Author Interview: Darlene P. Campos

Author Interviews Books Interviews

Hello, little foxes! Today I’d like to introduce you to Darlene Campos, Ecuadorian-American author of upcoming Summer Camp is Cancelled through Vital Narrative Press.

In Summer Camp is Cancelled, Lyndon thinks that his friend Melody Martinez is the most beautiful girl in the whole world. The fact that she is deaf and uses her white board to communicate doesn’t bother him. In fact, it just makes her more beautiful in his eyes. When an opportunity to spend the summer at Camp Sam Houston with Melody goes awry, he is forced to make the best of a bad situation by spending his summer vacation at home.

However, the situation goes from bad to worse with the arrival of his annoying Uncle Manny, who Lyndon must care for daily after throwing himself down the stairs. Still determined to find some semblance of summer camp at home, Lyndon spends most days at his family restaurant, grabs pizza with his friends Javier and Ted, and draws the ire of his devout Catholic grandmother.

— Vital Narrative Press

Vital Narrative Press

About the Author:

Darlene P. Campos earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. She is from Guayaquil, Ecuador, but currently lives in Houston, TX with an adorable pet rabbit named Jake. Her website is www.darlenepcampos.com. Her next novel, Summer Camp is Cancelled, is available for preorder now.

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Most authors start out writing novels, but you began as a short story writer. You have at least 40 stories published, and won a few awards along the way. Considering that you were very successful, why did you transition from short stories to novels?

I always wanted to be a novelist, but in college, I learned that having short story credits under my belt would stand out in a future query letter.

My first short story was published in a now defunct magazine called “The Four Cornered Universe” when I was 18 years old. After that story, I just kept on writing more to build my writing resume. By the time I finished my undergrad Creative Writing Program, I had about 20 short stories published plus two awards. During my MFA, I wrote 20 more stories to continue the exposure.

I can’t say having these short story publications definitely helped me with the query process since I still received over 120 rejection letters, but having them didn’t hurt either. If anything, having publications in literary magazines/journals shows an author is serious about writing, and I think this is the kind of author agents and publishing houses seek out. Luckily, we also live in a time that allows writers to submit work via email instead of paying for postage like in the past. Being a writer now has a much easier submission process for the most part.

Is your approach to writing novels different from your approach to short stories?

Not entirely – they’re about the same. I come up with an interesting first line and then just go from there. I have planned out stories by making a plot outline, but I usually ended up writing something completely different, so I don’t really outline anymore. However, for novels, I make outlines of characters rather than the plot. When I know what the characters are like, their personalities bring the story together.

Typically, writers hope and dream of finding an agent. Then, once they land an agent – they search for a publishing house that will act as a home for their work. But you skipped that route. Why did you sign directly with a small press versus going the traditional route?

Great question! There are pros and cons of having an agent versus signing on with a small press. With an agent, an author has a chance to sign on with major presses like Scholastic or Penguin since major presses tend to only look at manuscripts submitted by an agent. Agents also usually have other connections in the publishing industry like TV or film rights. However, this all depends on whether or not the agent can sell the manuscript. If an agent doesn’t sell, no money is made, and agents need to live! When this happens, an agent can drop an author. It doesn’t generally happen a lot, but it’s definitely a risk.

With a small publishing house, the pros are closer communication, meaning an author has a greater say in the process (cover art, edits, etc.). Royalties are also much larger since the author isn’t sharing them with too many in-between people. Small houses generally look at manuscripts submitted directly by the author, so there isn’t a need for an agent in these cases. However, the cons are lesser opportunities such as film/TV rights, book tours, etc. because small houses don’t have big bucks like major houses.

My house, Vital Narrative Press, is a small one, but my royalties are pretty good, I have a total say in my cover art (both covers were designed by my brother!), and the communication is one on one whenever I have a concern. I may try to land an agent in the future when my contract with Vital Narrative ends. For now, Vital Narrative is the perfect fit.

You mentioned on Twitter that earlier this year you were diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I have a niece that was diagnosed with depression as well. Sometimes she laments that she wants to be “normal.” In future books, do you think you might include a character or characters like that, so children with mental illnesses know they aren’t alone?

Of course! I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety on and off ever since high school, but earlier this year, both were extremely heavy on me. Anxiety makes me fearful and doubtful of almost everything when it spikes, so it makes having a productive life very difficult. Anxiety attacks are both mentally and physically exhausting since they are so intense.

Just a few months ago, I could barely drive because I kept thinking “is my seatbelt working? Are my brakes okay? What if I crash? What if it rains and I swerve, and I can’t control my car?” Since I couldn’t live a productive life, I developed depression in which I wouldn’t laugh at my favorite comedians, I didn’t enjoy my favorite foods, and I didn’t write anything for several weeks because I simply wasn’t interested. Your niece wanting to feel normal describes depression so well – depression is vicious and completely overtakes your former personality.

Earlier this week, I finished reading I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez. The protagonist, Julia, has depression and anxiety and it was so refreshing to see a main character with these traits. I connected to the book a lot, and I aim to do the same with future characters. Mental illnesses shouldn’t be taboo. They’re a real and important subject to address and literature is a great way to do this.

What other projects are you working on that you can tell us about?

I’m working on my third novel right now. It’s also a YA, and it deals with a young girl who’s kidnapped, and she devises a plan to get back home. I’ve only written about 25 pages, but it’s coming along! Vital Narrative is waiting for it, too.