In the coming weeks, I will be hosting a series of interviews with some excellent authors of dark fiction. I hope to get to know my fellow writers a little better through this process, but whether or not that happens, I know I will learn a lot from them.
My guest today is J. E. Cammon, a talented writer hailing from beautiful Atlanta, Georgia. He spends his days thinking of fantastic pasts, paranormal presents, and possible futures. When he talks to himself, it’s always in the form of questions like “What if” and “Why not” and he only rarely answers out loud, preferring instead to write things that seem a bit like answers, but mostly like stories.
Todd Allen: Tell me about one of these stories. What is your book about?
J. E. Cammon: Where Shadows Lie: Bay City, is the first in a series of novels that tries to examine the monster genre from a different angle. The closest, popular idea I could compare it to is Being Human, though the (TV) series is different from the show, because I also wanted to challenge the characteristics of those afflictions as well, their origins, their cures, and the lore surrounding them. In the first book, many of the main characters are introduced, and the stage is set for a plunge into a dark world of debts and lies.
TA: A world of debts and lies? The cynics among us might say that sounds a lot like our world. Was that world influenced by the one we live in?
JE: Definitively. Because I wanted to try to turn the notion of monster = bad guy on its head, the characters had to be as close to real, genuine people as I could make them. And I believe that distance can be contracted via detail: if the characters have to deal with rent, bus fare, keeping a job. I wanted the world in the novel to feel exactly like the world we live in, except nightmares can happen in the daylight.
TA: What is the hardest part of writing horror fiction for you?
JE: It feels like the normal response to horror is not to embrace the circumstances of a given character. To call them stupid, or slow, to label their misery as deserved or just. In that regard, I think the hardest part of writing horror is immersing the reader in the circumstances so they feel how the character feels. That they could have made the same decisions, and so could find themselves in the same situations. In genres where positive things are more likely to happen, their guards are lower, I find.
TA: At one time or another, a reader has said to me, “That was an odd choice your character made. I wouldn’t have done that.” But the inconsistency is that the reader knows they are reading a horror story. The character doesn’t know they are living a horror story. How do you keep the reader sympathetic to the character’s struggles?
JE: Well, it is a challenge, but what I try to do is keep the reader interested. Invested might even be a better word. They may never experience the full immersion, but I think a strong second place would be to keep them on the character’s side, so rather than “I wouldn’t have done that,” it comes across more as “No! Why would you do that?” Emotion can be a strong glue to fasten a reader to a character, or circumstance.
TA: The horror genre is synonymous with violence. How do you view it?
JE: I view violence in a lot of different ways. There’s physical violence, but there’s also emotional violence and verbal violence. When someone tears a person down with criticism, it can be done harshly, or gently, quickly or slowly, directly, indirectly. It can take on a lot of the same characteristics of a sledge hammer to the knee, even the impact can be similar, and in some cases farther reaching. I definitely think of it as a tool, because tools depend a lot on how they’re used. Their existence is inherently inert, but in the right hands, all sorts of other things can be crafted and conjured.
TA: That kind of brings me back to what you said about immersing a reader—putting the reader in the character’s shoes. When you get the reader there, what do you prefer to hit them with, emotional violence or physical violence?
JE: Well, surprise, physical violence of course. I don’t structure my plots from the angle of always looking to do what is unexpected. I try to work on character authenticity, so their decisions, their perspectives are believable and understandable. But if I can make them appear as genuine and real people, and surprise the reader with turns in the situation at the same time, all the better.
TA: What do you find most challenging about the craft of writing?
JE: The thing I find most challenging is getting the image from my head to the reader’s head. Since I started, it’s the only thing I still consistently do very poorly. I’ve improved in every other way. It could also be that I have improved at conveying my mental images, but the complexity of my ideas has far outpaced my ability to explain them. It is a constant challenge to thoroughly work through the paces, mechanically invest in the process, and hit that mark where the reader understands all of what you wrote.
TA: Sometimes it is difficult for a writer to not get too descriptive when conveying an idea. How do you keep from going too heavy on description?
JE: Actually, I’ve been told that I don’t describe things enough. I went through my share of doorstop novels and had an adverse reaction. In school, I was accused more than once of being a minimalist. Normally, unless it’s ongoing phenomena, I don’t spend more than a line or two on whatever it is.
TA: What advice would you give beginning writers?
JE: Recently, I happened upon a metaphor that I really like concerning this: writing is like scratching through a scab. The first several swipes can be futile and purposeless, but if you keep at it, you can scrape down into the messy truth of your aim. Advice I was given was to “write it all down before you realize it sucks,” and that idea requires a lot of unpacking, at least it did for me. My metaphor has the same premise, and is a manner of saying to keep at it. Don’t stop. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. You’ll find different ways, clearer ways, better ways of conveying your ideas to others. You will also likely find other things to write about. Keep digging. Eventually, you will scrape down into the messy truth of your aim.
TA: Can you sum up the messy truth behind Where Shadows Lie in a few words?
JE: Certainly. There are a few ideas that kind of ground the universe and set the tone for the series. Two of them are “are you willing to ruin someone else’s happy ending to get your own,” and “all debts come due.”
Many thanks to J. E. Cammon for taking the time to talk with me. Where Shadows Lie: Bay City is available for purchase at Amazon and for more news and info on J. E. check out his website at JECammon.com.