Interview with Andrea Campbell by Debby Alviso
Wednesday, July 16, 2003 9:26:00 AM
by Andrea S Campbell
|New interview with Andrea Campbell--Summer 2003
Andrea Campbell Interview (June 2003)
Writer’s e-Source Directory
By Debby Alviso (aka Deborah O’Toole)
Andrea Campbell is the author of Making Crime Pay: The Writer's Guide to Criminal Law, Evidence, and Procedure, as well as Perfect Party Games, Bringing Up Ziggy, Rights of the Accused, Forensic Science, Legal Ease, Your Corner of the Universe and Great Games for Great Parties. Additionally, Andrea is a forensic artist, operating under the umbrella of the Arkansas State Crime Lab, and she has photos on her site of a skull reconstruction, a forensic composite drawing, ballistics and more. Andrea also has a bi-monthly author's newsletter called "Soup's On" that provides writer tips, ideas for promotion, forensic science oddities and publishing industry news. Subscribe by sending an e-mail to campbell.arkansas.net and put "Newsletter" in the subject field.
Andrea is foster mother for Ziggy, a Helping Hands capuchin monkey. She was host mother to two foreign exchange daughters from Holland and the Canary Islands, Spain, and real mother to two sons, Courtney and Jordan. She and husband, Michael, are originally from Cleveland, Ohio. When she's not working and time permits, Andrea likes to pore through interior design books, create crafts, artwork and sewing, and a couple of years ago, she started a perennial garden.
When did your inclination to write begin? Did it go hand in hand with voracious reading?
My two boys, even as runny nose toddlers, had their faces in books. I read to them aloud every day, and returned to several of the beloved volumes so many times, I memorized them. I became enamored with the idea of writing a children's book. In 1986, I did take some action in that direction-I went to the Highlights for Children Writers Conference in Chautauqua, New York, for a full week's immersion with some of the best children's authors. I was quite inspired when I got back, although surgeries to remove a tumor from my jaw occupied most of my time for the next four years. In that interim I wrote for career magazines targeting young adults, started a writer's organization in my community, and studied every how-to book I could get my hands on. I can honestly say though, I didn't start to call myself a full-time writer until 1990, when I was under contract for my first book Great Games for Great Parties.
Have you always been fascinated by true crime and forensics?
I actually came to forensic science through the back door. I studied something called "graphology"--also called handwriting analysis--with a Catholic priest. As a consequence, I got turned on to the American Board of Forensic Examiners who had a course in graphology. Should truth be known, many forensic scientists laugh at graphology and think it is on the same level with horoscopes and magic eight balls. But as a consequence of belonging to this professional organization, I started to read their newsletter and attend forensic science conferences. Over the years I have attended workshops that don't have anything to do with my own training--I'm now a specialist in forensic art--and I have learned about ammunition, how to take major case prints, how to triangulate and draw a crime scene, how to create a criminal behavioral profile, among many other things. All of this started before forensic science was mainstream, when no one knew anything about it.
Did you obtain an educational degree in forensics? Is your experience also based on working with crime labs?
I got a degree in criminal justice from a local community college. But my instructors were the Chief of Police, a Municipal Judge, and our speakers were FBI Special Agents, a Health Service investigator, a truant officer, etc., you get the picture. I visited the state prison, the local jail, the bail bondsman, the courthouses, and the state crime lab, everywhere. That, plus attending every conference I could afford to get to, plus training from the world's best forensic artists, along with my own writing and research in the forensic science field have turned me into an expert. It's all a matter of small steps.
Now I rub shoulders, through professional membership, with some of the best scientists and law enforcement out there. I only recently hung out my shingle with the Arkansas State Crime lab for forensic art. I didn't make myself available for forensic art contracts until Ziggy, my Helping Hands capuchin monkey, left for her own specialized training--she will be a helper/companion for a quadriplegic. I had made a commitment to Helping Hands to raise her and, after 13 years, my promise was realized. (I was a spokesperson and helper for Helping Hands in different ways, hence, the many years of involvement, not your normal situation.)
