DeAnna Cameron is the founder of the OC Writer’s Group in Orange County, California and a former journalist. She is a delightful lady with a supportive and easy going manner. Her books are about the Victorian era. I’m pleased to feature her interview here at No Wasted Ink.
My name is DeAnna Cameron, and before I became a novelist I was a journalist. I spent about 15 years working for several newspapers and magazines in Southern California, including the Orange County Register, the L.A. Times community papers, and Orange Coast Magazine. For about 20 years, I was also a student of belly dance, learning to dance, of course, but also about the art and history of this dance form. I suppose it was inevitable that I’d eventually write about it, too.
When and why did you begin writing?
I suppose I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I grew up believing it wasn’t a practical career choice. So I studied practical subjects and looked for practical jobs. That worked out pretty well for a while, but inevitably I became bored and started looking for something new. When I discovered journalism, I thought I had found the perfect answer. I could be a writer and get a steady paycheck! So I did that for about 15 years and it was great. But the urge to write my own stories never went away. After a long day (or night, depending on the shift I was working) I still found myself coming home and tapping away at my computer keyboard on some story or another. Eventually one of those stories became a novel and then that novel was noticed by an agent who sold it to an editor at Berkley Book/Penguin. That turned out to be my debut novel, THE BELLY DANCER, which was published in 2009 and reissued in paperback last year. When my editor said she wanted another novel, I wrote DANCING AT THE CHANCE, which was published by Berkley last year.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I started believing I was a writer the first time someone paid me for my work.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
My latest novel, DANCING AT THE CHANCE, is mostly about a young vaudeville dancer in 1907 New York who’s struggling to save the down and out theater she calls home and learning a few lessons about love — romantic and familial along the way. But as you might expect with a story set in a theater, there’s a wide cast of characters whose lives clash and collide backstage, and so it really becomes a story about what happens behind the scenes, all the unseen stuff that’s responsible for the magic audiences see onstage.
What inspired you to write this book?
DANCING AT THE CHANCE started as a sequel to THE BELLY DANCER, which is about the real-life belly dancing scandal at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Many of the Egyptian belly dancers who performed at the fair stayed in this country after the fair closed and went on to dance in the vaudeville circuits. I intended to follow them there. But the more I learned about the people who made up the vaudeville world, the more fascinated I became with them. I was especially intrigued by the people who worked behind the scenes.
Still, I was set on writing about these belly dancers in vaudeville until a young girl nosed her way into a scene one day. I was writing about belly dancers performing onstage, but I could see this girl in the wings, watching the performance. She was a scruffy little thing, and it seemed that in an instant I knew she was the daughter of the theater’s seamstress and that she and her mother lived in the theater’s cellar. I found myself wondering what kind of woman she would become with an upbringing like that. And that’s when I started writing the story from the perspective of Pepper MacClair, that young girl grown into a beautiful yet still scruffy young woman whose trying to emulate the dancers she has admired all her life.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Since I write historical novels, details are important to evoke the flavor of the time so I tend to be descriptive. And while I love drama, I also think it’s important to break up all those hard and gritty emotions with a bit of levity. Life is about the roller coaster ride, and I believe fiction works best when it reflects that.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
I can’t take credit for it. The clever people at Berkley Books came up with DANCING AT THE CHANCE.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’ve always been a fan of Victorian writers — the Brontes, Flaubert, Chopin, to name a few. I love the richness of their stories, but I do not like that the heroines tend to end up ruined and/or dead because they break society’s rules. I have to believe there were women — even in those repressive times — who dared to be different and who found ways to make it work. So, that has always been one of my motivations. To write about women in that time — even if I had to invent them — who broke the rules and still found happy endings.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
My life is not nearly so interesting. I’ve done a bit of performing with troupes, but that is the extent of my professional dance experience. I have made a number of friends who are far more involved in the performance side of things, though, and I’ve drawn a lot of what I know about backstage drama from them.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
I already mentioned some of my favorite Victorian authors. I also greatly admire Anne Rice, Elizabeth Peters, and Joan Didion. Each has such a unique writing voice, and I’m in awe every time I read and reread their work at how quickly and completely they can sweep me up into a story. As a writer, it’s usually difficult to turn off my inner editor when I read anything. But that never happens with these authors. I treasure their stories, and they set a standard I always hope to emulate with my own stories.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
I’m blessed to have had many wonderful writing teachers over the years and I’m thankful for every one of them every day.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
The covers for my novels are also the work of the lovely and talented people at Berkley Books. I was consulted, but really this is their area of expertise and I was happy to leave it in their capable hands.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Never stop trying to grow as a writer. There’s always more to learn. There are always ways to improve. Even the best writers have flaws and blind spots, and if you don’t recognize that you have them, too, then you risk losing the opportunity to overcome those flaws.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for going on these adventures with me. I hope we can do it again soon.
Orange County, California
DeAnna Cameron writes romantic historical fiction featuring feisty heroines destined for passion and fame.