J. Cameron McClain. You can call me John or Cameron. I picked “J. Cameron McClain” as my author name (branding! Branding!) to avoid confusion with the Die Hard character, and Senator McCain. And yeah, I know, his name is McCain not McClain. Does that stop people from getting confused? No.
And on a side note, I’d like to thank you for hosting me today!
The Title of Your Work or Group:
My first novel is The Five Watchers. I have a few others in progress, and my editor is going through a collection of my short stories at present. I’ve completed a draft of my second novel, Alliance. I have a few more waiting in the wings. I explain it as a holding pattern of novels circling around my head.
Where are you from?
Born in Huntsville, Alabama. Have moved around a lot since.
In what genre do you write?
Ahh, genre. This word fascinates me. I think back to 2011 when I was getting my degree in English, and sat down to discuss genre with one of my professors (this was in connection to my Honors project: a set of short stories). In fact, “Genre” is a relatively recent concept in writing / publishing. You can probably trace the first steps toward the delineation of story into separate genres to the Enlightenment era, when classification systems started to take hold in Western thought. That mischievous scamp Voltaire has a lot to answer for!
I come from a mass communication background, with a more recent layer of education about literature set upon the top, via my academic studies at the University of Hawai’i. I appreciate a good story, and I don’t care to involve myself too deeply in self-definition as a writer in a specific genre, choosing to focus on writing compelling story instead. Though if I had to pin myself down at all, I would probably go with Speculative Fiction as a definition of my works—vague though that definition is. To date I’ve written Horror, Urban Fantasy, Apocalyptic Fiction, Post-Cataclysmic Fiction, Steampunk, Alternative History, Science Fiction and Magical Realism stories.
In your own words, what is your book about? If you were not the author and trying to explain this awesome book you just read to a friend, what would you say about it?
It’s a quirky, sometimes horrifying read about a group of people selected as contestants to appear a ghost-hunting show, and how they work together to survive the onslaught of a very real and very malevolent entity in the location they’re investigating.
What is your writing style? Do you follow all guides and rules? Synopsis, outline etc. or do you just sit down at the computer and type to see what happens.
My head is a multipurpose machine. It is the cauldron in early stages. I simmer stories before starting to write, then when I feel I have enough plot to start assembly, I type out what I have, and begin the formal structuring of the story. From there I typically jump around in the manuscript, filling in scenes as my fancy dictates. Once I have everything down, I create a chapter-by-chapter index containing the characters present in each chapter, and the events that occur in that chapter. This helps me ensure that my POV characters get enough book time, that the plot twists and such have a logical progression, and that I can feel I’ve covered the basic elements of a narrative structure (as in initiating act, plot complication, rising action, climax, dénouement).
Have you ever written anything and thought; " The world has got to see this!" ?
My first reaction to this was, “Gee, that would sound a bit arrogant to say,” but then I realized one of my works in progress—Alliance—was written precisely because I feel it makes some very, very interesting connections via and with earlier works on the same subject (vampires and zombies). Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend created some very interesting twists on the vampire theme, and as it turns out, also inspired George A. Romero to write and film his 1968 Night of the Living Dead. Little known fact! And that’s as much of a hint as you’re going to get.
Do you have an editor and cover designer or do you do this yourself?
I’m a professional writer, so of course I have an editor! (Granted, rent and food is paid for by my other profession—I’m an editor myself—so I am very biased in favor of writers having an editor.) I cannot stress this enough; if you don’t have an editor, find one, before you publish your stuff.
As for covers: I created the cover for The Five Watchers. Generally speaking, it’s a no-no to do one’s own cover, but I have a couple of decades’ experience in the graphic design field, so I went ahead and took on that task. I came across some photographers of “Urban Decay” that became visual references while writing TFW. One set of photos in particular—a series taken in an abandoned sanatorium by Brandon Merkel—really struck me. I got in touch with Brandon, asked him if I could use one of his photos as part of the cover, he agreed, and I created a design around that. I’ll probably also do the cover for the short story collection my editor is working through now. Alliance will be a big challenge to create, so I’m going to be shopping around for a designer to take on that task.
Who is your favorite author? Not just someone that you read a lot. I wanna know whose book you read that made you suddenly know that if you didn't do this for the rest of your life then you would never be happy.
