Today, I’m talking to author Cameron Rogers. Cam has had two novels and two YA novels published. Currently he’s travelling and writing travel articles for newspapers such as The Age in Melbourne. Cam’s unusual background includes being a motion capture model for computer games and a ‘crime management officer’ for the Queensland Police.
Cam, can you tell me how you first came to be published?
The short story is this: in the mid Nineties I’d been writing and trying to sell stories to magazines for a while, so when Gary Crew asked to see some of my stuff I had a catalogue I could show him. He liked what he read, suggested I write something for Lothian’s After Dark series, and it went from there.
I learned years later that, apparently, Gary took to me because I was a Goth but, strangely, wasn’t a wanker. I hope he doesn’t mind me saying that. That first publication got Penguin interested, which led to The Music of Razors, Nicholas and the Chronoporter and my current one, Fateless. I’m hoping that’ll be out within twelve months.
How did you approach Lothian and Penguin Australia when you started out? Was there a particular method that’s worked for you?
I’m not someone who networks easily. The idea of schmoozing, of meeting new people with some selfish ulterior motive, squicks me out. Then I realized that ‘networking’ was just code for ‘having friends’. We help each other out, it’s all good, and when we’re not doing that – which is most of the time – we’re just doing what friends do.
I keep an eye out for the lateral, the beautiful, the unexpected.
Do you ever encounter obstacles (in terms of craft) when writing for publication?
Only when writing stuff for kids. They don’t need to be patronized, they’re fine with being challenged, but the parents and librarians who buy the books often don’t seem to think so. So it can be a balancing act.
Nicholas and the Chronoporter almost didn’t see print because part of the plot involved the main character dealing with the death of his mother, for example, and then being presented with the chance to save her at great cost to everyone else. That right there almost killed it.
How do you tackle research for your fiction writing?
I do, and I’ve learned it’s possible to research to a fault. There’s a real craft to knowing when enough is enough when it comes to info-mining. Too little and the book feels flat or doesn’t ring true, too much and it either paralyses you with choice or you disappear down the rabbit hole of researching the details of your research, ad infinitum.
I fell into that trap working on my latest book, Fateless. A section of the book has to do with the ‘Pals battalions’ raised by Kitchener in WWI. I was so engrossed by the idea of fathers and sons and brothers and cousins – the male population of entire families sometimes – being recruited and banded together and then shipped off to the front lines, that I felt I’d lost the right to use their stories if I didn’t do it justice. I lost a year on that, only to realize that if I supplied just enough detail the reader would get it; that less really can be more, and that maintaining a good signal-to-noise ratio is absolutely critical.
I have two credos when it comes to travel: Say Yes, and Embrace Random.
It doesn’t matter how fascinating you think the subject is, if too much research makes it to the final page you run the very real risk of fatiguing, and losing, the reader.
Apart from visiting the place you’re writing about, how do you research your travel articles?
I probably do about as much research on a destination as any other traveler. I have two credos when it comes to travel: Say Yes, and Embrace Random. Those two things, I’ve found, have generated more interesting material and experiences than any amount of reading-up and planning.
Everywhere I go I take a Moleskine notebook and a camera. I keep an eye out for the lateral, the beautiful, the unexpected. I note down odd things that are said, little details that snag the attention, and photograph anything that suggests itself: sights, sounds, smells, textures, observations, snatches of conversation. Then at the end of the day I write about it, for myself, using the notes and photos as aids.
I realized that ‘networking’ was just code for ‘having friends’.
At some point later I read back over all that material, isolate the articles that seem the most interesting, and then I rework those for publication. It’s really about capturing the immediacy of the experience. At the end of the day all anyone has is the experience of something, and for me the soul and purpose of good travel writing is to convey your experience to someone who can’t be there. That requires an eye for the hidden, the unexpected, the taken-for-granted, the poetic, the lateral. The tiny thing that makes the moment.
I could talk about the Eiffel Tower, for example, or I could talk about gangs of scruffy men on Parisian street corners selling cartons of stolen cigarettes and stashing their supply inside cast-iron art deco lampposts. The Eiffel Tower is common knowledge, shared culture, wallpaper, but you can smell those men. You wonder about them, who they are, their pasts, why they do what they do, how that slots with the life of the neighbourhood. It’s new, unseen … it’s engaging.
I’ll put up the second part of Cam’s interview on Friday. Cam talks about why he used a pen-name, the benefits of having an agent, and what promotions support writers get from publishers.
In the meantime, click here to visit Cam’s website/blog. He’s got some great photos of his travels.