Name Bill Cameron
I’m currently 52, but my family and friends sometimes tell me they think I’m going on 17.
Where are you from?
I born and raised mostly in southwest Ohio, though we moved around a lot when I was a kid. I spent a few memorable years in Savannah, Georgia and Pawtucket, Rhode Island between my Ohio stints. I went to three different high schools in the greater Dayton area and attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (i.e., the original Miami)—then lingered in the area a few more years before relocating to Oregon in 1990. I’ve been here in the Beaver State ever since.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’m very excited about my next book, a young adult mystery called Property of the State. It will be out in June, but has already started to get some positive notice. Kirkus just gave it a starred review, and a lot of early readers have been enthusiastic.
The book is the story of Joey Getchie, a teen who goes on the run after a false accusation at school provokes a violent assault by his foster father. He ends up at the home of a family he works for, hiding out by night in an unused wing of the house. There, he discovers an unsettling mystery that makes his own dodgy foster life seem downright stable. I think of the story as The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler meets Rear Window, with maybe a soupçon of Oliver Twist thrown in.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
It goes way back for me. I wrote my first short story in 4th grade, and around the same time I started writing a series of “newspapers” which told of the depredations of one Herman the Ant, a giant arthropod that destroyed one city per edition. I actually typed those stories in a three column format using an old manual typewriter, and added a hand-drawn masthead and at least one picture of Herman eating a building or maybe the Statue of Liberty. I think I had an early taste for blood.
I continued to write through high school and majored in creative writing in college, but I didn’t publish my first fiction, a few short stories, for many years. And my first novel came out in 2007. At that point, I’d been writing for the better part of thirty years.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
By high school, I confidently referred to myself as a writer. In fact, in some ways, I was more certain of it then—decades before I wrote for publication—than I am now. My wife often scolds me when, in response to the question, “What do you do?” I talk about my day job, then mutter, “And, er, uh, I write mysteries and stuff.” She’s always quick to say, “Bill is a writer who happens to have a day job on the side.” Then she gives me a side eye that could blister paint. Little by little, I’m learning to say “I’m a writer” first though!
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
There was no one specific point of inspiration. I was a voracious reader by middle school, chewing my way through everything from Nancy Drew, Hercule Poirot, and Nero Wolfe to classic science fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien, Doc Savage adventures, and more. By high school, I’d discovered John D. McDonald and Dorothy Sayers, and there was no looking back. Everything I read served, in some way, as an inspiration. I simply loved stories and wanted to tell my own.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
This is a tricky question. I approach each new project a little differently than the last, so there isn’t a particular point-of-view or voice that is common to all my work. I work very hard on creating a distinct voice for each of my characters, whether I’m writing about them in first or third person. In terms of overall tone, I think I tilt a little dark, though I try to add humor to everything I write—even if it’s a wry humor. That said, I think there is a common underlying theme in my writing: my characters have often been failed in some way by people they counted on. My characters often have hard-earned trust issues, and their stories include them finding a way past that—while also solving a mystery and making harrowing escapes.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
With each book, the title is both a reflection of a key theme of the story and linked to a story element. A major theme in Lost Dog is about confronting loss, while the plot hinges on a toy lost by the main character’s toddler niece—a plush dog he bought for her the day she was born. The title all but announced itself.
In Property of the State, Joey Getchie has been in foster care for most of his life, and at time thinks of himself as “property of the state.” A key theme is how he comes to take ownership of his life, even as circumstances come dangerously close to ending it.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t consciously write messages into my books. Still, I often write about characters being failed by someone close to them. I think that sends the message, “If someone is counting on you, you owe it both to them and to yourself to come through. Don’t let the people close to you down.”
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
In general, my stories may touch on some event or experience from own life, but usually only as a starting point. For example, my first book, Lost Dog, opens in a park I used to live near, and I actually witnessed a violent assault there that inspired me to set my own story in the same spot.
But my second book, Chasing Smoke, found its inspiration in a dream my wife had. She woke up one morning and described the whole thing in elaborate detail, and it immediately struck a chord. Of course, as I worked through tale, I changed things enough that my wife felt like I’d got the dream all wrong, but she likes the book anyway.
