The literary review Cirque Journal, which published my story An Apple A Day earlier this year, is hosting a reading here in Portland on Thursday, April 29 and I’ll be one of the readers. If such things are your bag, you should totally come and check it out. The reading starts at 7 PM at the Central Lutheran Church, 1820 NE 21st Avenue.
Today I designed the cover for my new book Papaya. I’ve chosen to go with an aesthetic similar to my previous literary endeavors, which is simple and to the point. It’s color is a bit flashier than previous books, but sometimes it just makes sense to flaunt things a bit. I took the cover photo myself, which just goes to show what you can accomplish with a cheap camera and an old black blanket for a backdrop.
I hope you’re half as excited as I am to get Papaya out to the world, but we’re all just going to have to wait until September 6.
In the mean time, check out some of my other books if you get a chance. Thank you as always to everyone for reading, your support, and all the compliments that I clumsily accept due to not being the best at taking compliments.
Good news Professor Errare fans who also happen to be obsessive compulsive. As some of you have probably noticed, there was a slight change in cover design between the first two Professor Errare books and the last two. This was due to a complicated situation revolving around certain service providers changing the options available on certain programs…..blah blah blah blah blah. Anyways, as a special treat, the good professor has gone back and redesigned the covers to his earlier books so that they can all express a single signature style. Enjoy.
For the past several years I’ve been working on my second novel, Papaya, an endeavor that morphed from a short story, to a novella, to a full blown novel before it was done. I started writing Papaya in 2017, roughly a year after self-publishing The Uncanny Valley . In many ways being unable to find an agent and publisher for the The Uncanny Valley was a great disappointment, but in the end I accepted it as the great gamble that is writing. There are so many things that go into getting a book published via the traditional routes beyond the quality of the book itself. There’s of course just the dumb luck of getting your manuscript in front of the right person at the right time, somehow standing out from the pile of thousands of manuscripts received each year. There’s also the question of saleability. After all, agents and publishers are running a business and want to make money, which is fair. They spend a lot of time watching trends and figuring out what’s popular. In such a landscape, it’s hard to get anything out there that’s different.
I can’t tell you how many rejection letters I got from agents telling me that they loved the premise of The Uncanny Valley, or even the whole book itself the times I was lucky enough to get a request for the manuscript, but that they didn’t feel they were the right agent for selling it. It was a hard experience, especially given that two years of my life had gone into creating it, to hear The Uncanny Valley was good but too different.
When I first let a small group of people read The Uncanny Valley, one of my readers told me that the book was great, but I would need to decide whether I was writing for the art of it or to create something to sell. I think it’s the question that most writers have to face eventually. In the end, I decided that given all the time and effort invested, I wanted to write my stories, and so I went down the route of self-publishing.
There was a pretty steep learning curve involved in self-publishing, a lot of first time mistakes, and more than a few pitfalls that could’ve been easily avoided. However, in the end I’m glad I did it. Nobody writes a book in the hope that nobody will read it. With The Uncanny Valley, I may have only sold 100 copies, but that was 100 readers more than if I had never put it out there. Though I’ve never been good at receiving compliments, I can’t fully express how much it meant to me when people came up to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. The burning question for anyone who heads down the self-publishing path is whether they are doing so because they were unlucky in the traditional world, or because in reality their writing sucks. Hearing those compliments told me what I needed to know, and gave me the resolve to keep going.
Going forward, I decided that I would continue to write novels and try to get them published via the traditional route, but if that route failed, then I would self-publish and start again. There were many false starts. I got several chapters into one piece before abandoning it and created a complete outline for another but never actually started writing it. Eventually I hit upon an idea that stuck. Though originally never planned as a novel, the story continued to grow and evolve far beyond my expectations. It took me a little under two years to write Papaya , though I was often distracted by other projects; such as working on Professor Errare, getting short stories published in various literary reviews, and self-publishing An Unsated Thirst, my first short story collection. Papaya was completed in the summer of 2018, but it was just the beginning.