What gave you the idea to put together Making Crime Pay, specifically for other writers? Or was the book a follow-up to Rights of the Accused; Forensic Science: Evidence, Clues & Investigation and Legal Ease?
Forensic Science: Evidence, Clues and Investigation came first in that line-up. I found out that Chelsea House Publishers had a "crime, justice and punishment" series and Forensic Science sold with them. Afterwards, they mentioned they'd like a book about our constitutional rights and I did Rights of the Accused to round out the list. I would never do another volume for them though, because they were flat-fee books, meaning, after the initial advance, I'd never get another penny and I'm sure Forensic Science is a good seller and will be on the shelf (library shelves, for sure) for many years. It did help to establish my credibility in the field however, and served the purpose of helping to build a portfolio of work, so it was useful at the time.
Making Crime Pay was kind of brewing in my mind while I was taking criminal law courses. It occurred to me that it would be a great reference book for crime writers--yes, I thought, they needed to know about laws, police and the courts for their books, so I would make it easy for them to find the answers to all their questions in one book! Besides, criminal law and procedure are endlessly fascinating topics, I'd taken great notes in my classes, and the project just seemed to fit my education and where I wanted to go, which was further into the criminal law industry and the forensic science field, the sisters of justice.
Legal Ease used the same ideas and material, although its target audience is professionals, i.e., law enforcement, lawyers and law students. I'm most proud of that book because the 12 photographs inside are mine, as is the Index, so I guess you could say it is a total Andrea-driven project.
You also taught courses on forensics. What was that like?
I love teaching and think I'm a good teacher. One of my strengths is taking complicated material and making it easy to understand, so teaching taps into that skill and feels natural. I've taught online for Painted Rock (I'm sorry it disbanded after its founder Carmel Thomaston died) and also for the "Kiss of Death" chapter of the Romance Writers of America. I have also had as students other forensic scientists, as I did this summer at an IAI conference--the International Association for Identification, a professional group.
Occasionally I get tapped to conduct workshops at writing conferences and this past spring I had a hand-picked panel session for the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference in New York City. That was great fun.
I am always open for speaking engagements, workshops and the like. But if it's not for certification, I expect to get paid or at least receive a stipend. It's amazing to me how many authors work at mystery conferences and they pay their own conference admission, they pay for their own transportation, hotel, the whole shebang. I believe that the mystery writer field is the only business enterprise that could get away without providing remuneration for their panelists and speakers, I'm always amazed at that!
Do you still write articles for educational magazines? Do you have any profiles you're working on currently?
I stopped writing for education magazines because there was no real money to be made. I like longer projects and prefer to do book-length work. I am a Contributing Editor for several newsletters though, and I do that as a form of education and outreach. I've always shared information and feel that writing a regular column for newsletter publication(s) is/are my form of mentorship, of helping others.
Profiles? I am currently trying to sell a biography, so, if it gets picked up, I will be doing a really long profile!
How did you become involved with Helping Hands?
I was looking through a Reader's Digest for someone I could interview for a profile article in the late 80's and ran across a story about the founder of Helping Hands. I thought she would be an interesting person to learn from, a woman who started a nonprofit organization when women weren't even getting management positions.
What was it like to raise Ziggy, the capuchin monkey eventually trained by Helping Hands to help quadriplegics? It must have been a challenge!
Life with Ziggy was always interesting. She was with us from birth--five weeks old until her thirteenth birthday. She was and is the love of my life, my true soul mate. (My children learned so much from growing up with her!) But think of this like raising a child, not a pet. They get as smart as a 3 to 5-year old and are really quite brilliant, so you will be challenged at every stage of their lives.
It is a true , full-time commitment to raise a monkey and I do not necessarily advocate nonhuman primate ownership. Capuchins can live to 46 years old so you have to ask yourself: "Do I want to have a recalcitrant child around for 40-plus years?" There are many sacrifices to be made to own one and most people cannot train a dog to obey, much less take on a highly intelligent, high-maintenance animal. I don't miss cage-cleaning but I do miss her daily.
