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Interview: Rebecca Campbell on “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest”

Tell us a bit about “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest.”

It describes childbirth and the strange, disorienting first weeks home with a newborn. Since those experiences are already intense and kind of dream-like (or nightmarish?), it didn’t take much to nudge the story over into horror just by describing what we went through, then making it a little worse, a little weirder for the characters. That’s why I love writing SF/F/H, actually. A little strangeness makes stories like this feel more real, rather than less, maybe because the experience is already so strange.


Was this story personal to you in any way, and what prompted you to write it?

Oh man, yes. I actually came up with the idea the week we brought home our son, when I fell asleep and thought there was a fourth person in the house but couldn’t figure out who they were. I didn’t start writing the story until a few months later, but that slightly uncanny experience—in my own home, at a moment of physical exhaustion and startling newness—was waiting for me when I had the brain-space to write again. It was important to me that I process the experience in the way I process most important experiences: by making up a creepy story.


What would you want a reader to take away from “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest?”

Primarily, I want people to feel a sense of the uncanny in the everyday one that doesn’t resolve in a comfortable way. In fact, that’s what I want readers to take from all my work.

After that, maybe a bit of compassion for new families. It’s hard for everyone involved, and you never know what someone’s experience is really like, behind their public face. We were pretty lucky through pregnancy and childbirth and with our son, but it was still an emotional earthquake.


Was there any aspect of this story that you found difficult to write?

Yes. Ultimately the story is about the vulnerability of children, their helplessness, especially as infants, and the terrifying realization you have as a parent that you more than anyone else in the world are likely to hurt your kid. After all, most of the hurt caused to children is caused by their parents. If there’s true-life horror, that’s it.


Why do you write? 

To make sense of things. To capture strange moments in ordinary lives. To leave a record. To be one tiny voice in a global conversation that started before I was born and will continue long after I’m dead.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

This is hard to answer, mostly because while I am one of nature’s fans, I’m not always sure that the writers I love have had a clear influence on me. Maybe because it seems like wishful thinking to say that Chekhov and Alice Munro are visible in my work? I love to read them, and please please please I hope they’ve influenced me.

I can, however, definitely see Angela Carter, and a little whisper of Haruki Murakami. Also, Ursula le Guin, Kelly Link. Daphne du Maurier and Robert Aickman. And all the nineteenth-century poetry I read as a kid. I read a lot of Tennyson, and I don’t think I can escape from his kind of picturesque, even when I’m writing about haunted houses rather than waterfalls.


What are you working on now? 

A novel! Still! Always. Forever. It’s actually closer to done than it was, so I’m pretty stoked. But I’ve also been thinking it’s close to done for a while. Every once in a while, I take time away because I come up with an idea for a short story, though I probably should be more focused. Of course, “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest” is one such distraction, and I’m glad I allowed myself the novel-holiday to write about Jen.


“The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

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