There are many steps that follow completing a book. First the author has to go through and edit it, then they have to have a select group of people read it in order to make sure it’s actually worth a damn, which is of course followed by another round of editing. This cycle can go on in perpetuity, but for me I had the book I wanted by the end of the year. As a quick side note, thank you to my readers: Aaron Clutter, Kenton Erwin, Marcus Hart, Jane O’Keeffe, Jessi Lynch, and Liz Knowles Ryan.
Anyways, what follows next is the creation of a query letter, which is basically a sales pitch to prospective agents. In many ways writing a query letter is a bigger bitch than writing the actual novel. After that comes the hopeful anticipation and the crushing blow of each rejection. I’ll admit that I had high hopes for Papaya, one can’t put themselves through such things without such hopes. After all, I had more experience and a lot more published short stories under my belt. However, in the end I was disappointed to see the same pattern emerge as with The Uncanny Valley.
So here I am again, facing the same decisions as three years earlier, and coming to the same conclusions. The purpose of writing is to have people read it, and I would prefer to have only a handful of people read my book rather than it gathering dust in a forgotten drawer. You never know what might happen, but it’s guaranteed nothing will happen if you don’t put yourself out there. So the decision has been made. Papaya will be self-published on September 6. I hope those of you who choose to read it enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed writing it.
It feels good to have an end in sight, for it’s also a beginning. I’ve already started writing a new novel, and with it, the whole cycle begins again. Cheers.
If you want to check out more on Papaya click this link:
If you want to check out more on The Uncanny Valley click this link:
Great news. The literary review Cirque Journal is hosting a series of readings to celebrate the publication of their latest review and I’m scheduled to be one of the readers at the one here in Portland. Cirque Journal published my story “An Apple A Day” back in May. If you’re interested in attending the details are:
7:00 PM, August 29, Cirque Journal, Central Lutheran Church, 1820 NE 21st Ave, Portland, Oregon.
Further information will be provided as we get closer to the date. If you’re interested in checking out the story you can see it here:
That’s right, the good professor is glad to announce that a new book is now available for your growing Professor Errare collection. Professor Errare Presents…. Random History is now available on Amazon both in print and ebook formats. Check out the below link for more information:
Welp, in another first, I was recently asked for a favor by a friend of a friend. This friend of a friend is a teacher in Kansas, and every year she asks her students what they want to be when they grow up, and then finds people who do that to write letters to each student. One student, a girl named Addison, said she wanted to be a writer. Below is the letter I sent:
I was around your age when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I filled numerous spiral bound notebooks with stories, bad poetry, and Star Wars fan fiction. If I’m being honest, little of it was any good, but I enjoyed doing it, so I did it. I moved on for a time doing other things during my high school and college years, but came back to writing again in my mid-twenties, a time I imagine seems just as far away to you as it seems distant to me. Since then I’ve written a few books, got some stories published, and have started carving out a space for myself in the world of writing. While it’s not my only job at this time, it is a central part of my life.
There are of course many routes you can take to become a writer. Some people go to college and get a degree in English, and then go on to get a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Writing, though it is worth noting that you don’t need an English degree to get an MFA. With these in hand, you can go out and pursue one of the many careers available for writers, which I’m sure you can find using Google.
For my part, I did none of these things. You don’t have to do any of the above to be a writer, though it does certainly help get your foot in the door. I did go to college, but I got a degree in Economics, and most of my jobs have been related to that. However, I loved writing, so I just started doing it. That’s one of the great things about writing, as long you’re willing to put in the time and energy, pretty much anyone can do it. There is no wrong way to become a writer, but there are things you can do to make yourself a better writer.
Passion. You shouldn’t go into writing to get rich. Some people do get rich writing, but there are so many more who work it just like any other job. You need passion to be a writer. If you ask anyone who writes, they will likely all say that they dream of making it big, but even if they don’t, they will likely continue writing no matter what. To be a writer, it can’t just be a job, it must be a passion.
