gazed up at the crescent moon looming high above. He felt the weight of the humid rain forest air hanging thick and still, and the presence of the trees pressing in on him. Firelight flickered at the edge of the clearing, darkened from time to time by the formless shadows of the dancers, led by his father.
Rattles shook and a new round of chants rose into the starlit sky as each syllable took wing and fluttered through the darkness like the cry of night birds.
Like Avá-Tapé, most of the tribe huddled around the fire watching the men dressed in feathered headdresses, armbands, and anklets dance as one. Their movements kept a rhythm that gave meaning to the unseen forces between the beats of time.
Avá-Tapé’s round face made him look younger than his sixteen harvests, but his dark, almond-shaped eyes missed nothing. He sat straight and alert, his long arms and legs coiled, ready to spring into the dance with the others. While he watched the pageantry unfold, Avá-Tapé pondered what his father had taught him. Chaos. Order. Destruction. Thoughts that held fear for the white people, but were everyday parts of his father’s world. He sighed remembering how important he had felt helping the Christian priests with their sacraments. His chest grew tight as the two realities fought for possession of his heart.
His father, Avá-Nembiará, had become the most powerful holy man of their people by the force of his visions. Most of the people now called him Nandérú, “our father.” In front of whites they called him paí, the solitary one who lives between man and the gods. Some whispered that Tupá, the son of gods, spoke through Avá-Nembiará.
Two men tossed another log on the fire, showering the night in a flurry of shimmering sparks. The tempo of the chants increased and the dancers quickened their pace. Flames jumped higher.
Avá-Nembiará’s voice rose above the rest, its tone full of yearning. Avá-Tapé shivered and watched his father’s dance become erratic, his movements larger and wider, until Avá-Nembiará threw his whole being open like the wings of a butterfly embracing the sky. A moment later, his steps grew fitful and jerky until he dance-staggered out of step with the others, keeping a rhythm only he could hear.
The chants and dances of the others faded until Avá-Nembiará remained alone clutching a feathered rattle, swaying before the fire, his handsome angular face impassive, short black hair flattened against his sweaty forehead.
Fire glow highlighted the brilliant colored feathers of his headband, reminding Avá-Tapé of the lights above the heads of the Christian saints in the pictures the whites had shown him. Light from the orange flames caressed the sweaty sheen of his father’s muscled form as if infusing it with new life. Swirling patterns washed over Avá-Nembiará’s dark features, illuminating his glazed eyes and changing expression.
Avá-Nembiará sank to the ground and tilted sideways, then straightened as though pulled upright by the head. His normally sharp eyes became unreadable hollows that glinted in the flickering light. Other than the fire’s crackle, the clearing remained silent and still. No wind. No bird or animal cries. No sound from the awestruck tribe.
Avá-Tapé held his breath, expecting flames to burst from his father’s chest… until Avá-Nembiará spoke. His words and voice were those of another.
“The time of destruction has returned. The Earth is old. Your tribe is no longer growing. Your world is bloated with death and decay. I have heard the Earth cry out to our Creator-Father. ‘Father,’ it says, ‘I have devoured too many bodies; I am stuffed and tired; put an end to my suffering.’”
“Tupá,” someone whispered.
“The weight of your faults has made your souls heavy and holds you from magic flight. You eat the food of the whites and live their ways, not the ways of your ancestors. The growing weight of your faults has brought you to the end of the world through the fleeing of the light. The bulk of your errors will soon block it. The sun will disappear and there will be nothing for you to do on this Earth. This will be the moment of the ará-kañí. This will be your last day. The last time that you shall see this world.”
Spiraling patterns from the fire accented his features as he spoke. Sometimes the calm face of Tupá and the sweep of his grand language dominated; other times the tenseness of an all too human expression came back amidst strange words. Avá-Tapé looked around at the faces of the people. Some showed the same intensity, some fear, others concern. The older men’s expressions revealed acceptance.
“You do not have to fall to the crushing weight of techó-achy,” he continued. “You can free yourself from the weight of your faults, lighten your bodies, and reach perfection by abandoning the food and the ways of the whites. You must journey to where you can dance until your bodies rise above the earth and fly across the great primeval sea to the Land Without Evil.”
A murmur rose from the crowd.
“Ywy Mará Ey, a paradise of abundance and wealth. True immortality awaits you there. You do not have to die to enter. It is a real world that lies in the place where the sun rises. Only dancing believers dwell there. To find paradise you must…”
The clearing came alive with the soft rustling of robes fluttering like the wings of bats as Father Antonio rushed forward brandishing a cross, followed by a mob of black‑robed Jesuits. “I exorcise you, Most Unclean Spirit!” he bellowed, dark eyes blazing. “Invading enemy! In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
He made the sign of the cross, causing the people to scatter into the forest. Avá-Nembiará looked up at the priests, his expression dazed and unfocused.
“Be uprooted and expelled from this creature of God.” Father Antonio’s hands moved deftly as he made the sign of the cross again. “He who commands you is He who ordered you to be thrown down from the highest Heaven into the depths of Hell. He who commands you is He who dominated the sea, the wind, and the storms. Hear, therefore, and fear, Satan! Enemy of faith! Enemy of the human race! Source of death! Robber of life! Root of evil and seducer of men!”
Satan? Confusion swept through Avá-Tapé. Tupá spoke through his father. Not Satan!
Avá-Nembiará shook his head and glared at the Jesuits. His features hardened. He rose, standing tall in the firelight, his headdress backlit by flames. His shiny skin glowed orange as if it held a life of its own, in stark contrast to the dark formless robes of the priests that seemed to swallow light. His father looked every part the Holy Man. Avá-Tapé felt a surge of pride swell in his chest.
One of the priests looked over, his glare pinning Avá-Tapé. “Begone!” the man shouted.
Avá-Tapé didn’t move. Father Antonio started speaking Latin and making elaborate movements around Avá-Nembiará while Father Lorenzo sprinkled him with holy water. Avá-Tapé stood on trembling legs, wanting to run, but willing himself to stay.
When the priest started toward him, Avá-Tapé ran to his father’s side. Father Antonio continued his rituals and Latin chants while thrusting the cross at Avá-Tapé and his father. Avá-Nembiará put his arm around his son, grunted, and pushed his way through the black robes. The priests let out astonished gasps, and Father Antonio stopped his invocations.
Avá-Tapé walked into the darkened forest at his father’s side, leaving the muttering priests alone in the clearing.
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