Stephanie: I noticed you have a very diverse background when it comes to past jobs and other various life experiences (i.e. Personal investigator, professionally trained interrogator, Kendo, etc.). How have these past experiences influenced your writing and your writing process?
John L. Campbell: First off, Stephanie, thanks very much for having me. Doing Q&A about my writing is always a treat. As far as my varied background, I believe all writers draw from their life experiences, whatever they may be. Being an investigator/interrogator has certainly benefited my study of human nature, both the good and the bad, and I think that helps make my characters more believable. Nothing is more interesting than people. As for the Kendo, I attended a few classes with the idea that I was only doing research for a novel on the way of the samurai. Long after the novel was finished I’d become a regular, rose to senior student, and the disciplines of the art had become a way of life. It left its imprint on me.
Stephanie: You mentioned you started your writing career by jumping right in and creating a full-length horror novel that ultimately went nowhere with publishers. Do you think you will ever go back to that original novel now that you have become a successful and experienced author with several novels and short stories under your belt? I am sure you have a lot of fans that would love to know and read that novel (myself included).
John L. Campbell: It’s difficult to communicate an embarrassed chuckle through text. That novel, VAPORS, will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first attempt. I’d had no formal training, had never been the best English student, and that manuscript ended up filled with cardboard characters, stilted dialogue and every cliché you could imagine. I should have named it, TRITE. I think it’s good right where it is, tucked away with my other “trunk novels.” Maybe one of my kids could unearth it after I’m gone. I don’t think I could face it.
Stephanie: What drew you to the horror/dystopian genre? Is there a genre you’d like to explore that would be completely new to you?
John L. Campbell: I’ve loved horror since I was a kid, and as an adult I’ve come to believe that it’s the one genre that hits closest to the human experience; our fears that this perfect, under-control world we’ve created could suddenly be shattered by something that means us only harm, and delights in our torment. Fear is a powerful emotion, and it leaves a mark on us. I’m sure you remember a moment when you were terrified, but you’d be hard-pressed to recall your moments of bliss. I try to tap into that.
The dystopian genre has fascinated me just as long, for many of the same reasons, but it offers the added thrill of adventure, of characters who get the opportunity (or are forced) to rely on themselves. I’m also ridiculously fond of seeing or imagining mundane, everyday use-things in places or conditions they should not be; an aircraft carrier resting amid deserted Manhattan skyscrapers; stacked, concrete pipes used as refugee housing; overgrown landmarks or wild animals prowling long-abandoned shopping centers. The absence of humans in “civilized” areas leaves me with a pleasant chill. That probably sounds morbid, but it’s great for apocalyptic writing.
As for new genres, I’m noodling around some ideas for a 2-3 book YA fantasy series.
Stephanie: Can you see Omega Days as a motion picture or possibly a television series? Is this something you are or may consider pursuing?
John L. Campbell: Absolutely. You can’t create a pop-culture series without whispers of Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead lurking in the shadows, but that’s where those thoughts have to stay. The odds are simply too long, and anything more than a fanciful thought now and again is distracting to the work. It’s about the story, the discipline of writing and the joy of creating and completing a novel. If someone wants to develop it into something else down the road, that’s great, but it’s not the goal. The Omega Days novels have had some film nibbles – my literary agent handles all that – but, as she so delicately put it, they mean nothing until there’s an actual contract. We’ll see what happens.
Stephanie: If Omega Days were made into a movie or television series, who would you like to see cast as your main protagonists/antagonists?
John L. Campbell: My wife and I have played this game, of course. Not that novelists ever get a say in casting, but in this delightful fantasy world where I get everything I want? The role of Brother Peter would go to Kevin Spacey, Divergent actress Shailene Woodley would make a terrific Skye Dennison, Father Xavier would be played by Juan Encarnacion (an actor friend of mine who is also a SWAT officer and former U.S. Marine), and ex-con Bill Carney would be Bradley Cooper. I guess now all we have to do is wait for Hollywood to agree.
Stephanie: Are you superstitious? Do you have any pre/post-writing rituals?
John L. Campbell: I’m not superstitious per-se, but I like things the way I like them, so I’m particular about little oddities. There’s a certain type of gel pen I prefer (Pilot G2 – bold) and I listen to a lot of Pandora while I write (epic soundtracks, Vangelis, Enya.) Although I prefer the desk in my study, I can write in a hotel, an airport, my car in the parking lot, pretty much anywhere I can scribble. I’m usually good at tuning out the world, even when it’s loud and hectic. I can’t do it with the TV on, however.
Stephanie: Can you describe your overall writing process? Do you set daily goals or just write as the story comes to you? Is writing a full-time or part-time job for you?
