Hank Phillippi Ryan Big news at the FEMMES! Fabulous Femme Dana Cameron has a new—well, if I say a new book, that’s just part of the story! When you say to Dana “what’s new?” Whoa. The answers are amazing. And keep reading—we’re giving away an early copy of—well, just read on.
HANK: So, Dana. This is ...NEW! And yet, familiar to your fans. Tell all!
DANA CAMERON I'm so excited! Yes, it's a new series with a new protagonist— archaeologist Zoe Miller—and a new publisher (47North) and a new genre (urban fantasy). The first book of three (and three short stories) will be called SEVEN KINDS OF HELL.
The familiar elements: The Fangborn are vampires, werewolves, and oracles dedicated to the secret protection of humanity, which I introduced in a series of short stories beginning with “The Night Things Changed.” And since my first career was in archaeology, and my first six novels were archaeological mysteries, there's heaps of archaeology and adventure. It's an archaeological thriller with Fangborn!
HANK: I want to know all about Zoe Miller, your main character, but first, what’s the title mean? Or would that give it away?
DANA: In “The Night Things Changed,” Claudia tells Gerry he looks like “seven kinds of hell.” I liked the sound of that as a title, and it fit when I started to write about Zoe. Her mother's dying. She's on the run from her father's family, who are reputed to be killers. Her tendency to violence—and the occasional glimpse of fangs in the mirror— has her worried about her sanity. She left the love of her life to protect him.
A violent Russian “businessman” has kidnapped her cousin, because the artifact she accidentally-kinda-stole is not as worthless as she thought. The world appears to be full of monsters, all whom want something from her. That sounded like she had at least seven distinct brands of hell in her life, and while she has a tough time of it, it's tremendous fun for me.
HANK: We all think we know about vampires and werewolves and oracles--but you kind of started from ground zero, right? How did you realize you could-should do that? And how did that evolve?
DANA: I did start from scratch, and that was an important moment for me. When fellow Femmes Fatales Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner invited me to contribute to their anthology WOLFSBANE AND MISTLETOE with a short story about werewolves at holiday time, I was delighted. Then I panicked; when I turned to my reference material, I discovered I didn't have any on werewolves! As a recovering academic, my early archaeology mysteries were very much grounded (ha!) in the real world. What was I to do?
Then it occurred to me: this is fiction! I can just make this stuff up! That sounds pretty elementary, but it represented a huge shift for me in terms of writing. In the course of writing the story, “The Night Things Changed,” I turned the conventions about werewolves and vampires on their head: they're the first on a crime scene, not because they're killers, but because they're tracking evil-doers and protecting humanity. The hostility between werewolves and vampires is because they're related—which led me to the name Fangborn, because they both have fangs and are born to the Family, not bitten. I threw in the oracles because I liked the idea of combining oracles with high tech, and they also add an x-factor in terms of powers.
HANK: Okay, so tell us about Zoe a bit.
DANA: Zoe's an archaeologist; she's smart and curious. She's been broke and rootless, so she knows how to handle herself and she has a fierce desire to find a place where she fits in. Right before the book starts, she's actually starting to pull together something that looks like a stable life, with friends, prospects for a career, a boyfriend. But when her true powers and identity are revealed, it all goes wrong and the adventure begins. It's as much because of her character as her supernatural abilities that she's up to it.
HANK: Did it get you thinking about "supernatural abilities?" Ones people have that they may not realize? Did this help you come into your own power as a writer? I mean—this is kind of the book where things changed for you!
DANA: Anyone who's read comics knows the saying, “with great power, comes great responsibility” (which comes from Spider-Man, but Voltaire and Luke 12:48 express the same thing!) The Fangborn can be seen as guardians, but maybe most regular people would see them as vigilantes and killers. That's something Zoe will be grappling with.
As for the powers themselves, I really had to start thinking out of the box, asking two questions: What is the coolest thing that could happen here? And how does that fit into what I know (and eventually will tell) about the larger Fangborn 'verse? The challenge of learning to think on a grand scale, outside of the reality I know, has taught me a lot as a writer. I wouldn't have said I could write short stories, or urban fantasy, until I had the challenge of “The Night Things Changed.”
I think we all have resources that are revealed with great challenges—need, desire, opportunity, calamity—and they emerge even faster if we go looking for them and work at making them more powerful
HANK: Urban fantasy..how do you see that? And what does it require? What surprised you about it..you're used to that genre from the short stories, but was this different to juggle?
DANA: The short stories were mysteries with supernatural beings and elements. Having read a lot of fantasy growing up, when confronted with the idea of writing a Fangborn novel, I realized fantasy is structurally similar to thrillers.
No Jack Reacher, no Jason Bourne, but the clock is running out, and someone has to stop the very bad thing—often a global catastrophe—from happening. In the case of urban fantasy, the settings are modern (often real places), and some of the characters have magical powers or fighting abilities. Which is fine, as long as the antagonist has powers too, or the goal is supernatural in some way.
If you think about it, it's not that big a stretch, because both Reacher and Bourne have superhuman abilities, or are at least larger than life. The surprise was that I already had the mystery and thriller background for writing the Fangborn and I just had to reconsider the conventions of fantasy and urban fantasy to add those elements. The other surprise is how much fun it is building the the Fangborn 'verse! I've really let myself off the leash.
HANK: Oh, Dana off the leash! There's a concept. I've never imagined you ON the leash--your brain is always going a million miles an hour. Gang, questions for Dana? And we're giving away a copy of SEVEN KINDS OF HELL to one lucky commenter!
DANA: Thanks so much for these terrific questions, Hank!