Write. You need to write all the time. Writing is like any sport or skill, the more you do it, the better you get at it. There is no magic wand with this one. You have to put in the hours. You need to practice, and then practice some more. For my part, I write at minimum one short story per month.
Read. You should read the types of books and stories you would like to write. Study what you read, not just the stories, but also how they are written. What are the themes and story arcs? What did you like about how the stories were told and what did you not like about them? Read all the time.
Editing. Learn how to edit what you write. Make your spelling and grammar immaculate. Grow your vocabulary. There are many great pieces of writing out there that will never see the light of day because of bad spelling and grammar. Make sure what you write has a good flow. A good trick to test a story’s flow is to read it out loud.
Humble. You need to be humble to be a writer. This is an industry of critiques and rejections. Over the past several years I’ve gotten around 25 short stories published, but I’ve also gotten 2,500 rejections. Find people you trust, people who are willing to give you honest feedback, and ask them to read what you write. Be prepared for them to point out the things they don’t like. This can be hard, given how much time and heart goes into each story, but it is a necessity. Use critiques for what they are, an opportunity to improve your writing.
Perseverance. At risk of sounding like the motivational posters they had in schools when I was a student (do they still have those?), you need to have perseverance. This should be obvious given the significant time it takes to write and the sheer number of rejections that writers face. I had one short story that was rejected by various magazines and literary reviews over 100 times, but I tweaked it to make it better, kept at it, and eventually got it published. This is a career for people who don’t quit when the going gets tough.
Observant. You need to be observant to be a writer. The world around you is full of stories, you just need to be paying attention to notice them. Most writers are people watchers. What do people do? How do they react to situations? How do they move and speak? What are their mannerisms? The same is true for animals, nature, machinery, and pretty much anything else you might write about. You need to take the whole world in.
Empathetic. You need to be empathetic to be a writer. You always need to be asking why. You need to be able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. This doesn’t mean agreeing or condoning what people do, it simply means trying to understand why they do the things they do. This can actually be one of the hardest things to do as a writer, but it is also a skill that will help you with everything in life.
There is of course more, there is always more, and as with most things, the devils in the details, but this is a good starting point. I guess the last thing I can leave you with is that when you feel ready, you should try and get your writing out there. The purpose of writing stories is for others to read them. Let families and friends read them, and send them out to literary magazines. There are some magazines that are specifically for teen writers. Some can be found via the link below (but there are many more that can be found searching the internet):
I hope this has been helpful. Good luck with your writing. Though you may never become rich and famous from it, I guarantee that it will open you up to the world and help you express ideas in ways you never thought possible, which in turn will help you succeed no matter what you choose to do with your life. Keep writing Addison.
Shawn W. Campbell
P.S. I’ve included a few books that were some of my favorites when I was your age. Most of the stuff I write is for high school age and above, but in the meantime, hopefully these books will help inspire you as much as they inspired me.
Today a literary review called The Punch Magazine, in India of all places, published my short story Digory, a delightful piece based off of a childhood story told to me by a friend. Digory was one of my earlier stories, written clear back in March of 2013, and to be honest I had come to the conclusion that it was going to be one that just eventually found its way into a self-published short story collection. A total of 30 literary reviews rejected it over the years until it finally got accepted.
Digory is one of those early stories that sometimes I think about going back and re-writing, though this is something I rarely do. I have a tendency to whip out a short story and then just move on without looking back. However, it's always been one of my favorites.
On the broader writing world this has been a whirlwind year. It's only just now June and I've already gotten seven short stories published, one shy of the number I got published in all of 2018. Be sure to explore some of the earlier stories, I've added two other new ones in just the past few weeks. On top of that, be on the look out for upcoming news on my second novel, Papaya.
As always, thank you everyone for all of your support.
Today my short story Landlady came out in BlazeVOX, an online literary review out of New York.
This is one of my quicker stories to get picked up. I first wrote it in February of 2018, and it was rejected by a total of only 12 other literary reviews before getting picked up by BlazeVOX. The world of submissions is one of patience, with it not being uncommon to have to wait six months or more just to find out that your story got rejected. However, this time I got lucky.
