It’s always exciting to talk to someone who is making a splash in SF/F publishing. However, when that someone is Bill Campbell, you know you are in for a good time. Bill Campbell is not only a SF/F writer, but also the publisher for Roasarium Publishing, a small press that has captured a significal niche market. If you have a chance to meet Bill, definitely do it. He’s a great publisher and editor with a special connection to the pulse of the SF/F field. It is a pleasure to interview Bill and to bring that interview to Amazing Stories.
Special thanks to Bill Campbell for taking time our of his schedule to talk with us.
Erin Underwood for Amazing Stories Magazine (ASM): For people unfamiliar with Rosarium Publishing, how would you describe your press?
Bill Campbell (BC): The simple answer is that we’re a fledgling publishing company that focuses on speculative fiction and comics, with a smattering of crime. But as Mahendra Singh (whose American Candide we’ll be publishing in Spring ’16) made me realize, I have a weak spot for satire, too.
For a more complex answer, I’ve realized that, in this very short time, Rosarium has gone on to take different meanings to different people. I’d like to think they’re all incredibly right and dreafully wrong in their assumptions.
(ASM): Starting a small press is no “small” thing. What was it that inspired you to take on such a “large” task?
(BC): Well, I wasn’t expecting it to become so large so quickly. Ha! As I like to joke, I exhausted my five-year plan in 18 months. But I would say, it was like when Toni Morrison said that she didn’t see any books that she wanted to read, so she wrote one herself. I thought there were books that I’d like to read that weren’t being published, so I’ve set out to try to make sure that they do. That was definitely the impetus behind both Mothership and Stories for Chip.
(ASM): Rosarium is now 2 years old, and it already has an impressive list of books in its catalog. How do you balance your work life (and workload!) with your family life?
(BC): To be honest, I don’t. The best I can do is try, though I know it’s impossible. That’s why my “office” is the kitchen table, so at least I can have dinner with my family while I work.
(ASM): That old saying “you never know what you don’t know” still rings true when trying something new. For others who are looking to follow in your footsteps and start their own small press, what advice would you give them?
(BC): I don’t know, yet. If I’m still around in a decade, perhaps I’d be in a better position to answer that one. These first two years have been all about survival. Now I’m starting to mentally transitioning into thinking about succeeding. But I don’t know what I don’t know about doing all that, yet. Fortunately, a lot of small press veterans have been incredibly helpful. Maybe that would be my advice for right now: Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
(ASM): Your anthology MOTHERSHIP has received some terrific reviews. What was the inspiration behind this book? Was there anything especially challenging or rewarding about putting it together?
(BC): Well, thanks to social media, I started realizing that there were a hell of a lot more writers of color within the genre than I’d ever imagined. Yet, I’d constantly hear people say that we don’t exist. Also, despite this, I wasn’t (at the time) seeing many of their stories or stories focusing on “POC.” So, I wanted to create a testament to our presence. That way, if someone insisted that these writers or their stories didn’t exist, we could smack them upside the head with a copy of Mothership. I guess that’s why I made it so big. Ha!
As far as difficulties go, it mainly had to do with my having never put together an anthology before. Other than that, we were extraordinarily lucky. Edward Austin Hall and John Jennings jumped onboard as soon as I proposed the idea to them. And we became even more fortunate in that all these incredible writers just said “Yes” as soon as we asked. Ed and I couldn’t believe it. It was simply an amazing experience.
The rewards, I’d say, would be that the book really means things to people. That’s the most important. That’s all we really hoped for, to make a difference. The other would be how, while we had some bigger names, like Junot Diaz, N.K. Jemisin, Victor LaValle, and the like, there are other, lesser-known writers who were in Mothership who are now blowing up. While we had nothing to do with their success, it’s a really cool thing to see.
(ASM): What upcoming book or project are you are especially excited about? Why that book/project? (Bill, this can be a Rosarium book or something else.)
(BC): All of our projects are really near and dear to my heart, and so are our authors and artists. At this level, you really get to know the people you work with, and you really find yourself rooting for their success and work yourself to the bone to try to help them reach it.
I think the one project, though, that’s nearest and dearest to my heart is Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany that I co-edited with Nisi Shawl. I don’t know if I’d have ever written science fiction if it weren’t for Chip, and I can’t help thinking how hard it must’ve been for him to be alone in the field for as long as he was. He had to carry a mighty large load for a lot of people and did it with such grace and intelligence. I told Daniel Jose Older that there are, perhaps, five people on this planet who intimidate me. Delany’s one of them. I just wanted to thank him. It took over two years to do it properly, and, thanks to Nisi and the authors involved, it turned out a lot better than I could’ve possibly hoped.
(ASM): In an interview, you once said that growing up in an all white neighborhood in the 1970s and 1980s was like being imprisoned in the “Land of Can’t.” How did this restrictive feeling shape or inform your growth as a writer and publisher?
(BC): Basically, it has made me ignore most people and what they have to say when they’re being negative. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I’d constantly hear all the things black people can’t do. You can never listen to fools like that—because we all know they still exist.
(ASM): We all have role models and heroes in our lives who have helped to shape us in some way. Who has had the most impact on your development as a writer?
(BC): It will sound corny and probably stereotypical, but my mother. She was hellbent and determined that I not listen to those fools as well. She taught me how to fight. Wherever it is that I actually am in life would never have been attainable without her steadfast determination and her willingness to sacrifice whatever she had to for her son’s future success. When you do all that and still support your son’s crazy notions of writing about spaceships and superheroes, you almost have a legitimate shot at canonization. Most parents would’ve been like, “No! You’re becoming an accountant!”
(ASM): You’re also a big fan of comics. What is it about comics that you enjoy so much?
(BC): I think, growing up, I think I gravitated to the idea that anything was possible in the world of comic books. That probably still holds true today. As a medium, the world is your oyster in comics. We can talk about anything we want, imagine anything we want. Who wouldn’t enjoy that kind of freedom?
(ASM): Do you have a favorite series or something you would recommend to someone who is new to comics?
(BC): Other than Rosarium comics? Ha!
(ASM): Looking back at “The Life of Bill,” what did you dream of being when you were all grown up? What was it about that job that captured your imagination?
(BC): I imagined myself becoming a novelist and comic book writer. Of course, I imagined that I’d be doing it in Paris. But, other than that, while it took a lot longer than I’d imagined, I am doing exactly what it is I’ve always wanted to do. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky in this. There are very few people who get that opportunity. The fact that I have a loving and supportive family and friends makes me wake up with a smile every morning—even when I wake up with a migraine.
Bio: Bill Campbell is the author of Sunshine Patriots, My Booty Novel, and Pop Culture: Politics, Puns, “Poohbutt” from a Liberal Stay-at-Home Dad, and Koontown Killing Kaper. Along with Edward Austin Hall, he co-edited the groundbreaking anthology, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond. He also co-edited Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany with Nisi Shawl and the forthcoming APB: Artists against Police Brutality with Jason Rodriguez and John Jennings. Campbell lives in Washington, DC, where he spends his time with his family, helps produce audio books for the blind, and helms Rosarium Publishing.