An Interview With Jack Campbell, Jr.
We would like to welcome Jack Campbell, Jr., author of All Manner of Dark Things, a collection of nearly 30 horror and psychological thriller stories. The collection was independently published in March 2015 under the Bottle Cap Publishing imprint.
Let’s get right to the interview!
Q: How long has it taken you to write the stories included in All Manner of Dark Things?
Jack: Over a decade. My entire career, essentially. I’ve written other things in that time period, but All Manner of Dark Things includes stories from as early as my first fiction writing class. Most of those stories have changed a lot. Some have been re-written several times.
I’ve called the book my senior writing thesis. I’ve learned a lot of things over the last ten years that I hope to utilize as I transition to writing longer work. I feel like I have graduated to another level in my writing, and this book is my proclamation to the writing world that I am ready.
Q: You seem to have a love of all things H.P. Lovecraft. You even have a fake degree from Miskatonic University (a creation of Lovecraft’s). How much has Lovecraft influenced your work?
Jack: I am a lifetime member of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. On the surface, Lovecraft and I don’t have much in common. He was an aristocrat who hated the idea of work. He charged less than market rates for his work because he didn’t like the idea of working for a living. I approach writing like a mason approaches a pile of bricks. That damn wall is getting built, one way or another. He wrote with a vague, airy style. I am a hyperrealist. I put everything in as sharp a focus as possible.
But Lovecraft and I share the idea that humans are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I actually take it a step further than Lovecraft. My writing addresses the idea that a single human life or single town is insignificant to the rest of the world. I focus on small, localized incidents, but that doesn’t make them any lesser. How can I worry about Cthulhu devouring the world when I can barely handle my own life? My most recent work-in-progress, Very Dangerous People, combines my gritty, realistic style with Lovecraft’s mythos. Dick, my protagonist, isn’t out to save the world. He’s just out to save Salem. If the rest of the world is saved in the process, so be it.
One thing I did learn from Lovecraft is never to hold back.
One thing I did learn from Lovecraft is never to hold back. He had total confidence in his writing and didn’t care what people thought. If Lovecraft can write a giant bubble-monster with tentacles and call it Yog-Sothoth the Gatekeeper, nothing I can imagine is off limits.
Q: Are there other authors (horror or otherwise) who have influenced your writing?
Jack: Many. I read a lot, and I have a passion for the horror genre. I discovered Ray Bradbury’s book Zen in the Art of Writing right at the beginning of my career. After reading it, I rushed to the keyboard with the full knowledge that I would be doing this for the rest of my life.
Stephen King is probably the single biggest influence for my generation of horror writers, me included. I suggest his book On Writing to anyone who wants to be a genre writer. Richard Matheson had a major influence on me through his fiction and his writing for The Twilight Zone.
I read a lot of writing essays by Craig Clevenger and Chuck Palahniuk that directly influenced my basic writing mechanics. James Joyce’s Dubliners is a big influence, as is William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and the other Southern Gothic writers. They taught me to write about home.
My basic philosophy of horror comes from Jack Ketchum. No matter what happens to my characters, I will not look away. I will not neuter my writing. That is all Ketchum.
Q: You’ve stated that horror is a diverse genre, and your writing explores several aspects of dark fiction. What attracts you to this genre?
Jack: There aren’t any rules in horror. It’s first and foremost a transgressive genre. The good guy doesn’t necessarily win. The protagonist isn’t necessarily the good guy. Horror is the destabilization of established rules. You create a status quo, and then you turn it upside down and shake it. If drama ends with either a wedding or a funeral, horror comes in and says “We are having a wedding AT that funeral, and it’s going to be a kegger.”
I am free to do anything, and as long as it is dark, horror accepts it. Our genre contains everything from crime fiction to supernatural monsters. I like the lack of limitations. The horror community is also extremely supportive. Some of the most disturbing stuff is written by the best people.
Q: Has your own work ever given you nightmares?
Jack: On the contrary, it has killed them off altogether. I still get “nightmares” occasionally, but they don’t scare me. I keep notes on them, whenever possible. I liken it to scientists. A herpetologist doesn’t look at a rattlesnake with fear, but with curiosity. As a horror writer, my nightmares have taken on an academic quality. I am so interested in dissecting them and viewing their flayed carcasses beneath a microscope that they rarely scare me anymore.
Q: You first published a number of your stories through magazines and anthologies. Bottle Cap Publishing is a publishing cooperative. Why did you decide to independently publish All Manner of Dark Things under Bottle Cap rather than going the traditional route?