Often times with the stories I write I’m interested in the hidden world within. The weird thoughts, impulses, ideas, and doubts which cloud how we see the world and those we interact with in it. I hope you enjoy it.
The story can be found in the Spring 2019 issue of BlazeVOX.
Today a literary review out of India called The Punch Magazine accepted my story “Digory” for publication, my 25th short story to be published. This is actually not the first time a literary review from India has accepted one of my stories for publication. Back in 2015 a publication called Reading Hour published my story “The Care Package”. It’s actually not uncommon to send stories overseas. While most of mine have been published in the United States, I regularly send stories to literary reviews in the UK, Canada, Australia, and at times even India.
In this case, my friend Kristina Tate, a fellow author (check out her stuff here), sent me a message saying that Punch Magazine was open for submissions. I’m not sure if I found the one she was talking about, but I did manage to find The Punch Magazine, and it seems to have worked out okay. Within a day of submitting they got back to me saying they’d like to publish.
The quickness of the reply worried me somewhat. I’ve run into scams before. A long time ago I was told a piece of mine was accepted by a magazine, only to then have them demand a printing fee of $50. It should go without saying that I didn’t pay the $50. However, I’ve done a lot of back checking on this one, and it seems pretty legit. You never know, but I’m feeling pretty good about it right now.
Of course you’ll have to wait until its published to actually read it, but in the mean time, check out my latest published short story, An Apple A Day, via the below link.
As always thank you to everyone for their support over the years.
Today my short story An Apple A Day came out in Cirque Journal, a literary review out of Alaska.
An Apple A Day took a while to get published. Written clear back in August of 2014, it was rejected by 68 different literary reviews before finally being picked up by Cirque Journal. Salute to them for having great taste in literary fiction.
The story can be found in Cirque Journal Volume 10, Number 1.
Just when you need a little morning pick me up, the world delivers. Today, a literary review called BlazeVOX out of New York sent me an email saying they are going to publish my story "Landlady." This will be my 24th short story to be published.
Just to give you an idea of how wait times on these things go, I first submitted this story to BlazeVOX on October 18 of last year. That's a wait of six months to hear back. Most often, I wait that long just to get rejected, but this time, it paid off.
Of course, as always, you'll have to wait for it to be published to read it, but in the mean time, feel free to peruse the already published short stories.
Or maybe go check out Professor Errare:
As always, thank you to everyone for your support over the years.
The Free State Review published my story Spaghetti Sauce a few days ago in their tenth issue. This is a bit of a momentous occasion for me given my long pseudo relationship with the magazine.
For the most part, when you submit stories to be published, the vast number of rejections come in as standard boilerplate form letters. We regret to inform you….blah blah blah. However, from the very start, the fiction editor at the Free State Review was different. Since 2014, I have sent the Free State Review a total of 9 short stories. For every single one, I was sent back a detailed review with notes on how they felt the story could be improved. I can’t emphasize how rare it is to get that kind of feedback and how appreciative I am for getting it.
In the end, all of the feedback paid off. Last spring I finally got word that the Free State Review was going to publish one of my stories, and finally last month it appeared in print. Oh what a great feeling it is.
Spaghetti Sauce was a story that got picked up quite quickly once I put it out there. It was only rejected 3 times before being accepted for publication.
If you want to check it out, it’s on the website:
If you want to check out the other great stories published by the Free State Review, you can here:
Welp, in another writing first, I can now scratch author interview off of the list of things that I haven’t done yet. The Apeiron Review interviewed me concerning my story Baby which they published two years ago and republished earlier this year. Look below if you’d like to check it out.
Link to Baby
Link to Apeiron Review interview.
BABY: AN INTERVIEW WITH SHAWN CAMPBELL
Back in Issue 12 of Apeiron Review, we featured the story “Baby” by Shawn Campbell. It’s a heartbreaking piece about a family of obese individuals where a daughter pleads for permission to get gastric bypass surgery in order to help her control her weight. The mother, a frantic and overbearing woman who expresses her love by constantly feeding her children, gets hysterical every time the subject is brought up, and we see the tragedy of uncontrolled obesity play out in a display of literary fatalism.