Property of the State actually draws on my personal experience more than is typical for me. Joey Getchie works part-time after school cleaning what is essentially a mansion belonging to a wealthy classmate. As it happens, I did this myself when I was in high school, and the house in the book is based on the actual house I cleaned—right down to the bank-style vault in the basement. There’s more in that book that draws on my own experience, but I don’t want to go into detail since it would get too spoilery.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
The books I go back to again and again include some of the earliest I read: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, The Mystery of the Witches’ Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton, and Watership Down by Richard Adams. In terms the craft and process of writing itself, both Lawrence Block and Natalie Goldberg have had a tremendous influence on me.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I recently finished Take the Fall by Emily Hainsworth, which is a gripping read—a thriller and a mystery with rich, complicated characters and a genuinely shocking ending. I also just finished Timothy Hallinan’s latest Junior Bender novel, King Maybe. I think Tim just gets better and better with each book. Right now I’m reading The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters, which is a beautiful retelling of Hamlet from the point of view of a mixed-race teen girl in small town Oregon during the 1920s.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Cat Winters has definitely caught my eye of late, and one of my absolute favorite writers of recent years is Courtney Summers. Her books are absolutely gorgeous in their writing and deep pathos, and utterly gripping in terms of plot and character.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m working on two books at the moment. I’m deep into the the follow-up to Property of the State. And I’m also working the first of what I hope will become an adult mystery series set in the central Oregon high desert.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I think the community of writers in general, and the mystery community in particular, has been wonderfully supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better group of friends than I’ve found among other writers.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
In a sense, it’s a career I aspire to, but currently I have to keep a day job. The day may comes when that changes, but even if it doesn’t writing is an essential aspect of who I am. In that way, it’s already more important than the word “career” implies.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I think I’m still too close to my latest book to say. Nearly ten years later, there is a lot I might do differently in my first book though. And yet, some of what I might change would have an impact on the series books that followed. So maybe the best thing to do is accept that no book is ever perfect but I can learn something with each new effort and hopefully get better as a result.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
The first chapter of Property of the State can be read at:
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Every project is different enough that I feel like I almost have to learn to write all over again when I start. At the same time, I’m often concerned that I’m treading over old ground. I have my own particular batch of writerly tics, and it’s sometimes too easy to forget about them. If I do, a kind of sameness can creep into my writing. But fortunately, I have critique partners, beta readers, and editors who help me see my own blind spots.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Favorite author is always a tough call, because it’s not a name so much as a list—and a long one at that. In terms of authors I buy on release day without hesitation, there’s Courtney Summers, Craig Johnson, Lauren DeStefano, and Timothy Hallinan. I absolutely adored Heather Petty’s debut, Lock and Mori, a strikingly original take on the Holmes/Moriarty rivalry, so I will be picking up book two the very instant I can. With all these writers, there’s a raw humanity to the storytelling. Their characters portray aren’t always likeable or relatable, but they are profoundly genuine. (Though, to be sure, pretty much everyone in Craig Johnson’s books is someone you want to hang out with.)
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I don’t do big tours, at least not yet. For Property of the State I’ve got events scheduled in Oregon and Washington, but for the moment no plans to travel further afield—though if the right opportunity came along I’d jump on it.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The cover for Lost Dog was designed by Lisa Novak for Midnight Ink. It’s a great cover, so I was really pleased when I they first showed it to me.
As it happens, I had the amazing good fortune to design the covers for my next three books—something almost unheard of in traditional publishing. I’ve worked in graphic design for many years, so I understood the process. I presented sketch ideas, and developed them under the creative direction of my publisher, Ben LeRoy. I’m quite proud of them, and also know it was a rare opportunity that’s unlikely to repeat itself!
The cover for Property of the State was by designed by Christian Fuenfhausen under the creative direction of Pete Zrioka for Poisoned Pen Press, and I absolutely adore it. It’s just beautiful, and perfectly captures the tone of the story. I couldn’t be happier.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Keeping myself in the head of a 16-year-old boy was definitely a challenge. It’s been a long time since I was that age, and the life experience of young people today is quite different from my own four decades ago. Ultimately it comes down to respecting my characters for who they are.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t give up. I say that as someone who nearly has several times, but has managed to get through my writerly doldrums each time. Any arts field features a lot of rejection and lot of criticism, and it can be tough to hear. But if you feel like you have a story to tell, stick with it. No matter how tough it can get, I believe there is someone out there who needs to hear your story.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
In general, I think my stories are what I want to say to my readers. I’m telling stories that I hope resonate with others the way they resonate for me. But aside from that, I always enjoy hearing from readers—including those with criticism to share. I’m always trying to get better, not just as a writer but as a person.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The first book I remember was Green Eggs and Ham, which I’m sure I read it approximately one million times. There were others in that vein, early reader picture books of course. But those books were given to me—well chosen to be sure, but the first book I remember picking out on my own and reading purely for pleasure is The Mystery of the Witches’ Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton. It’s a wonderful mystery that I continue to re-read once a year or so. I even blogged about my love for this book. http://www.bill-cameron.com/the-mystery-of-the-witches-bridge-redux/
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Well, I’m one of the millions upon millions worldwide that will laugh at a good cat or dog video. And of course I’m one of the millions upon millions who cry at the ASPCA commercials with the Sarah McLachlan song.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Another tricky question, because there could be so many. But the name that popped into my head just now is Barbara Tuchman. Her books awoke in me a love of history, especially as recounted by a master storyteller. I’d love to sit with her and learn about her process.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
It’s got to be something waggish, because if someone stumbles across my tombstone I’d like them to have a little laugh. Maybe, “Bill sure did love a pint,” or “This is what happens when you don’t forward that inspirational post to 20 Facebook friends.”
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
My wife and I love to hike and birdwatch together. I’ve even brought a bit of birdwatching into my Skin Kadash series—in fact, he’s a much more knowledgeable and experienced birder than I am.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I adore The Wire, and re-watch it from time to time. This past year I fell in love with Limitless. What was particularly striking about that was I wasn’t particularly enthralled with the Limitless film, but the new characters and focus of the series really worked for me. I also love Orphan Black, and believe Tatiana Maslany should win all the awards, even those not specifically related to her amazing acting.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I like cool colors, blues and greys, and savory foods. Nothing wrong with a good chocolate bar, but salty wins the day for me. I like my music cacophonous and dissonant, which means no one wants to listen with me.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I think I would still be in the arts. My biggest regret of my young life is that I didn’t take my music lessons more seriously. Except for lacking the necessary skills or talent, I could easily see myself playing the ukulele professionally.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
My website is www.bill-cameron.com. I also blog each month at YAOutsidetheLines.com.
My Amazon author page is: http://www.amazon.com/Bill-Cameron/e/B001IXUAW6