Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Interview with author, Skyla Dawn Cameron

Please join me in giving a loud and squealing welcome to today's guest, amazingly talented author and editor in chief at Mundania Press, Skyla Dawn Cameron. She has graciously agreed to answer my burning questions for our enjoyment and enlightenment. Listen up, kids. :)

You started your career at a young age (compared to us old fogies). What do you think were the advantages and/or disadvantages to starting early?

I think the biggest benefit was the sheer fearlessness I had at twenty-one, but I don’t know if that was my age or inexperience. Rejection honestly never occurred to me and I had far fewer insecurities. River, my fourth written book and the first book I’d actually submitted anywhere, was accepted by Mundania Press four months after submission—and that was the first (and only) place I’d sent it, as I’d specifically written it after their call for werewolf and/or vampire novels. I didn’t stress, I didn’t worry. I didn’t, in fact, realize how little I knew about writing, and it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t place the book somewhere (now I think it sucks and I hate it, of course).

I do hope another advantage will be a lot of novels under my belt by the time I’m much, much older. My idol as a teen was the late Louise Cooper; her first novel (Lord of No Time, which would later become The Time Master Trilogy) was published when she was just twenty, and by the time of her unfortunate death two years ago, she had eighty some odd books published. As it is, I’m twenty-nine years old and I’ve completed at least a first draft of twenty novels (started dozens and dozens of others *cough*), so I hope I’m well on my way to being as prolific as she was.

The downside? Well, I got a lot of, “You’re good for your age,” when I was younger. Competing against other writers my age? Piece of cake. Then a switch flips when you’re eighteen; suddenly, you’re in the adult category. You’re not submitting to an anthology with other twelve-year-olds or a high school literary magazine: you’re in the slush pile with people who have been writing thirty years. That took a big adjustment for me.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Yes and no. I’d like to say yes, but at the same time, the path I chose led me to where I am right now, and it’s a pretty good place to be. Usually. Except when I want to run away from home, which is pretty much all of the time.

The thing is, if I’d chosen a different path, and not ended up where I am now, I might not know all the people I know now. My life is much richer knowing the authors I work with at Mundania, and the people I’ve met the last few years.

I like to think that I'm a busy person, but I know what lurks on your to-do list. Do you have a super-scooby secret to time management, or a posse of evil minions to do your bidding?

It’s called, “I have to eat this month.”

Honestly, that’s really what it comes down to. If I don’t get work done—if I don’t make time to do all the things that need to be completed—then I either get fired or the company closes and I end up jobless. And I’ve been homeless before—it is not something I’m eager to return to.

It also helps that I am an insomniac with no social life, and am completely and utterly insane.

How did you get into editing, and/or get the job as EIC at Mundania? 

I was signed as an author with Mundania back in 2004. Late 2007 I...found myself in a very bad situation (the aforementioned homelessness was part of it). Dan Reitz, of Mundania, is one of the best people you’ll ever meet, and when he found out I needed work—and I pitched some ideas to him that were of benefit to Mundania—he hired me on to help with promotions.

From there, it was just working my way up, absorbing other jobs and taking over ‘cause it turns out I’m, like, really really good at being bossy. The one thing I repeatedly said no to, though, was editing. Insisted I wasn’t an editor—wouldn’t know the first thing about it. I have no formal training as a writer, let alone in editing.

I started in acquisitions several months later when someone was needed there and it wasn’t until I was deep in slush, finding books I absolutely loved, that I realized I could edit. I got really excited about a few titles and wanted to work on them—I couldn’t even contemplate handing them off to another editor. So little by little, I got into that side of things too, and I’m glad of it. Finding a book in slush, polishing it with the writer, sharing in the ups and downs of the process, is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And editing has helped me become a better writer, as well.

What's the absolute craziest thing you've seen in a query?

Honestly, I think insulting me in the query letter has to be the single most batshit crazy thing I’ve seen, and it happens ALL THE FREAKIN’ TIME. I mean, there are bizarre queries written stream of consciousness style or with seven-hundred-thousand word historical romances written in first person or including photos of the author’s kids. But a snarky cover letter insulting me personally...I just don’t even get the point.

Worst response to a rejection yet?

Asking all of one’s friends to email me and tell me to reconsider. Stalking me for months afterward.

I think my favourite, however, is the I-sold-my-book-to-PublishAmerica-so-neener-neener response. Yeah. Sure, buddy. See how that works out for you.

Top tip for aspiring authors on how NOT to be a douche-bag?

Top tip? ‘Cause I could go on and on.  ;-)  I suppose it would be to sleep on whatever you’re about to do if you’re angry/upset/hurt. Type up a rant in Word but do. not. send. it. yet. Sleep on it. Distance and objectivity are two things that save many of us from acting like idiots.

If I can have a second tip, it’s to remember that everyone in the industry is an actual real live person. A person with outside interests, a family—someone who takes holidays. Someone like you. Treating other authors, editors, and agents like tools to help you get what you want is not going to yield good results. We can tell you’re a shark. Be genuine.