After writing about true crime and forensics, what made you decide to write books such as Perfect Party Games and Great Games for Great Parties?
Actually Great Games for Great Parties was my first book, and is my little gemstone. It has been on the market a long time, has real longevity because it filled a void and is essentially my bestseller--selling since 1990. Perfect Party Games came about because I still had a great cache of games to share. Each book has 100+ interactive games in all categories. Plus, most of them are "tested". Yes, I used foreign exchange students, women's clubs, rotary clubs and all manner of organizations as test subjects. It's been a fun thread running through my life. Also, in the second games/party book, I talk a little more about what it takes to be a great games leader and host, and what it takes to throw a memorable event.
What is your perfect writing muse? Do you need peace and quiet, planning and outlining, or do you simply write as you go?
I've been very lucky in that I have always chosen my own topics--following my passion so-to-speak. If there is something I need to know or want to research, I write a nonfiction book proposal and try to sell it. (That, more or less, is a type of outline.) After you spend so much time trying to convince yourself, an agent, an editor, and a publisher that this book should be written, you'd better deliver. It probably costs minimum $60K to publish a book by the time the publisher pays everyone who works on it, and if they are going to give you an advance, that is motivation enough.
As far as working conditions, I have an office on the first floor of a tri-level home. It is outfitted with built-in bookshelves, a fabulous curved desk with lots of storage areas, file cabinets and three floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the woods. There are bullhorns hung overhead, a calfskin rug on the floor, and a leopard chaise to read in--this animalistic influence gives me character and drive. NPR is usually broadcast in the background.
I am a complete workaholic and my goal is to create interesting products (books) over and over again. I work full-time and then some. Since I am a type-A individual, I am good at multi-tasking and read everything that passes in front of my face. At night, while relaxing in front of the television or with a movie, I am going through mail, reading stacks of writer-related materials and dog-earring books. Right now I am reading out of three books at the same time, two mysteries, (Coben and Connelly) and a travel odyssey by Theroux. I write notes on 3 x 5-inch index cards and have a place for everything.
As far as a muse, I've found that research is what propels me forward. If you are stumped for how to begin, I believe you have not read or absorbed enough about your subject area. This even works for fiction. Say, for example, your plot involves a character who is an antiques dealer. Perhaps your protagonist will be accused of murder because a body is found in an ancient chest he has on display during an auction. In addition to knowing about your character's traits and needs, you should also study the world of antiques, attend an auction or read extensively about "antique fests"; learn the value of objects, the jargon of the industry, and take-in interesting tidbits about certain pieces. By the time you have immersed yourself in that world, you should have an itching desire to get started.
What sort of advice might you give a writer just starting out?
Read all the how-to books about writing you can handle.
Learn how publishing works and get the inside dish about the business-end of this industry. There are some very good guides out there and they hold nothing back.
Realize that you will constantly have to improve your craft, no matter how many books you have under your belt.
Join a professional organization and attend their conferences.
Learn to network without becoming obnoxious.
Don't try to write for money--this is not the road to wealth, most authors are starving artists, on any scale.
Do not be defensive about your work--the writing should stand for itself.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Well, I have none--spare time, that is. But if I can squirrel away a few moments, I like to look through shelter magazines. If I hadn't become an author, I might have gone into interior design. (I did a lot of home remodeling these past three years.)
I like to do crafts although I haven't been able to do anything in that vein in years, except in small doses. One day I will go back to oil painting, I'm not too bad at it and want to paint my favorite subject, monkeys.
What is your all-time favorite book? What do you prefer to read just for the sheer pleasure of it?
I have about two thousand volumes in my house (on every level and in every room), it is not fair to ask me this! Time and Again by Jack Finney was one of my early favorites, Watership Down took me to another world, but I also thrive on nonfiction. Real life and biographies can be every bit as surprising and revolutionary as fiction. Currently I am reading Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux and enjoying it immensely. I liked the Power of Gold written by Peter Berstein for the fascinating historical tidbits about gold and the people who became obsessed with it. I couldn't possible tell you about all the books that have influenced me. And there's more, many more books in my home to enjoy--I should live so long.