Your death comes on slowly, while elsewhere, a nameless man fakes his own. Encased in glass, a young man navigates a world meant for those beyond. A mudslide washes away a once romantic weekend, and a childhood swim drowns all illusion of innocence. These are but some of the tales in And Ampersand: Short Stories on Endings and Beginnings by Ryan R. Campbell. In this collection of flash fiction, short stories, and freeform prose, International Book Awards finalist R.R. Campbell returns as Ryan R. Campbell to juxtapose genesis and resolution, to bask in the beauty of rebirth in the most unexpected of places and at the most unexpected of times.
Hello Ryan. Happy to have you here. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an International Book Awards finalist in the midst of—or, perhaps more correctly on the far side of—an identity crisis. Despite the success I’ve achieved in the realm of science fiction, I’ve been on the grueling path to realizing I’m much more at home in the realm of contemporary fiction. Outside the world of writing, I’m a cat dad of two, a dungeon crawler in my weekly D&D sessions, and the co-owner of Kill Your Darlings Candle Company, which makes candles for the wordsmiths of the world. It’s strange to be juggling a candle business, a career as an author, and this recently reclaimed gaming hobby, but that’s my life nowadays, and I can’t complain.
That's fantastic. I'm the mother of 3 cats too. I know you're writing a new book. What is it about? What did you edit out of it?
And Ampersand is a book about endings, beginnings, and the ties between them. So often in life and in literature, there’s a focus on one or the other, which I think misses the bigger picture: you can’t have one without the other, at least not all the time. Originally, the book was going to include a number of poems alongside its works of short fiction, but I elected to cut them—no matter how much I might have loved them—when I realized they weren’t coalescing strongly enough around the collection’s central theme. Will they appear in a future book? I’d like to think so.
The real writers struggle! Well, what was your hardest scene to write?
The most challenging story to write had to be either “Glassed” or “A Final Gift,” so let’s call it a tie. “Glassed” was challenging because it required me to, for the first time, confront the very nature of how I navigate the world, and to do so in what would eventually become a public space. The struggle behind “A Final Gift,” I suspect, will be more apparent to those who read it. As this story centers on the painful process of going through a deceased loved one’s belongings, I imagine many readers will find it relatable.
As a writer, I do a lot of research for character development purposes or specific historical events, and so on. What about you? What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Much of And Ampersand is written from experience, which made for a unique set of challenges. Though it didn’t require research in the same way a novel might have, it did require me to evaluate the extent to which I clung to the truth in relaying each narrative; as they say, life can be stranger than fiction, and it’s often, if we’re honest, more boring. In this way, much of the research I did for And Ampersand revolved around seeing to what extent these stories resonated with early readers, and in what ways. Some of these stories have been circulating reader groups in various forms for years, while others were read by fewer than a dozen people and revised only once or twice before making it into this collection.
A very different method in comparison with mine. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Far too many to count. Ha! I actually have quite a few manuscripts that are in near-publishable shape, and I’m looking forward to revisiting them this year to give them that final push.
We have that in common. Can you tell us what’s the best way to market your books?
I wish there were one weird trick to getting one’s book in readers’ hands, but it really depends on the audience your trying to reach. If there is one truism to book marketing, it’s that you need to connect with readers. I don’t mean just getting your book in front of them and telling them to buy it, I mean forming long-term relationships with them that might not lead to book sales immediately. Can you approach them as a reader first? Can you recommend other books they’ll enjoy to build up trust over time? If they trust you, they’ll read you. If they read you and like you, they’ll recommend you. If they recommend you, you have done something truly wonderful.
Some famous authors believe that luck is a big part of their marketing process. I wonder if you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
This is one of my all-time favorite things to do. And Ampersand features a couple of these easter eggs, but I won’t betray their presence here. Readers who will get it will get it.
Me too. Aspiring writers who need some advice would like to know what are common traps for aspiring writers?
Abandoning an in-progress manuscript. Stop! Don’t! That shiny new idea you have can wait. Let that idea percolate in the background. Starting a novel is easy. Finishing one is hard. Revising one is even harder. The trap is that finishing or revising a novel only gets easier if you practice doing both. Start a collection of shiny new ideas somewhere when you find one take hold, and tell it to wait its turn. Finish what you’ve started first.
You made me feel guilty. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I think it’s important to write one’s truth. If your truth as an author reads as original, fantastic. If it’s in line with reader expectations, congratulations. Either way, you’ll have succeeded in honoring what’s important to who you are as a person and as an author.
Sometimes, some piece of writing stuck with us as writers and it makes us incorporate that specific piece into other books. I wonder if you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
For my fiction as Ryan R. Campbell, I certainly plan to leave a trail of breadcrumbs in every book that connects one to the other. That’s not to say they’ll be part of the same series or that you’ll have to have read one book to understand the others, but I do enjoy creating a “lived in” universe in which my books’ characters can co-exist—even if that universe isn’t all that different from our own.
Abandoning an in-progress manuscript. Stop! Don’t! That shiny new idea you have can wait. Let that idea percolate in the background. Starting a novel is easy. Finishing one is hard.
And the final question on publishing, how did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
The release of my first book fundamentally changed my relationship to the page, and not always for the better. It’s hard to know your books are publishable (whatever that means) and that they will, at some point, be read. For an unpublished author, that may feel strange to read, but I do find my mind, at times, circling back to reader feedback as I write in ways that, though sometimes beneficial, can also be harmful to the writing process.
As time has gone on, however, I’ve been able to reclaim that space for myself and minimize those intrusive thoughts. Again, so long as I know I’m writing my truth, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong.
18. What authors did you dislike at first but grew into? I struggled at first with Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. It quickly became one of my all-time favorite novels. Reading his work was, for me, like being on a rollercoaster—if you fight it, you find yourself dizzied and nauseous. If you accept that the loop-dee-loops and winding corkscrews are part of the ride, however, you find yourself exhilarated.
That's great. Thank you so much, Ryan. Wish you the best on your writer's journey.
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