Weekly Themes · Writer Wednesday

WRITER WEDNESDAY: An Interview with Erica Cameron

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the first installment of Writer Wednesday! Today, I have the distinct honor of hosting the wonderful Erica Cameron, writer of YA SFF and YA Contemporary fiction!

Below, we discuss Erica’s ASSASSINS duology, published with Riptide Publishing’s Young Adult imprint (Triton Books), and one of my favorite YA series, which I think does not get nearly enough hype. Please enjoy the interview, and I hope it will inspire you to purchase ASSASSINS: DISCORD and ASSASSINS: NEMESIS, as well as Erica’s other works!

So without further ado…

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LEAH: Good morning, Erica! Thanks so much for joining us today! First, I’m going to start with one of your basic questions. The concept of teenage assassins, being raised by their assassin parents, isn’t really something we’ve seen too much of, so where did you get the idea or inspiration for this duology?

EC: This one actually came from my previous agent. We were having a hard time trying to figure out what my next book should be, and nothing felt right. Finally, she came back from a conversation with another agent she works with and said, “What about this—start a story with a girl who has someone tied to a chair and is deciding whether or not to kill him.” The idea sparked, and I started writing. The first chapter of Discord has barely changed since the first draft I wrote on the first day. Kindra was born in that moment, but it took a while to figure out how she ended up in that warehouse. I mean, circumstances have to be pretty strange for a seventeen-year-old to be an assassin as jaded and practiced as she was. Necessity and psychology shaped the story around Kindra and that moment she held Bernard’s life in her hands, and everything else unfolded from there.

LEAH: One thing I love about your writing is the fact that every book features at least one character on the asexual spectrum. How did you decide, for this duology, which characters would be ace?

EC: Representation definitely matters, and I’m trying hard to make sure I include it in every book. Accurate rep, though, means thinking about how someone’s orientation (and all their other identities and labels) will change the way the plot flows around them. An aro-ace, for example, won’t fall in love over the course of a book, so if a romantic interest is key to the plot dynamics, then that character can’t identify in that way. For Ryce in Discord, I knew he had to have literally dozens of compelling reasons to make it worth the risk of leaving his family, and I also knew that his parents were the type to use their children as bait whenever necessary and in whatever ways was expedient. If Ryce was a sex-averse asexual, that sort of lifestyle would be repugnant, and it would be a heavy weight on the leave side of the scale. For Blake, though… honestly, the only reason Blake is asexual is because I wanted it to be that way. I wanted an ace-spec lead who fell in love with someone who not only understood their orientation but didn’t push them for more than they were comfortable with. I could make that Blake and Daelan, so I did, and they’re wonderfully adorable.

LEAH: I can only imagine how difficult that must’ve been for Ryce, and I absolutely adore Blake and Daelan and the way their romance played out, so I’m glad you executed it the way you did! And speaking of marginalizations, this cast of characters is pretty diverse, especially Blake, who has a multitude of them. Were there certain aspects that you had picked out and then assigned to the characters they fit? Did you have the characters completely mapped out before you started writing anything?

EC: Well, for Nemesis, most of the characters were well-established, and their orientations were, if not explicitly stated on page, at least hinted at. Well, the children’s were. Their parents are a little harder to assume anything on. Blake was the newcomer I had to introduce and establish in more detail than the brief mentions and meetings readers get in Discord.

LEAH: One of the themes of the novel is family, and the extreme differences even in two families who live the same kind of life. What was it like to write such different family groups?

EC: I really enjoy playing with psychology and circumstance when I can, and this series gave me the perfect place for that. Amett and Odira navigate the same world as Hugo and Cassidy, and yet they see it an entirely different way. Thus, when they each have children, they have very different reactions. Odira, who lost one of the two people in the world she cared about, saw her children as tools in a world where loyalty was a luxury only idiots depended on. Cassidy wanted to protect her children and watch as they lived a life she had given up a long time ago, a life she was fighting to make sure everyone else got to keep. The two families were mirrors and enemies and opposites and so much more, which was very interesting to write.

