I am glad he’s finally here, the writer of the long awaited novel able to make me shiver and check every creaking sound in the house. The next Clive Barker, the writer of horrendous great fiction, John Cameron McClain.
Hi, John, Glad you agreed on stopping by on my blog for an interview. Let’s not keep the readers waiting a second longer and kick off.
Can you give me your best Whoop? Unless you have another one which works better for you?
My utterances of joy can take many forms, but in writing-related situations, and after much consideration, I would say my most common exclamation is the Tick’s immortal rallying cry of “SPOON!!”
Okay, sounds like one which will do more than fine, but does it work all the time, even those times when the muse has gone and done a runner on you? And when did you first start with it?
The muse? My friend, my only fear is that the muse will get bored in the time it takes me to get through the frickin’ backlog of six novels I already have in progress. (Though I suspect that one in particular, Devi, is keeping her here, just waiting to create the hell out of it.) I’ve read a few things online about other writers’ muses, and this thing called “writer’s block,” aka, “where, oh where has my muse disappeared to?” I have to say that I consider myself luckier than most, in that my muse is always hovering around ready to jump into action, and have never received any warning that she might take a leave of absence.
Right, sounds like you have no problems in that department. Lucky us, because I know I want to read the sequel to The Five Watchers. Oops, I’m getting ahead of things here. 🙂
Let’s do a few of the yada yada questions before we move on to the fun.
What is the title of the book you would like to talk about?
I’m torn between the one I just finished and the one I’m working on now, but I’m going to go with the former, my recently-released horror/paranormal thriller, The Five Watchers.
Love that new cover! Even better than the ‘old’ one. Did you have difficulty coming up with the title?
I’m not sure when I came up with Episode Three—the initial title—but it was fairly early on in the process. I still have the early cover designs (featuring the fantastic photo from an abandoned TB hospital) that ended up being used on the second edition cover) that feature the Episod3 logo (playing on the whole E = 3 mirror image thing, you sorta gotta see it to understand how it worked). I was working some numerology into the text at the time, and I wanted to play with threes and fives (sixes coming in the second book, and maybe fours). But after Googling “Episode Three” I realized I’d forever be fighting with Star Wars for attention, and I ain’t dumb enough to think I’m gonna beat Star Wars for attention. The clear second choice was The Five Watchers. I intentionally frame the novel around the building that goes by that name, in order to echo a traditional “Haunted House” story, though as gets repeated many times throughout the novel, this isn’t about the buildings, it’s about what occupies the space.
If you would have to change the genre, what would it be then?
Eww, who writes genre? Heh. I won’t begrudge the terminology, since I voluntarily classify The Five Watchers as a paranormal thriller. It has elements of horror, certainly, but in point of fact with the trajectory I see for the trilogy, I may end up reclassifying the whole series as fantasy, so I’ll leave you with that suggestion as to where the series will be headed, and what it might be reframed as, a little down the line.
If you ask my opinion, I’d say it’s the best horror novel I’ve read in a long, long time. And I will post my review of it tomorrow. So those who are curious as to what this is all about come back tomorrow and read my thoughts on The Five Watchers.
Just to confuse you we’ll take the alternative route now. What don’t you like about writing, or whatever you need to do marketing wise?
My limitations. Not being able to write that extra thirty minutes at the end of the day some days, and instead, space out watching Supernatural because I’m not brain-active enough to deal with writing.
The writing experience though, the act of sitting and typing out story, and revising, and editing, and tweaking, and second-guessing the story, and finding ways to improve it, restructure it, add stuff that works, take more stuff out that doesn’t, I love that. I could do that forever. Writing a good story is the best game in the world. And I’m a gamer. Keep me fed and likkered up, I’ll keep going until I drop.
As far as marketing goes, I have let that slide so far for the most part. Of the things I need to accomplish, priority goes to editing other folks’ novels (which keeps me housed and fed) and writing, which keeps me alive and sane. I’m still working on squeezing in time on Twitter, and am slowly restoring my presence on Google Plus. I lost some momentum at the end of last year, but I’m regaining it now that The Five Watchers is out and my editor is looking at the draft of Alliance, my second novel.
