Terrie Leigh Relf: What types and forms of writing do you do? What do you consider to be your niche?
Tyree Campbell: Well, let’s see. I write novels, novellas, short stories, and the occasional poem. Primarily I write science fiction, but I also write spooky horror and a few fantasies, one of which won an award. And I’ve written two pulp super-heroine series—one Indian, one French—and at present am working on a third. I’ve also written two steampunk stories and a paranormal romance. That’s pretty much what I edit and publish, too.
Terrie Leigh Relf: What is your area of subject matter expertise? How did you discover this niche? What intrigues you about it?
Tyree Campbell: Expertise I suppose includes education and life experience. I have a BA in History from the University of Maryland, acquired over 13 years of night courses; my minors were foreign language (Russian, Thai) and geology. I have one year of post-graduate work in Chinese studies. And I have almost 72 years of staying alive. I’ve lived in Germany for 6.5 years, Japan for 2 years, Viet Nam for a year (mostly ducking), Okinawa for half a year, South Korea for a year.
Niche also includes choice of writing medium—in my case, genre writing. I’ve loved science fiction ever since I was 12, when I fairly invaded the San Diego Public Library looking for dog stories in the children’s section—this would have been around 1956-7. After I had exhausted the shelves of dog stories, I wanted more, so I checked out the next stack of shelves and found a book by Robert A. Heinlein titled The Star Beast. Aha, I thought, another pet story. Which it was, but it hooked me totally into SF. I went through most of his work—Starman Jones was one of my favorites—and by that time I was in high school, and stopped going to the library.
After I ran away from home when I was 17, I got a job on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., at a wholesale book distributor warehouse, and discovered there were hundreds of SF books available. ‘Nuff said? So many worlds, and they all seemed real, as did the characters. That’s what was intriguing. And I thought, I could write these stories. But of course I could not, not then. I had no grasp of what a story was. But I read voraciously—still do.
In 1965, on my way to Viet Nam, we stopped at Hawaii, where I bought a book by Jack Vance titled The Killing Machine. His character, Kirth Gersen, heavily influenced me in the way I approached characterization. I guess the best way to describe Gersen is that he is a roguish assassin with compassion. Around this time I also discovered Modesty Blaise, a novel based on a comic strip character popular in the Far East, and Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series, which greatly influence my Nyx character in the Nyx series (Don’t judge Matt Helm by those insipid movies with Dean Martin; totally not the same as the books).
I’m intrigued by possibilities, and these are far wider in science fiction [and yes, fantasy, except that SF has far more potential to be real someday] than in mainstream literature. Human themes, of course, are universal, whether in mainstream or genre literature, and all proper literature is about people and themes.
Terrie Leigh Relf: How do you balance your creative and work time?
Tyree Campbell: It helps a lot to be retired. Still, there are other activities—home maintenance, gardening, a bit of exercise, cooking, and so forth. Plus the publishing and editing. I don’t balance it so much as I cobble some hours together. But no way could I do all the writing I do plus the editing and publishing if I had a day job.
The other problem with balance is that I don’t always feel like writing. It’s not a writer’s block so much as it is mood. I find that I do my best writing when I am down, because I can translate that mood, that feeling, into words; not that the character is feeling down, or the story is at a lull, but that I find it easier to get into the mind of the character, to become her or him, when there is a connection between the character’s mood and my mood. But sometimes you just have to slog through, even when you don’t feel like it.
Terrie Leigh Relf: What tips do you have for other writers and/or editors?
Tyree Campbell: Oh, Lordy, you would ask that. Okay, basically there are only two things you need to do to be a writer. One, write; two, read. I mean read everything! Find out how other writers approached the characterizations and themes and plots that you are considering. See how they use language, how they use dialogue. It’s so important to keep in mind that conversation is what you hear on elevators, while dialogue is a tool used by writers to advance some part of the story—therefore, avoid conversation in stories.
As for editors, at Alban Lake we insist that our editors be published writers. The feeling is that if you aren’t good enough to write, you’re not good enough to determine the worthiness of the writing of others. That isn’t necessarily true, of course, but that’s what we go with. I’ve found, personally, that editing helps my writing. Whenever I see a glitch in someone else’s story, I pause to wonder, crap, do I do that, too?
Don’t rush your writing. If you reach a stumbling block, pause, and write something else for a while. Also, you do not have to take a linear approach to the development of the story. By that I mean, you may be able to write scenes 1 and 3 and 6 but not 2 and 4 and 5. Fine! Write 1 and 3 and 6, and maybe you’ll figure out, by writing them, how you need to approach 2 and 4 and 5.