Every time I’m asked that, I complain, so I’m obliged to do so here as well. I can narrow it down to about twenty novels which provided me inspiration, maybe, but fewer than that is like asking a mom with a bunch of children which one is her favorite—while standing in front of all those children.
I suppose Dan Simmons’ Ilium/Olympos novels could be credited for inspiring me to get more serious about writing as well as I could, but Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas sit right next to Simmons’ stuff in terms of inspired storytelling. Neal Stephenson as well. Stephen King’s On Writing was incredibly helpful in terms of the psychology of writing, and Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain was extremely influential early on (as in, when I was about ten years old) in terms of giving me a sample template of how a well-thought-out story compels the reader forward.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finding free time to write. Editing full-time is a rather detail-heavy process, and after ten hours’ work a day or more, it can sometimes be tough to find and draw upon energy stores in order to work on my own stuff. I consider myself very fortunate to not have too many problems writing, when I can actually sit down and write.
Oh, wait! The other challenge is that it takes me about twenty minutes or so to immerse myself in whatever story I’m working on, so when I get interrupted, I get cranky. I guess you’d call it an “In the Zone” thing. It takes some time to get into that zone. A random phone call in the middle of all that can really frustrate me, because I lose the threads and have to reattach myself to the story to continue writing.
Do you write your characters or do they write themselves through you?
The latter, for the most part, though more generally, I’d say a fair portion of the story also writes through me, rather than me writing. Particularly in early stages, all I really need to do is try and type fast enough to keep up with the story as it’s coming out. Later on in the process when I switch from art-focus to craft-focus, I start doing more directing of the story and characters in front of me.
Do you ever write yourself into the characters?
Myself, friends, co-workers, enemies…. It still cracks me up that way back in 2007 when I was just getting rolling on The Five Watchers, I decided to fictionalize myself. Within a few months, I realized that the character was destined to be a jerk, and was going to die. D’oh!
Is writing your full time job or are you "Keeping your day job"? So to speak.
I edit for a living, so in one sense I’m keeping everything very close to my primary aim of being the best writer I can be. Editing others’ works is invaluable practice in seeing what works in a plot, what doesn’t, how to better assemble sentences and paragraphs, what works best grammar-wise, things to avoid, habits to undo, all that good stuff.
If you could go back in time and meet one famous person or legend in history, who would it be?
If we’re sticking to folks I’d love to meet who write, I’d have to go with Samuel L. Clemens. I took Mark Twain for my Single Author course requirement in school, which turned out to be a fantastic decision. Benjamin Franklin would be also be wicked cool to meet. Odysseus too.
There are millions of new books released every year. What in your mind makes yours stand out from all those millions in your genre?
While The Five Watchers appears to be a straightforward, ghost-hunting-style paranormal adventure at the start, the story expands past those constraints by the end. It becomes a horror-fantasy about the people who have been [SPOILER ALERT!] genetically chosen to fight The Malevolence: the evil entity. I can’t say much more, but I will note that the second book takes the surviving members to Japan, and the third happens in Tel Megiddo (site of the biblical Armageddon). The size of the story, and the amount of history I’m setting into it, make it a cross-genre deal, and I’d say the locations and the themes in the series are, if not unique, at least pretty fresh.
In the world of Indie, marketing is very difficult, especially if you don't have the funds to pay for it. Have you found a great free way to market your work that you think other Indies will benefit from?
I had a great deal of success in a Goodreads’ “Read to Review” group who provide reviews in exchange for free copies of your work. And talk to people. Twitter, Facebook, whatever social media you use. Don’t just post your sales pitch. Few people are going to read a fifteen-word tweet and go buy a book based on that. “Here, buy this!” is not a particularly compelling reason. I like posting short excerpts from the book to give folks some flavor, and to get them interested in finding out more.
Links to find and follow his work:
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JCameronMcClain
Website: Horri-fi.com is my website-in progress, though it’s not up and running as yet. I’m hoping to get it going by the end of June.
For those who’d like to have a taste of my writing before they commit to a big, chunky, scary book, The Masquerade Crew is hosting my short story “Lazenby’s Aetheriolabe” online. It’s quite different from The Five Watchers in the sense that it’s Steampunk rather than Horror Fantasy, but I like to think that I’m fairly consistent in terms of writing quality, so if nothing else, you’ll get a sense of how I cobble a story together. Here’s where you can have a read: