Cameron D. James is best known for his novels Go Deep and Autumn Fire. His characters take on a life of their own, bringing readers along for the ride. No matter what he writes next, the pages will fly!
What started your interest in writing m/m fiction?
I’m actually a sci-fi writer at heart. I’m a Trekkie through and through. I’ve got a sci-fi novel that has a lot of potential, but needs a lot of work. After something like the sixth revision, I was in desperate need of a break… and with my university courses at the time, I couldn’t dedicate the energy to do a complete overhaul of a 100,000 word manuscript that needed whole plot points excised and other new plot points added in.
So, I decided to take a break. But, being a writer, I couldn’t just take a break from writing, period. I ended up just taking a break from that genre. For a few years I’ve had a back-of-the-mind nudge to give gay erotic fiction a try. I did a little research, emailed a few people, talked to a few others, and then, tentatively, put my fingers to the keyboard.
I quickly found that I loved it. This genre was a whole new way to approach storytelling from what I’d been doing before. That also meant the learning curve was steep. I had to write compelling fiction that essentially revolves around two people exploring feelings with each other – with no ray guns, aliens, spaceships, planetary catastrophes, or dictatorial governments. I had to write about two young men who fall in love. It was a total shift, and I know that exploring this genre is making me a stronger writer.
How did your writing career begin and how did you grow your fan base to be so humongous?
I have to admit that my first response was to laugh at this question, because there are many writers in this genre with far bigger fanbases than mine. But then I thought about it – I’ve got 550+ followers on Twitter, 120+ followers on WordPress, 480+ followers on Tumblr, and my free short story, Go Deep, has now been downloaded close to 10,000 times. I find myself humbled by those numbers.
Generating my fanbase actually started before my career as a writer did. I started up a steamy (though PG-13 rated) Tumblog and an accompanying Twitter account, so I began gathering followers before I had anything published… things just progressed from there.
For writing, I pretty much sold my first novel, Autumn Fire, sight-unseen to my publisher. I’ve known Ellen at Champagne Books for a couple years from attending a local sci-fi and fantasy convention. When I made that switch to m/m I talked about in the above question, I sought advice from Ellen, and that got me going. At another convention later that year, there was a Live Action Slush Pile, in which manuscript first-pages were read aloud to a panel of editors and publishers. They each indicated when they would stop reading and why. My first page, which features a bathroom blowjob, was soundly disliked by the majority of the panel, described as, among other things, unrealistic. Ellen and guest judge Robert J Sawyer (yes, that Robert J Sawyer) were the only two judges who did not reject the manuscript’s first page. Afterward, Ellen came up to me – as my entry was the only m/m entry in the pile, she’d correctly assumed it was mine. She acknowledged some of the comments from the other judges; some were correct and some were BS. She told me to revise and submit it directly to her. And, well, I did.
I later learned that Ellen confronted the editor who described my blowjob encounter as “unrealistic” and demanded of that editor, “Have you ever been in a bathroom with a gay man? That’s totally what it’s like!” How my publisher knows that, I’d prefer not to know. 🙂
What was it like to always have a love for reading, and what was it like creating your first story in the seventh grade?
I think a lot of compulsive readers are naturally drawn to writing their own fiction, but I have to say I didn’t really have that inclination. I wrote a few short stories in grade seven as part of assignments and enjoyed it, but it didn’t really pull me in. However, in grade eight, my teacher told everyone to write three short stories – I worked hard on them and put my all into it because I wanted a good mark. And then I found out that we were not going to hand in the stories… they were just for practice, not for marks. I was furious. To get my revenge, I wrote a bunch of sequels to those stories. (How that constitutes as revenge, I still haven’t figured out.) That was what truly kicked off my passion for writing. That sounds ridiculous – I love to write because I’m somehow taking revenge on someone who doesn’t even realise it – but it’s how this whole thing played out!
Who is the LAST person you’d want to discover you write m/m fiction? And how do you think they’d respond?
