R.R. Campbell is an author, editor, and the founder of the Writerscast Network, a podcast collective for writers, by writers. His published novels include ACCOUNTING FOR IT ALL and IMMINENT DAWN, which debuted as the number one new release in LGBT science fiction on Amazon. Its sequel, MOURNING DOVE, is slated for release on April 29, 2019 with NineStar Press. His work has also been featured in Five:2: One Magazine’s #thesideshow, Erotic Review, and with National Journal Writing Month. R.R. lives in Stoughton, Wisconsin with his wife, Lacey, and their cats, Hashtag and Rhaegar.
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DW: Congratulations on a fascinating book. What led to it?
R. R. Campbell: Thank you!
I first envisioned writing Imminent Dawn as a short story retelling of Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon with a modern twist. The idea for the EMPATHY internet-access brain implant came from a combination of an article I read years ago in The Atlantic, which coincided with me getting my very first smart phone.
The article in question was about the Turing test, in which humans are asked to interact with an interface for a text conversation and determine whether the person on the other side of the conversation is actually a person at all. In other words, can a machine mimic human behavior or, in this case, writing patterns, so authentically that it is indistinguishable from that of humans?
Like I mentioned above, reading this article happened to line up with the first time I had a smartphone of my own. This was a game changer for me as well, as I found myself relying less and less on my memory and more and more on this device to help me get through my day.
I wondered, then, at what point we might see a merger of humans and machines due to our modern reliance on smart technologies, culminating in one’s ability to have access to the internet (and all things connected to it) directly through one’s mind.
With all of those elements in place, I set out to write what at first was a short story, simply titled “EMPATHY.” At the heart of the story, I wanted to have a main character who would feel uneasy in a sterile, super techy environment like that of the Human/Etech research compound, and so Chandra, our art-school dropout, was born.
As I wrote the short story, though, I realized how much more potential there was for this world and its characters. After finishing a first draft, I took some time away, and, over the course of a few years, steadily grew the story from a single perspective novella and into a two, then three, then four-perspective narrative.
Even once I had a draft for a full novel-length work featuring art-school dropout Chandra, our ruthless tech magnate Wyatt, our advancement-hungry administrative assistant Ariel, and our relentless investigative journalist Meredith, I still had years of work ahead of me. The story had ballooned a bit beyond its britches, so to speak, and I had to take great pains to slim it up so that it would be more accessible to agents, editors, and eventually readers.
Finally, after five years of drafting, revising, and pitching, I was offered a contract for it in early 2018 and, in the following months, had the second and third books in the series on the publisher’s schedule.
DW: You dive right into politics and characters in situations. Did you start at the beginning, as they say?
R.R.C.: In many ways, yes, but in so many others, no.
I did start writing from the beginning, but the opening chapter has undergone far too many iterations to count. In fact, the opening scene that was probably the first chapter of the book for the longest amount of time was a flash forward to a scene that doesn’t even appear in Imminent Dawn’s final cut.
Furthermore, the second chapter of Imminent Dawn as published—the one in which Wyatt, his lawyer, and one of his sons visit representatives of the North American Union government—didn’t even appear in the manuscript as first presented to my publisher. I had written it already but removed it prior to submitting to my publisher, and then, after getting the green light to write the sequels, added it back in with a few new tweaks and twists.
When I look back on Imminent Dawn now, there are actually a number of things I might still be trying to present differently if I hadn’t had hard deadlines to get it out into the world. What it all comes down to is that, at some point, we have to trust in our stories and our abilities as storytellers and just let it be.
DW: What drew you to science fiction?
Oddly enough, I don’t consider myself an especially prolific reader of sci-fi. I’ve always been drawn to stories with a more emotional core. I don’t mean to imply science fiction isn’t capable of extraordinary emotional depth, but rather that I have generally found myself drawn to literary fiction, contemporary fiction, and even fantasy over the course of my life more than I have been to sci-fi.
