Author Interview: Lisbeth Campbell, author of THE VANISHED QUEEN

Hey, all, Luther here. I got to see a VERY early draft of The Vanished Queen, and made some comments and suggestions, so I got to read an ARC before it came out. It’s good. You should read it. This is Lisbeth’s debut novel, and she agreed to do a brief interview with me. The book releases today, everywhere finer novels are sold.

Tell us a bit about yourself.  What made you into an author?

I started writing when I was a kid and knew by the time I was a teenager that I wanted to be a writer. After that it was just persistence. There have been long fallow spells but I always come back to it. I was a voracious reader as a child – I would check out 10 library books and be done with them within a few days if it was summer vacation – and I loved the worlds I was able to experience in reading. So I think part of what got me going was the desire to recreate the moments I especially liked. Then I discovered worldbuilding of my own, and I was unleashed. When I was younger, I wrote a lot of poetry too, because I revel in language, but it didn’t stick the way storytelling did.

What was your journey with this particular book like?  I’m fascinated at how different the final version was than the one I read a few years ago; I don’t think I’ve ever revised anything that significantly.

This book was the book that would not let go. I started in 1995, I think, and wrote something which had curses and plagues and demons and quests and meditations on historiography. It went through multiple revisions and even got to go out visiting once, but nothing happened. 

In 2015 I picked it up once more, thinking that the market had changed and I could fix stuff in just a few months. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha….. I beat my head against a wall for a long time, scrapped the second half for the umpteenth time, and realized that Mirantha, the missing and presumed murdered queen, belonged. Once I brought her in as a character through her journal I didn’t know what to do in the present of the novel. That was when I sent it to you. 

You told me very usefully that it was a ghost story, and I reconfigured a lot of the early stuff, but I still ran into a dead end. So I sent it to a professional editor and asked for big picture comments. She told me that my prose was lovely and the bones of the story were good, but that even with the journal I was not letting the queen have her story. She also said Anza, one of my main characters, was too passive (as you note below).

So I gave Anza a personal stake: her father had been executed by the king. She had a reason to fight. Suddenly the rest of the story became a lot clearer. Her connection to Mirantha, which had always felt crucial to me but had no good basis within the narrative, was a connection of shared grief. I wrote and revised that draft in slightly less than a year.

I got an agent whose completely understood the story, and I revised again with her guidance, three times. After it sold I did three more revisions for my editor. All of these revisions focused on the last quarter of the book and making it more revolutionary. So by now all that is left of the very first version is the characters and a few early scenes, which have been much reworked. I’ve saved everything, and who knows, the outtakes might turn into a story or scenes in another novel.

How much did the “real world” impact on how you wrote this story?  I know this book was started prior to the Current Unpleasantness, but I imagine it’s difficult to write a book in 2020 about a resistance against the rule of a despotic king without certain parallels forcing their way into the story.

The election of 2016 and its aftermath significantly affected the writing of this book. The story I wanted to write had always been about resisting tyranny. After 2016 I was writing to a different audience than I had been (including myself). I was writing for Americans who needed a vision of how to resist tyranny because of real life. The story was not just about Anza and Mirantha; it was suddenly deeply personal. I did not try to avoid parallels – I sought them out.

One thing in particular was added when I was incandescent with rage at the outcome of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Nothing had ever made it so clear how much women are silenced and disbelieved. Mirantha’s situation became much more vivid to me, and I gave her my anger. I have always been fascinated by Cassandra, so the theme of the disbelieved woman was already present, but I sharpened it after seeing what happened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

Let’s talk about Anza herself a bit.  Where did she come from?  She was a very different character in the version of the book that I read– quite a bit more passive, for one thing, and straight, for another.  I’ve seen you talk about how her bisexuality sort of forced its way onto the page; (feel free to reword that) how much about her characterization surprised you?

The change in Anza from a witness to an active resistance fighter was because her passivity was dragging the book down. I do believe that witnessing can be an act of agency, but it just wasn’t working here. As soon as I gave her a personal motive (stakes!!) and altered some other things about her backstory, which I won’t go into here because spoilers, the book acquired much more strength and shape. 