I recently spoke with Shawn regarding “Baby.”
First off, tell me a little about yourself, beyond what’s included in your bio.
Well, I had a bit of an unusual childhood growing up on a cattle ranch, which led to a lot of facing some stark realities fairly early in life. After all, it wasn’t like when my dog died my parents could just say that it had run off to live on a nicer farm. Being twenty-three miles away from the nearest gas station certainly had its disadvantages, but one of the advantages it had was that I had plenty of time to write.
What did you write back then?
A large part of my late childhood and early adolescent years were spent filling spiral notebooks with fantasy stories and Star Wars fan fiction that was exactly as good as you might imagine. Whatever dreams I had to become a writer I abandoned in high school to pursue pressing hormonal urges, though I did fill a journal with some angsty poems which I’m glad to say I burned soon after graduating. I did a write a little in college, but most of my time was spent somehow both getting an education and acting like a complete moron at the same time.
When did you start writing seriously?
I didn’t start writing seriously until 2010, most of the early stuff being venting about a bad break up, which for some reason no literary review wanted to publish. Go figure.
No comment, but carry on.
Eventually, I shifted to writing about other things, which lo and behold, despite more rejections than I’d care to think about, started to lead to some publications in various literary reviews starting in 2013, Apeiron Review among them. Well, that’s me in a nutshell, or at least the writing end of me. You can’t give everything away in the first few paragraphs.
Now before I dive into my questions surrounding “Baby,” tell me about the inspiration for this story.
The basic plot of “Baby” is derived from a story told to me by a friend concerning some people they knew, which included the O. Henry finish. When it comes to basic plot ideas, sometimes you have to sit around and wait for inspiration, and other times life just dumps something right in your lap.
I was so taken by the dark twist at the end of my friend’s story, that when I got home that evening I went straight to writing, and ended up staying up pretty late to finish it. To fill in the details, I did my best to imagine what it would be like to be in such a situation, and also added in snippets from other stories I had heard from various people over the years, such as the fireman incident. Mixed all together, out came “Baby.”
And what about your larger literary inspirations?
I would have to say that my overall literary inspiration is to create a feeling of sympathy for every character. I think stories should be like life. In reality there’s no protagonists, antagonists, or bit players, there are just people, some of whom we get to examine closer than others.
I like a lot of uncertainty in stories, an ambiguity between the lines that creates a complex narrative. I want how a story is interpreted to say more about the reader than it does about me as the writer. I don’t think a good piece of writing has to leave us satisfied. Instead, the goal should be discussion and debate, even if just within our own internal monologues. When reading, I don’t think we should just be asking ourselves why we identify with certain characters. Rather, we should also be wondering why we don’t identify with the rest. I firmly believe that it is an author’s duty to write in ways to create the greatest opportunities for this to happen.
All right. Now the mother is perhaps the most interesting character in this story. Her twisted love feels at times like a hostage situation; she almost pushes obesity onto her children to keep them captive. She almost celebrates her daughter flunking out of college to return home.
I know plenty of people out there who have told me about their overbearing parents who are unreasonable, irrational, fear mongering, and just plain detrimental to their children. Do you feel this story is a commentary on those kind of people? What are your thoughts on the subject, what do you think and feel about what drives those kind of parents?
For my own mother’s sake, I should probably say right off the bat that the mother in the story is not based on her. My mother has always been very supportive. Okay, with that out of the way, back to the question.
I agree that the mother is one of the more interesting characters, but I don’t know if I agree that she basically pushes obesity on children to keep them captive. For instance, when writing the scene where Baby flunks out of college and her mother bakes a cake, I didn’t see the cake as a sign of celebration, but rather the mother’s attempt to show sympathy and make somebody she loves feel better the only way she knows how.
Ah, I see.
