Darlene P. Campos is a beast of a writer. No, really. I follow her on Twitter , and if she’s not tweeting about her new weight lifting record at the gym, she’s promoting other writers, great presses, or talking about her own writing. The woman is driven. It’s no surprise, therefore, that she already has one book published, and is working on her second, mere months after her debut novel. She found time in her crazy schedule to bounce emails back and forth with me about writing, representation for characters of color, and eavesdropping.
SRJ: I want to start by asking about your writing process. I follow you on Twitter, and I have to say that I’m impressed with how prolifically you write and how dedicated you are to the craft. Can you tell me a little bit more about your process and how often you write?
DPC: I don’t have a set structure, to be honest. I aim to write at least 2 hours a day, Monday through Friday, but sometimes I only get in an hour or even just 30 minutes. The longest I’ve spent writing in a day is 10 hours. Right now, I’m working on a short YA story for a journal which personally asked me to write something for them, as well as revising my second novel forthcoming with Vital Narrative Press. I have two writing contests in mind I want to enter, so I’ll start working on those entries by next week. When I have writer’s block, I use online writing prompts or I eavesdrop on people’s conversations. I know this isn’t *encouraged* but this helps me A LOT when I’m stuck. Some of my stories have been inspired by a single line I heard someone say. Writing is a lot of work, but I love it so much, I feel like I’m incomplete if I don’t write. Basically, writing is my breakfast – I can’t have a good day if I skip it.
SRJ: I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who eavesdrops, because I’m notorious for putting overheard dialogue into stories. (The best was an interchange where a gentleman answered the question “how is the funeral business going?” with “Well, you know, people keep dying.”) What has been the best thing you overheard? I’m curious about this story that sprang from one line of dialogue.
DPC: Yes, eavesdropping is definitely not good manners, but when you need to write dialogue, it helps immensely. The best line I’ve overheard was “You only have eight dollars?” It’s not a fantastic, life-changing line or anything, but there’s so much behind a phrase like that. What happened to the rest of the money? Was it stolen? Was it lost? Was it gambled? Was it spent? If so, what was it spent on? This line inspired my short story titled “The Bullet.” I later made it into a chapter in my novel Behind Mount Rushmore.
SRJ: Yes! We are so excited about your book, which came out recently. Could you tell us a little bit more about it?
DPC: Yes! Behind Mount Rushmore came out on May 19th with Vital Narrative Press. It’s the happenings of Nimo Thunderclap and his family as they live their lives on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Originally, it started out as a single short story but the Thunderclap family came alive and told me to keep writing their story! I worked on Behind Mount Rushmore for six years. I started it in late 2009, took a break, and picked it back up in 2010. Several of the chapters were previously published as short stories and two of them won awards in 2013. Behind Mount Rushmore later turned into my thesis project for UTEP’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. Benjamin Alire Saenz (yes!) was one of my advisors. He really enjoyed the book and I felt so lucky to have him read it.
Even though I’m working a second book right now, my heart will always be with Behind Mount Rushmore. So much research and work went into it – it was A TON of work, but I’m so happy it’s out in the world now. Oh, and I should mention that a percentage of each purchase of the novel will be going to Thunder Valley CDC, an awesome nonprofit that builds housing, educates children and teens, and helps low income families and more on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. They are run for and by the reservation and Vital Narrative Press is happy to be a partner with them.
SRJ: I love that you are donating proceeds of your book to benefit the population on which you centered your novel. That’s wonderful—it’s an admirable act that connects your novel strongly with real life. Can you tell me more about that reservation in particular? What was your research like: did you visit the reservation, or mostly read about it and reach out digitally?
DPC: I first learned about Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in my college history class. My professor gave us a presentation about Pine Ridge and the presentation touched me so much, I set out to learn more about Pine Ridge and its people. In addition, my knowledge of indigenous people at the time was extremely limited, which is unfortunate. In school, we learn history, but we don’t learn much, if anything, about the indigenous people of North America, so we’re left with stereotypical ideas about these populations thanks to the media. My ancestral background is predominately indigenous South American and I’m still learning about my own ancestral history! Anyway, my research for Behind Mount Rushmore mostly consisted of reading stacks and stacks of books by indigenous authors, history professors, and primary source accounts of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation experiences. I also attended pow wows and just talked to the people there. Books are helpful – don’t get me wrong, but when you actually sit down and talk to someone about a topic you’re researching, you learn SO MUCH more. I wanted to make sure I didn’t stereotype or misrepresent the Lakota people and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, so this is why I spent years doing as much research as possible. As a minority, I can tell you stereotypes and misrepresentation hurts and this is why I took a lot of care when writing Behind Mount Rushmore. Writing outside of your culture can be difficult, but if you take the time to do the research carefully with the right sources, it is possible. In order to end stereotypes and end misrepresentation in literature, we need proper research!
SRJ: I admire that you took the time to properly research the culture you were writing about. That’s wonderful; more writers should follow your example. What other morals do you think it’s important for writers to follow?
DPC: I think it’s important to use writing for good and not for bad. Words are very powerful and you can say beautiful things and horrible things, depending on what you choose to write. If there is a cause a writer strongly believes in, why not use their writing to support it and spread awareness about it? Writers of the past changed the world with their literature and it’s important to keep this idea going.
SRJ: What’s next for you? Is there a sequel to Behind Mount Rushmore?
DPC: A lot is coming up next! I’m working on my second novel and additional standalone short stories for journals and contests. The second novel is currently titled (though the title may change later) “Summer Camp is Canceled” and it stars Lyndon Baines Juan Perez who appears in The Passed Note’s third issue! Without giving too many spoilers, it’s about Lyndon having a huge crush on his best friend since pre-K, Melody Martinez. As they enter sixth grade, Lyndon’s feelings for her deepen, but there’s a major problem – Fernando Quintero, the star basketball player and SEVENTH grader is Melody’s crush. This breaks Lyndon’s heart, but he decides to introduce Fernando to Melody so she can be happy. However, Melody is deaf and she has no idea Fernando makes fun of her for being deaf. Lyndon knows this, but he thinks Fernando will change as he gets to know Melody. The question is: does he? Or will Melody start to have her eyes on Lyndon?
I have no plans for a sequel to “Behind Mount Rushmore” unless it really takes off in the literary world and the readers want one. After spending years with it, I feel like it was time for something new. However, there may or may not be a crossover with the characters from BMR in “Summer Camp is Canceled.” I’ll leave the mystery out there until the book is out 🙂