As far as her sexuality goes, she was attracted to her roommate in my head in one of the very early versions, but I let the roommate go and the bisexuality with her, partly because I didn’t know what to do with the bisexuality and partly because it was a distraction. When I picked the book up again in 2015, Anza got the hots for every attractive young person (female or male) who crossed her path. But her bisexuality was still distracting from the rest of the story so I kept it out. At some point I realized that what was really going on with her was her coming to realize she sucks at relationships. Her self-discovery is not about queerness. It’s about learning how she screwed up in her interactions with people. And that story is not a distraction from the story of revolution, which is a story of relationship. So I let her be bi. I like queernorm worlds, because that is how the world ought to be.

As to where she came from initially, I have no idea. My characters just emerge on their own and do their own thing.

Any plans to continue with this world in the future?  Any other projects you’d like to let us know about?

Right now I have no plans to continue with this world. But I can certainly see a novel set ten or fifteen years later that plays out what happens afterward. 

My big novel project at the moment is something I am describing as a mash-up of The Secret History, Richard III (Shakespeare version), and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” with steam trains. The elevator pitch tag line is “Political intrigue, dangerous magic, and found family.” It’s about a nine year old king who is dethroned by his uncle. One of the characters has a back story involving magic and murder at college. That’s as much as I want to say, because there’s always the chance that it will crash and burn. I sputter out at times, and publishing is weird.

I want to thank Lisbeth for popping by and talking to us about the book today. The Vanished Queen is available in hardcover and ebook, and you can follow Lisbeth on Twitter at @fictionlisbeth or find her on the Web at

When you’re trying to project confidence but on the inside you’re screaming

Had a job interview today.

A two hour job interview today. Not, like, interviews with multiple people in a row that totaled up to two hours. One interview, with one person, that lasted two hours.

I was interviewing for two different jobs– math at two different grade levels, basically, so it’s not like the questions were going to be different and that’s why the interview ran long– but I got the feeling that the principal was definitely zeroing in on one grade instead of the other by the end of the interview. Which is fine. I’ve been teaching middle school long enough that grade levels don’t really matter all that much to me any longer, although I do have a preference for one curriculum over the other, for whatever that might be worth. I gotta feel like if you sit down with me for two damn hours then you’re probably pretty serious about bringing me into your building; a red flag at any point could have ended the interview a whole hell of a lot sooner.

And here’s the thing, right? If you’ve been around here for a while, or if you’ve read Searching for Malumba, you know good and damn well that if you ask me questions about education you’re gonna get answers. I’m better at talking coherently about classroom praxis and education in general than I am at almost everything else. Which means that I interview really goddamn well for teaching jobs, and the number of teaching jobs where I’ve made it to the interview stage and not been offered a job is frankly pretty damn small.

At any rate, I think it’s probably reasonable to believe that I’m gonna get offered a job at this school in a couple of days. Not guaranteed, certainly, because shit happens, but I think it’s reasonable, especially since I was applying for two different jobs. Which will mean that I’ll be back in the classroom this fall.

Which I have … mixed feelings about, as you well might imagine, if you’ve been around here for a while. And those mixed feelings made honestly answering questions like why are you applying for this job a bit more … I dunno, fraught than they might be? Because I really do have mixed feelings about the idea of leaving my current position. It’s just that after being placed irregularly into a classroom over the last half of last year, at least until ILEARN hit and then my life went to hell, I’m pretty goddamn certain that I’m gonna be teaching this year on at least a part-time basis whether I want to or not, and I’m absolutely going to get asked to write lesson plans for classes I’m not teaching, and, well …

Here’s the thing: something has to change, one way or another, because of reasons having really nothing at all to do with me or the job I actually did. I know where I’m at right now is probably not tenable, so there are a bunch of available moves that represent improvement over my current situation, and one of these two jobs would do that. And … that’s basically how my answer went? That, honestly, returning to classroom teaching wasn’t ideal to me, but that if that was what was going to happen anyway (and I think it will,) I would rather be in control of the where and the when and the what than where I think I’m gonna be if I don’t make some changes.

And, well, the principal talked to me for another hour and forty minutes, so it must have been an acceptable answer, I guess.

We’ll see how it goes.

In which I dress for success

I alluded a couple of weeks ago to a job opportunity that I was looking at that would have represented a substantial raise as well as a responsibility level more in-tune with my current career goals. I am proud to announce that, in keeping with being in week 7 or so of the worst month of my life, I was not even called for an interview for that job despite being literally the only person currently employed by my district who has done it.

