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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Author Interview: J.E. Cammon

Interview with 
J. E. Cammon, 
author of 
Where Shadows Lie

Welcome, J. E. Cammon, to The Happy Book Reviewer! I’m happy to talk to you today about your paranormal urban fantasy series,Where Shadows Lie

In Where Shadows Lie: Bay City, the first book in the series, regular people and supernatural creatures live side by side in the eastern US seaport of Bay City. Okay, I have to ask, is this book going to give me nightmares (i.e. is it scary paranormal), or is the paranormal aspect of book more "this is how life is"?

Cammon: Great question. I would say neither, but from feedback I’ve gathered from my readers, it’s closer to the former than the latter. However, I do want to stress, to your question, that the first book, and those that follow are closest to “this is how life is (for us monsters).” That was the original idea, to capture existence for those who are hunted rather than those that hunt (even though it branches out to address even the hunting types in latter books). I felt, approaching the genre, that unless perspective was captured from the perspective of some goodly, or at least guilt-ridden monstrous protagonist, that most stories clearly assigned hero and villain on the basis of human and non human.

Interesting! And your "monsters" (your main characters) are David, Jarvis, and Nick. I find it so interesting that Nick has a "gift" of bringing change wherever he goes. I've heard of characters who can fly, disappear, never die, etc... but this is an new power to me! How did you come up with this? 

Cammon: I came up with it in retrospect, or rather, I came up with that description for it in retrospect. I had a few of the stories drafted by the time it came around to trying to blurb the first one, and I took a long look at the characters and tried to tersely describe their most intrinsic qualities. For Nick, he is a person who questions, and in the world I’ve designed, those quandaries are even more dangerous than their answers. Unfortunately, Nick is the kind of person who, in the beginning, has to ask. It’s in his nature, to walk through that door. An important question he has to answer through his personal storyline is about walking through the door, even after knowing what was on the other side.

Can you give an example from the book of something that happens because of his gift/curse?

Cammon: Well, Jarvis and David are two characters who are, generally, going through the motions. They’re static, as well as older and more experienced than Nick in the beginning. In his shoes, both of them would have made different decisions. Actually, in the very first chapter, Nick’s ability to change, or unveil, affects David. It affects David such that it brings about the entire first book, maybe even series, more or less. By the time Jarvis and David get involved, things have already grown wheels and for awhile, all they can do is react.

The "main character" role cycles in each book, with David as the lead in Where Shadows Lie: Bay City, his friend Nick as the lead in Where Shadows Lie: Hunting Grounds, and the third friend, Jarvis, as the lead in Where Shadows Lie: Steeler's Mill. Word on the street is that the series will continue to Book 8... will this character cycle continue as well?

Cammon: Another great question. Yes and no. Honestly, when I got to the end of the first book, I realized I had a decision to make. I could either twist things, and force the characters to stay near to one another, or I could follow where things seemed to be going organically. The role shifting occurs because of physical distance, not narrative choice, you see. David and Jarvis are not in the second book at all; it’s just about Nick. He goes off and meets new friends and makes new enemies. Likewise with the third book, Steeler’s Mill. Jarvis goes off in a different direction and there is also no sighting of Nick or David. David’s first “main character” book came out just this fall, Campaign Trails. The stories occur in similar time in different space. Book 8, which I’m nearing completion, is when they all come back together, to finish the series off.

Do you find it difficult to change the point-of-view like that? I mean, to suddenly stop seeing the world through Nick's eyes and starting to see through vampire Jarvis' eyes? Or is it actually easier, since you don't have to invent someone from scratch each time?

Cammon: Hm, I wouldn’t describe it as easy or difficult. When I move the story forward, I try to figure out what the most interesting perspective to tell the next section from. Sometimes it’s important to see a character’s transformation through someone else’s eyes. Other times it’s helpful to be able to obscure a character’s motives from the reader by observing a situation through someone who doesn’t know what’s going on. And vice versa. At times, I will try to tell a bit of the story through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know what’s what, but the reader has been given the answers, so they’re in on it, and the third person limited character is confused and frightened. I guess I think about one story having many versions, depending who’s doing the telling, so since I can’t tell the story that many times, I try to tell the most interesting bits of the whole thing.

That's a great point. Our lives are just the same--we can be living and working side-by-side with someone, but the world and situations they're experiencing could be wildly different from our own. But back to the fictional world... what was the most fun part of writing the Where Shadows Lie series?

Cammon: Well, honestly, I put a lot of people I know in the stories. Most of the characters are loosely or tightly based on people in my life. It’s a lot of fun seeing the reactions of those people, or people who know them. When I can elicit a “that is totally him/her” I feel pretty good. It is also very satisfying when people tell me they liked a certain character, and wanted to know more, and I can affirm to them that exposition comes with later books. So, I guess a lot of the fun comes from being able to talk to people about the stories. Also, despite the darker mood, there are points of comedy, and I will hardly ever turn down a smile.

Watch out, Friends of J. E. Cammon! You could be the next monster he writes about!  

So, what have you learned as the series has continued (other than how to mine your social contacts for writing fodder)?

