Publication News: “Mountaintops; or, seven items to save a life” by Ellie Campbell

Q. Tell us a little bit about your background, and your evolution as a writer. If you’ve taken more than one workshop at the Storied Imaginarium, what is it that keeps bringing you back? 

I thought about writing fiction for a long time before I worked up the courage to take a workshop. I did one with Jilly Dreadful (which was great!) and that’s how I heard about the Storied Imaginarium. I’ve been taking workshops off and on with Carina ever since, and the structure, feedback, story prompts, and terrific classmates have kept me coming back over the years. I don’t think I would have kept writing without the encouragement I found there. 

I have a lot more experience with academic writing, in my day job as an academic law librarian. While I also enjoy that, I’ve really appreciated writing fiction and the ability it gives me to write about some of the same things I care about (SF, the South, fairy tales, social justice issues, etc etc) from a very different perspective. Though some things are harder – fiction is much better for exploring messy emotional experiences, and I’m not used to that, coming from dry academic writing! 

Q. Have you published any stories that have come out of the generative workshops at the Storied Imaginarium? If so, what inspired your pieces, and where can we read them?

I have a story, “Mountaintops, or seven items to save a life” coming out with Wizards in Space Literary Magazine this month (January 2021). I started this story in workshop last spring, and the feedback I got from Carina and the class definitely made it a much stronger work! You can find it here: https://www.wizardsinspacemag.com/shop/issue-06-preorder.

Though this piece is not “own voices” – I don’t identify exactly the same way the characters do – I am from the South/near the Appalachians. I was interested in exploring the struggles I’ve seen in the region, like poverty, homophobia, lack of health care, and the opioid epidemic, while at the same time not neglecting the strength and resourcefulness of the people who live there. 

I’ve only published one other story, “Rosalita’s Gonna Bust This City in Half,” in Shut Down Strangers and Hot Rod Angels: An Anthology Inspired by the Music of Bruce Springsteen. It didn’t start in a Storied Imaginarium workshop, but it definitely wouldn’t have been written without SI. 

Q. What advice do you have for writers working with fairy tales and myth as well as combining them with current science and social issues?

I really appreciate the ability that speculative fiction gives us to take things out of their original context and give them a slight twist. When I was a kid, I think this opened up other experiences for me that I wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise, and challenged me to think about the world in different ways. I don’t know that I have much in the way of advice, other than to keep reading widely, thinking about the world, and don’t accept easy stereotypes about people, places, or cultures. I think fiction is more interesting when we’re exploring the unexpected.  

Q. How did you come to writing and who are some of your influences?

I’ve been a fan of fantasy and science fiction most of my life, and looking back, I’ve always loved works that incorporate fairy tales and mythology. In that vein, I’m a particular fan of Terry Pratchett, Robin McKinley, Susan Cooper, and Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and other works in the Fairy Tale Series that Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow edited. More recently, I love Aliette de Bodard, N.K. Jemisin, Andy Duncan, Margaret Killjoy, Alix E. Harrow, T. Kingfisher, E. Lily Yu, and Iona Datt Sharma. This particular story is directly inspired by Sharma’s short story “Refugee, or, a nine-item representative of a better world.” You can see I even stole the title structure, as well as the list structure for the narrative. But then things went in a different direction. 

Q. Can you give us an insight into your writing process? Any habits when you sit down to write?

I would like to develop some habits! I’d really like to work on writing more consistently, but wow that has been difficult in the pandemic. I do like to take a lot of notes beforehand – just write down images that come to mind, memories called up, anything I want to explore. Sometimes the notes help and sometimes I chuck them out entirely! I’ve also found that things I’ve been thinking about in my daily life make their way into my fiction very quickly, whether it’s politics or climate change or aspects of Southern culture. 

Q. What is next in store for your readers?

I have a nonfiction piece on Southern science fiction and fantasy currently undergoing peer review, so I’m trying not to freak out about that process. My first time being peer reviewed! Hopefully that will be published online in the next few months. I’ve just published a “Guide to (Alternate) Histories of Autonomous Black Communities in the U.S.” with Ancillary Review of Books, which is a terrific new SF review site. I don’t have any fiction currently lined up, though I’ve got a couple pieces out on submission (so I expect to get some rejection letters soon, lol). Other than that, I’m going to keep submitting and keep writing! 

Author Bio: Ellie Campbell (she/her) lives in North Carolina with her cats and a lot of books. 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/campbellellie 

Twitter: @ecampbell535

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