Sitting Down With R.R. Campbell: Author of the EMPATHY Series

I sit in my little home office, a cup of coffee to my right and for company there are my two cats and the drying rack while I type out my interview questions for R. R. Campbell. He is also an editor, and the founder of the Writescast Network, a podcast collective for writers, by writers. After releasing the first part of the EMPATHY series - "Imminent Dawn", he prepares to publish the continuation: Mourning Dove.

Mourning Dove by R.R. Campbell
In his own words, R.R. Campbell stated that the "excitement for Mourning Dove is very real. This book really expands on the action in its predecessor, Imminent Dawn, while also introducing us to a number of new characters and putting us in the heads of some old favorites."

While at times writing Imminent Dawn had been a bit of a struggle, "Mourning Dove came really naturally (with perhaps a few minor exceptions), and I think it’s an even more real-feeling book as a result."

"Imminent Dawn" dealt with a new technology that would change the world: a small nano-chip in your brain which enables you to access all the information on the internet. Unfortunately, the technology is not yet finished and still undergoes testing - barely getting any positive results. Furthermore, the government has taken an interst, their motives are anything but peaceful and they're not shy of using any means necessary to get this technology.

Imminent Dawn by R.R. Campbell

This leaves you wondering what you can expect from the second books:

Imminent Dawn had been told through four perspectives, but in "Mourning Dove" R.R. Campbell expands on that: "Not only do we go from four perspective characters to nine, but we get a much closer look at the emotional clockwork driving every single one of our characters."

Furthermore, the focus seems to shift slightly from a techno-thriller to dealing more with personal feelings, as Campbell explains that "Mourning Dove, by contrast, is much more about emotional resonance and how our characters—and we as people—confront extraordinarily adverse circumstances.

"At the heart of the story, we have characters who are forced to explore their relationships not only to one another, but to the past, present, and future as well. How does one adapt to a new normal? Do we seek revenge or let all be forgiven? How can we confront shifts in our self-worth due to factors seemingly beyond our control?

"Beyond that, how can they keep themselves from clinging overmuch to the past? Should they even worry about that at all? Are they spending so much time looking toward the future that they miss the present? Are they so caught up in what’s happening in the present that they forget to appreciate how far they’ve come and how far they might go?

"Admittedly, these are existential questions with answers that will vary from character to character and person to person, but I loved having the opportunity to toy with all of this in Mourning Dove."

This sounds like an excuse to persuade people to buy more tissues. Imminent Dawn ended on a depressing note and you were left with all the broken pieces and ashes after the disaster happened. Even though, Campbell admits that he "loves" - even in italics - to write in the bittersweet because for him ...
[... ] fiction becomes all the more engaging when what’s lost is equal or greater to that which is gained, particularly when what our characters gain doesn’t turn out to be quite as fulfilling as they hoped." 

While he explains that "Mourning Dove" is a tear-jerker as well - side-note: buy tissues and blame allergies - he also adds that some of them are going to be happy tears.

His favourite scene to write? ... well, it is hidden in the final third of the book and as it turns out it hadn't even been in the first draft!

"Once it made it into a later version, it quickly became one of those I could feel most vividly as the author.

"I don’t want to spoil too much for readers, but it’s a scene that takes place around Christmas for two of my favorite characters to write. It’s also a really big turning point in both of their arcs, and the repercussions for this scene are far-reaching, even if it doesn’t involve explosions or major, intense techno-thriller elements."

With such an active imagination: the creating for new technology, the three-dimensional characters, and the mixture of different genres, I began to wonder what is R.R. Campbell's biggest inspiration ...

By his own statement he is a fan of any book from any genre that keep him up late and hooked. His goal is to achieve the same with "Imminent Dawn" and the following books. "Based on readers’ and reviewers’ responses to date, I seem to have achieved that, too, which I remain excited about."

For him the mediums that balance mystery, suspense, and dramatic irony the best and have helped his writing are the "A Song of Ice and Fire" books. He calls "Mr. Robot" - an Amazon Original Series -, and "Black Mirror" "really informative for me in framing particular matters.

"All of these shows and books have at least one thing in common—they have their fans coming back for more with every chapter or episode. I hope to inspire the same feeling for readers with every scene, chapter, character, and book in this series!"

Mourning Dove by R.R. Campbell
Aside from the action and suspense of the EMPATHY series lies character building. While reading "Imminent Dawn" I could tell how well they had been built and that non of them are inherently evil. Instead their motives are equal but they can't be executed together in harmony. However, who stood out the most for me had been Chandra: she joins the EMPATHY programme as a test subject in order to save her wife - who is in a coma.

This marks her out as a gay character, and yet she is never portrayed as being "the gay one" instead the whole story could have been writing with a straight relationship as well. During the book she is never asked about her sexual origination or is treated differently. Personally, I enjoyed this kind of portray of Chandra's sexuality and I must admit that through this way of dealing with it, she has become of of my favourites in the story.

"Oh, Chandra. I love her too, even if how things tend to work out for her doesn’t suggest as much," R.R. Campbell agrees, while I search for some more tissues.

Especially because Campbell is not queer himself, I couldn't help but wonder why he chose to write the plot in such a way, when the whole story could have been written with a straight relationship as well?

"Chandra is one of two characters who has been part of this story from the start, though she had a different name in the original “EMPATHY” short story. She was also always just gay. The moment I thought, “my protagonist will be this art-school dropout,” something about the character as she came together in my mind made it feel right for her to have all of the relationships she has in her life, including that which she has with her wife."