I don’t make it public in my real life, but I am pretty open about it. Most of my family, all of my co-workers, and some of my friends know. Those that don’t know would, I’m sure, be cool with it. I think the LAST person would have to be my grandmother. She’d totally be okay with it, but I’m sure she’d make some snarky comments, as that’s just what she does.
On a related note, my mom was thrilled to hear I started writing this genre. She said, “I don’t want to read it, but I’m so excited for you!”
Has your interests, such as Star Trek or kickboxing, found their way into influencing your writing?
Hmm… I don’t know if they’ve influenced my writing… I know my interest in hot yoga sparked my Men in the Hot Room series.
Come to think of it, while Star Trek doesn’t influence my writing, Star Trek is actually the reason I am still a writer today. I wrote endlessly in junior high and high school, but by the time I hit grade 12, I was starting to burn out. I was pretty much done writing. As one of the last things I did, I wrote two Star Trek short stories and submitted them to the annual Strange New Worlds anthology that they used to put together. Out of thousands and thousands of entries, one of my short stories was one of 23 that was published in that year’s anthology (under a different pen name than this one). It dawned on me that maybe I’m actually capable of writing something that others would want to read.
I continued to write sci-fi and, as mentioned in the first question, eventually shifted to m/m. So, while these interests don’t influence my writing (at least, I don’t think they do), the very fact that I write at all is thanks to these interests.
Why do you think the reason is that so many women love to read m/m?
This has always been a mystery to me. I’ve heard it said that it’s the equivalent of men watching lesbian porn. But, being a gay man with no interest in lesbian porn, that comparison doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. I remember years ago watching a documentary about Queer as Folk, and apparently it was hugely popular with heterosexual women – they apparently loved the sight of hot naked bodies rubbing up against each other. I imagine reading m/m is a similar experience – they get all the hot naked bodies, but instead of watching them on a screen, it’s playing out in their minds.
What inspired you to write Go Deep?
A friend and I used to do hot yoga quite regularly and once when we were discussing it, he said something like, “I struggle to go deep into that posture.” Because I have a dirty mind, I started giggling and said, “I should totally write a yoga story called Go Deep!” From a title, it progressed into a fully-fleshed-out story, and then later retroactively became the first in the Men in the Hot Room series.
The characters in Go Deep – the young twink, Simon, and the older instructor, Brad, are inspired by a twink yogi and an older instructor that used to attend/work at the studio my friend and I went to. (And I really mean just “inspired” – the instructor I know is ultra-professional and would not have done the sorts of things Brad does in Go Deep… at least I think not…)
What was it like writing Dustin in Autumn Fire? He seems like a complicated character.
Dustin was interesting to write. So far, my novels have sprung from trying to understand people. The seed idea for Autumn Fire came from a young gay man that I was chatting with a few years ago. He said, “Why would I get a boyfriend, when I can get all the sex I want through Grindr?” I find that a little hard to understand, because falling in love is not always a conscious choice.
So, from thinking about this conversation we had, the character of Dustin began to grow. He’s a closeted young man, and very happily so, who has a hook-up with the one guy that would totally change his life. He spends a lot of the novel trying to fight the inevitable – he tries to forget Kyle and leads himself into some questionable hook-up scenarios, trying desperately to work Kyle out of his system.
It was an interesting experience because I had to write from the perspective of someone who is denying the love of his life. It was a challenge, but certainly one I was up to!
What are you currently working on? More than one project?
There have been some major changes in my life recently – bought a house, a new job, and finally finished my masters degree… so now I have gobs of free time that I haven’t had for years. I can finally dedicate some serious time to writing. So, I’m approaching writing much more like a business and am now attempting to write one short story a month, as well as slowly working on a third novel.
In September, I’ll be releasing the third entry in the Men in the Hot Room series, Going All The Way. This story finds Simon and Brad finally getting some private time together and their usual hot sex gets hotter when Brad brings out his bag of toys.
