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.

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.

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.


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.

Robert Kloss[Silence]

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

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.

 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.

NinaRevoyrMost of your earlier books take place in urban environments and deal with race and culture. What’s with the mountain adventure novel?

I love mountains and wilderness as much as I love the city, and I’m a big fan of adventure and survival stories. When people’s lives are at stake, you get to see who they really are. Besides, questions of race and class don’t disappear when you go from urban settings to rural ones. In some ways, they may even be more heightened.

SusanBarker_Credit Derek Anson (small)So, a self-interview… this is odd isn’t it?



Well, let’s start at the beginning. What’s your novel about?

A taxi driver in Beijing, who finds a letter from an anonymous sender in his cab, informing him that he’s had several past lives.


Past lives? Like, reincarnation?

Yes, the letter writer claims that the taxi driver, Wang Jun, has lived before as:

1. A eunuch during the Tang dynasty.

2. A slave during the invasion of Genghis Khan

3. A concubine of the Emperor Jiajing during the Ming dynasty

4. A fisherboy during the Opium War

5. A student during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution

The letter writer then sends the taxi driver more letters – stories about these turbulent past lives.

n.jackson_headshotJust before your debut novel was published, someone told you that Bhanu Khapil refers to creative projects are “a complete gesture.” Is yours?

Ah, the kindness of strangers and friends. I’ve been lucky enough to receive both recently. Hearing about Khapil’s notion of “a complete gesture” was helpful when I was struggling to let the book go and let readers and the world do with it as they will. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, but I do have high standards for myself and my writing. Which means that I’m still making corrections to the book as I’m reading it aloud from it these days, even though it’s already printed and between hard covers. Some friends, the Shutes, sent me a copy of Ann Patchett’s essay about being on book tour in The Story of a Happy Marriage, and that’s been a balm too. So has sleep and spending time with friends and family who keep me grounded.

chanse-headshot2015Why are you afraid?

Um. What?


You seem nervous. Are you worried about something? Unsettled maybe?

I usually am—worried about something—so yeah. I guess probably.


Just relax. You have nothing to worry about.


Brelinki Author Photo_Credit Tim Brelinski and Max BoydWhat’s with all the hoopla concerning your upbringing?

Well, it’s a little difficult for me to understand the interest in my background since evangelical Christianity is as familiar to me as my own name, but evidently that’s not the case for everyone. I grew up in rural Idaho during the 1970s, which made my childhood and adolescence conservative to the extreme, and since my parents were fundamentalists, my sisters and I were even stranger than most Idahoans (sorry Idaho!). We weren’t allowed to bowl or play cards or pool, or go to circuses or dances, we couldn’t swim with members of the opposite sex (no “mixed bathing” in church lingo) or watch movies or frequent restaurants that served alcohol. We couldn’t wear makeup or earrings or nail polish or skirts that didn’t reach our knees. In other words, the things we weren’t allowed to do was a vastly longer list than the things we were.

ChristineSneedauthorphoto1Why did you think you had the right to write about Paris?

I don’t think that fiction writers need to ask permission. I used to think that we did, but eventually, probably sometime in my mid-20s, I realized permission wasn’t going to arrive at my doorstep from anyone, and so the best tack to take was to go ahead and write whatever I wanted to. If I was going to write about people I knew, however, perhaps then I’d need to ask permission, but I wasn’t planning to. Nonfiction writers do need to worry more about permission than novelists do.

Shemkovitz author_picThis being your debut novel, what have you found to be the most eye-opening part, if any, of publishing a book?

I guess I’m amazed by how much goes into making a book and all the many moving parts involved. I could never be a publisher. I had so little to do with what went on beyond writing this book, and that was enough work for me. But maybe the most eye-opening part was revising a book that I knew was going to be published. The whole process felt much more important then.


There was finally something at stake. Was that it?

Kind of. But it’s also that editors aren’t just making suggestions as readers but are helping to shape something they too are invested in. And I think that reframed the way I considered more drastic changes with my novel. For instance, my editors, Brian Mihok and David McNamara, both agreed that I should cut the last chapter, which is sort of an ambiguous two-page moment that could fall anywhere in the story. David and Brian were kind in suggesting that I could completely rework the chapter to make it fit somehow, and that the decision was entirely mine. But after much contemplation (and weeping), I ended up cutting the chapter because I agreed with their reasoning. And now I think it’s a much stronger ending. But, man, was that a tough decision.

joshuamohrIs it true that you went to see “Jurassic World” by yourself this morning?




Let’s not talk about that.