Along with being a top-notch editor, it has recently come to my attention that your writing is also stellar. Do you have any author tips for better writing? (okay, I know you do, but pick one or two here. ;)

This took me a lot of fumbling around to understand, but: Know what you’re trying to do with everything that you write. Know what your story is about. Know what the purpose of each scene is, each sentence is. Know what you’re trying to show with your characters. These things are critical when revising your work. Learn to be analytical if you aren’t already.

If you learn to do this, you can start looking at successful books to pick them apart and see how things are done—to see how to effectively use language and make words do what you want them to. Why does a well-written fight scene have your heart thumping? Why do certain emotional scenes make you tear up? The author knew what she was doing, so how did she do it?

Second, knowing your intentions makes navigating crit groups and edits that much easier. It’ll teach you what edits to accept and it’ll teach you where your writing is weak. It’s really hard to fix a problem if you don’t know what the end result is meant to be.

If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?

Oh, I have many, LOL. “Blinding” by Florence + The Machine. “Control” by Poe. “Onion Girl” by Holly Cole. “Girl with the Lion’s Tail” by S.J. Tucker (well, and her song “The Truth About Ninjas” because I want to run away and become a ninja). Those are but a few.

Anything in particular you'd like to see come across the desk at Mundania? Do you have a manuscript wishlist?

I just love anything that’s fun. Even in the darkest books, I like there to be a sense of humour. Also? Diversity. Non-white main characters—non-heterosexual main characters. Non-European fantasy settings. Non-European-based magic systems. There are many, many good books I love that use all of those things, but I’d love to see something different. I’m also really freakin’ tired of seeing African Diasporic faiths and practices being the default “evil” magic used in books. “Look! Evil voodoo!” is just lazy writing.

Tell us about your books, and why everyone should be buying and reading them...

I don’t know if anyone should be reading my books. I mean, I write some frightful things. Women who kick ass and swear and are unapologetic about it. Strong men who aren’t alpha douchebags. Demon hunting nuns. Organizations called Vampires for the Ethical Treatment of animals. Explosions and guns and car chases and snark...

Bloodlines—originally released 2008, now rewritten and digitally remastered! All the guns replaced with walkie-talkies!—is about a snarky, cocky vampire who kills people for a living. And then the tables turn when she becomes the hunted and she has to work with others. Plus people keep damaging her expensive clothes. See? Frightful.

Hunter is the second book in the series, about the aforementioned demon hunting nun. It was quite difficult to write because that main character doesn’t swear and generally doesn’t see violence as the answer to things. And she prays a lot (this was awkward for me, an atheist).

Lineage is the third book, and my newest release, where I rebound after writing the nun chick, and instead write a somewhat sociopathic main character out for revenge. Here’s the blurb:

What’s a woman to do when her dad’s the antichrist, her grandma’s the devil, the end of the world is at her doorstep, and she’s out to avenge the murders of her husband and kids?

Kill everything in her way.

Quarter-demon Peri Takata exists with but one goal in mind: annihilate everyone responsible for the death of her family. Then—her need for vengeance quelled—she plans to take her own life.

Her mission brings her to vampire Zara Lain, the only known survivor of the event that destroyed Peri’s family five years ago. Hunting down a secret society of those who don’t want to be found has its challenges, however, especially when forces are working to keep the antichrist’s daughter very much alive. The apocalypse is closing in and Peri may be playing a role in it whether she wants to or not.

But when a heart long-thought dead begins to beat again with love for another, she’s not so sure about anything anymore.

Everyone should be buying them because I have five cats, a dog, and a rabbit to feed. And if I don’t feed them, eventually THEY WILL EAT ME.

Series landing page is located at www.ZaraLain.com with free fiction, the stories in chronological order, character lists, fan art, and excerpts.

Thank you so much for coming on the blog!

Thank you so much for having me! And if no one gets the “guns replaced with walkie-talkies” thing, I’m going to feel totally lame.


Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

Great interview!

I never thought about the good and bad on starting so young. I really liked that question.

And thanks for all the tips. :) Congrats!

Skyla Dawn said...

Thank you so much for the interview, Frances! It was loads of fun.

Thanks for visiting, Mel!

siana said...

What a great talk! Thanks for sharing. My only regret is that it isn't longer, lol. I loved 'listening' to you. Wish I could narrow down my billions of questions into something other then 'ummmm' Thanks for posting.

Frances Pauli said...

Siana, I could pick Skyla's brain for hours, but then she might throw rocks at me. :D

So glad to have you on the blog, Skyla! Anytime.

Everyone else, I really do adore her...Even if she wasn't the boss, she'd still be my hero. ;) And I recommend following her blog for great info and advice...big time.

Voss Foster said...

I am in full agreement with you on non-white/non-European/alternate sexuality characters, especially in speculative fiction. If we can accept that a spaceship can go nine times the speed of light, why not gay characters?

Loved this interview,

Skyla Dawn said...

Siana--thank you for reading!

Frances, love, you can pick my brain any time. There may be corners you'd prefer not to tread, but if you go in armed, it's all good. ;-)

Voss--it always excites me to see something new in that regard. My friend just came out with a military SF and the protagonist is a married lesbian. And, again, why the hell not? It's the sort of thing that should be more common in books, not even a rarity to remark upon. Alas, I still see a lot of the same things in slush and some diversity would be nice.