Bonnie Jo Campbell (c) Bradley Pines_300dpiWhat’s all the fuss?

Whoopee & Zoinks & Zowie & Zonkeys for everyone! What a joyful thing to have a new book coming out in 2015. Every book born is a miracle, but mine has a fabulous cover by which you can judge it, and inside are about two hundred and fifty pages of stories that I worked really hard on with much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. And WW Norton is sending me to far-flung cities to make the case that folks should read it. For your information a zonkey is a zebra-donkey hybrid.

MothersTellYourDaughtersUsed to be a doctor would wrap a woman up tight to hold body and soul together, but when I fell last week trying to get to the kitchen to pour myself a drink, they just untangled my tubes, picked me up like I was a child, and put me back in this awful bed. Told me I’d had a stroke. Now I’m lying here with a broken rib that aches.


When they first put Beth in the water, she sprouted metallic gold fins from her shoulders. Then her ankles and wrists erupted with the same, slippery matter, the fins’ edges serrating sharp but wave-like. They were very much what most wanted to compare them to, but few came out and said: Mercurial wings, lifted from the deity himself, built for speed, fluidity, transcendence, immortality and —this time around—displaced into the deep blue water. Beth, the two-year-old girl whose first dip into the cool, gentle pool had at that moment become a scientific phenomenon and impending national treasure, gazed at the new appendages in surprise and wonder. Her parents froze in shock, staring agape at their fish-daughter, until Beth’s large eyes crinkled into a smile, her tiny mouth giggled out a seal-like yelp, and she dove under the surface.

woo - love love - author photoIt’s been six years since your first novel, Everything Asian. What took you so long?

The short answer is that I’m just a very slow writer. The long answer: As I neared the end of this novel, say the last thirty or so pages, I thought I’d race to the finish line, which is what happened with my first novel. But with this second one, those final pages took longer to write than any other part. And it wasn’t because it was difficult… it was purely psychological. I think I was terrified of a number of things, like what I would do after it was done. Or the reality of how awful the book was (and it was pretty bad – first drafts, you know). But even if all I squeezed out was a sentence or two on a good day, I kept on wringing. So here we are, half a dozen years later.

woo - love love - book jacketThe best part about being a temp was what Judy Lee had decided to do an hour ago: leave for lunch and never come back. She counted the number of the daily Far Side calendar sheets pinned on the gray wall of her cubicle, twenty-five in all. She rose from her chair and plucked away her favorite, the one where the fat boy with glasses was pushing with all his might to open the door. The joke was that the kid trying to enter the building, Midvale School for the Gifted, wasn’t smart enough to follow the sign on the door that read pull. At some point in her life, she’d owned a shirt with the same cartoon, the silk screen in full color unlike this grayscale image. She’d bought it because she felt sorry for him. She’d done stupid things like that all her life, and she wasn’t even a genius, not even close.

I heard a story about you: In your first MFA workshop, the professor threw a chapter of your novel-in-progress on the table and said, “This is neo-Faulknerian crap, it’s not why we let you in here, and we’re not going to discuss it.” How did that make you feel?

That’s not quite how it went down, but it’s close enough and better for your telling of it. Anyway, how did it make me feel? It made me feel like a writer of neo-Faulknerian crap, because the man was as sharp a reader as he was interpersonally clumsy. I understood that I needed to find a new way—and my own way—of writing about the South before I could write about it.


So you’re a southern writer?

Well, that’s complicated. My first novel was set during the Siege of Leningrad.

The Lower Quarter cover art hi res (2)Elizam smiled at the congratulatory email on his screen. It had been his first real job for the Lost Art Register, the first investigative work that had gone beyond a basic due-diligence search to ensure that some painting about to go on auction had not been reported stolen. This had been his first recovery job, and it had been successful. It had been Eli who had recognized the hand of amateurs, who had flown to Kansas City and suspected at first glance two security guards taking a cigarette break outside the art-storage facility from which the small Henry Moores had gone missing. It had been Eli who had followed them for three days, who had got the cops—that old enemy—to the right place at the right time: the moment the thieves met up with their loser local fence, statues stupidly in hand.


First, I must ask: how does it feel being interviewed by such a remarkably talented and good looking journalist?

Get over yourself. You aren’t all that.


Alright. Benchere In Wonderland then, this marks your fifth novel.



You’ve had quite an impressive career.

I’ve had a career. I would not say it’s been impressive.

Cover_BenchereInWonderland“Take it then,” the partners told him. “We obviously overestimated your grasp of the situation. You clearly don’t get it. Do you honestly think you can sell your work without our firm behind you? Do you think anyone else will – what’s the word you used? – bite? Go ahead then.”