Be mean to your characters. Give them risky things to deal with. Show, by events, that they are in danger—that just because they are the main characters, they’ll survive. Remember Janet Leigh in Psycho? Yeah, like that. Writers who are good to their characters write boring stories.
Finally, a good single malt from the Highlands helps immensely . . .
Terrie Leigh Relf: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular? Where do your ideas come from? What inspires and intrigues you?
Tyree Campbell: This opens up a can of worms. How to answer? I have found that my best writing occurs when I actually become the character from whose point of view I am writing. That sounds simple, even facile, but it’s true. I recommend it for others.
In many ways, the characters I write about are the me I would like to be, sometimes fancy myself to be. Well, the good ones, anyway, although every once in a while Darth Vader makes a cameo appearance. Sometimes I’ll base a bad character on something I did and regret, and embellish that of course for the purposes of the story. In that sense, sometimes writing is not just creative, but cathartic. It also means that the final disposition of a bad character is a form of punishing oneself. Which is one of the reasons some writers are bonkers.
Ideas come from anywhere. Seriously, anywhere. You look, you see/hear/taste/feel/smell something, and it keys some notion within you that you nurture until it’s a full-blown story idea. Here’s an example that can be extended to the process of ideas. Driving along I-55 as I do three times a year [to Memphis for conventions], I’ve noticed exit signs such as Hayes Cooter, Marie Lepanto, Tyronza Joiner. What great character names! And you’ll find them in my novel, The Breathless Stars. On US 30, in central Iowa, you’ll find the exits Colo Collins and Tama Toledo. These are the two main characters in a YA novel I’m writing.
Okay, so applying that principle to ideas in general, yeah, they can come from anywhere, and often unexpectedly. But you have to be open to reception. That’s key.
Terrie Leigh Relf: Where have you been published? Upcoming publications? Awards and other accolades?
Tyree Campbell: I started out with ProMart, thanks to Jim Baker’s acceptance of my very first story, “Thanksgiving Dinner,” which was published on 1 January 2000—a great way to break in the new millennium. Exactly a year later, ProMart published “Heirloom Seed,” and I pretty much dominated the ProMart scene in 2001. From that point I began gaining acceptances from other magazines, anthologies, and publishers, including The A-List, Dark Wisdom, Chiaroscuro, Not One Of Us, Khimairal Ink, Tales of the Talisman, Mystic Signals, SDO Ghost, Electric Spec, EOTU, Justus Roux’s Erotic Tales, Rogue Worlds, Project M, SDO Fantasy, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Neverworlds, From the Asylum, Penumbric, Dreamsof Steam 3, Literary Hatchet, Latchkey Tales, Pro Se Press, and Nomadic Delirium. All of these, btw, are paying markets. I made up my mind at the beginning of this journey that if my work wasn’t good enough to be paid for, it wasn’t good enough to be published.
Upcoming publications include a story in Dreams of Steam 5, from Dark Oak Press; Bombay Sapphire 3, from “Pro Se Press.” Oddly enough, I’m in a publishing lull at the moment, but I should have a bucket of things to submit later this year, see below.
Terrie Leigh Relf: What are you working on now?
Tyree Campbell: You had to ask.
In no particular order:
Final proof reading on Nyx: Pangaea, the fourth installment of my female assassin series.
Finish the last 60% or so of The Moth and the Flame, aka Yoelin 2, about a woman who performs Rescues of children, people, sometimes things. Yoelin 1, The Butterfly and the Sea Dragon, is already available from Nomadic Delirium
Skysail, a short story that I’ve been futzing with for about four years, and only just a week or so ago did I see what, exactly, I need to do with it.
Finish the last 15% or so of an urban fantasy novel, Aoife’s Kiss, which deals with a terrifying way of balancing the budget, among other things. I’ve been working on this one, on and off, since 2001. Sometimes it takes a while to see where a story should go.
Pyra and the Tektites #2, a short YA novel. In #1, she’s running away from home in the asteroid belt (her grades aren’t very good in school) and boards a shuttle that gets hijacked by pirates, whereupon she is sold as a scullery maid . . .well, you get the idea. Adventures begin! I have about half of Pyra #2 done.
The Adventures of Colo Collins & Tama Toledo in Space and Time—a YA novel. High school seniors out on their first date get invited aboard a spaceship and offered the job of intervening in various events, in order to make adjustments in the development of the universe, from stopping an asteroid from striking a planet to helping Martha find her car keys. Part #1 is about 2/3 done.
Voyeuse, a superheroine novella—she’s a bit kinky, and gets off on preventing crimes. About 40% done, but already Pro Se Press has expressed a serious interest in receiving the submission when it’s ready.
