Dana Cameron Interview

Dana Cameron Interviewed by Kate Malmon

Kate Malmon: Congratulations on the publication of your first full-length “Fangborn” novel! Tell us about your latest novel, SEVEN KINDS OF HELL.

Dana Cameron: Thank you, Kate! Zoe Miller’s an archaeologist who’s been on the run from her father’s family. They’re reputed to be killers, and her own tendency to violence—and the occasional glimpse of fangs in the mirror—has her worried about her sanity. But when her cousin is kidnapped, Zoe is forced to come to grips with her powers: She’s a werewolf and Fangborn, part of a family of supernatural creatures dedicated to protecting humanity. Zoe must her use all of her archaeological talents and supernatural abilities against her enemies—human and Fangborn—who seek an artifact of world-ending power.

KM: The heroine in your previous novels was archeologist Emma Fielding. The Fielding books were rooted in scientific theory and fact. This new novel features another archeologist who also happens to be a werewolf. How did you decide to make the leap to Urban Fantasy? What is it about this genre that appeals to you?

DC: The idea of the Fangborn first came to me writing a short story, “The Night Things Changed,” for Charlaine Harris’ and Toni L.P. Kelner’s Wolfsbane and Mistletoe anthology. In that story, I discovered the Fangborn—vampires, werewolves, and oracles—were secret superheroes, dedicated to fighting evil. With that in mind, I turned around a lot of the traditional conventions about supernatural creatures. A number of short stories followed, and I was hooked! I started work on a Fangborn novel. I also started on an archaeological thriller, that stalled…but something was working, and I couldn’t quite chuck it entirely. When I realized they were two halves of the same book, it all came together.
The genre appeals to me because it is a broad canvas. There’s a lot of scope for great storytelling, and there’s a lot of room for metaphor. I like being able to discuss big issues of gender, power, justice—and what it means to be human.

KM: Pop culture has taught us all about vampires and werewolves. Vampires melt in the daylight and can be repelled by a cross. Werewolves are slaves to the full moon and you can kill them with a silver bullet. The Fangborn are not tied down to these rules. How do you balance readers’ expectations of these creatures while exercising your poetic license with them?

DC: I think in this case I’m honoring the conventions by switching them up. If I acknowledge the traditions and say, “but in my world, these are fallacies handed down by folklore and caused by Fangborn misdirection for purposes of concealment,” the reader, I hope, understands that I know what’s expected, but I’m playing with it. I’m not ignoring the rules, but reinterpreting them. My werewolves are at the scene because they’re tracking killers, not because they’re the bad guys.

KM: SEVEN KINDS OF HELL heroine Zoe Miller is the latest addition to your stable of leading ladies. You are now writing short stories or novels about Zoe, archeologist Emma Fielding, colonial innkeeper Anna Hoyt, and thriller protagonist Jayne. Do you plan continuing each woman’s story or do you see focusing on one heroine over the others?

DC: For now, it’s all Fangborn, and therefore, all/mostly Zoe, all the time! But I don’t plan to exclude any of the others. There’s a Jayne story, “Dialing In,” forthcoming, and a new Anna Hoyt story in the works. And there are two Fangborn stories coming out this fall that don’t feature Zoe. But the reason I love these characters because they get to express different aspects about feminism and culture. Emma works within the bounds of society to change things as an academic, things that ultimately express what I was trying to do as an archaeologist. Anna Hoyt is my look an un-prettified history that I suspect existed but is too easy to overlook because it isn’t reflected in the historical record. I adore Jayne because she’s tough and violent and doesn’t have any reason for the mayhem she creates but the belief the world will be better if she kills villains who really need it. Zoe is a mix: she has Emma’s historical perspective and a curiosity that will come into play in the Fangborn series. Like Anna, Zoe (as a Fangborn and a young woman on the run) has to work within the margins of society. She has Jayne’s violence when she’s a werewolf, and she’s learning about power.

KM: *Checks Cameron’s credentials* You have some serious geek cred. It’s well known that you are a fan of comic books, the TV show “Firefly”, and all things sci-fi. Do you think women who like comics and sci-fi are becoming less of a novelty? What would you tell a young girl who might be ashamed of her geek-ness?