I did have a job interview today, though, for my own fucking job, as in the job I have right now and I have been doing for a year. They slightly altered our job descriptions and cut a few of us and so everyone has to re-interview. I spent some time last night thinking carefully about what to wear to the interview, which I had deliberately scheduled for the last half hour of the school day so that I didn’t have to return to my building afterward.

My typical work uniform is a collared shirt, short-sleeved, with jeans and black shoes that pass for dress shoes at a casual glance but are not. I occasionally wear a tie, especially earlier in the year, and during the winter I frequently wear a sweater over the shirt. I despise long sleeves– something about the feeling of cloth on my forearms has always made me skeevy– and even if I’m wearing a dress shirt or a sweater the sleeves will be rolled up, meaning that I don’t often wear a sport jacket (or a blazer, or a suit coat, and frankly I don’t know what the hell the differences are between those things) because I’m not about to unroll my sleeves and struggle with cuffs just to put a jacket on.

Anyway, I ended up going with a dress shirt and a tie and jeans and slightly more formal shoes, because fuck it, I’m interviewing for a job I already have and if my clothes matter then my clothes don’t matter at all, if that makes any sense and just stare at it until it does if not.

I think the interview went okay, but hell if I know. The general rule lately is that if anything can go wrong it will, so I’m sure I fucked this all up somehow. There is one more day of school tomorrow and then a teacher work day and then I will relax for three days and then I’m gonna start writing a goddamn book. I got plans, dammit.

Oh, and when I got home I jumped in the pool for the first time. Which was fucking freezing. I’m not complaining. I’m in the right mood for freezing cold water, and I wasn’t in there for more than 20 minutes or so anyway. But man, it was nice.

On hubris and honesty

So I just had a job interview.  For a job back at my old district.  Not a teaching position, mind you, but teacher salary and mostly teacher schedule, and I’d have my goddamn weekends back.  And I was in this weird place throughout the entire interview where part of me was like Look, literally ask any fucker I’ve ever worked with in this district and they’ll tell you I’m the best person for this job and the rest of me was both trying to rein that part in, because who talks like that, and simultaneously trying to prevent myself from literally begging for the job.

And here’s the thing: I am, if not literally the most qualified person for the job– although I might be– a really fucking solid candidate, and this shit’s perfectly 100% in my wheelhouse.  And there’s nothing wrong with doing my damnedest to make that clear, but when combined with my fucking neediness that I’m trying to keep under control, because I need to not be selling furniture and working 17.5 hours every weekend anymore, it can get out of control quickly.

And then– get this– on the way out of the elevator, after ascertaining that one way or another there will be a second round of interviews and this isn’t happening in the next few days and I need to be patient, I ran into a friend of mine who was there to interview for the same job.  Who, in fact, I had listed as a reference on my application.

Luckily, she was also interviewing for a couple of other positions under the same umbrella, which made me feel a bit better, because– and I say this with full knowledge that she reads the blog and occasionally comments here– a good part of my brain was going I will step over your body if I have to for this while we were talking in the hallway, and I kinda prefer it if that part of my brain stays locked away, right?  That part of my brain is why I don’t drink, because it’s best for everyone if it never gets let out.

Fuck it, she’s known me for years, this is probably not a surprising reaction.

But yeah.  I think that went well.  But I’d prefer to know now, please, so if karma would take my toiling in the furniture mines into account and get this shit moving along, that’d be dandy, thanks.

My new book, Tales: The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 3 is now available for pre-order on Amazon!  Just $2.99 for the ebook edition!

Etiquette question re: that interview

courtesy-writerattheranch-thiswritinglife.blogspot.com_.jpgPutting this in a separate post instead of as an addendum because more people will notice it that way: I don’t have an email address for anyone at the place I interviewed at this morning, because the guy I interviewed with contacted me by phone yesterday and there isn’t contact information for individuals (just an email form that isn’t geared to personal messages) on their website.

OK to call the receptionist and ask for that information so I can send the post-interview thank-you note?  Or is the PITYN overrated anyway and not worth worrying about?

And, like, if I call and the boss answers the phone, because I get the feeling he does that from time to time, do I just, like, die of shame on the spot, or hang up the phone and run away and change my name and move to Nepal, or…?