Sarrow, a tale of the drying Earth. Set in about two million A.D., when the oceans have all but dried up, it’s basically a tale of the rebirth of civilization. Maybe this time they’ll get it right. Sarrow is a solitary woman whose goal is to climb up from the dried ocean beds back to the continents. Karthan is the man who accompanies her on her path. If the lungfish don’t get them, and they don’t get captured and sold as slaves, they might make it. About 80% done, I think. It will be both a print novella and a graphic novel—I already have someone working on the panels.
Plus about three more novels and a dozen more short stories in various stages of development. Sigh. It never ends . . .
Terrie Leigh Relf: What challenges have you faced as a writer and/or with a particular project? How did you meet them? What did you learn from these challenges and how did it make you a better writer and/or editor?
Tyree Campbell: The basic challenge is being ready, developmentally, emotionally, conceptually, and mentally, to write what I’ve set out to write. In various stories, at various points, I’ll come across a situation that I am not sure how to describe—to write—and so I’ll back off. Eventually I will know enough, or be in the right mood, to write the situation. Sometimes there are things I need to learn before I can finish.
Education/information comes mostly from just doing. If I can address a character skillfully enough and credibly enough, it carries over into other, more problematic characters. Patience is important. If you’re a writer, don’t rush. Patience itself will make you a better writer. Meditation can help with that.
Terrie Leigh Relf: Are you currently a writing mentor? If so, what are your thoughts on mentoring?
Tyree Campbell: Mentoring works best if the mentoree is serious about being a writer. That means making time to write—by force, if necessary. Once those parameters are set, the process can begin.
Currently I’m mentoring a Polish woman who is also studying law. Her English is good but not great. Her biggest problem is that sometimes her words are just a bit off. Frex, in one of her stories she has the phrase wherein something “starts for about an hour.” “For” should be “in.” But in Polish, the same preposition can be translated as “for” or “in.” We’re going to co-write a story at some point.
I’m also mentoring a new editor for FrostFire Worlds; just started that.
Terrie Leigh Relf: Who are the favorite characters that you’ve created? How did they come into being, and what do you love – or loathe – about them?
Tyree Campbell: I like my series characters best, I suppose. Bombay Sapphire (superheroine, published by Pro Se Press]; Yoelin Thibbony (mentioned earlier;) Nyx, of course; Tanner, from The Dice of God, who’s a runaway sex slave, but she’s not a series yet; Eugene Onegin Andrzejewski, the male lead in the unfinished “Aoife’s Kiss,” who’s probably a lot more like me than I care to admit—but he’s not a series, either.
Bombay Sapphire came about because Pro Se Press asked me to develop a pulp superhero. Tommy Hancock runs the place, and we’re friends, so I said yes. Then I realized I didn’t know squat about writing pulp superheroes. Well, about three months or so later I came across a news article about a class-action lawsuit in India to change girls’ names. Apparently it’s believed in rural areas in central India, and elsewhere, that if you give your daughter a negative name, your next child will be a son. Seriously. The result is that a lot of girls have names that mean Useless, Unwanted, Refuse, Garbage, and so on. Again, seriously. Well…Nakushi means Unwanted. Thus was born the alter ego of the superhero character.
Nakushi is a woman of the streets in 1961 in Dharavi, the great slum of Bombay, doing whatever she has to do so that she and her kid sister can live. You get the picture? Okay, one stormy night in frustration she runs out into the rain, screaming at all the gods to help her—and she is struck by lightning from Agni, the god of storms. Ta-dah!
Bombay Sapphire 3 has just been accepted by Pro Se Press for publication this spring. You can find 1 and 2 in our store at www.albanlake.com. Just browse.
Yoelin Thibbony’s name came first, back in 1969. I was on a bus to Chicago, and noticed a boxcar in the rail yard with the name Yoelin Cargo, or some such thing. A few miles later I saw the Thybony Lock Company. I put the two names together, loving the name, but not really being a writer at the time. I saved it until I had a story—which was about two years ago. I changed the spelling to Thibbony because I felt the vowel should be a short ‘i’ sound, not a long one…not that it matters. Yoelin endured a very abusive childhood, and there was no one to rescue her; now she performs Rescues, of children and people and sometimes things.
Nyx is a female assassin who, over the course of the series, recovers her lost humanity and femininity. She’ll still be lethal as hell, but compassionate toward others. She came about in an odd and yet instructive way, to wit:
My first novel was to be The Dog at the Foot of the Bed, but in reading over the manuscript I realized, to my dismay, that the entirety of chapter three could be accomplished by about two lines of dialogue in chapter four. Which made chapter three, and a character named Nyx, totally superfluous. Well, the writing in C3 was good, and besides, you never throw away stuff, so I tucked the chapter into a separate folder and made the necessary adjustments.
