At a young age, Shelly Campbell wanted to be an air show pilot or a pirate, possibly a dragon and definitely a writer and artist. She’s piloted a Cessna 172 through spins and stalls, and sailed up the east coast on a tall ship barque—mostly without projectile vomiting. In the end, Shelly found writing stories and drawing dragons to be so much easier on the stomach.
Shelly's tales are speculative fiction, tending toward literary with dollops of oddity. She enjoys the challenge of exploring new techniques and subject matter, and strives to embed inspiring stories in her writing and art.
1.- Why did you choose self-publishing?
The Marked Son series was originally published by a small independent publisher. Unfortunately, they closed their doors, but reverted all rights, including cover art back to me. I’d already dealt with a separate publisher closing their doors in the same year, and was lucky enough to find another home for that book (GULF). I ended up self-publishing UNDER THE LESSER MOON and its sequel VOICE OF THE BANISHED because I wanted some sense of permeance for them. It takes the wind out of my sails when a book is published, but doesn’t get time to find a readership before a publisher closes. I’m the publisher now (Dark Little Bird Publishing) and I intend to keep my doors open and my books on shelves for a very long time :)
2.- The Marked Son is a series that could be classified as grimdark. Was it intended or just how it evolved?
Most of my writing has a bit of darkness to it. It’s just my style. I suppose it evolved that way. I didn’t actually realize how grimdark the series was until readers started commenting on it.
3.- The world of the Marked Son is quite original, where did you draw the inspiration to create it?
The inspiration for the books stemmed from a fascination with ancient civilizations and what drove some of their more enduring practices. What motivated the Aztecs to believe that the sun would snuff out if they didn’t feed their gods a human sacrifice when certain stars aligned? How did the Kapu system decide that bananas were forbidden for ancient Hawaiian women to eat? Why do many cultures still prefer sons over daughters? Where are the similarities and differences in our creation stories, and how do these core narratives shape who we are as a societies? I wanted to explore how harsh climates and declining populations could push people to the edge of their beliefs and beyond.
Since there’s evidence of dragons in so many of Earth’s old tales, I made them real and central to the religion of this complex, Stone Age world. By the time our main character, Akrist, is born, this religion has been broken for some time. The goddess Nasheira rarely chooses leaders among her people anymore. The dragon population is declining. They don’t guide faithful followers to hunting grounds as they once did.
Overall, I hoped this story would highlight humanity, the good and bad of it, this common thread that ties us all together, whether we live on a modern Earth, or a vast stone-age world where dragons still soar in the skies.
4.- This year you decided to submit The Lesser Moon to SPFBO9. What made you take this decision? How are you feeling about it?
This is the first year I self-published and, last year, I saw some of my favorite reads in SPFBO. I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it. As to how I’m feeling, yeah, no imposter syndrome at all seeing my books beside some absolutely fantastic-looking reads, none at all. Honestly, I’m feeling lucky to have made it into the competition and hope to make some connections along the way.
5.- Outside of the Marked Son, I’ve seen you’ve also published Gulf, and other books. Could you tell us more about them?
Certainly! My other books have all been published through small indie presses.
GULF is a quiet horror about David, a lonely teen who discovers a new door in his family's old summer cottage and unknowingly opens a portal to a terrifying world. It has Stranger Things/Neverwhere vibes. I’m currently diving into the first draft of its sequel right now.
KNOWLEDGE ITSELF is a YA post apocalyptic read about Iris, a sixteen year old who’s ADHD makes it excruciating to do what her commune wants: sit all day extracting data from hard drives that survived the solar flares. Data’s money. If she can’t pull her weight, she’ll be expelled to the wastelands. Just wrapped up the sequel to this one with my coauthor Megan, and looking forward to getting it out in the world!
MAKING MYTHS AND MAGIC is a field guide for worldbuilding in speculative fiction. I co-wrote it with Allison Alexander and had a lot of fun exploring how to improve my craft.
6.- Recently, audiobooks were released for both books in The Marked Son series. Why did you choose Ryan Haugen as your voice actor? How was the process of producing it?
I used ACX to find a voice actor. The process is pretty simple. You create a short audition clip, clarify what your price range for payment is, and interested narrators start auditioning. Ryan’s was one of the first auditions I received. I listened to over 40 different narrators, but Ryan’s voice acting just stood out. I feel incredibly lucky to have snagged him as a narrator. Once we signed a contract, Ryan uploaded chapters as he completed them and I let him know if anything needed to be tweaked as we went. It’s been one of my favorite processes in my publishing journey so far and, hands down, it’s because of Ryan’s professionalism and incredible acting chops.
7.- Apart from being an author, Shelly Campbell is also an artist. Could you tell us more about it?
Art is a fun creative process for me because it's closer to instant gratification than writing a novel is. I can start an art piece and have the finished product in my hands in a day or a week, instead of the years it takes me to get a book to its final polished form. Plus, it’s really fun to create your own character art! The Marked Son series is full of art sketches. I hope readers enjoy them as much as I do.
8.- What can we expect from Shelly Campbell in the future?
It’s all about sequels for me, at the moment. GULF will be getting its second book completed by the end of this year and KNOWLEDGE ITSELF has a finished sequel to edit too. After that, who knows! Always something on the back burner—including a stand-alone novel set in the same world as THE MARKED SON series. Thanks so much for giving my books a chance!