The Three Rs: Rebecca Campbell

February 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

Rebecca Campbell is a Canadian writer and academic who’s publishing her first novel– The Paradise Engine—with NeWest Press this spring. She’s also hoping to defend her dissertation this year, in the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario.  Rebecca lives in Toronto, where she teaches essay writing to art and design students at OCADU.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

Third grade, when I began an epic story about a dryad looking for lost unicorns. It took me ages to finish, but it clocked in at more than twenty pages of longhand. I think I finished in fourth grade.

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?

Writing days—the good ones—are the same whether I’m working on my dissertation or on fiction. On good days I write for an hour or two at a time, on my couch, in coffee shops, and at the library. I walk a lot in between these short bursts, and listen to music, and wonder about what’s next.

I think it also varies a lot depending on where I am in the project, too.  Early days with a new idea, whether academic or fictional, are wonderful because everything is still possible. I haven’t made any mistakes yet. I don’t worry about what anyone else thinks, because I can’t imagine anyone else reading it.

Then there are research days. Those are pleasant, too, though in a different way. A lot of grind rewarded with a revelatory moment or two that can transform your story’s direction.

But the last days of any project involve facing the mistakes you made on those earlier, pleasanter days. When I was finishing the Paradise Engine—I mean the last year I spent on it before I submitted it to NeWest, and the time I spent working on it with Anne Nothoff, my editor there—it was about making the connections between characters, events, and images that weren’t clear in earlier drafts. It was also about seeing a lot of structural problems before it was too late to do anything about them. Those days involved less walking, and more lying on the couch trying to figure out what I was thinking two years earlier, when I made a particularly bad narrative decision.

Well, that’s why you write another book, isn’t it? I’m happy to say I’m back to stage one these days, walking and writing. The next project is still perfect.




Do you type or write?


What do you read while you’re writing?

I like research, and I tend to collect material that’s adjacent to my subject, so I’ll spend a lot of time reading texts from the era I’m writing about, and listening to its music. A lot of The Paradise Engine is told from the point of view of a vaudeville tenor of the ’20s and ’30s, so I read about early twentieth-century music: biographies of Enrico Caruso and John McCormack, as well as some histories of sound recording and popular opera.

Other than that I read what I usually read: movie reviews, academic articles about Canadian literature, forums where people talk about Mad Men, fashion blogs.

What have you read recently that you really loved?

Lately I read more like an academic than a novelist. For the last while I’ve been reading The Canadian Brothers, or the Prophecy Fulfilled: a Tale of the Late American War, by John Richardson (I say ‘for the last while’ because it’s very long, and very slow). It’s the sequel to Wacousta, a Tale of the Pontiac Conspiracy. It’s some of the most ridiculous Canadian gothic I’ve ever read, full of apparitions, and wicked-but-lovely American ladies, and stalwart-but-doomed Canadian lads. There’s also a curse, and lots of tragedy (the kind where you say, “how did they not see that coming?”)

Maybe “loved” is too strong a word for the way I feel about it, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

What are your all-time favourites?

Middlemarch by George Eliot is my absolute favourite. Ever. Of anything. In the world. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. For comfort reading I always go back to Carl Sandburg’s The American Songbag and Nancy Mitford‘s The Pursuit of Love.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Terrifying question! I guess it would be reading, since I get just about all my information that way, and I keep in touch with people through emails and messaging. But it would condemn me to a tragic half-life. I haven’t gone a day without writing since some time in the 90s.

What’s your third R, and why?

First I thought “Rhetoric.” Then I thought “Research.” But I’ll settle for “Re-writing” on account of how terrible my first drafts always are.

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