Campbell grew up on a small Michigan farm in a house her grandfather built. When she left home for the University of Chicago, her mother rented out her room; she has since hitchhiked across the U.S. and Canada, scaled the Swiss Alps on her bicycle, and traveled with the circus. She has led adventure tours in Russia and Eastern Europe. After earning a master's degree in mathematics, Campbell began writing fiction. She received her M.F.A. in creative writing from Western Michigan University, and now lives in Kalamazoo.