LEAH: In addition, what was it like writing Kindra and her siblings struggling away from their abusive family life and the indoctrination their parents, especially their mother, forced on them since birth?

EC: Seeing your life as abuse is hard when you have no other examples to compare yourself to. Kindra may slide past “normal” families as they work, but she knows her family looks like that on the outside, too, so she doesn’t really take it in. It isn’t until she meets Dru and learns more about the Calvers that her worldview begins to fall apart. As for Odira, how she treats her children is a direct reflection of how she sees the world as a whole. Amett, though, got too in the habit of letting Odira make decisions, and his own past kept him from seeing how wrong Odira was about everything until it was too late to change things. Playing the Westons against the Calvers—while the Westons fractured entirely to pieces—and watching Kindra get tossed and yanked between them was part of what made the series so interesting. Even in the second book, when Kindra isn’t telling the story anymore, there’s still a thread of that story carrying through.

LEAH: I agree that watching Kindra wade through the mess was one of the most fascinating aspects, and I think, even more so when seeing her actions through Blake’s eyes in book two. Now that the series is finished and has been out for a while, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

EC: It’s impossible not to want some things to change, which is one of the reasons I almost never read my own books once they’ve been finalized. I spend too much time tweaking them in my mind or wishing I’d had more time to do this, that, or the other. That’s definitely true with this series, but it’s nothing major. Mostly, I wish I had had more time to go back through Nemesis a few more times and ensure the various threads all tied together in the best way.

LEAH: I can imagine it must be difficult to let things lie once the book is in the final form! For another question I’m sure you’ve been asked a million times, which character in this series was your favorite to write, and why?

EC: Gah, favorites! They’re so hard to pick. My narrators, obviously, but I also have a huge soft spot for Aaron, Geo, and Seraphina. If the series were to get popular and I were ever to write in the world again, I would almost definitely be writing a book from Sera’s point of view set several years after the end of Nemesis.

LEAH: Sera was one of my favorites, and I was dying for more time with her, so I’ll keep fingers crossed that you write that some day! And, one more thing I’m personally curious about: how did you choose the characters’ names? Several of them are pretty unique!

EC: I definitely spend a lot of time on names. There’s several baby name apps on my phone, and I dig through them for meanings, origins, or sometimes just the sound the name makes when you say it. Kindra, though, actually came from an SAT list I was using to work with several students. Kindle was one of the words, and it’s a verb that means to light or set on fire. “Well,” I thought, “My character definitely does a lot of that. In a lot of different ways.” But I couldn’t name her kindle, so I played with a few variations on the name until I finally settled on Kindra. I enjoyed the irony of Seraphina’s name, since the seraphim are a choir of angels from the bible, and Sera is incredibly far from angelic. For everyone else, I searched meanings I wanted to associate with the characters and then tweaked the names I found if I didn’t see one that felt exactly right. It took a while, and a lot of searches that turned up nothing, to finally name a full cast of characters, but I think they all ended up with names that suit them beautifully!

LEAH: Absolutely! You did an awesome job picking out the perfect names, in my opinion. Okay! Now for a few fun, silly questions! If you had to pick one song to describe each of the main characters, which songs would you select?

EC: I love playlists, but I can’t ever seem to create them before the book is finished. After, though, definitely, and I have long lists on Spotify for both books in the ASSASSIN series. One song per character, though… That’s harder, especially since most of the characters change a LOT from the beginning of the series to the end of it. Assume, then, that the songs listed here are appropriate for earlier in the series rather than later (or in the earlier moments of their significant appearance in the series, at least). Also, they don’t necessarily describe the characters as much as fit them somehow. Sometimes it’s personality, sometimes relationships, sometimes backstory, sometimes something else entirely.