John L. Campbell: I’ll have to answer these backwards. Full-time vs. part-time… I have a full time career as an executive (and the goal is to be able to replace it with the writing.) I probably spend an equal amount of time writing (although “writing” can also mean working through plots and dialogue in my head while I’m driving, kicking around scenes or looking at something and figuring out how I’d describe it in a story.) It’s been said that writers are the only people who can be staring out a window and are still working.
I hand-write my rough draft. Yes, you read that correctly. I use bound ledgers and more than a few packages of the aforementioned pens, so my progress is measured in pages to begin with, not word count, though I’m able to ballpark them. When I convert the handwriting to text, that becomes the first revision, and the story can change dramatically. I’m not too focused on goal-setting…some days it’s only a page or two, others it’s twenty. The story decides. I am great at deadlines, much to the delight of my editor, but landing a story at a desired length or by a certain time – for me – is often less “gutting it out” and more happy coincidence.
I’m also not a fanatic about outlines, though many authors I know live by them. When I’m in the early stages, I make notes on scenes I want to include, character basics, big turning points, overall theme and how it’s going to end. I usually know in advance the beginning and ending (sometimes the final sentence) and who will live and who will die (although my characters have often surprised me.) More notes are added as I go along, and I keep side notes on things I want to address or change in a later revision, but don’t fix in the moment so as not to break the flow. There will always be revisions, so I try not to let them get in the way. Beyond all that, the story develops as it goes along; the characters often provide the dialogue, their actions dictate the pace, and frequently what they do and say startles me. Sometimes I let them get away with it (“Hey, I didn’t know you were going to say that, but it works,” or “You weren’t supposed to be dead until the final scene…now look at you!”) Other times I corral them with the backspace button, but they win more often than I do. Those are the best times, when the story and its players call the shots and take unexpected turns. It’s the good stuff.
Stephanie: In your opening acknowledgements, you thank Charles Liebner, USN for his inside views of a ‘secret world.’ Can I ask what that secret world is and what it entails?
John L. Campbell: Chuck is a gunner’s mate in the U.S. Navy, and he has served on an aircraft carrier. We met when I walked into an armed services recruiting station, looking for someone to help with research. There’s a tremendous amount of material to be found online for almost any subject, but for me there’s nothing like picking the brain of someone who’s been there, done that. We became friends, and the knowledge he was able to impart about the Navy and life on a carrier was invaluable, specifically for book two, Ship of the Dead. The ‘secret world’ I refer to is not something classified (he is the epitome of professionalism and takes his oath and responsibility seriously,) but the fact is that very few people have been on carriers, or know anything about them other than what they see in movies. Chuck gave me an inside scoop on how they feel, how they smell, and – as a gunner’s mate it was his role – how they are defended. Ship of the Dead would have been two-dimensional without him. Chuck gets free copies for life, no matter where he is in the world.
Stephanie: Have you ever written something so wild that you scared yourself, and thought, ‘Wow! Where in the world did that come from?’
John L. Campbell: Yes, and I scare myself pretty often. I live out in the woods, and we have coyotes. Did you know that coyote pups yowling outside your window at two A.M. while you’re alone and writing horror sound exactly like laughing, black-eyed demonic children? Just saying.
I’ve written some frightening, disturbing stuff, mostly in my short stories. A few have made my wife hide the kitchen knives and look at me differently. I like to tell readers, “If my writing gives you nightmares, I’ve done my job.” They’re not alone, though. I do it to myself as well.
Stephanie: What can we expect from you next? Feel free to use this question as an open forum and a place to promote any of your future endeavors!
John L. Campbell: I’m busy. I can’t write fast enough, and the to-be-written novel queue in my head is pretty full. If I do two novels a year, I’ll be in my seventies before I exhaust just what’s waiting up there right now. And more ideas come knocking all the time.
I’m a hybrid author; I write books for traditional publishing, and I do self-pub Indie work. Book five of the Omega Days novels is almost ready to go to the editor. Two more are planned after that to close out the series, but reader demand will determine if the dystopian Omega Days world will go on in possible companion novels. This summer prior to August (hopefully) I’ll be releasing a stand-alone, high-octane zombie thriller, and I’m really excited about it. It’s an Indie, and not related to the Omega Days series. I’m holding back on the title for the moment, but check my website for promos and release dates. You can’t miss it. In the next year or I’ll also be releasing some non-zombie titles under my pen name, Atticus Wulf (find him on the website, too); thrillers and mainstream horror.
Stephanie, thanks again for having me on, and for spreading the word about Omega Days. And be sure to warn your readers…this series is highly addicting!