Hello my pretties!
I’m kicking off the first weekend of February with an in-depth interview with the one and only R.R Campbell, author of the newly released science fiction thriller, IMMINENT DAWN. As part of this blog tour, I’ll be posting a review of the novel later today, where I will discuss my general thoughts and give you all the details without be spoilery (much). So, without further ado, let’s jump right in!
[RAVENOUS]: Tell us about Imminent Dawn. What is the story about? Where did the idea come from? How long have you been writing it? Is this a series or standalone?
[CAMPBELL]: Imminent Dawn takes place during the first round of human trials for an internet-access brain implant. It follows four perspective characters, though the character at the heart of the story is Chandra, an art-school dropout who enrolls in the research study with the dream of using the EMPATHY nanochip to apologize to her wife for the role she played in her coma.
The original idea started pecking at me when I got my first smartphone. They’re something it’s easy to take for granted now, but at the time, the ability to check email, post on social media, and download these strange little things called applications was really extraordinary. As I interacted more and more with my device, I found myself relying on my own memory less often, and any curiosity I had could be satisfied with a few pokes at a screen procured from my pocket.
This had me wondering what if this were all in my head? And so, the technology that would go onto form the basis of the EMPATHY series was born.
At first, I intended to write a short story set in this world and nothing more, but over time it ballooned into a novel, which expanded into a multi-perspective narrative, and then, from there, blossomed into the sprawling five-book series it’s now set to become. It took me five years to get Imminent Dawn right for publication, but after having had all that time to get familiar with the world and more confident in my writing process, I was able to write book two in the series, Mourning Dove, in five months.
[RAVENOUS]: In what world is Imminent Dawn set? What can readers expect in terms of setting?
[CAMPBELL]: Imminent Dawn takes place in a world that’s not all too different from our own. Though this isn’t stated in the books, the idea is that the series’ timeline diverged from ours shortly after the year 2000, and, as a result of this divergence, we traveled a path with many parallels to our own world, but the differences between them are meant to feel a bit eerie.
Most of book one’s scenes take place on the Human/Etech EMPATHY research compound, a labyrinthine complex on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Throughout the duration of the research study, employees and participants alike are forbidden to leave the compound or communicate with anyone beyond its walls in the interest of preventing Human/Etech’s intellectual property from becoming compromised. Ultimately, this creates a very sterile-feeling vibe for those who remain indoors, though the center of the facility does feature a sizable arboretum that’s frequented by our perspective characters, Chandra especially.
About a quarter of the book’s events transpire off the compound in and around Austin, Texas and the capital of the North American Union, which is the fictional city of Liberty, Texas. There are a few scenes near the end of the book that transpire in a few more far-flung locations, but due to spoilers I’ll keep the specifics of those to myself!
[RAVENOUS]: What can you tell me about the characters? Who is your favorite? Which character was the toughest to flesh out? Why? Is there a character you wish you could have included more of? How did you get to know your characters?
[CAMPBELL]: As I mentioned earlier, there are four perspective characters in Imminent Dawn, the primary protagonist being Chandra, the art-school dropout. Our other perspective characters include ruthless tech magnate Wyatt Halman, relentless investigative journalist Meredith Maxwell, and the naïve, advancement-hungry administrative assistant Ariel Commons.
Though she went by a different name in the original EMPATHY short story, Chandra has been in every version of what would become Imminent Dawn. It took me a couple of years to see the advantage in expanding the world to include Meredith and then Wyatt as perspective characters before Ariel finally rounded out the cast maybe two years prior to the manuscript getting picked up for publication.
I think Chandra is my true favorite—she’s the character I’d most like to hang out with—though Wyatt was fun to write, as was Meredith. Ariel was the hardest to pin down as a person, and Meredith’s story did take quite a while to get right given the complexity of the mysteries she’s trying to untangle, but I hope the reason I had a different experience writing every one of them proves to be due to their individuality as characters. One of my goals in writing this book—and subsequently the series—was to ensure each perspective character read uniquely when compared to the others.
One character I wish I could have incorporated more of is Ty, an ally and friend of Chandra’s on the research compound. At one point, I wrote a short story from his perspective outside the bounds of the happenings in Imminent Dawn, just to get a better feel for him. It was a pretty devastating exploration of his backstory, but, after having written it, I realized he had a lot more to offer the series than I thought at first glance.
[RAVENOUS]: What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book? What was the highlight of writing this book?
[CAMPBELL]: There were a few key challenges I encountered when writing this book, principally related to the inclusion and pacing of every perspective character’s arc. Further to those points, keeping track of who knew what and when over the course of the narrative was an immense challenge given my intention to make every last detail mean something either for this book or those that come later in the series. I was always worried readers might go, “Hey, why is Chandra doing [x] if she hasn’t yet learned [y] from Wyatt?” As such, I spent a great deal of time double-checking outlines and notes and re-reading chapters to avoid those inconsistencies in the final draft.
