A guest! A guest!! The lovely and Talented Corey Campbell!!

Today's guest is Corey Campbell! Corey is a fabulous short story writer, and an unbelievably kind and patient Program Representative with the UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

As a student of the program, I often had the good fortune of chatting with Corey, not just about my courses, but also about writing and the writing life. It was during one of these chats that I cornered Corey into being my guest...and she agreed!! Lucky me.

Check out her terrific work here...



1.) What drew you to writing short stories? What is it about the form that you like, and what is it that you find the most challenging?

In college I ended up getting a degree in filmmaking, though 2/3 of the way through that program I realized that a) I was too shy to direct people on a film set and b) what interested me most was the story itself, not the rendering of it for the screen. After college I began taking my writing more seriously, taking workshops at the Writer’s Voice in NYC and then the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

First starting out, I assumed I’d become a novelist, but short story workshops changed my mind. I loved entering a world for 15-20 pages, seeing some moment of emotional importance in a character’s life and moving on. I liked the freedom of it—that you could try anything in a short story, and if it didn’t work, no harm done, it’s easy enough to start another one. I think novel-writing would kill me, trying to orchestrate and sustain a plot over hundreds of pages. I don’t have the patience for it, or maybe I just haven’t found the right material yet. The challenge and joy of short stories is that they are such a distilled form, you really have to focus on the essential.

2.) Who are your influences? Are they other writers or do you get inspired by other forms of storytelling? For example, I myself am often inspired by the work of musicians, painters and modern dance. What about you?

Many, many writers are influences, or maybe I should say I like many, many writers—Flannery O’Connor, Susan Minot, Lorrie Moore, Junot Diaz, Antonya Nelson, Mary Gaitskill, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver. You can basically name all the greats. There’s so much to learn from reading their works—How do they approach a story? How do they distill it down to that essential element yet include enough texture and detail to give a sense of the characters’ entire lives?

And definitely I’m influenced by movies—David Lynch, Woody Allen, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”… I know I’m forgetting dozens of great ones. You get the sense of a great creative imagination behind these guys. Also, watching movies reminds you to write visually, to see the world you’re creating and write it in pictures. That’s been helpful—if I can’t visualize the location enough to move the characters through it, I’ve generally made a wrong turn.

3.) What kind of stories are you drawn to, and what is the single most important thing that you want your reader to come away with after having read one of your pieces?

I’m most drawn to stories that feel authentic and emotionally moving. You can think of short stories as a conduit for emotion. Maybe that sounds corny. (And that umbrella should include humor but not so much melodrama.)

I hope to think that readers see a strong sense of empathy and honesty in my stories. I generally don’t like when writers judge their characters or look down upon them rather than giving them room to be whoever (whomever?) they are. Even the sickest criminal has a human side and is worthy of narrative reflection.

4.) What does your writing ritual look like? And where do you like to write?
My writing ritual is in flux. I’m in a grad program, so lately I’ve been calibrating my writing ritual with the deadlines (which come up every three weeks). Typically, that means a few hours during the week after work and huge chunks of time on the weekends, especially right before a deadline. I definitely need to change this and would prefer to spend a couple of hours every day instead. (When I give myself 7 hours on a Sunday, for example, I tend to get the same amount of work done that I would in just two hours on a random Tuesday.) Lately I’ve been writing in my new-ish apartment in Koreatown. It’s on the 5th floor, so there’s a great view of the old 1920s buildings in the neighborhood. And my coffeemaker is nearby—very important for these never-ending sessions on deadline night.

5.) What are you working on now?
I just finished a 45-page essay about short story endings for my grad program. Hopefully, I’m finished working on it for good (advisors are reviewing it now, fingers crossed). Now I’m working on a short story I started a few years ago but couldn’t make work. I don’t want to go into the plot really, but there’s some suburban unrest and a possible element of magical realism, which I haven’t really used before. I hope I’m better equipped now to shape the story in the way it needs to be.

6.) What advice would you give to other writers?
Be kind to yourself. (In other words, beating yourself up over lack of discipline can be way counterproductive.) But at the same time, respect your writing enough to give it time and attention. It is and should be a priority. And when it’s really working, can be fun.

7.) Anything else that you would like to add...
Thanks for the interview!


Caroline Leavitt said...

I am huge fan of Corey Campbell. lovely and talented don't describe the work she does--and I was so thrilled to see this here. Great interview on a great person and writer!

Gina Sorell said...

It's true adjectives fall short. Corey is fabulous and when people read her work, they will see that her stories are too!!

Unknown said...

Enjoyed this interview and "The Plants." In my opinion, Ms. Campbell's voice is reminiscent of another proficient short story writer: Truman Capote.

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