Octoberguest! Bill Cameron

While I was clicking around, thinking about how to introduce Bill Cameron in a way that wouldn’t bring too much of a blush to his ever-smiling face, I kept coming across the phrase New Century Noir. Indeed, it’s the perfect descriptive phrase for Bill’s work. Bill always delivers delicious mysteries, but his heroes are flawed and have a heck of a lot of heart–and his women aren’t afraid of letting the world know that they can take care of themselves, thank you very much!

His second novel Chasing Smoke is available now from Bleak House Books. And if you can get to “M” is for Mystery on October 30th, The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles on the 31st, or to the Men of Mystery event in Irvine on November 1st, give Bill a big hug for me. I won’t tell you any more about him and his work, though–I’ll leave that to the eloquent man himself.

(Oh, btw–Chasing Smoke received a starred review from Library Journal. Yay, Bill!)

Welcome, Bill!

Laura’s willingness to include me in Octoberguest! shows that her mighty heart has room even for riff raff! Thank you for letting me in today, Laura. I hope I don’t muck up the place too much. I did brush most of the dirt off my shoes, so I bet I leave hardly any at all on the coffee table. I also promise not to cuss or spit too much!

Today is a particularly exciting day for me, because in addition to being a guest here, tonight marks my first appearance promoting my new book Chasing Smoke. I’ll be reading and signing for the first time in the wild. (To be fair, Chasing Smoke was available last weekend at Bouchercon, but this is the first time I’ll be in a bookstore to promote it). I’m feeling edgy and nervous but also thrilled. In few short hours I will I will stand in front of whoever makes it out to Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing (not the mothership store in downtown Portland, but the wonderful Beaverton location) and hope I don’t sound like a fumble-tongued dolt. Thanks to Laura, I get to practice here first.

Chasing Smoke is the story of homicide detective Thomas “Skin” Kadash. Skin is on medical leave from the Portland Police Bureau, and just wants to survive cancer treatment so he can get back to the work that defines him. But when his partner Susan Mulvane tries to drag him into an unofficial investigation of a series of deaths, he’s not interested — he’s dead-dog sick and doesn’t need the grief — until Susan reveals the victims all suffered from cancer themselves, and all had one thing in common with Skin. His oncologist. The story is a first person narrative, an intimate view of a man confronting his own mortality after a career ass-deep in the mortality of others.

Chasing Smoke follows my debut, Lost Dog, a book in which Skin has a supporting role, one of the cops investigating a series of murders. But Lost Dog is not a Skin novel, not book one in a series, just as Chasing Smoke is not book two.

When you look at the mystery and thriller marketplace these days, the safe money is found in series, and I can see why. As a reader, I often gravitate to series myself. But as a writer, I find that each new project needs to offer a new challenge to me as a writer. Certainly keeping a series fresh and dynamic offers its own challenges, but I seem to need something else. I want each book to be a chance to attempt new narrative styles, find my way into differing voices, which is a goal that’s typically at odds which traditional series. The trick for me was to find a way to write the kinds of books I want to write, striking off in new directions with each new outing while also recognizing and working to satisfy the demands and desires of the marketplace.

The solution is what I’ve been calling related standalones. Chasing Smoke and Lost Dog exist in the same universe, but each effectively stand on their own. Neither relies on the other. You can read the books in either order. A number of characters overlap, but significant characters in each don’t appear in the other. Lost Dog is a third person story, with an alternating point of view between antagonist and protagonist. Chasing Smoke is a sharply focused first person. Their connection is seen in the world that I’ve tried to create. Common characters, common settings, but a different view of each. While I don’t want to shift the focus away from Chasing Smoke here, I want to add that I’m currently at work on a third related standalone. Skin returns, but in some ways he’s back to a supporting roll—at least, he’s not the central focus the way he is in Chasing Smoke. The new book features multiple points of view, multiple tenses, multiple voices.

I don’t know if this will turn out to be a successful formula in the long run. I do know it’s part of what I need to do as writer to feel challenged and engaged, and which I hope provides the best opportunity to help me grow as a writer. And, of course, I don’t think I’ve invented some amazing new concept. I’m simply feeling my way into a model that I hope works for readers.

As a writer, one of the most exciting aspects of this approach is the opportunity to explore character in particular from differing perspectives. In Lost Dog, Skin is seen exclusively through the eyes of the protagonist, Peter McKrall. What Peter sees in Skin in Lost Dog is not what Skin sees in himself in Chasing Smoke. So in that regard, the related standalone can provide the reader with an experience not unlike a more traditional series while expanding and enlarging on the model.

Now comes the question. Will readers agree? I sure hope so!

I’d love to hear other thoughts on the place of series, standalones, and interrelated worlds. As readers, what do you look for first? If you are a series adherent, what do you think of the idea of related standalones? If your preference is one-offs, might you be lured in by this kind of approach?

Thank you again to the lovely and talented Laura for inviting me today. Hopefully I didn’t leave too many sticky fingerprints or too much mud on the carpet!

Thanks, Bill!

[Remember–Everyone who comments is entered to win $100 Godiva Chocolatier and Harry & David giftbaskets, plus books from several Octoberguest! authors! Drawing held November 2nd.]

Tomorrow: Sure, Fluffy’s going to look sweet in her stylish Halloween ensemble, but will she be safe on Halloween? Amy Shojai, pet (owner) behavior maven and author is in the Handbasket.

15 thoughts on “Octoberguest! Bill Cameron”

  1. AnswerGirl says:

    Good to see you in Baltimore, Bill, however briefly — and I know you’ll have a great time at The Mystery Bookstore-Los Angeles. Wish I could be there!