Cammon: I have learned never to assume that a character or a story cannot surprise. As I said, I’m 8 books in. Just the other day, though, I was writing along and came to a realization that wasn’t in my outline. I thought about it for days, the idea that something was going to happen, had to happen, because of all the different circumstances introduced before it. I try to outline very carefully, to have all my ducks in a row before I go to writing, because I have some very specific goals and fragile interactions at work. When something like that surprise happens, it can be somewhat overwhelming, but in my experience if I am having that kind of reaction, then the reader is definitely in for some thrills.

If a high school class were reading your book some day, what themes would the teacher be wanting them to pick up on in Bay City

Cammon: I think a teacher would certainly highlight criticism of the relationship between identity and action as they pertain to goodness or badness. Is a vampire worse than a human murderer? What does it mean to be a monster, and how damning of a state is it? 

Ooo, I like that. And do those themes carry through the series, or do they change book by book?

Cammon: I think yes, those themes carry forward throughout all the books. David, the shape shifter, deals with his nature a lot, because he believes what he is determines what he can be, to others in the world and to his own station. In his own storyline, he flip flops throughout the series before finally coming to a conclusion near the end. For Jarvis, he doesn’t get the same choice, as a vampire. He’s dead, and there’s no cure for that, so what is his existence worth, if not life? Nick undergoes some changes, too, but I don’t want to spoil everything…

Okay, I won't press you more. Don't want to give anything away! Let me switch over to another literary topic-- setting! You're from Atlanta, Georgia. Do you expect to set a book there someday (or in a fictional town similar to Atlanta)?

Cammon: I came to the realization recently, actually, that the South is very intrinsic to my sense of self, as an author. I might not put the classic Southern themes in my stories, but the things I write about, and how I write about them, are absolutely influenced by what I’ve seen and experienced. I’ve decided not to shy away from it, either. The name Terminus shows up a lot in other stories and ideas I’ve had, which is an old name for Atlanta, which used to be the “zero mile marker” for train lines connecting the port in Savannah and the west. The idea that this place is, in some regards, the end, or the beginning, is one I go back to again and again.

Pretty much all writers also love reading. Do you read genres similar to the one you write in, or do you read totally different genres?

Cammon: I read totally different genres, which I’m told is why my supernatural stories don’t sound like other stories of the genre. I think that’s a good thing, but I’m also not a millionaire, so maybe that’s worth looking into. I enjoy stories about people, and their circumstances, and their responses, character driven fiction. The Where Shadows Lie series came from a situation where people, rich, round people had supernatural circumstances, and what their responses might be. I didn’t focus a whole lot on the artifacts of magic and the trappings of dark Romanticism, but more the people using those artifacts and trapped within those dark themes.

What book have you read that that you wish you had written?

Cammon: The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace. It is, by far, the most terrifyingly rich volume of prose I have ever experienced. It’s the only book I’ve ever read that made me think about putting down my pen, because I thought that I would never write as well.

I know what you mean exactly. I felt just so sad when I first read Knut Hamsun's novella Hunger knowing that I could never write something so beautiful. Still, I can't resist beautiful, rich fiction. I'm going to have to look up Earl Lovelace's book now. 

Once the Where Shadows Lie series ends, will that end David, Nick, and Jarvis' stories, or might they make a cameo in other books? 
Or are you ready to be rid of them?

Cammon: Actually, I’m leaving the doors open, on purpose. And I say doors because the stories that could come about, because of how the series ends, are very divergent. One is sort of a high urban fantasy, very metaphysical and otherworldly, and the other is very grounded, in a much more recognizable world, and the two stories won’t speak to each other the way the Where Shadows Lie books do (I mentioned the stories occur in similar time; each book actually makes reference to things that happen in other books). Regardless, I think it will depend a lot on reader interest.

I think I am definitely ready to be rid of the pressure of having a story unfinished. To be out, trying to enjoy myself, feeling like there is work I could be doing. Until I finish it, it will be something hanging over my head. Thankfully, it’s something I enjoy, that I’m invested in. But until I get to that point, it will be incomplete, like a half-built bridge. It starts, and then just doesn’t finish.

You must be working on a next book though. Can't just finish a bridge and never start work on another! Can you give us a hint of what it is about?

Cammon: The next book I’m working on is the second of a Science Fiction series about humans living on a new interstellar frontier after escaping bondage on an Earth generations ago. Because of their enslavement, however, some humans are occasionally born with strange and amazing psychic powers, which is believed to be a devilish taint, a cursed mark. That same power, though, is one of the key reasons humanity was able to escape in the first place, so it makes for a complicated situation. The series is about a young member of this sub race, growing to manhood on the new frontier, searching for his place.

Well, until that bridge is ready to unveil to the world, folks can find Where Shadows Lie: Bay City in e-book or print at:


  1. Very interesting and substantive interview. I like the sub-text questioning about the nature of monsters, both human and otherwise.

    One thing though, when indie book stores try to order our books, they will be listed at extremely high prices, like over $20 cost TO THEM! Doesn't really inspire them to order for customers who are better off going to an internet retailer for the best prices.

  2. Wow! Is that all indie bookstores? What a bummer!