Eventually I ran into another snag in Dog, so I set it aside, and decided to expand upon the outcast chapter three. It practically wrote itself, and became my first novel, published by ProMart back in 2002. ProMart also accepted Dog, which I finished that year, but the publisher passed away before it could be released.
I like Nyx because she is no-nonsense. In confrontations on television, the two adversaries yell at each other and call each other names in preparation for mayhem. Nyx would simply pull the trigger and move on.
I like Yoelin because of her compassion. Although she has killed during a Rescue, she cannot be hired specifically to kill someone. Her goal is to save whatever her contract calls for.
I like Nakushi/Bombay Sapphire because of her dismal beginnings. I’ve been there. Not like her, but bad enough. She rises above her station; I’d like to think she encourages others to do the same; I hope I’ve done the same.
Oddly, I have mixed feelings about Andrzejewski. I like his compassion, his identification with the downtrodden. At the same time, he does too much “woe is me,” partly because he lost an arm in combat in the Middle East, and partly because he seems to be in a self-imposed exile when the story begins. He’s an easy write for me, but that doesn’t mean I totally like him.
Terrie Leigh Relf: What poetic forms do you write in? What is it that you love about these forms?
Tyree Campbell: Funny; I’ve had about three dozen poems published, but I don’t consider myself poetic. Poetry is simply a tool, a format, for conveying a concept. I even have a third-place Rhysling Award. Some of my poetry is almost mainstream.
On 1 January 2017, however, my one and probably only poetry collection will be released. We’ll probably make the announcement right here in the Kinder Moose.
Terrie Leigh Relf: Are you currently, or have you ever, been in a writing group? Your thoughts?
Tyree Campbell: Yes, for about six years or so. I liked it, but it helped to keep in mind that the folks doing the critiquing were for the most part unpublished themselves, some of them with good reason. It took me a couple months to get into the habit of making only the adjustments, based on the critiques, that fit what I wanted to do with the story and with my writing. I have a button that says, “You’re not my target audience.” That was particularly true of the members of this group—which numbered about eight regulars and, over the years, about 15-20 more. I also figured out which of them could write well—I even published a couple of them—and I found that I tended to listen to their critiques more than those of others. I also found that by and large this group wanted me to “write down” a little to them. They hated to have to look up words. I found myself, over the years, starting to do just that, in writing stories for critique, not writing them for my own pleasure and under the directions in which I wanted to go. That, plus moving, is one of the reasons why I left the group. I still stay in touch, but I won’t go back, nor do I plan to join another group. If I want to have something read for feedback, I have a small team of three or so of what I call Delta Readers—people who “get” my work and who comment based on that.
I think one of the reasons I stayed with this group for so long was that I thought I could help, and do some good. In that, I think I succeeded to varying degrees, depending on the individual. But at some point the law of diminishing returns takes over. Here’s one example. She’ll remain nameless, but it got so with her spelling and grammar that she finally asked us not to correct that, just to deal with the plot and characterization, etc. My thought is that vocabulary and spelling and grammar are the proper tools of a writer, and if you do not know how to use those tools, you’re not going to get published. Put it another way—would you hire a plumber whose wrenches don’t work?
Terrie Leigh Relf: I know our readers would love to hear about your networking, marketing, and promotional experiences – including tips.
Tyree Campbell: I’m not very good at it. We’re online. I do interact at conventions, and I attend 12-15 a year. I probably could [and will] do better. One thing that will help is to serve on panels at conventions, and promote our material. We’ll also have a Twitter account shortly, and we do have a Facebook account, although advertising on it doesn’t really produce results. Keep on keepin’ on.
Terrie Leigh Relf: Thank you so much for creating time for this interview! Be sure to read his bio below – and all of his books!
Tyree Campbell was born in Oakland in 1944. Parochial school for eight years. Parents were rabid Catholics, and Dad never ever spared the rod. High school in San Diego, after which I ran away from home. Worked at a wholesale book warehouse for a year, flunked out of college, joined the Army, served 20 years, mostly as a Russian translator and a little as military police, retired, divorced, worked in a California welfare department for 18 months, moved to Iowa with Beth, taught at a local college, delivered prescriptions to elderly and shut-ins for 15 years, got published on 1 January 2000, been writing ever since, starting running a publishing company in 2002, and here we are. Gasp, pant, wheeze.