    I love books that live in the same universe without being series. Scott Phillips does it — character names recur in his three books, although they’re set in wildly different times — and so do Laura Lippman, Elmore Leonard, and (of course) Stephen King and William Faulkner. Good company, there.

  2. Bill, I too really love the idea of the related standalones. I’ve got my copy of Chasing Smoke and am really looking forward to reading it. Congrats on release #2!

  3. Bill Cameron says:

    Thank you both so much for stopping by!

    Faulkner was a huge influence on me when I was younger. In college, I even presumed to write a prologue for As I Lay Dying in a writing class. The instructor said, “An excellent forgery! ‘A’ for brazenness.” And, yeah, King, Leonard, and Lippman are all longtime faves of mine. I haven’t read Scott Phillips, but I shall have to look him up!

  4. Hi, everyone! I forgot to mention that darling Bill has tossed a copy of Chasing Smoke in the Handbasket.

    Thanks, Bill!

  5. Hey Bill,
    The new book sounds very interesting!

    I like the question you pose in this post. I do like series books but very often after book 6 or 7 I think they can start to go stale. Not all series of course but many. In the last year or so I’ve really come to love related stand alone books. It’s almost like ensemble acting. One episode (book) focuses on one character and the next another. I think it’s a great way to go.

  6. Janet Reid says:

    I’m always in favor of books featuring irascible curmudgeons.

    (and I think I should take myself off the eligibility list for the prizes given that having Bill as a client means I’ve already gotten the biggest prize of all!)

  7. Ken Lewis says:

    Yes, that is DEFINITELY Bill Cameron in the picture! I am a trained law enforcement investigator, and could pick him out of a line-up anywhwere from his trademark Columbia fly fishing vest. I had the privelige of meeting Bill last August at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, OR and also got to interview him in the Columbia Room Bar & Grill there at the Sheraton for my crime fiction podcast, NETDRAG. He is a great guy, and a tremendous writer and I enjoyed the hell out of his first novel, “Lost Dog.” I’m sure “Chasing Smoke” will be its equal, and probably even better. Bill’s podcast episode can be found at: http://www.wildvoice.com/NETDRAG/Posts

  8. Bill Cameron says:

    Hi, Ken! Thanks for the visit! And Hi to you too, Janet!

    Mary Francis, I know what you mean about some series running out of steam. But obviously there are ways to manage that. I think Michael Connelly has a great approach with Bosch, alternating standalones with series. And there are the authors who start new series before they finish a previous series as a way to seque. Earl Emerson seemed to do that.

    Anyway you tackle it, the goal of ensuring each new effort adds to one’s canon without becoming burdensome to write or indifferent to read can be a real challenge.

  9. Hi Bill! Your latest sounds great, I’m not surprised! Congrats on your release 🙂 I pretty much do the same thing in my books–related stand alones. Different characters every book, some recurring characters (such as an FBI agent who has been in virtually every one of my books, though sometimes off-page.)

  10. Ah, one of my favorite smiling faces … who writes the most deliciously dark and scintillating prose. 🙂

    As for what I look for in a book … Bill Cameron on the spine is enough. Stand alone, series, whatever world Bill chooses to write about is a fantastic read … CHASING SMOKE is a masterpiece.

    Sorry if I made you blush, sweetie, but it’s all true.

  11. jnantz says:

    Mr. Cameron,
    I love the idea but I’m a little saddened. Here I thought I was the one inventing something, and you’re telling me you didn’t even do it. (Okay, not really, but still)

    My first book, which I’m literally a day away from finishing, is a mystery/thriller set in Raleigh, NC. The second, which is still mostly in my head, will feature a female assassin who is based in several places in the US, but who will have some work in the Raleigh area (and will thus feature my detective from my first novel as a minor character). See why I think you have a great idea?

    I love to read and follow a series character, but I was afraid if I ever did get published and they thought I had a good character for a series, I’d have to write like 6 or 7 books on that one character before I could branch out in a different direction.

    I know that’s arrogant, setting terms when I’m still unpublished, but I just figured it’d be fun to play with different people in the same world/timeframe. Obviously I was right, as you’re doing the same thing. Cool!

  12. jnantz says:

    Oh, btw Mr. Cameron, if you should happen to need a few more places to add to your book tour, I’d like to recommend Raleigh…wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say n’more.

  13. Bill Cameron says:

    Well, hell. I wrote a long response to everyone who visited recently, and somehow it vanished. I think I clicked the wrong button. Fah!

    I’m sure I was brilliant, but it’s all vanished into the aether! So, let me just say, Hi, Allison! Great to see you. Kelli, it’s always a pleasure to blush for you, and Mr. Nantz, I would love to make my way to NC sometime. Here’s hoping!

    And, last but no least, thank you again to Laura for hosting me. You’re a doll!

  14. JJ Cooper says:

    I’m late to the party.

    I enjoy a series. As a dedicated Bosch fan, I really did approach The Lincoln Lawyer with some trepidation. But, Connelly did such a great job that I found myself starting to wish he could somehow find a way to bring Bosch and Haller together. Looking forward to reading The Brass Verdict.

    I think bringing out The Lincoln Lawyer really did extend the Bosch series ‘shelf life’. For me, it seems like a logical step to have a series and to introduce another strong character that can take over with their own series. I think I’d probably like five or six books before I did this though.

    All the best for your latest release, Bill.


  15. Sophie says:

    I’m even later, but I just wanted to make y’all jealous ’cause i get to see bill at M is for Mystery! We loves our Bill!!!!!!!

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