Writing Journeys – Miles Cameron
What an honour it is to have Christian Cameron on ‘Writing Journeys’. Most of you will know him as Miles Cameron, his fantasy pen name, but Christian has been writing historical fiction for far longer. Writing in two genres presents a unique publishing and writing challenge, one which Christian has risen to meet. He’s also a real life adventurer and knight (check out him wearing full armour on the right), and actually knows how to sword fight. It’s no wonder that his books are written with such visceral detail. As an aside, I’ve never met somone else with the same fascination for obscure medieval Scottish history! Many bonus points. Over now to Mr. Cameron.
Michael Miller asked me to talk a little about my writing journey and how I got here. Here is going to be the odd no man’s land between finishing a giant 5 book epic (Traitor Son/Red Knight) and starting a new trilogy that’s very, very different (Masters and Mages).
So. First, hello, I’m Miles/Christian Cameron, of Toronto Canada. I have been a professional writer since 1996 and I have written full time since 2000. I’ve published 29 books as of this date, as well as thirty or so short stories and a few actual articles for more academic publications. And a ton of stuff I wrote in the military.
My journey began the same way as I imagine many of us begin, in school. I had several; great writing teachers; I first remember thinking about writing as a ‘thing’ in fourth grade, with Ms. Mauro. She was an awesome teacher, and she insisted on grammar.
In what North Americans call ‘High School,’ I had Jesuits priests. They were very, very strong on writing, and in fact in my senior years, pretty much all we did was practice writing five page essays. By the time I graduated, I could produce a five page essay on almost any topic, research and all, in about two hours. That’s not because I’m so great; that was the effect of the ruthless boot-camp of the mind that is Jesuit education. (Oh, yeah, they were big on critical thinking, too). Side note… they were also very strong on grammar. And punctuation and spelling. Frankly, I’m lucky I left alive, as any editor will tell you.
In university, I mostly studied Medieval history and…err…the other sex… I honestly can’t remember ever taking a single writing class, except poetry, into which I followed a beautiful young woman whose name now escapes me. I admit I DID a good deal of writing. I even wrote a lot of really bad poetry. Let’s just gloss over that. Oh, and I wrote a fantasy novel. I solemnly swear you will never ever see it. However bad you imagine it being, it is really much, much worse.
So after university I dove straight into the military to avoid having to get a real job. I spent almost fifteen years in the U.S. Navy, where I did a lot of different jobs. The only one that counts here is that I ran a sort of top-secret newspaper for a while. We wrote huge long analytical articles for senior leaders. I did a lot of the research and a good deal of the writing. It required a whole different style from creative writing or poetry; it had rules almost as limiting as the sonnet; every article was on something I knew nothing about, in a place I’d almost never heard of. I learned a ton about writing, and a ton about violence and the world and political leaders and… yeah, it was a little like living in a Cthulu story.
But I learned to write very quickly and on demand. Thirty-five typed pages for the president, by 5PM? I’m your man. About the worldwide Pangolin threat? Sure. How do you spell that?
I wrote another fantasy novel in my spare time. I’m saddened to say it was WORSE than the drivel I churned out as an undergraduate. I tried to be ‘serious.’
In 1996 I came up with a kick-arse plot for a spy thriller (no fantasy). I ended up writing it with my dad. My dad has been a writer all my life, yet, oddly, I don’t think he did much to promote my career until that all important moment when I had a good idea and a hundred pages and it wasn’t fantasy. We wrote together. That was like boot camp for a third time (second time was a sort of special forces thing I did, never mind). My father has exceptionally high standards on grammar and spelling, and punctuation, and sentence structure, and the ideas of character, the Aristotelean hierarchy of drama…
And I got it all, by phone, an hour a day every day until we were done. We wrote 8 books together while I was still in the Navy. All spy novels (as Gordon Kent). All pretty good, if I do say so. I learned lots about the industry. I learned that what I saw as ‘realistic’ (say, because it had actually happened to me) had NOTHING to do with ‘realism’ or even ‘acceptable plot.’ I became a better writer, mostly because I started to reconcile my love or research and authenticity with COMMUNICATING that experience to the reader.
After that, I was a writer. I wrote spy novels and then I wrote historicals. I tried twice to go off to fantasy, and both times I was told that I could not cross genres… BTW, that’s what they told David Gemmell, too. Anyway, one very fine day in 2009 I was introduced to Gillian Redfern in London, as she was down the hall from my historical fiction editor. I think I sort of pitched a fantasy novel right there. She came back later with a counter pitch, which at the time seemed very odd and in retrospect probably saved my writing career, and Traitor Son was born; what if Mordred was the hero of the Arthurian world, and what if dragons were real…
Well, I’ve written all those (I mean, unless you want more of them, you readers) and so now I’m writing ‘The Master’ while simultaneously writing book four of my tale of a late 14th c. English knight named William Gold ( there really was a William Gold, BTW). Because I love to write; I love to do research, and I’m very fast. I like to write four books a year.
Michael didn’t ask me to write advice, but here’s some. If you want to write fantasy (or anything else) you need 1) to LOVE to write. Do you love to write? So you can do it all day long? And 2) You need experience. The more, the better. When you create a world. And every novelist does, you base that world on what you know…. Other fantasy (or detective fiction or what have you) yes, what you have read counts. But better yet if you’ve been to Mauritania or Madagascar or Uganda. Dug a well. Made love on a beach. Sailed a surf board. Whatever. You do not really have to command a galley in a ship fight to have a great idea how that would work; but you can have experiences that inform the guesses you make that we all call fantasy. Even if you yearn to write mainstream ‘literature’, experience will give you more tools than a writing class.
Or so says me 🙂
fantasy authors, miles cameron, writing journeys