And what were his reasons for writing a novel with a gay main character without making it into a big deal?

"I think I wanted to present her sexuality as not a big deal for two reasons. The first of these is that there’s simply no reason we can’t have characters from marginalized backgrounds really take the fore in works of fiction. Though this series incorporates many perspectives, I continue to see Chandra as its heart, and hope readers do, too. I’m also trying to present a society that is, at least where matters of sexuality are concerned, more accepting than our own in many ways, despite how dark of a world it might be overall.

"The second reason I wanted to make sure I didn’t overemphasize Chandra’s sexual orientation is because as someone who isn’t gay, to me it didn’t feel right to tackle that aspect of her identity by making sure it was pointed out or explored by third parties (or Chandra herself) at every turn. I do believe that we as writers have to spend a lot of time listening to and being respectful of what individuals of marginalized backgrounds have to say about their experiences if we’re to write them in the first place, and even then, I would never presume to write an identity story specifically. By this I mean I wouldn’t dare write the story of someone coming out or finding their true selves through the lens of their sexual orientation. Those stories are best told by people who have lived those experiences.

"One’s sexual orientation certainly can—and, for many people, does—play a role in how they view the world, but as this series emphasizes different aspects of character for every character, not just Chandra, I felt more comfortable presenting Chandra as I have."

Since we're already on a slightly informal level, I can't help but wonder if Campbell would use the EMPATHY nano-chip himself if it were available to the general public today. After all it would enable him to access every bit of information within a second.

However, he responses with a stern "I would definitely not use the EMPATHY chip, no." After a bit of consideration and I assume shifting in his seat, he elaborates further:

"Well… okay, I’ve said that about many things in my life, but when certain products or ideas reach a certain degree of saturation in the marketplace, I’ve had to change my mind to adapt to shifting social and technological landscapes.

"If I were to ever get something like EMPATHY installed, it would have to be years after it’s been on the market. I’m the same with smartphones, for example. I’ve never been the kind of person to line up at midnight to get a new release where it comes to technology, and the EMPATHY nanochip would be no different for me in that regard."

Nevertheless, he thinks that EMPATHY is a great invention but, at its current state, he would not sign up to be part of the first round of human trials ... Understandable.

Not even when it would help him overcome writer's block? But as it turns out Campbell is an outliner in this regard and not prone to the "I am not sure what to write next" type where you sit in a corner staring at the page and count how many blinks of the curious have passed ...

notepad and pencils
Instead he suffers from a different from: "I have written myself into a corner due to something unforeseen, and now I need to write my way out or back up and rewrite to avoid writing myself into this corner in the first place."

And how does he solve this issue? Usually by taking a break and distancing himself from the pages himself. In order to do so he "will take walks around the neighborhood, hop on the exercise bike, play video games, or generally do any mindless activity to avoid overthinking about the knot I’ve tied.

"When I do these activities, eventually my mind will drift back to my writing, but that churning happens in the background as opposed to at the forefront of my mind. As a result of this, I start to see opportunities where I once saw challenges or impossibilities. The next time I return to the page, then, I’m in a position to untangle the knot that seemed impossible to untie only hours or days earlier!

"The key here is to be comfortable taking breaks and giving oneself space. Sometimes the best writing-related solution is to not write for a time, and we need to be okay with that if we’re to avoid burnout and compose the best stories possible."

This is a method I can recommend, as it got me out of a blogging/writing block a couple of years back.

Since everyone has little "brain fart" moments in which they dream big and become the most famous person on this green Earth, what song would R.R. Campbell pick if his book series would be made into a film or TV-show?

"Ooh! I like this question," he states. As it turns out Campbell composed an original piece for the Mourning Dove trailer. "and I can see something like it being used to represent the series as a whole in a television adaptation. That said, I have to imagine a professional composer (and real instruments) could make this music shine that much more, but I’m really proud of what I’ve put together."

You can take a look at it here:


In my day job, I sign a lot of documents. During the years my signature had turned form barely being able to read my name to a fancy wave at the best of times. A signature is also a trademark for an author, and R.R. Campbell is a big fan of book signing. Since, "It’s so great to meet readers, and I love hearing how they’ve interpreted particular clues or which characters are their favorites (and least favorites)."

I can't help but wonder if fans would be able to decipher his signature? 

"My author signature is unique from my personal signature. I can actually share a copy of it below!"

"Is that legible?" Campbell wonders. I shrug my shoulders in agreement, you can make out the R.R. bit and it looks better than my personal one - which is a fancy K (no Kelloggs jokes please). "The last name is admittedly very squiggly, but I also think it looks fun!"

In the end, Campbell is going to let the readers decide. And you can because he has a book tour happening in the State of Wisconsin (USA) from April until the end of June. More info here: https://empathyseries.com/

"Thank you so much for interviewing me for your site!" Campbell finishes the interview.

I am just as grateful to feature him on floralcars and that he took the time to answer the questions in such detail. It was a delight and I wish him the best of luck for "Mourning Dove". I hope to feature a review of it in the following weeks. So keep your eyes out for it!

"Mourning Dove" is going to be released on the 29th of April, you can grab your copies here: 




11 comments :

  1. Very interesting! I haven't heard of this author before, but am curious now. Thank you!

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  2. Fabulous, detailed post. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Great post. Lots of information. A new author for me.

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  4. I like seeing the wizard behind the curtain

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  5. I've not heard of this author/series - thank you for sharing! Also love DJs comment about "the wizard behind the curtain" so true lol!

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    Replies
    1. It is, and sometimes it's such an insightful experiences!

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