This week's author, Bill Cameron, is another member of the Killer Year, a group of debut thriller and suspense novelists. His first book, "Lost Dog" will be available in April
WN: Where did the idea for "Lost Dog" come from?
CAMERON: The story evolved over time, starting from a tiny germ. Back in the mid-90s I took a writing class taught by mystery writer Gordon DeMarco. Gordon had a playful, engaging teaching style and encouraged his students to experiment. The first assignment, a kind of warm-up exercise, was to write a scene with an elephant in it. That's it -- beyond the elephant, it was anything goes. My scene ended up being about a man wandering around a park at dawn looking for a lost toy elephant. As it happens, the fellow doesn't find the elephant; he finds a dead body instead. Gordon said he loved the fact while I'd actually written a scene without an elephant in it, the missing elephant was critical to the arc of the narrative.
That scene, the missing elephant transformed into a missing plushie dog, became the opening scene of Lost Dog. With that as my starting point, I asked myself what-if questions about the meaning and effect of finding a murder victim during a seemingly innocuous act. I was interested in exploring the event from the perspective of someone less often seen in crime fiction: a man ill-equipped to cope with violence and its aftermath. Peter, the main character, isn't a typical amateur sleuth; he's an introvert with impulse control issues thrown into the middle of a murder investigation by happenstance. Figuring out his reactions, and the reactions of the people he meets, is what interested me most. Ultimately, partly as a result of his own rash choices, Peter is forced to deal with the murder directly, but the novel is less about solving the crime than about exploring the impact of violence and loss on Peter and other characters.
WN: You're a part of Killer Year; how has that group helped you? What's been fun/exciting/encouraging about being part of that group?
CAMERON: The great thing about the Killer Year is it's like a big support group full of folks in the same giddy, slightly bemused state I'm in. Since we're all first time authors, we all have a lot to learn, though some of us have more knowledge and experience than others. We even have a book editor among us, a magazine editor, screen and non-fiction writers, and even a former private eye!
Without the support of the group, I think I'd feel a lot more isolated. Writing is a solitary process, of course, but publishing involves many people. Yet as a first time novelist, exactly what all those people are doing, and why, is sometimes a mystery. Being part of Killer Year has done so much to help me feel part of the process, rather than simply a baffled, lonesome newbie.
We share our successes and anxieties, kick around ideas and learn from each other. Some of us have even had a chance to meet in person, which I've loved. It's been a real gift and a joy. The members of the Killer Year have become friends I hope to have for the rest of my life.
WN: What's your writing process like?
CAMERON: I tend to be a slow, deliberate writer. During any given writing session I rarely produce a lot of words, but I make steady progress once I get rolling on a project. I do a lot of self-editing as I go, which probably accounts for my slow pace.
I find I'm not able to write at home, partly because I do my day job from home, and partly because there are so many distractions, so many things that need doing. Maybe it's the dishes, maybe it's responding to a work-related email, maybe the dog needs some play time. So when I'm in the thick of a project, I take my laptop to a nearby coffee shop at the end of the work day and write for several hours. On good days, I can get to the coffee by about four o'clock and write until seven. I usually write 4-5 days a week, and drink gallons of coffee in the process!
WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?
CAMERON: The best part of being a writer is when I lose myself in a story, when all I'm thinking about what what comes next and why, or who this character is and what drives them? I love asking what-if questions, and then discovering the answers in myself and in what I observe in the world. The sensation of going into a kind of creative fugue is very powerful and alluring. Finishing a story is gratifying as well, but the process itself is what brings back to the keyboard again and again.
The most challenging part is balancing the rest of my life with my need to write and the demands of the publication process. It's fun and very exciting to have a book coming out, but there's also a lot to do. I wouldn't trade it, but there are times when I wonder how I'm going to get everything done. Right now, trying to juggle my day job, writing my next novel, and working through the edits on Lost Dog is taking just about every waking moment, though I do occasionally grab a snack as I pass through the kitchen to let the dog out.
WN: How did you feel when you first saw your name on the cover of a book?
CAMERON: So far, I've only see my name on cover art, though I expect to see Advanced Reader Copies any day now. But the day my editor sent me the cover art was the day I finally came to believe that this whole crazy situation was actually real. Not only did I have a contract -- which is very cool but also very abstract -- I had direct evidence that someone was out there working to put my novel into bookstores. And the art is, I think, beautiful. Dark and haunting, perfectly capturing the mood of the novel. I couldn't be more pleased with it.
WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
CAMERON: This is a tough question, because as soon as I think I know the answer, I think of something else. If I had to pin it down to one though, I'd have to say One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. There's so much about the book which inspires, from the beauty of the language, to the fluidity and subjectivity of time and reality, to the power of imagery and imagination. But in the end, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a novel that simply makes me want to write. It's lovely and lyrical, with a power that draws me in again and again, and which also sparks my desire to create.
Books that have had a more direct influence on my approach to crime fiction include the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald, the Matthew Scudder novels by Lawrence Block, and more recently the Cecil Younger novels by John Straley. While they are different in many ways, each features flawed protagonists who nonetheless project a kind of nobility through their flaws. My hope is I can find and show the nobility in the people in my own stories.
WN: What is your favorite word and why?
CAMERON: It would have to be defenestrate, to throw something or someone out the window. I'm just delighted by the fact that a word exists specifically for throwing things out the window. And such a useful word. Who hasn't desperately needed to defenestrate someone or something at some point in their lives? All of us, I'm sure!
WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?
CAMERON: Don't give up. I can't say how many times I heard that, and yet every time it was the thing I most needed to hear. It can take so long to achieve your goals as a writer, and there are no guarantees -- but the one sure way to never achieve them is to stop. I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen years old, unpublishable dreck nonetheless critical to my development and education as a writer. I'm forty-three now, and had to write three more novels, each a necessary step in the learning process, to reach the point where I am now. There's no telling what will come next, but I'm glad I stuck with it this far.