Robert Kloss[Silence]

Do you remember when you rented Born on the Fourth of July to watch at your 10th birthday party?

Revelator CoverAnd often there were those who peddled wares not for the flesh but for the eternal soul as prescribed by the Almighty, for in the progress of this new nation all faiths seemed possible, and all manifestations of the Creator seemed true. Now there were those who gathered in the forests and bathed in the rivers, and so many playing children were unwittingly greeted by the pale, liberated flesh of the godly— oh, to be a lad before those wilting and corpulence, to feel the breath quicken as a sagged woman coos from the brush, or a flaccid man pleads for a roll in the needles and leaves. Oh, to believe with deepest faith that in another’s flesh one finds the Almighty’s light! And there were those who would not murder nor eat the flesh of animals, supping upon only what they found growing from the land. And there were those who uncovered the flesh of men buried, and these were seen wandering with burlap sacks and crowbars and sniffing at the soil. And there were those who lived twelve or more within the same house and worked no jobs, choosing rather to till the soil and raise livestock, to feast upon the bounty of their labor. And here the men slept in rooms across from the women, but no sex frolicked with the other, for to fornicate was considered the foulest sin. And now pregnant women were excommunicated and sent to live amongst the sinners of the land while the implanter of the seed was but reprimanded, for “a man’s lusts are the deepest of all nature’s transgressions” and it was well know that “the female encourages and lures the male.” And some called for an end to priests, for one man should not stand as gatekeeper to another man’s salvation. 

Daren Dean pic 2What have you been reading in terms of new fiction? Can you make any recommendations?

If you like Cormac McCarthy, read Secessia by Kent Wascom; If you like grit lit, read A Tree Born Crooked by Steph Post; if you want a writer with her finger on the pulse of contemporary life, then read Refund by Karen Bender; If you long for prose reminiscent of incredibly bright moments that Raymond Carver was so adept at creating, then read Dispensations by Randolph Thomas; for New Orleans grit, read Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa; If you want a writer with the linguistic brilliance of Barry Hannah, try The Book of Duels by Michael Garriga; if you want to read a contemporary and brilliant southern writer then look no further than the current summer issues of both Tin House and Zoetrope for two short stories by Jennifer Davis. Finally, I’m especially looking forward to a Civil War novel called Fallen Land by Taylor Brown. That ought to keep y’all busy.

DeancoverNext day I went over to Aunt Oleta’s and she gave me the biggest dressing down you ever heard even though I hand-picked a bunch of wildflowers for her. She was wound tighter than Dick’s hatband that day, but she was glad to see me and made me eat a leftover salmon patty with a side of macaroni and cheese after she fixed my face up with a big Ace bandage. A tree branch or something had scratched my face worse than a wildcat. I thought it made me look tough, but she insisted on making me look like a dork with a big bandage on my face. She said I looked plumb wild, and she made me strip down naked right there in the kitchen, which I didn’t want to do because of the tattoo Rusty had given me. I tried to turn away from her so she wouldn’t see and she near about had a conniption fit! She licked her fingers and tried to rub it off but it wouldn’t come off. She gave me a mean look and let go of my arm and just pointed to the bathroom in silence. I took a bath with Clarence peeking in and pestering me not to use all his Mr. Bubble the whole time. Aunt Oleta threatened to burn my clothes, but instead, she hauled them off to the laundry room.

 Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 10.13.55 AMWhat is your occupation? What were your previous positions?

Professor of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. I am currently the Associate Chair of the Department of Creative Writing. Before becoming a teacher, I worked a number of low-paying odd jobs—at a plastics factory, at a headshop, as a waiter and prep cook at Shoney’s, as an art instructor at a juvenile detention center, and as a flower delivery person. I prefer being a teacher.


What is your new book about?

Marvel and a Wonder follows the relationship between a grandfather and grandson who live in rural Indiana on a failing chicken farm. One day they receive a mysterious gift—a quarter horse—that upends their lives. Soon the animal is stolen and they must search the bleak underworld of the Midwest to retrieve it and some sense of hope and redemption.

MarvelandaWonder1-509x800The boy was still asleep at seven. The grandfather went downstairs, buttered some toast, ate, then puttered off into the field to check on the corn. It was just past his knees now, the leaves a keen, rich green. He squatted there among the rows, poking his fingers deep into the soil, cupping some of it in his palm, taking in the pleasant corruptness of the dirt.

He came inside, started a pot of coffee, and saw the feed store calendar with a red X marking the date. It was the boy’s birthday. The grandfather stared at the X solemnly, went upstairs, got dressed, opened the boy’s bedroom door and saw him snoring facedown on the pillow, then decided to let him sleep.