The mother was in a difficult position. She’s a single parent who has struggled financially to the point where at times she couldn’t even provide the most basic necessities. What kind of challenges might she have faced? How might such an experience affect someone?
When writing the mother, I pictured food in many ways to be how she showed her love. By providing all the food her children could eat, she was in affect making amends. As a single parent, the mother’s food choices were undoubtedly limited by her finances and by how much time she had available. Given these constraints, she might not have been able to provide the best quality or healthiest of food, but at the very least she could always make sure there was more than enough of what she could provide. All parents want to see their children be happy, in many ways the mother was just trying her best to meet this goal with the few options she had available.
I’m fascinated by the sympathy you have for her.
This is of course not to say that the mother didn’t have her problems. I think there’s a strong difference between understanding somebody and condoning their actions. Baby’s problem is obviously one that grew over time, and in many ways it feels like a chicken or the egg type of situation. Is Baby fat because too much of the wrong type of food was provided, or was too much of the wrong type of food provided because it was what Baby wanted?
Oh, I didn’t think of that! Interesting.
Now, undoubtedly, it is the responsibility of a parent to try and teach their children good eating habits. However, at what point do we have to expect that child to start to take agency?
One of my favorite sayings is that we are not defined by what happens to us, but rather by how we deal with what happens to us. I think the central theme of the story is the question of how do we balance the necessity of being sympathetic and understanding of another’s situation with our expectations regarding the importance of pursuing self-improvement in the face of adversity.
The mother, as you describe her, is most certainly unreasonable and irrational. Even if we can feel sympathy for her, it does not make her actions in any way okay. However, in the end she is just a roadblock. Everyone has experience with such people or things. In the end we can’t control the world around us, only how we choose to react to it.
I think overall what drives somebody like the mother in the story is a complex combination of love, selfishness, and their own unexamined issues. There’s a lot to unpack with such things. On the one hand, I think the mother is genuinely scared by the possibility of Baby dying while in surgery. This is not an uncommon thing with mothers. However, on the other hand, if the mother accepts the idea that things have gotten to the point where surgery is a necessity, then she will likely have to face and question her role in Baby getting to such a point. After all, what kind of a mother would let such a thing happen?
Follow-up. Do you think the mother was just a bit of a nutcase and didn’t see the harm she was causing, or do you think she might have been deliberately keeping Baby in her place to prevent her from leaving?
I think the mother was aware of her role in things, at least subconsciously, but the mind is an interesting thing when it comes to self-preservation.
Our brain wants to protect itself, and will go to amazing lengths with denials and warped perspectives in order to safeguard our views of ourselves. I think needing to see herself as a good parent is one of the major drivers in the mother’s life. It’s of course a natural maternal instinct, but it’s kicked into overdrive by the fact that the mother feels that she failed to meet such expectations when Baby was younger.
For the mother, providing more than enough food wasn’t just a matter of love, it was also proving to both herself and the world around her that she was in fact a good mother.
Ooh, another good point. I love the discussion here! So there’s a bit of proving herself?
However, over the years this behavior contributed to Baby’s obesity problem, leaving the mother in an increasing state of denial. It’s not that she wants to see herself as a good mother, it’s that at this point she needs to see herself as a good mother. Baby’s want to have surgery subconsciously threatens the house of cards upon which the mother has built her feeling of self-value. Is it any wonder that her brain’s response is to attack?
Let’s talk food. For a story about obesity, we don’t get many rich descriptions about food. I would guess that’s deliberate, as the characters didn’t get fat eating luxurious foods, but by consuming too much simpler foods. What are your thoughts behind that?
I don’t know how much of that can of worms I want to to open. I will say that my decision to not include rich descriptions of food had less to do with the quality of the food, and more to do with the assumption that people rarely get fat eating food they don’t like.
Personally, there are days that I’ve enjoyed eating a bag of Doritos more than anything else in the world. Taste in food is such a personal thing, but I think one big factor in what we crave is what food we have available given the constraints of time and budget. Food is such a strange thing in the developed world, where never before in history has it been so plentiful or so affordable. Things like famine, or even malnutrition, are almost entirely unheard of in the United States and countries like it.