Jack: It was important for me to maintain a sense of control. As a first-time author with a short story collection, I wanted to make sure that the people I worked with cared as much about the book’s success as I did. I didn’t want to be some big publisher’s lowest priority. It goes back to the things I write. They are small tragedies, but they are the worst things my characters have ever experienced. My book is small, but it contains ten years of my life, and that means a lot to me. I wasn’t willing to hand it over to a publisher that I didn’t trust.
Q: All Manner of Dark Things is part of the Kindle Select program, meaning it is exclusive to Amazon’s Kindle format for 90 days. What about this program intrigued you?
Jack: I didn’t have a lot of my own books growing up, which sounds strange to people who know me. I am a horribly addicted bibliophile who will probably be found dead beneath an avalanche in my library. The Select program got my book into the Prime lending library and in to Kindle Unlimited. I can set up promotional days when I can give the book away for free. I would like to make money off of the book, but it is more important to me that anyone who wants to read it will have the chance at some point.
I would like to make money off of the book, but it is more important to me that anyone who wants to read it will have the chance at some point.
I even suggest in my introduction that people should lend the book out, donate it to libraries, or just leave it on friends’ end tables. I have a supply to sell by hand, but the first two are being donated to the libraries I grew up in, in order to thank them for all they did for me. I also liked the Kindle Matchbook program. Anyone who buys the print edition will have the option of buying the e-book for a steep discount. That way, they don’t have to choose between the comfort of print and the convenience of digital. They can have both.
Q: You’re quite prolific. You have written a large number of stories and managed to publish many of them. What’s your secret to publishing success?
Jack: My attitude is that I am going to write what I want to write. When it’s done, I try to find a market for it. The secret is that I am relentless. Rejection doesn’t faze me, at all. If I have a story rejected in the morning, it is usually out someplace else in the afternoon. I don’t have time to mope, so my self-doubt stays at a minimum. I’ve also earned a reputation of being easy to work with and being strict with deadlines.
Publishing is a team-oriented process. I am open-minded and accepting to any editorial suggestion that doesn’t damage the story. When I make edits, I always return them early. I credit that to my screenwriter training. In screenwriting, the story belongs to everyone involved in the project, not just the writer.
Q: You’re still writing short stories, but you’ve said your focus is on longer works now. What can we expect from you in the future?
Jack: I have a backlog of novels from when I was a graduate student. You can expect a lot of diversity in them. The next thing out will probably be Mama’s Little Boy. It’s a psychological horror novella about a young man who keeps his mother’s corpse in his basement, wrapped in formadehyde-soaked sheets. This month, I am working on the first draft of Heaven’s Edge. It’s the first book of a planned three book series with fast-paced dialogue from the hardboiled detective era. The setting is like Neuromancer meets Aismov’s Prelude to Foundation.
I also have Kill Creek Road, a literary rural noir thriller, ready for re-writes. I wrote the follow-up, Homeland, as a screenplay and will rewrite it into a novel. My Lovecraftian hitman thriller, Very Dangerous People, is also ready for re-writes. I have notes for the follow-up, Another Damned Day, as well as a screenplay, Angel of Death, which will be a part of that world.
On top of that, I am slated to start writing a supernatural horror novel titled The Dreamcatcher in November. In the meantime, I still do one story a month for The Confabulator Café and short stories for friends’ anthologies. I’ve reached a point where the problem isn’t finding something to write, but having time to finish all the things that I’ve already written. I have nine books in various stages of completion, and I am always coming up with something else.
Q: If you didn’t write horror, what would you write?
Jack: I would love to write science fiction. I’m a huge fan of Aismov, Clarke, Heinlein, etc. I grew up on the stuff. For some reason, I just haven’t written any of it. Heaven’s Edge will be my first science fiction series, but I’m leaning pretty heavy on my noir background for it. I have an intense jealousy for people that are able to write sci fi. I also grew up writing comic books for my friends. It continued through college. I would love to write a graphic novel or two, just to check that off of my bucket list. I would also like to write academic books. I have plans for a book on the history of Victorian Gothic writing, focusing on its contemporary social conflicts.
Q: You are entrusted with an ancient text called The Book of the Dead. Do you read it out loud just to see what happens?
Jack: Once, I was terrified to have an Ozzy Osbourne CD in my room for fear that the pentagram on the back might summon something unholy. That was a long time ago. At this point, I am the poor bastard that Lovecraft always wrote about. I am the scholar scratching notes on a pad while perusing through a book bound in something that looks suspiciously like human skin.
I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t read it. Insanity can’t be too bad, right?
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