Today on the blog we have J. Jay Kamp. Without further ado, here is the interview. Enjoy.
Thanks so much for this great opportunity! I really do appreciate it so much.
What is your earliest memory of writing?
When I was eleven years old, I started writing down stories -- fan fiction, in a way -- about Han Solo. These were usually complicated soap-opera-like stories about he and I being married, the houses we lived in (primary residence and vacation home), the pets we kept, and all the fun we had together. I kept writing from there, and created different stories about whomever I liked over the years, which continues to this day, as all my books' characters are inspired by actors or musicians.
How does it feel being published?
It feels pretty surreal. I've spent twenty years submitting my work to agents, and I even managed to secure an agent at one point, which didn't do me a heck of a lot of good. It seems to me that traditional publishing houses are very narrow in their tastes, and strict in their guidelines, and my books don't really fall within those confines. So it feels good to be free to express my own ideas, and set a story in Belize if I want to (which I'd been told was too exotic a locale by agents and editors).
When did you decide to be a writer?
I decided to become a writer while I was standing in line at Tower Books in Seattle in 1990, waiting to have Anne Rice sign my copy of The Vampire Lestat. Of course I'd been writing long before that, but I'd been sidetracked by the idea of a music career in my youth, and it was only in meeting Rice that I realized I was really made to write books. I began my first novel upon arriving home from the author signing, and I've been writing books ever since.
Do you get writer's block? How do you combat it?
I've been fortunate so far in that I've never really suffered from writer's block. I tend to feel like I'm "channeling" my characters, and often they almost write themselves. I have vivid memories, for instance, of writing the character of James in The Last Killiney; if I became stuck during some part of the story, I would ask him out loud, "Well, what do you say here, James?" And the answer would come to me. Strange but true.
Where do you write? Do you write longhand, typewriter or computer?
In the beginning, after the book signing with Anne Rice, I converted an old bird aviary attached to our house into a writing den. It was quiet, out of the way, and had no distractions other than the cat wandering through once in a while. Later, I wrote a significant portion of The Last Killiney at the kitchen table at our family's vacation home at the north end of Vancouver Island in Canada, which is where much of that book takes place. By the time I wrote The Bayman's Bride, I had a writing nook installed in a corner of my bedroom...and a pair of ear plugs. As for the mechanical method of my writing, I wrote my first book on an Apple Mac Plus, which later enjoyed a revival as a door stop. Since then, I'm afraid I've been converted to PCs, and in the last ten years, I've written everything on a laptop using Microsoft Word.
Tell us about your Latest Book.
The book I'm working on right now is going by the working title of The Wager. It's book number three in the Ravenna Evans Series, and has the same characters as The Last Killiney (and also The Bayman's Bride, although that doesn't become apparent until one reads The Wager). The story is set in Belize, Dublin and Dorsetshire, and the hero is a man tormented by his inability to sleep, and by the consequences of a bet he's made in which he's lost everything. There are bits about the Irish rebellion of 1798, the Belizean "Battle of St. George's Caye," Dorset coast smugglers and time travel, so there's a lot going on in this story and I'll be very excited when it's finished!
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Always edit and revise your work. Listen to criticism if you're hearing the same thing from several people, but ignore those who want you to rewrite everything to fit with their ideas. And above all, keep writing!
And lastly, here's an excerpt from The Bayman's Bride:
Rowen was at the bookseller’s when he first came around.
Her maid described him as a Spaniard—a dark-complected man, pleasant enough in face and manner, but with an accent so thick she’d scarcely understood a word he’d uttered.
“’Twas something about m’lord,” the maid told her, putting the letter in Rowen’s hand. “Said he’s coming back in two days.”
Rowen looked at Hester in astonishment. “Bennett is here?”
“No, the Spaniard is coming, not Lord Marlowe.” With her usual perturbed expression, Hester shook her head, hands gravitating naturally to her hips as she regarded her mistress. “He’ll be here to fetch you on Thursday…or at least that’s what I thought he said.”
“And he mentioned Bennett? Bennett sent him?”
“Well, open the letter and see, why don’t you?”
So she did. With trembling, awkward fingers, Rowen unfolded the paper to find her husband’s flawlessly written hand. In the corner, just as she’d expected, she saw not her first name nor the endearment of “wife,” but a cool and formal address of title: To Lady Marlowe.