Oh, I can’t wait for that to come out, do please write as fast as you can. 🙂
But tell me, when your muse is visiting and you’re on a roll, what would seriously drive her/him away?
The only argument my muse and I ever get into is about me not spending enough time visiting with her. It’s what I’ll seriously do to drive anyone else away when my muse is visiting and I’m on a roll, that’s the amusing question. The truth of it is, there’ve been times when folks would call me, and I’d pick up, worried it might be an emergency, and when it turned out they just wanted to chat, I’ve been like “WTF, don’t you realize I’m WRITING?” It was harsh, but I understand what Dorothy Parker meant in her “What fresh Hell is this?” quote. People don’t get it, so I try not to react that way to interruptions, but not only do I not have a whole lot of time every day to write to begin with, it takes time for me to get into the story (it’s like climbing into a cockpit, switching everything on and getting the thing up in the air and flying), and I have to do the same thing after each disruption, so I begrudge interruptions. For me it’s an intricate story-weaving process. “Structured Work Habits” fits only in the most fuzzy and opaque sense.
What does your muse look like?
There have been many times while writing The Five Watchers when I felt I was a channel, rather than a writer. I felt I was being told the story. Whoever my muse is, she is loquacious, eager, excited, adventurous, silly, stern, gracious, compassionate and serene, depending on the occasion. Have I just described Karen Black from the 1977 classic movie Capricorn One?
It’s funny. I try to picture my muse, and I remember that story in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series when the guy keeps his muse captive in order to write stories, and that bums me out! I’m really not sure what my muse looks like, and I want to avoid the Sandman association. I think I’m going to stick with 1977 Karen Black.
I can see why you chose. You are a man of good taste as well as a superb writer.
Do you ever speak to your characters and do you get along all the time?
When I’m at my best, my characters speak to me. I try to understand what they’re doing and where they’re going, and write them in that direction. In response, they do things like come up with dialogue, and on occasion, even plot devices I hadn’t considered. Sometimes the story progresses so quickly, my problem is keeping up with them. As for getting along with them, in a broad sense I get very involved in their existence. Deaths affect me, sure, some very strongly. But I’m not supposed to get along with my characters, I think. I’m an active observer in the story they are telling the reader, in that I record their story as best I’m able. If I tried to get along with the characters, there’d be times I’d say, “hey that’s a stupid idea,” and they’d be like, “well who asked you anyway?” and shove me off the side of the motorboat, where… oh wait, I deleted that chapter, never mind.
The characters have to be themselves. The reader chooses to watch as the characters find their path. If the writer is good, the characters’ paths make some sense, or even provide some meaning to the reader. I try to do my best to not get between the character and the reader.
Ah, and you have managed that wonderfully well in this novel. It sucks you in and does not let go until the end. And even then it keeps coming back to haunt you at night. Hahahaha, you just have to love it.
Anyway, the interview. Next question. Can you name the food and drink that will surely get you started?
Coffee starts every day. I don’t drink a whole lot, and I only drink in the mornings, but I am dedicated to obtaining that first cup. All my friends know to be prepared if there’s a morning involved in getting together.
Would you be able to come up with an excuse on why you haven’t written a whole day, and have me believe it too?
Ahem. Your argument is predicated on the assumption that one must need an excuse as to why one isn’t writing every day. Although I rarely attempt anything math-related if I can at all help it, I’ll give this a try. If I pick the “moment” I decided I was going to dedicate myself to writing for a living, it would be sometime in 2008. The Five Watchers reached 250,000 words in 2010 (though it’s now edited down to a fighting trim of 130k). I’ve also written a 50K honors dissertation (including six short stories, one of which has been published), my second novel is currently at 60K, there’s about 20K each of the next two in the trilogy done, another 40K novel I played around with a few NaNoWriMos ago that I may come back to down the line, and I’m 20K into the sequel to my second novel. All that was accomplished while holding down a full time job, then subsequently going back to school full-time, and working part-time as well.
Not including essays and such I wrote for school, I have averaged about 200 words a day—just under one, double spaced page at 12 point Times New Roman, thank you very much. That isn’t quite my writing professor’s recommended one page a day worth of work, but all things considered, I seem to be keeping up. Whether this convinces you or not, I cannot say, and so I must throw myself to your tender mercies.
