CAZENOVIA — As a writer, Jadi Campbell, a Cazenovia native, has garnered a great deal of praise and attention for her work.
The most recent of these, which came as a total surprise to the author, is being named the winner of the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival for general fiction for her story collection “The Trail Back Out.”
Campbell said she recently completed her fifth novel in and in the process of sending out query letters for publication she was compiling information on her previous works when she learned that she had been named a winner in San Francisco.
“At the start of July I received an announcement that the winners of the 2023 San Francisco Book Festival had been selected,” Campbell said. “They did not personally inform us if we had placed. I scrolled down the official announcement page and saw that my book had won.”
Campbell’s work was up against a large field of competitors.
According to Campbell, the festival doesn’t have a category for short story collections and she said she didn’t think she was going to win since she had to submit her work in the general fiction category, putting up against everything from romances to mysteries, thrillers and everything in between.
“My book won over more than 600 other titles,” Campbell said. “To be selected was a fantastic shock. Fewer than 5% of books considered ever place in their festivals. To be honest, I figured it had the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell. ‘The Trail Back Out’ is a collection of short stories. Aside from science fiction, all the fiction books were entered as general fiction. My book was in competition with thrillers, romances, novels, mysteries, chick lit, literary fiction, summer beach books, etc. Winning against such a variety of genres really validates the short story. I’m self-published, so the win is even sweeter. This is the sixth award distinction for ‘The Trail Back Out,’ and my ninth overall. My long-term hope is that the book awards will convince publishing houses to consider publishing the book I spent the last two years writing.”
Previously Campbell’s book was named a finalist for the 2020 “Best Book” award in the category of fiction anthologies and was also selected as a quarterfinalist in the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition as well as being named a finalist for the 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award (Short Story Collection) by the Independent Author Network, a community of authors who are self-published or published by a small indie press.
Sponsored by American Book Fest, the Best Book competition received 2,000 entries, which were narrowed down to over 400 winners and finalists in over 90 categories.
Awards were presented for titles published in 2018-2020 based on design, content and overall appeal.
According to Campbell, “The Trail Back Out” is the only self-published book in its category.
“[This recognition] means everything,” she said. “I am beyond thrilled. Past winners have included Amy Tan, George Saunders, Clive Barker and Ann Lamott, which puts me in very good company. This is the 17th year these awards have been handed out in the publishing industry. I’m self-published, so being named a finalist is an extra honor.”
The anthology, which features 10 stories, is Campbell’s fourth book.
According to the author, the characters in each story are all trying to make sense of events.
“They are all looking for the trail back out,” she said. “Whether during the upheaval of the last century or the present COVID-19 crisis, each story guides the reader through a labyrinth of questions about how to live and love.”
Campbell graduated from Cazenovia High School in 1975. Although she has lived in Germany for the past 28 years, she continues to attend reunions when possible.
The title story of “The Trail Back Out” takes place on the back trails at Cranberry Lake in the Adirondacks.
“It’s not an accident that [this story] is set in Upstate New York,” she said. “The places and people remain close to my heart.”
The author holds a bachelor of arts degree in English literature from the Honors College of the University of Oregon.
She published her first book, “Broken In: A Novel in Stories,” in 2012. Her second and third novels, “Tsunami Cowboys” and “Grounded,” followed in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
Campbell wrote many of the stories featured in her latest work during the coronavirus lockdown.
“I had been thinking about collecting my short stories into a full book, [and] I wanted to write some new stories, too,” she said. “Germany went into full lockdown due to COVID-19 in March, so it was the perfect time to write – I had no excuses left.”
While “The Trail Back Out” and other works by Campbell have received accolades, the author has kept writing.
And she said writers tend to love to talk about their current works as well as their completed and published pieces.
Campbell said her current work is titled “The Taste of Your Name.”
“It’s the first book I’ve set entirely in Europe,” she said. “On the streets here in Germany we heard Arabic when Syrian refugees arrived after 2015. Now we hear Russian and Ukrainian, thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Waves of people fleeing wars keep arriving, and I wanted to write a longer novel that addresses the situation. My new book is the story of an erotic triangle, reclaimed memories, the fates of refugees, and the importance of bread. When you finish reading, nothing will ever taste the same.”
Campbell went on to explain a little more about her new book.
“One of my main characters is Mustafa, a baker from Damascus,” she said. “He’s synesthetic: Mustafa can taste words. I thought it was a wonderful technique to talk about the tastes of fear, and hope, and love. Mustafa’s special gift led me to call the book ‘The Taste of Your Name.’ Another character in the story is an asylum seeker with severe PTSD. Her story is what happens to people who give up everything, including hope. As a massage therapist, I volunteered for several years doing trauma massage work for refugees. It just about broke my heart. And, finally, the book includes an erotic triangle of a German, an American, and an American-German. I’ve lived here for more than 30 years, and can relate to all three of these characters! The triangle however is not based on personal experience.”
With multiple published works, and one book in the process of finding a publisher, Campbell said she finds that she still has plenty of ideas she wants to work on and she draws inspiration and energy from other creative people she associates with.
“I can’t write fast enough to keep up with all the ideas for stories,” Campbell said. “I belong to The Writers in Stuttgart and we meet up to critique each other’s works fiercely and honestly. I also write for NEAT, Stuttgart’s New English American Theater. I’m around talented actors, and singers, and musicians, and playwrights. Writing is a solitary endeavor, and both groups’ energies and creative work definitely inspire me.”
Campbell’s writing covers a variety of topics and characters, but she does hope whatever pieces of her work people may read they can find a common thread.
“That we’re all connected,” she said. “Everyone of us shares the same dreams and humanity. No matter what our age or race or sex or religion or place of origin, I hope my readers recognize themselves in my characters and their dilemmas.”
With readers all around the world, Campbell said it is always exciting when she hears from people back home to who enjoy her work.
“For our last class reunion, I offered to read from my first book as part of the evening’s entertainment program,” Campbell said. “My old classmates were fantastically supportive. A lot of my work is set in upstate New York ‘Tsunami Cowboys,’ the story Carl Possessed from ‘Broken In,’ and the title story of ‘The Trail Back Out.’ When people tell me I got the details right, it feels great. There’s also a very deep satisfaction that my peers – the people who knew me way, way back, when I first said out loud that I wanted to be a writer – read my work and tell me they like it. Cazenovia formed my sensibilities. Those impressions still inform my writing. They always will.
An excerpt from ‘The Taste of Your Name’ will be appearing soon in the very first issue of Epistemic Literary, a free online magazine.
Campbell encourages readers to look for her short story Food is Love.
For more information on Campbell and her work, visit jadicampbell.com.