She shouldn’t have read another word.
But of course, she had to. She’d not seen Bennett in nearly a year. Surely his letter would reveal his location, his reasons for leaving…because he’d gone away, you see. Bennett had courted her, pursued and proposed to her, and then, in an act that can only be described as premeditated cruelty, he’d gathered up his well-traveled baggage and left. On their wedding night. He’d not even consummated their nuptial vows. He’d boarded his carriage without so much as a parting kiss and journeyed to New Spain. She’d heard nothing more.
Now with his letter finally in her grasp, Rowen skimmed down the page with impatience until she found what she wanted: the Bay Settlement on the Bay of Honduras. Between the Belize and Sibun Rivers, he’d taken up lodgings at a logwood camp where “communications with Jamaica are so infrequent as to make correspondence with you all but impossible.”
How convenient. She wanted to tear up the letter at his indifference. Still she forced herself to read on about how, through a Scottish settler, Bennett had learned of a city in the jungle near Belize Town. “It’s a ruin,” he wrote, “similar to those in Mexico City, but smaller, much more elaborately decorated. Carvings and idols cover its walls, so I’ve hired some workers to remove these treasures. I’ve sent one man to collect you forthwith, as well as to buy a ship for transport. This man will escort you to our encampment, at which I’ll be waiting for you with utmost expectancy. Please abide my wishes, Lady Marlowe. Give Santiago no trouble.”
So the Spaniard’s name was Santiago. Rowen said it aloud, and Hester confirmed it right away. “Santiago de Escalante, m’lady. Made me repeat it three times, he did.” Taking the hateful letter from her hand, Hester tossed it in the fire. “What will you do, then? Will you receive him? Or would you have me suggest where he put his ship?”
Angrily, Rowen pictured her husband—but no, not her husband. She’d try to forget that little technicality, although she recalled everything else about the man. The particular shade of his dark blond hair, his close-set eyes the color of sage, Bennett had been attractive, true, but he’d carried himself with the poise of an ostler or a potato farmer. He’d been vastly intimidating, and yet his manner had been so painfully reserved, so genuinely shy, she’d often felt sorry for him.
“Well?” Hester asked. “Surely he can’t make you go?”
Rowen gazed at the fire in the hearth, the little flames rising on Bennett’s letter. “No,” she said. “He can’t make me go. ’Twould take twenty Spaniards to get me on that ship.”
“And even then we’d fight, wouldn’t we?”
“If he thinks—,” and Rowen almost shook with rage in considering the notion, “—if Bennett believes he can marry me to suit his father, then command me to join him in some mosquito-infested jungle…”
Hester raised an eyebrow. “Tropical fever’s impaired his judgment.”
“Well, why else would he send for me? No lord takes his lady to such a dangerous place unless he’s mad, surely.” Shrugging, she glanced at the maid in frustration. “You know he’s reclusive. Bennett’s never needed a woman, much less a wife. God knows his idols amuse him more, and in the way of family, he can’t mean to start one, unless—”
“Unless his father’s demanded an heir?”
Rowen shuddered. Of course that’s what the old duke wanted. His Grace would have Bennett produce a son, a successor to the estate’s three houses, 46,000 acres and rent role of £27,000 a year, not to mention the duke’s legacy of statesmanship which Bennett showed no interest in inheriting. In all these things Roselund needed a grandson.
Bennett cared only for antiquities.
“The duke’s cut him off,” Hester announced.
“Then my lord will starve.”
Hester tapped her foot. “I’d think not, m’lady.”
Rowen ignored her, walked toward the window with her eyes fixed stubbornly on the sill. Outside, the racket of horses’ hooves and carriages in the Strand was an easy distraction to the way Hester watched her. An heir! A year alone and now he wanted her? Did he think she’d forgotten the way he’d sauntered into the house after their wedding, no hand in hers, no waiting for her, just this casual business of directing the servants to load his crates? Bennett hadn’t an emotional bone in his body. Take care around my vases, he’d said, and then, when she’d begun to cry, Would you suffer me to stay, my lady?
“Let him starve, indeed,” she whispered. “He’ll get no heir.”