However, at the same time obesity rates have never been higher, with the worst afflicted being those on the lower end of the economic scale. There are just so many questions and thoughts to unpack with this issue that I know I can’t do it the justice here that it deserves. However, in line with the theme of the story, I think a very good question is what is the correct balance between the responsibility of those who provide the food compared to the those who consume it?
A very good question. Now let me ask you a personal question.
Considering the subject matter, have you ever struggled with weight and eating? I sure have. In all honesty, this story hit home for me; I’m definitely fitter than I used to be, but at one time I did get a story published on the subject of overeating. Regardless, considering how great the obesity epidemic is in this country, as you mentioned, do you have any larger thoughts or commentary on these topics?
I’ve actually been quite lucky in the genetic lottery when it comes to food and weight, though like anyone, as I’ve gotten older changes in metabolism have forced changes in eating habits. I was also lucky in that I grew up in a household where staying active was encouraged. In this way I’m privileged when it comes to such things, something I always try to remember when thinking about them.
I think maintaining a healthy weight is like a lot of things in life, how much time and effort we put towards it shows how important to us it actually is. There is a big difference between dreaming about something and actually trying to achieve it. That being said, we all must recognize that the amount of effort that goes into achieving something is very different for each person. When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, there are so many things involved; genetics, background, and the availability of time, just to name a few.
The amount of effort I have to put in to maintain a healthy weight is very different than somebody who has a lot more knocks against them in that department. I think it all comes down again to finding that balance between recognizing that it’s a lot harder for some people to get the same results while still expecting people to take ownership of their own decisions.
I think everyone who reads this story roots for Baby’s initial efforts to research the surgery, verify insurance coverage, and argue with her mother about it for so long. A lot of people share similar struggles surrounding weight loss as Baby did: genetics, environment, learned habits, etc. Yet it seems fate was just against her here. It’s what makes the story tragic. What are your thoughts surrounding these almost hopeless struggles?
I think the most tragic thing for me in the story was the fact of how close Baby actually was to at least getting started on improving something she didn’t like about herself. In the end, there was nothing physically or economically stopping her from getting the surgery, it was all mental.
Sure, her mother was most definitely not supportive, but at the same time, Baby was a 31-year-old woman when she died. Beyond the emotional, there was little Baby’s mother could actually do to stop Baby from getting the surgery. There are often things that get in the way of us making ourselves better off, sometimes very real things, but how often is the only thing standing in our way just our own inability to convince ourselves to try?
A great point surrounding the struggle of weight loss. Now, I want to discuss the narrator, Baby’s little brother. Why tell the story through him? Granted, since Baby dies we need a way around that, but I found it interesting how he voices general helplessness regarding his mother’s ways.
Even in that moment when he wants to pat Baby on the shoulder, he feels it would be pointless. It’s all just so grim. Was the lens of hopelessness simply just something that made sense, or was it a deliberate choice? Tell me about that.
For me, the narrator represents all of us, the outsiders looking in. I think pretty much anybody who reads the story can agree that the brother would’ve been a better person if he had spoken up for Baby or at the very least shown her some support. However, I don’t think it’s fully fair to judge the brother too harshly for his doing nothing.
First, it is probably safe to assume that the brother has his own battles he has to fight when it comes to his mother. Second, the brother has spent his entire life in the household, watching Baby grow fatter and presumably his mother become more neurotic. How many years could any of us watch such a dynamic before we tuned it out?
Excellent point. We all eventually stop seeing things in our life.
The first break in these long-term trends is Baby bringing up the surgery after experiencing a traumatic event. However, despite bringing it up repeatedly, and even making plans for it, she does nothing, and the ending the brother has undoubtedly predicted for years comes to pass.
Who knows what might have helped Baby? Perhaps someone sticking up for her, someone offering some encouragement, or maybe even just somebody saying a kind word? However, can any of us truly say that we’ve never written off someone to what we believe is an inevitable end? How often do any of us want to wade into another person’s problems?