After that, starting in October (fingers crossed), I’ll be launching my new series, Go-Go Boys of Club 21, which will consist of a five-story “season.” (And if it goes well, I have two more “seasons” planned for later.) Go-Go Boys follows three young men who work as, well, go-go boys at a gay nightclub in New York City. Season one follows one boy, Liam, as he struggles to find more excitement in life, eventually leading to an experience at a gay porn studio. But when he thinks his dreams have been realized, he yearns for his days back in Club 21.
Tell me about your writing process. How long does it usually take to get a working idea? Do you rewrite to death? Do you outline?
From seed to idea doesn’t take long. When I’ve got something in my head, I tease it out and figure out a lot of details and then I’m itching to start writing.
I generally write out a loose outline and then go from there. But that’s slowly changing. I have an editor that’s really tough on me – he’s got my best interests at heart, though. He’s forcing me to do extensive outlining to prevent the need for dramatic structural edits later on. At first, I resisted. But I’ve come to see the value of extensive outlining. As I sit down to write my next project, I know exactly what I need to write and what’s happening and being said in each scene.
I hate edits and rewriting. I know the value and importance of it, but it’s like clawing my eyes out. I want to write and then move on to the next project. But with the extensive pre-writing procedures my editor is making me do, it’s not only making me a stronger writer, it’s also reducing a lot of the rewriting and editing stages since a lot of problems have been worked out in outlining.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
That can range from a few weeks to several months. Autumn Fire was a quick write – I had my first draft done in a few weeks. Silent Hearts took a lot longer – I think it was about four or five months to get through it. I think a lot of it depends on what else is going on in my life at the moment, but if all is good, a novel (just the first draft) could be about four to six weeks… I’ll be writing another novel in the new year, so I’ll see if that estimate really holds true!
What was it like to write the relationship between Grant and Jake in Silent Hearts?
Like with Autumn Fire, the story in Silent Hearts has its genesis in me trying to understand another person’s perspective. I’ve never understood men who will have sex with other men, but will refuse to kiss them. Jake is one of those men.
I think the reasons for not kissing can be incredibly varied, with a lot of reasons being grounded in a lack of self-acceptance of a person’s sexuality. (So, I can have sexual contact with another man, and that’s fine. But to kiss implies desire and emotions that I’m not yet ready to confront.) And I totally understand this.
However, I didn’t want to write a coming-out story, so I instead thought of why an out gay man would refuse to kiss another man, but has no problem having sex with a man. What reasons could such a man have for that approach to sex?
So, when Grant comes into the plot, he struggles to figure out why this sexy, young man will give him a blow job, but won’t kiss him. The sparks fly (both romantic sparks and angry sparks) as they confront this issue and get to the root of Jake’s refusal to kiss.
What advice do you have for those thinking about writing gay romance and what advice do you have for those who are trying to build an audience from scratch?
I once read a blog post or a quote somewhere – I really can’t remember the details – but the message was, “You either are or are not a writer. There’s no ‘trying to be’ a writer.” That was the approach I took and I think that helped me build an audience before the launch of my first book. In my profiles on Twitter, Tumblr, and WordPress, I wrote that I was a writer of m/m erotic romance. I made no mention of not being published or that my first book hadn’t even been finished yet. New writers need to appear confident, but not cocky – there’s a big difference there.
I have a few pieces of advice for new writers:
- Learn how to write. There are tons of ebooks out there, self-published and traditionally published, erotic and non-erotic genres, that suffer from bad writing. Problems with passive voice, repeated POV errors, typos, and a lack of coherent plot riddle many ebooks I’ve read in the past few years. No matter what genre you write, you will stand out if your writing is exemplary.
- Professional editing is a must. You can self-edit and your friend who’s got a good eye can read over your stuff, but at the end of the day, you need to have a professional give your work an edit. If you’re with a publisher, that’s usually included with the publishing process, but if you’re independently publishing stuff, you need to find one of these editors yourself.
- Read widely. Read more than just the stuff in your genre. You need to read your genre to understand what’s been done, what hasn’t, and what your competition is like. But you also need to read a variety of other genres so that you don’t get so stuck in your genre that you can’t see outside of it.
- Have fun. 🙂