That said, science itself has always fascinated me. I love physics—even if I’m much more of a concept guy than a math guy—and I took a number of astronomy courses in college, which really renewed my vigor for scientific endeavors. Beyond that, I actually majored in linguistics, which is, at its core, the scientific side of language. My emphasis in the world of linguistics was on phonology and psycholinguistics, and I had a great deal of nerdy fun conducting experiments designed to probe the particulars of vowel-pronunciation phenomena in Finnish for my undergraduate honors thesis.
Technology, too, has changed so much over the course of my life, and I feel as though I’ve grown up alongside it (not to be confused with growing up with it). In other words, I’m just old enough to have memories of growing up without a computer in the home, without internet access existing at all before becoming a regular thing, without video game systems of some kind being staples of a kid’s entertainment diet.
I think having had the opportunity to watch how these technologies changed not only my life but the lives of those around me really served to keep me interested in these innovations and the science behind them, which, as mentioned earlier, ultimately led to my interest in writing Imminent Dawn and the EMPATHY series.
DW: Did you set out with a trilogy in mind?
R.R.C.: Once I had a book one, I suspected I’d be able to stumble my way into a trilogy. As I outlined book two, however, I realized I was going to need far more than three books to tell the full scope of the story, which is why we’re now looking at six to seven installments in the main series.
We’ve got Imminent Dawn out now, of course, and its sequel, Mourning Dove, will debut on April 29, 2019. After that we’ll get Event Horizon in late 2019, which will be followed by Rubicon in what will more than likely be early-to-mid 2020.
Event Horizon and Rubicon will be interesting in that their events will actually be concurrent. We’ll follow one set of perspective characters for Event Horizon and another for Rubicon in order to make the content of the series more digestible for readers and easier to track as the storylines grow seemingly more disparate before they all crash back into one another in the series’ final installment, Nightshade.
For those keeping track at home, yes, I’ve only named five books above. So where am I getting six or seven books from?
In the same way that I have to present the events of Event Horizon and Rubicon in unique installments, I strongly suspect I will have to do the same with the book tentatively titled Consolunarity. If I don’t have to split that book up, we’ll wind up with six books, but if I do, that’s how we’ll find our way to seven!
It’s odd, too, to be writing these books and at least knowing what the primary events are in every installment without having yet written a word of either Consolunarity or Nightshade. I find myself constantly trying to avoid spoiling the series for readers who reach out to me, or in guest posts and podcasts appearances, etc. It’s a tricky balance to strike between giving prospective readers enough information to get them interested without giving too much away, either!
DW: What's next?
R.R.C.: Next, of course, is Mourning Dove! I’m really excited about this installment, as it’s the reaction to the action of Imminent Dawn.
The novel’s tagline is “honor the past, embrace the present, seize the future.” These sentiments underlie the crux of the conflict for every perspective character to some extent, which allowed me to really focus on those as the centerpiece of the work thematically.
It’s my aim to demonstrate that the balance certain characters maintain with respect to the past, present, and future will affect the goals they have for themselves and the goals of those closest to them. When the goals in question are centered around matters like adapting to a new normal, seeking revenge or letting all be forgiven, and confronting shifts in one’s self-worth, the ramifications for how these matters are addressed are vast.
Should readers feel these themes coming across as they read, I hope they reflect more on their own lives. What do they find themselves clinging to overmuch with regards to their past? Are they spending so much time looking toward the future that they miss the present? Are they so wrapped up in only what’s going in front of them that they fail to appreciate how far they’ve come, how far they might go?
Admittedly, these are existential questions with answers that will vary from person to person. As is the case in real life, then so is the case in Mourning Dove for the ensemble of characters featured in it.
DW: Finally, what is your favorite cinematic moment?
R.R.C.: One shot that will always get me is from Inception of all movies. There’s the scene in which Cobb and Mal have grown old together, and there’s the shot of just their hands, which have aged considerably with all of the time they’ve spent in Limbo. The whole “You’re waiting on a train” speech really gets me. I think it says a lot about the stories we tell ourselves and what we choose to believe both about ourselves and those nearest to us.