By the end of the story I tried to convey a sense of the brother’s regret for doing nothing to help Baby. Treating Baby’s fate as unavoidable is a way for him to forgive himself. I think if we’re being honest, that’s something we can all relate to.
All too true. Let’s end on a happy note. Tell us about any new projects you might have going on.
I’ve been quite busy since getting “Baby” published in the Apeiron Review a year and a half ago. At the time it was my tenth short story to be published, and since then I’ve published a further ten. I’ve managed to keep up on a rule of writing at least one short story a month since September of 2012, so it has been pretty exciting to see a lot of my work starting to get out there.
In addition, I recently put together a short story collection of my earliest stories, An Unsated Thirst, and finished my second novel, Papaya. The short story collection is available on my website and I’m currently shopping Papaya out to agents. Other than literary fiction, I’ve also been working on a snarky history blog called Professor Errare which has been up and going since early 2016.
To the Apeiron Review, I’d just like to take a moment to say thank you for publishing “Baby” and for taking the time to put it back out there again along with this interview, which for reasons that are entirely on me, for some reason took me longer to do than writing “Baby” itself. I look forward to at some point hopefully getting another story in your fine literary review.
As for you intrepid readers, thank you for reading, and if you would like to read more of my writing, please check out the website below.
Shawn Campbell was born in Eastern Oregon. He currently resides in Portland where he works as an economist and lives with a house plant named Morton. His first novel, The Uncanny Valley, and his first short story collection, An Unsated Thirst, are available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. You can learn more about Shawn and his work at https://www.shawnwcampbell.com/
In February I announced that my short story “Nickels and Dimes” had been accepted for publication in Gravel, a literary journal out of Arkansas. Well, the story just recently came out in print, which means you now have a chance to actually read it. You can check it on the website here:
Nickels and Dimes was written in December of 2017. At the time, I was trying to add more humorous stories to my collected writings, something that I’m still doing to this day, though I wanted it to still have a theme worth thinking about. I think overall it works pretty well.
Nickels and Dimes was rejected a total of 24 times before it was finally accepted for publication, though many of the rejections had some good things to say about it.
I hope you enjoy the read. As always, thank you everyone for your continued support. It’s only March, but already this is the third story to get published this year. It’s a hell of a good start.
Welp, in another first, a magazine called the Apeiron Review asked to reprint one of my stories. The Apeiron Review first published my story "Baby" in the spring of 2017. In the reprint, this is what they had to say about it:
"This one is heavy. Don’t read this story unless you want to have your heart ripped out. From issue #12 by Shawn Campbell."
If you want to check it out, you can see it on my website at:
or at their website at:
They also did an interview with me about the story which should be coming out in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
Well, I guess I can check off a new experience. Today I talked to a group of high school sophomores in Glenn's Ferry, Idaho via Skype about how to write short stories. There were of course the interested ones, the jokers, and the ones literally falling asleep, but overall I think it went as well as one can expect with such things.
Special thanks to Kris Vowell and his 10 AM English class for giving me the opportunity to ramble for half an hour. Good luck in your future writing endeavors.
Back in January I announced that my short story "One Night On The Max" had been accepted for publication in Crack The Spine. Well, the story this came out which means lucky you, I'm now able to share it with you. Check it out on the website.
One Night On The Max is a newer story, I wrote in July of 2018. You never know how long is going to take to get a story published. My record so far is 91 rejections before publication, though the average is more around 21. This story got accepted after only one.
I hope you enjoy it. Thank you to everyone for your continued support. I promise a new book will be out this year, along with another new Professor Errare book, so stayed tune.
Back in October, I announced that my twentieth short story, Gutterball, had been accepted for publication in the Santa Clara Review. Well, today it finally came out in print, which means that all of you finally get to read it up on the website. You can check it out here:
This was a hard story to write given the theme. To be honest, I wasn't sure at first how I felt when I found out it was to be published. It's not a fair story, and it's not an easy story, but I think in the end it's a real story. I think I'll leave it at that.