Combining Your Passions: Interview with DeAnna Cameron

Absolute Blank

By Erica Ruedas (pinupgeek)

DeAnna Cameron started her writing career as a journalist before switching to writing fiction. After taking a writing class where she was inspired to combine two of her passions, writing and belly dance, she wrote and published her first novel, The Belly Dancer, about Dora Chambers, a young bride trying to find her place in society, who finds herself entranced by belly dancers at the 1893 Chicago’s fair. Her second novel, Dancing at the Chance, follows Pepper McClair, a dancer in New York at the beginning of the vaudeville era, who tries to realize her dreams as a dancer and find love.

Here she answers some questions about writing, marketing with a niche audience, and her love for belly dancing.

Toasted Cheese: You’ve said that when you published The Belly Dancer you had to learn how to market your novel very quickly. Did you change anything about the way you marketed Dancing at the Chance?

DeAnna Cameron: I did handle things differently the second time around. I think some of it worked better, and some of it didn’t, but it’s almost impossible to know for sure. The reality is an author can rarely pinpoint exactly what is working, so my philosophy is to do what you can and what you enjoy (belly dance parties!), but never to let marketing one book replace the importance of writing the next one.

One thing I did differently, and which I wish I had been able to do the first time around, was to attend reader conferences like the ones held by the Historical Novel Society, RT Booklovers and RWA, where I could participate in the huge book-signing events they hold. Another thing I did was to connect with a lot more blogger reviewers. As bookstores disappear, readers are less likely to discover new authors by browsing bookshelves. Following book bloggers has become one way readers have filled the gap, so it’s important for new authors to go where the readers are.

TC: For marketing The Belly Dancer, you reached out to the belly dance community. How would you say that helped get your book out there, and how did it help when it came time to market Dancing at the Chance?

DC: It was a terrific help. My love for the art and history of Middle Eastern dance was the driving force behind the story, so it felt natural to want to share it with other belly dancers when it became a book. And I couldn’t have asked for a more receptive community. Every belly dance publication I can think of featured either a review or article about it, and I’ve heard from belly dancers from all over the country about how much they enjoyed the story. When Dancing at the Chance came out, I think its connection to vaudeville appealed to them as well because it’s an aesthetic that’s popular with so many belly dancers. There’s a lot of cross-over appeal between belly dance and vaudeville, and of course there is some pure belly dance in Dancing at the Chance as well, and the main characters of The Belly Dancer make a cameo appearance.

TC: They say “write what you love.” How much of your novels began as just a personal interest in the Vaudevillian era and the late 19th century and in dance?

DC: Dancing at the Chance actually began as a sequel to The Belly Dancer. Since many of the Egyptian belly dancers who performed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair stayed in this country after the fair ended and went on to perform in the vaudeville circuits, I intended to continue their story in that milieu. And what’s funny is that I thought I already knew a lot about vaudeville. But when I started doing the research, I realized I didn’t know it at all. It was so much crazier and more interesting than I ever imagined. And it wasn’t the belly dancers and the other headline acts that I found most interesting, but all the performers who worked at the opposite end of the spectrum, the acts that filled the least desirable spots on the bill. The scrappy, struggling performers who lived on little more than hopes and dreams, and all the people who worked behind the scenes to create the magic that happened onstage.

TC: What’s your tried and true method of organizing all your historical research?

DC: I don’t know if it’s tried and true, but my method involves a fat three-ring binder to keep my handwritten and typewritten notes organized, a slew of tabbed and earmarked historical resource books, and a carefully catalogued index on my computer of any online resources I come across that I think I might want to revisit later. It could be anything from a picture of a period dress that would suit a character or a picture of a building I plan to reference, maybe a biography of a historical person referenced in the story, or perhaps just an archived menu from a restaurant the characters will visit.

TC: How does your interest in belly dance fuel your passion for writing? Do you believe that they are both sides of the same coin or that they are two separate things you just happened to combine for your novels?

DC: I think it’s what you said before, about “writing what you love.” I’ve started stories about dozens of different things, but none of them hooked me long enough to turn them into novels. The story about The Belly Dancers at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and then later with the plight of struggling vaudevillians in Old New York, captivated me and I think that passion fueled the stories and hooked other people too.

TC: There’s historical fiction, romance novels, and dance. What made you combine all three? Which part is more fun to write?

DC: I was so naive when I started writing The Belly Dancer that I didn’t even know I was writing historical fiction or romantic fiction or dance-related fiction. I was simply writing a story that interested me and that I thought might interest other people, too. It was only when it was finished, and when there was an agent and a publisher involved, that I realized how important these labels are. So there was no master plan on my part. Some authors figure out what kind of novel they want to write and then write it. I wrote the novel I wanted to write, and then tried to figure out how to label it.

TC: You went from a long journalism career to writing fiction. What did you take from your journalism career to help you write your novels?

DC: As a fiction writer, I think I use what I learned as a journalist every single day. I learned how to research quickly and the importance of vetting what you find. I learned to write fast and to write through writer’s block. I learned the importance of narrative structure and style. Really, it was an invaluable experience and I’m eternally grateful for all the mentors I had along the way.

TC: What are you working on now?

DC: I actually have a few things in the works. One historical novel is still in an early research stage. I’m also working on a young adult Victorian paranormal trilogy. And, finally, I have a contemporary romance that centers on a young woman whose life is changed by belly dance class. See? I always come back to belly dance.

TC: Any advice for the budding historical fiction or romance writer?

DC: To be a writer, you have to write, so make it a priority. Write every day if you can, but at least a few times a week. It sounds simple, but there are so many people who say they want to be writers but they never write anything. Or they don’t finish what they’ve started. If you can finish a novel, you’ve probably got the drive to do what it’ll take to become a published author. So keep writing, even when it’s hard.

Where you can find DeAnna:

Twitter: @DeAnnaMCameron

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