The highlight in writing it was when I wrote the final lines of what I knew would be the true final chapter of the book. I’d written many different endings for it before, but there was something so completely overpowering about the moment the book’s final words came to me that I had to walk it off while thumbing away a few tears. It’s definitely a moment I’ll never forget.
[RAVENOUS]: What research/writing process was involved in writing Imminent Dawn?
[CAMPBELL]: For Imminent Dawn, I really wanted the technology at the world’s core to be my own, so to speak. Though I kept myself cursorily aware of advancements in the realm of the brain-computer interface as I wrote, my goal was to stitch a story based less in hard science fiction and more in the realm of science as magic and magic as science.
When we boil away some of the meat on the Imminent Dawn bone, what we’re left with is a story not about technology, but about people whose lives are affected by our species’ unrelenting curiosity and desire for improvement through technological means. It’s for this reason that I really wanted to avoid going too hard on the particulars of the universe’s technology, focusing instead on these human profiles in courage and cowardice, in determination and deceit.
[RAVENOUS]: What themes are present in Imminent Dawn? What do you hope readers will gain as they venturing into the story?
[CAMPBELL]: Shortsightedness and a failure to empathize with others figure strongly into the arcs of every perspective character. Thematically, my intention is to demonstrate that despite how diametrically opposed some people might appear, the core wants and needs they’re looking to satisfy might not be all that different from one another. There are a handful of points along the way where if any one of the four main characters were to have recogized this and made a different choice accordingly, things could have turned out very differently.
In this way, readers are ideally left in a position to explore the harsh finality of the decisions we make in our own lives, along with the nature of regret itself.
[RAVENOUS]: Why did you write Imminent Dawn? Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
[CAMPBELL]: I wrote Imminent Dawn because it’s the story that never let go. Other ideas, full manuscripts, and hundreds of rejections came and went between the story’s first version and the one that readers can now hold in their hands, but at no point did I ever consider I might need to give this one up. It was and forever will be my first true love in the world of writing.
Here’s a fun bit of trivia about Imminent Dawn that I can share with readers: many of the naming conventions in this book are based on Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, or are in some way tied to lunar mythology.
For example, Chandra is named for Doctor Chandrasegarampillai, the creator of HAL, the AI at the heart of 2001. The Halman family name is taken from the same series of books, based on the combination of HAL 9000 and David Bowman, who are referred to in the Space Odyssey series simply as “Halman.”
The full name of Chandra’s friend Ty is actually Tycho, which is the name of a crater near the moon’s south pole and also the first name of 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. I did a few fun things with the names for other places and characters, too, but I’ll let readers see if they can tease those out themselves. ☺
Optional (fun) questions:
[RAVENOUS]: If you could assign a theme song to Imminent Dawn, what would it be?
[CAMPBELL]: I’m not sure if I’d call it a theme song, but “Anvil” by Milwaukee-area electronic artist Lorn captures the sort of overpowering, foreboding technological malaise that permeates the first book and, ultimately, the series as a whole.
[RAVENOUS]: If you could name a drink (alcoholic or not) after your book, what would it be?
[CAMPBELL]: I think the beverage(s) I’d name after things from Imminent Dawn would be “The Halman” or something like an “Astium Elixir.” Both would probably be a sort of sterile blue color with a sharp, intoxicating taste.
[RAVENOUS]: What’s a quirky tidbit or fact about yourself or Imminent Dawn that you’d like to share?
[CAMPBELL]: At one point, I had to change a ton of character names after realizing many of them started with the same letter and appeared very similar on the page. There used to be a Wyatt, Walter, Wendy group and an Alistair, Ariel, Adam set of characters all on the same pages at the same time. Though I ended up keeping the names Wyatt, Alistair, and Ariel, the others had to be changed to Peter, Heather, and Gary, respectively.
[RAVENOUS]: Lastly, if your life was a book, which would it be?
[CAMPBELL]: This isn’t a real book (to my knowledge), but I used to think an autobiography of my early twenties would have to be called When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong, which is a name borrowed from an old Chappelle’s Show skit. I’m not sure what a book about my late twenties and earlier thirties would be called, but we’ll see where life leads.
r.r. Campbell is an author, editor, and the founder of the Writescast Network, a podcast collective for writers, by writers. His science fiction novel, Imminent Dawn, debuted at number one for new releases in LGBT Science Fiction on Amazon, and his first novel, Accounting for It All, was well received upon publication in November 2018.
To date, r. r. has also been published in Five:2:One Magazine’s #thesideshow, Erotic Review, and with National Journal Writing Month. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife, Lacey, and their cats, Hashtag and Rhaegar.