Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Susan Kim Campbell

by Terrie Farley Moran Read the Story June 20, 2016

In “The Tale End” you use humor to broach difficulties in relationships, and you handle the humor deftly. How do you make humor work for you when writing about complicated topics?

I do really like to work with humor. I love to hear that my writing truly moved people, and I also love to know that it made them laugh. I use humor mostly in my fiction, to varying degrees depending on the piece.

I would describe the tone I aim for as “humor tinged with sadness.” But sometimes it is “sadness tinged with humor.” My nonfiction can strike a more serious tone.

I use humor to approach complicated subjects in an atypical way. I write about loss, for instance, but I would hope that the humor suggests what also can be gained from loss. Albeit, it could be bittersweet, the way life often is.

If “The Tale End” is any guide, your fiction is melodic, it reads like poetry. Does your writing style differ when you write nonfiction?

Thank you for the kind words. I would say the answer is yes and no. I love language, and I value economy of style. Most of my nonfiction is written in a similar vein to my fiction.

That said, I am writing essays with an eye to writing a memoir. I am considering taking a slightly different approach to the nonfiction as a book. Letting the arc of the story determine the style, as it were. We’ll see how it changes.

Can you tell us what we can expect to see from you in the future? What are you working on now?

Several things! I am working on a collection of short stories. I write about familial dilemmas, often difficult and often humorous. I write both short-ish stories and those of a conventional length. Lately I have been working on a long story that just may turn into a novella or a novel. I write essays, and I also have that memoir in mind.

Where else can we read stories you have written?

I have published work in the Alaska Quarterly Review and the Mississippi Review. You can find those on my web site.

When and why did you begin writing? And what drew you to flash fiction?

I began writing seriously a few years ago, although I remember writing from a very young age. My fourth grade teacher asked me to read my story “Life On Planet Sponge” in front of the class. When I was in school, I was shy and preferred the written word as a means of communication. I am not shy now, but I still love writing. I found it, and find it, very powerful.

I was drawn to flash from the get-go. I like flash in the way that I like writing longer stories in a compressed style. A compressed format somehow inspires me to write smarter. The best flash can say so much with so little.

You would think that the shorter length would make writing flash easier, but it turns out that this isn’t so!

What is your favorite thing about being a writer and what frustrates you?

My favorite thing is when people tell me they have read my work, or come up to me after a reading, and share that they were moved by my writing. I am always touched that what I wrote resonated with them in some way. It is particularly delightful when they are people whom I wouldn’t guess would feel something in common with me or what I write about.

It’s magical to see people from all different places and backgrounds connect with a piece of writing and find what matters to them in it. I do this myself as a reader of other writers’ work.

The most frustrating thing about being a writer, or at least this writer, is that it takes me longer than I would like to finish projects!

About the Author:

Susan Kim Campbell is a writer of fiction and nonfiction.  Her work is published or forthcoming in the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories anthology, and the Mississippi Review.  She has been awarded artist residencies to the Millay Colony for the Arts, Hedgebrook, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, the Anderson Center at Tower View, and several others.  Susan has won fellowships to the Norman Mailer Center, the Tomales Bay Writers Conference, and the Writers @ Work Conference.  She holds a B.A. from Brown University.

About the Interviewer:

Terrie Farley Moran is the best-selling author of the Read 'Em and Eat cozy mysteries series. Well Read, Then Dead, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel 2014, was followed by Caught Read-Handed in 2015. Read to Death will be released in July 2016. Terrie’s short mystery fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies.  

About the Artist:

A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia's writing and art have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, bohemianizm, Cheap Pop, Crack the Spine, Five:2:One, Gambling the Aisle, Hayden's Ferry, matchbook, Medium, McSweeney's, Necessary Fiction, North American Review, Per Contra, Points in Case, Popular Science, Razed, SmokeLong Quarterly, Up the Staircase, and others.