DC: *buffs polyhedral dice and tries to look knowledgeable about the arcane* OMG, do I love this question! Yes, I do think it’s less of a novelty. I don’t know what the stats are now, but I know that when I was buying a lot of comics in the mid- to late- (cough, cough) 1980s, only about one in ten purchases were made by women. I think SF and geekdom in general has the potential to be hugely empowering; it is now, but has a long way to go–the idea of what a “real” fan is still used too often as a gateway. But I’m optimistic: just check out the essays in Whedonistas or CHICKS DIG COMICS OR CHICKS DIG TIME LORDS. There’s certainly way more women reading AND writing comics and SF/F/Horror now, and I love that.
What I would tell a young girl–what I would tell myself back when? Learn to talk to other folks who aren’t into Dr. Who, who don’t get why Star Wars and Tolkien are amazing. BUT: Embrace your geekitude. My geek and nerd interests have led to every good thing in my life, and sharing an intellectual challenge, especially with someone you love, is the most amazing thing in the world. I met (“stalked” is such an ugly word”) my high-school boyfriend/now husband in the Stephen King section of the library, and eventually he asked me out after an all-night D&D game. He introduced me to Heinlein and golden age SF (when I asked him what he learned from me, he said I taught him how to interact with groups of people). We spent more money on comics than we did on groceries when we were first married. My love of history and science made archaeology the perfect job for me, until I found I could take my love of teaching and writing and create fiction from them. The more I examine why I love these things, the more it strengthens my work. In some way, your passions reveal your true self and your real talents, and if you can channel that into your life and work, you’ll be okay. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
(And yes, my cats are named Kaylee and Zoe, after characters from “Firefly.”)

KM: In the spirit of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and the Bernard Pivot questions asked of every guest, we have our own set of questions we ask of every interviewee.

DC: Ah, Bernard Pivot! Who inspires James Lipton! What a delight! Please, please ask me what my favorite curse word is…

KM: When did you finally say, “Yeah… I’m gonna write stuff for a living. And it will be AWESOME.”

DC: I was still adjunct teaching and had just received the contract for the first Emma books; I was applying for jobs that were all across the country. I remember very clearly the moment when I thought, “I can continue to shop for professorial jobs, and probably have to leave the house we just bought in a town we love. Or I can try this writing gig, where they’re already willing to pay me.” It was terrible and it was scary and it was liberating. Then I realized I could teach through the books, and unleash a part of myself that really wanted to explore fiction. I could still use all I loved about archaeology, history, and science.
The “awesome” is ongoing. It was a terrific decision; I’ve had wonderful feedback from readers and friendships with amazing writers, and I’ve learned so much about writing. It was exactly the right thing to do, and if I had to trade anything for archaeology, writing was perfect.

KM: What was your favorite moment in mystery writing? The moment that when you read it on the page, you smiled and said, “That was so cool!”

DC: If you’re talking about reading other writers, it was about page three of Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank, where she overturns the notion of the unworldly scholar. It was so subtle and such a smack in the face, I knew I’d love the rest of the book, and the rest of the series.
If you’re talking about me writing, recently, I was editing a new Jayne story. I was re-reading it and thinking…who wrote that? I’m not that cold-blooded! I’m not that bad-ass! Cool! But really, Zoe has been a revelation to me. I took Seven Kinds of Hell through many editing passes, and I kept loving it. It’s the book I’ve always wanted to write; I applied everything I learned from every other project. When I surprise myself—when any writer surprises herself—that’s the best. And I can honestly say I did that, with this book.

KM: What was the moment that made you say, “Writing books is amazing”?

DC: It was with Site Unseen, and the first time I went to an event and someone said, “Oh, my god, you’re Dana Cameron!” I thought some friends were yanking my chain and had sent someone over to tease me! But the books were out there, working on their own, and people were discovering my work. I wanted to communicate with folks, and that was really the first time I knew I was succeeding at that.

KM: Our standard Beatles or Rolling Stones question: Nancy Drew or Agatha Christie?

DC: Argh! Nancy Drew was first, and gave me an idea that there were models of self-sufficient, smart women in the world of fiction. Whatever political problems you might have with her, she was her own agent. That led to me reading omnivorously, on the lookout for other literary heroines.
But. It was seeing “The Mousetrap,” and reading the play for the first time that really got me thinking about writing and directing. I’d read Shakespeare before that, but “The Mousetrap” led to me discovering other playwrights and thinking about the shape of storytelling.
So as a reader, I say Nancy Drew. As a writer, I say Christie.

KM: Parting thoughts?

DC: Do we have to leave? Can’t we grab some beers and keep yammering? To the treehouse! Seriously, thank you so much—these were great questions and I had a blast!