Wretched Old Tatters of Paper Run My Life: An Interview with Dana Cameron


Smart, sassy, and a damn fine writer, meet Dana Cameron!


RLM: When you’re writing, do you think at all about who will be reading you?

DC: Yes and no. When I start a project, I try to write something I would be excited to read myself. You won’t engage anyone if you’re bored reading your own work! In revisions, however, after my beta readers have responded to the work, I think about the broader audience and how to make it entertaining for the greatest number of readers, while maintaining my own voice and aesthetic.


RLM: How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?

DC: Poorly! I’ve found that I’m so distressed by bad reviews, no matter how unfounded they may be, that no good review, no matter how great, can make up for them. It takes a long time to shake off a bad review and I don’t have time to spare, so I’ve learned not to read any reviews that my publisher or agent don’t send me. But because it is important to consider negative feedback, my husband keeps a spreadsheet with the main points of every review he finds and gives me “the executive summary” of what I might want to consider changing in the next book or what readers really love—and want more of. It’s much more productive and far less toxic for me.


RLM: Tell me about your daily writing routine.

DC: I watch TV with breakfast, preferably something familiar with a narrative (ideally, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” or “The Sopranos”) that I can think about critically while I wake up. That gets me in the writing frame of mind and I warm up after that with email and checking Facebook or Twitter. I write until about one, then lunch and maybe errands, and then I either write more or edit. When I’m in the middle of a project, I try to get between five and eight pages a day, whether in one book or across several different WIPs.

I schedule things very carefully, with a year-at-a-glance calendar on my wall to keep track of projects. This daily routine goes out the door at the end of a book, because the ideas come very quickly, tying everything together. My record for those days is about twenty pages, but it’s not pretty.

What for you is the most difficult part of the writing process? What is the easiest?

Plotting is the hardest for me, followed closely by character description. Because I write out of chronological sequence, working on whatever scene springs to my mind, it takes a long time for the main themes I’m exploring to gel; that really only happens when I’m about half-way through the book and things start to tie together. Character description is hard because I have an ideal in my head that seems to falter when I try to write it out. What usually works in that case is for me to have one character think of the one I’m trying to describe and blend the physical description with that character’s emotional response.

The easiest thing for me is editing. I love that feeling when you see a clunky sentence or a plot point that doesn’t make sense and you fix it! I find a great deal of satisfaction in that.


RLM: On average, how much research do you conduct for your books?

That’s an interesting question for me, because when I started writing the Emma Fielding archaeology mysteries, I worried because I never seemed to do any research. Then I realized I’d already done twenty years of research, in the form of my first career in historical archaeology! It’s also hard to estimate because I incorporate a lot of my experiences in traveling into my books. Setting is very important for me, especially with the Fangborn series, because I like to find ways to incorporate my superheroic vampires, werewolves, and oracles into the history and traditions of world cultures.

I tend to write any book doing just enough “spot research” on something I don’t know about to give see if it gives me other ideas I can also use. After I have a good rough draft, I’ll go back and do more research, find experts, etc., to make sure I get details right.

Also: Research is a good excuse to buy new reference books!


RLM: Do you ever write yourself into a corner? If so, how do you work around that?

I get rid of the corner, so far as I, can without changing the rules of my world and/or cheating the reader. When I’m finding it hard to write something, it’s either because I’m trying to avoid writing a section I know will be emotionally difficult or because I’m trying to make a character do something that is contrary to his or her nature. The interesting thing is that often, if I say it out loud, as if I’m telling someone what’s going on and what should be happening, I find the answer to my problem.

murder at the beach


RLM: You recently edited an anthology of mystery stories to support the Long Beach Public Library Foundation. Tell me how that project got started?

My part in it began when Janet Reid and Ingrid Willis invited me to edit the anthology. I was honored and thought it was a terrific idea which, by including both the well-established guest of honor stories and work by authors who’d never published before, really emphasized the big tent of Bouchercon.

I was very grateful to them, the contributors, Down and Out Books, and the team of preliminary readers who really helped the project take off. I’m delighted to know they’ll be doing a similar project for Bouchercon Raleigh.


RLM: How did the role of editor versus author feel? Do you think this is something you’ll do again?

DC: While I always knew there’s an art to editing, it was made very clear to me when I tried it myself. I’d absolutely try it again, as it’s a chance to work with terrific writers.


RLM: An entire section of your website is devoted to educating writers. What, if any, responsibility do you think established authors have towards new/emerging authors?

DC: If there is a responsibility, I think it’s to demystify the process of writing. It’s not magic, there’s no one simple formula. Writing takes talent, sure, but there’s also a hell of a lot of work involved and that shape of that work will be different for everyone. I think one of the hardest things to learn is how to edit your own work, to be able to step outside it and improve it, because that takes a balancing act of listening to good critics and trusting your own instincts.

I like to teach, so it was natural for me to add those sections to the website. Every time I do a workshop or a class, I add to them.


RLM: What’s next for you? What are you working?

DC: This coming March, my third Fangborn novel, Hellbender, will be out. I’m excited about that, as I left my protagonist Zoe Miller in a very tight spot at the end of Pack of Strays! I have a Sherlockian pastiche and another Fangborn short story to write. I’m planning my next addition to the Fangborn series and I’m starting work on a novel featuring Anna Hoyt, the 18th-century Boston tavern owner and “problem solver” I’ve introduced in several of my “colonial noir” short stories.


You can connect with Dana through her website or on Facebook and Twitter.

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