Former Fairfield resident N.J. Campbell has written one of the most anticipated books of the summer, “Found Audio.”
“My publisher describes it as Indiana Jones in the movie ‘Inception’ directed by David Lynch,” Campbell explained in a recent phone interview. But receiving praise from the likes of Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, and having his title appear on such prestigious lists as the Chicago Tribune’s Top Summer Reads and The Million’s Most Anticipated of 2017 hasn’t gone to Campbell’s head. “I learned from a young age: work diligently and deliberately.”
Background as a writer
Campbell grew up in a blue-collar family in Rockford, Ill.
“The household I grew up in was an odd mix. My father was a bus driver, my mother was a factory worker. But they both had that as a job and they both had what they considered their vocation — for my father that was writing and for my mother that was quilting. And they both were really passionate about those vocations, whereas they knew they were only doing their jobs for money.”
“So the household I grew up in was this strange mixture of people who worked very hard at their jobs and then came home and worked very hard and the thing they loved.”
Campbell’s parents encouraged him to work hard and explore a variety of passions.
“I grew up in an encouraging household where people were curious and interested and engaged with the world and their experience of it, but not necessarily particularly adamant for advocating for one aspect of it.”
“It was more that people were very interested in one degree or another, and respectful of what other people were interested in.”
When Campbell found himself drawn toward a creative outlet, it was encouraged but never pushed.
“There was just a lot of respect with regards to what me and my brothers wanted to do as children. We didn’t have to or need to pursue anything. And vice versa. We never really questioned them as to why they were so interested in the things they were interested in. It was actually really nice.”
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And while Campbell was interested in writing, he was initially more concerned with the study of literature rather than the creation of it. That all changed one day when a classmate of his at the Maharishi School of Management said she was publishing a book of poems.
“And I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can try.’ That’s when I started to seriously put effort toward actually composing and writing.”
Taking a page of out his parents’ book, Campbell sought out jobs that would support his writing efforts.
“I worked primarily blue-collar jobs: on moving crews, some landscaping. I worked in warehouse shipping departments since I got out of college. A decade, basically.”
“To one degree or another I consciously chose to save myself for what I care about. I saw that my parents took jobs that were not necessarily intellectually demanding or stimulating so that when they came home they could think more concertedly about the decisions they wanted to make in their respective arts. And I did the same thing. I was very conscious about taking jobs that would not overtax me mentally so that I could save that for myself when I was home.”
Campbell devoted that extra brain space to creating a novel that is both a gripping narrative and a philosophical treatise.
“All my work stems from questions I have about my life: what life is, existence, things like that. That just became part of my art because that’s always been a part of my constitution as a person. I can’t answer why I ask those questions because they’ve always been there.”
In fact, as a kid Campbell thought everyone constantly considered questions like this.
“I didn’t really realize that other people don’t spend almost all their time thinking about that stuff. When I was 12 I had a friend over for a sleep over, and we talked about different things like top 40 hits, the next video game we were interested in, different girls we were interested in. And after that I started talking about right and wrong, and what was going to happen to me after I died, about what was death. I went on for about 10 minutes and when I was done my friend was just silent and then said “Nate, I don’t think about that stuff.”
“So that was my first wake up call.”
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But just because a person doesn’t contemplate existence daily doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned with larger philosophical issues. “I think that most people ask questions in their own way. I see people come to those questions who don’t necessarily think about them consciously. It’s part of the human condition.”
“I think about this stuff all the time, I don’t really know what it’s like not to. I don’t know what normal is. I think normal is a very ... I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who’s “normal” just because everyone tends to deviate from some norm, and what one considers to be normal is not what someone else considers normal.”
Beyond the Midwest
Normal for the narrator in “Found Audio” means traveling all over the world, from Mongolia to South Africa to the tops of the tallest mountains. For Campbell, his day-to-day existence is more grounded.
“I’ve never actually had the means to do much traveling — I’ve basically lived in the Midwest my whole life. But I always had an opportunity to read and to think, and that’s where I did all of my adventuring.”
Like his adventurous narrator, Campbell expanded his mind through literature, music and art.
“It’s important to expand one’s own experience as much as one can in whatever way one can.”