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Interview with Tara Campbell, Winter 2021 Flash Fiction Contest First Place Winner

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Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. She received her MFA from American University. Previous publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and CRAFT Literary. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, and three collections: Circe’s Bicycle, Midnight at the Organporium, and Political AF: A Rage Collection. Her fourth collection, Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection is forthcoming from Aqueduct Press in 2021.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Winter 2021 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Tara: Thank you so much! I give all credit to my friend and fellow writer Myna Chang, who has placed first and second in previous WOW contests, for introducing me to the site. The freshness of the work up at WOW intrigued me, so I thought I’d give it a try too. Kraken wasn’t my first entry, but it is my first win, so I encourage everyone else out there to keep trying too!

Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “The Kraken in Love?” On your website you refer to your writing as, “…put our world in a snow globe, add a drop of weird, and shake,” which is a great description. 

Like many people, I’ve always been drawn to the ancient, outsized horror of creatures like the Kraken. From the safe distance of modern times, we can look back on the terror as kitsch and reproduce embodiments of it on all sorts of cheesy products. I did this myself in a way, stuck at home knitting quarantine-fueled projects like Krakens emerging from between bright red lips [see attached photos]. I guess I started thinking about how this thing that’s a joke now was once real, in some form, and I began to imagine what it would have been like to be one. The isolation of COVID probably influenced my Kraken’s loneliness. In real life, I’m blessed to live with a partner I love, but I know that many people have been starved for touch, and I’m sure this hunger played a role in my Kraken’s predicament.

WOW: Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

Tara: I’m working on a series of flashes based on random selection within a uniform framework. It’s inspired by a technique novelist Michael Moorcock wrote about involving "deliberate paradoxes" like “In the City of Screaming Statues"—a verb and an object we would never expect to see paired together. So I made my own lists, and am drawing paradoxes at random—and these paradoxes are landing me in a lot of interesting cities that I have to then figure out through writing.

WOW: That sounds like fun, making those kind of lists! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Tara: I teach speculative fiction, and one of my favorite ways to keep with the field is The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology series edited by John Joseph Adams in tandem with a guest editor every year. I just finished going back through the 2016 and 2017 editions. I especially enjoyed the 2018 edition guest edited by N.K. Jemisin. There is so much variety and energy in that selection of stories—which makes sense, given the breadth and verve of Jemisin’s own work.

My next read is going to be Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction (ed. Joshua Whitehead) because I want to keep expanding the range of experiences I read, and anthologies are a great way to discover new writers to follow.

WOW:  Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Tara. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Tara: It was my pleasure! I would advise people to look at the profiles of the guest judges to help determine if they have a story that might fit. It’s useful to know whether a judge prefers realism or is also open to speculative elements. One judge might want to linger in rich imagery, whereas another wants to be carried away on the momentum of a story. In a pool of strong writers, these subjective preferences can make a difference. But the most important thing is to remember that not being selected doesn’t necessarily mean your work is bad—it means there wasn’t a fit. And there’s nothing wrong with trying again until there is!


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.

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