KindraLying from You by Linkin Park, Getting Smaller by Nine Inch Nails, and also I am Machine by Three Days Grace
DruKnights of Cydonia by Muse and Wretches and Kings by Linkin Park
RyceThis is the Time (Ballast) by Nothing More, and Waiting for the End by Linkin Park
SeraphinaAllies by Mutemath, but also Guilty All the Same by Linkin Park
DaelanConsider This by Anna Nalick and Angel with a Shotgun by The Cab
BlakeZero-Sum by Nine Inch Nails and What Am I Becoming? by POP ETC
Amett Wires by The Neighborhood and Daniel in the Den by Bastille
OdiraThe Hand that Feeds by Nine Inch Nails and You Can Run, But We’ll Find You by Matchbook Romance
CassidyHunter by Bjork and Nobody Praying for Me by Seether
HugoI Don’t Want to be Here Anymore by Rise Against and One Way or Another by Until the Ribbon Breaks
AaronSoldiers by Otherwise and Would You Still Be There by Of Mice & Men
GeoTruce by Twenty One Pilots and Dust to Dust by The Civil Wars

Also, if you want to see my full lists, check them out on Spotify: Discord and Nemesis

LEAH: I love how much Linkin Park is on that list! Describe each character’s favorite beverage!

EC: Kindra – Coffee. Or anything with caffeine, really, but especially coffee, and a civet blend if she can possibly get her hands on some. She might actually be willing to kill someone for that option.

Dru – Mango lassi, a drink she first tried in India, and one she always finds the ingredients to make if they’re going to be in one place for more than a week.

Ryce – Mojitos, but when that’s not an option he tends to go for sparkling water. He has a thing for bubbles and subtle flavors.

Seraphina – Rooibos tea blends, a habit she picked up in South Africa. She’s a fan of other teas, too, but this family of teas is definitely her favorite.

Daelan – Blackberry Izze. Also, yerba mate from South America, but it’s not as good if it’s not local and fresh, so he doesn’t get to have that often.

Blake – Mountain Dew. Blake can live without it, but really…why do that?

LEAH: Hah! Live your best life, Blake, drink that Mountain Dew! I’m right there with Kindra and Sera, though. Mmm, love that coffee and tea. And lastly, a personal question for you: what’re your top 5 books right now?

EC: I am horrid at top anything, so here are five books I’ve read recently that I absolutely LOVED. In no particular order, of course.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Hunt
Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey
The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

LEAH: Ooh, I have a few of these, but I’ll have to check out the others! Thanks so much for stopping by, Erica, it was lovely talking with you!!

EC: Thanks for having me, Leah! It’s always a fun day when I get to talk about my viciously adorable assassin babies. 😀

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ECameron-CreditLaniWoodland-201506-79After a lifelong obsession with books, Erica Cameron spent her college years studying psychology and creative writing, basically getting credit for reading and learning how to make stories of her own. Now, she’s the author of several series for young adults including The Ryogan Chronicles, the Assassins duology, and the upcoming Pax Novis trilogy. She’s also a reader, asexuality advocate, dance fan, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, Florida resident, and quasi-recluse who loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon décor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.

Her debut novel, Sing Sweet Nightingale, released March 2014 and it was the first volume of The Dream War Saga. In May 2015, Erica and her co-author Lani Woodland launched the Laguna Tides series with Taken by Chance. Riptide’s new YA imprint Triton Books will release both books in the Assassins series, Discord and Nemesis, in 2016. The Ryogan Chronicles, a fantasy trilogy set to launch through Entangled Teen, launched in 2017 with Island of Exiles. Next up, Erica will be working with Entangled Teen to create a young adult science fiction trilogy pitched as Star Trek: Voyager meets The Expanse and Battlestar Galactica; Pax Novis is set to fly in 2018.

Erica is represented by Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks) of P.S. Literary.

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ASSASSINS: DISCORD
Riptide Publishing | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | IndieBound | Wordery
ASSASSINS: NEMESIS
Riptide Publishing | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | IndieBound | Wordery
Erica Cameron’s Amazon Page
Erica Cameron’s Website

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