Well, I must say I am duly impressed.
And finally why would you ever want to live life behind a keyboard slaving over a manuscript?
Oh, that’s not at all what I see us doing when we’re slaving over our manuscripts. We’re not living life, we’re transmuting it. Writers are alchemists. We take raw life and transform it into something people can understand.
You know? I’ve never thought of writing like that, but it makes sense. We are wizards of sorts, or alchemists if you like. Great! A new way of thinking about the craft of writing and one which opens up a whole new pathway to stories untold as of yet. 🙂
Okay now that we have the mandatory questions out of the way, shoot your mouth off. Tell me whatever you want the blab about. But please no cats, dogs, or children. Make me laugh, or cry, or even envious. Tell me something none has ever heard before from you. hehehe, love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂
Let my hair down, so to speak? But I can’t mention pets or children. Hmm, that means the recipe I was planning to share is a no-go. Oh well, we make do with the limitations provided, eh?
When folks ask for things I’ve never told anyone, I try to oblige. Yet I’ve been staring at my computer screen for quite a while now, trying to come up with something secret. Or rather, something secret that would be really fun to tell. Give me a topic in fiction and I’ll type the night away. Something about myself? Total blank.
I know how you feel. 🙂 And must admit this is a question I sneaked in to try and answer it myself too. Sorry, go on.
Here. This isn’t so fun, but it’s what happened, and I don’t talk about it much. Just weeks before my mom and I left Kenya, I managed to get malaria. This was back in 1968, when treatments were limited in availability and efficacy. What I remember from those weeks of torture includes a large, black snake hissing on my bed (my mom told me later it was our dog), the walls being on fire (100+ fever on and off for weeks will do that), and one particular, horrible, repeating dream of some sort of bouncing ball slamming against my stomach again and again.
I also remember baths in cold water, and ice poured in. The thing that kills you with malaria isn’t the fever, it’s that the fever comes back, and comes back again, and again, for weeks. I screamed when I was dunked in that bath. It was cold agony. But here I am writing about it. All I can do is commiserate with my then-self.
Decades later I’d have the image of that bouncing ball from my dream come back to me while reading one of the Carlos Castaneda books. Don Juan explains that death is always trying to crack our shell at the stomach level, to get inside us, and something about the description had a frightening presence. I keep thinking about the dreams, how death creeps in on us, and what—if anything—lasts past the flesh when death finally has her way.
What it is that keeps these physical shells going, besides food and water, I do not know. But something else is going on. I suppose that’s why I’ve always tended to go for the stories that speak of alternative realities, doors to other dimensions, and things that we can’t quite explain, yet which seem to lurk around the corners our eyes, always careful to stay just out of view. For me, it seems like there’s a lot of it around.
Wow, John! That’s some story, and a scoop, thanks for sharing this with me and my readers.
Now for a little something about the author, your bio for those fans curious about your background.
J. Cameron McClain started life in Huntsville Alabama, home of the Redstsone Arsenal and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs. His grandfather was one of the flight surgeons for those space programs, thus he was introduced to the ambitious concept of humans flying into space at a very early age. Not to mention he met Miss Baker, a distant cousin who flew in space a while before us reticent humans decided to give it a go.
The first book he can remember receiving as a gift was entitled Thirteen Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Soon after that, he saw his first ghost, one of many, many such revenants who have passed by—and through—over the years. Having been introduced to the paranormal at a young age, he has enjoyed a close and mostly cordial relationship with it since that time.
J. Cameron McClain has lived in ten or so states in the US, Tanzania, Kenya, Japan, India, England, Wales and South Africa. He is usually making his way through four or more books at any given time, and is currently making progress on the writing of six of his own. He cooks spicy Indian curries. He doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does, he drinks stout.
Great live, lived by a fascinating guy. But where can we stalk you? Erm, of course I mean follow, yes, follow and admire. 🙂
And where can we find/buy the book?
The Five Watchers on Facebook
The Five Watchers on Smashwords
The Five Watchers on Amazon
Okay, thanks again John, for joining me here today. It has been a pleasure doing this interview and I look forward to working with you again.
To all curious as to why we should all get this book, do come back tomorrow and read my review to find out.