She’s an archaeologist, so she loves the past, and understands it. Her short stories set in colonial Boston teem with reality, both in the character and in the setting—and they are so amazingly realistic, you cannot believe they come solely from imagination. She’s an expert in all things Baker Street, and I can certainly picture her tete a tete with Sherlock. And more than holding her own.
In the present? She’s a world traveller, a fearless explorer, (except for one thing, which she reveals below) and at home in the most elegant restaurants and on the most rigorous hikes, and immersed in the art world, both literary and martial. She also loves her kitties. And her cool husband.
And the future? Her Fangborn novels create a future that’s fascinatingly terrifying, but if there were ever anyone I’d want to share a foxhole in the future with, it’s Dana Cameron.
Who, in the here and now, answered our Not Quite Twenty Questions.
Title of your autobiography
The Queen of Spades
Because it’s the title I imagined generations of grateful graduate students and colleagues would use for an archaeology festschrift in my honor. It was a fantasy that got me through graduate school.
Oh! I just got that. Archaeology. Spades. Ba-dump-bump. Okay, then.
Movie you would see again and again?
“Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It is the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” of my set.
It is almost perfect in its beats and truly succeeds as an homage to the serials of the 1940s. Plus, it came out right before I went to college for archaeology and made me an infinitesimally bit cool.
So you never planned to be a mystery writer? How did that happen?
I wanted to be a writer when I was very young, but thought I’d have to run with the bulls, or get into bar fights, or go to war, in order to write—which sounded unpleasant. So I decided, at age 10, to become an archaeologist, which I loved. Many years later, I was working on a project in Maine, when my friend and I were accosted by a site looter with a metal detector. And a gun. It was very scary—how often does one have to worry about being shot?—but we came out unscathed. When I told another friend about it later, she said “you need to write this down.” And boom, a moment of satori. I started writing mysteries, which I’d read and loved all my life. The funny thing was, I started writing because of an adventure I was trying to avoid in the first place.
Okay, easy stuff. Exotic drinks?
Unusual or just be-fruited? Because I adore mai tais, margaritas, and rum punches; I also like aquavit, absinthe, and have gone on global quests for very rare, aged bourbons.
Pizza or chocolate?
If it comes right down to it, pizza. If it were portable like chocolate, I’d have that in my bag.
Spouse? Children? Special people in your life?
My darling James. We’ve been together since high school, and he’s the best thing to ever happen to me.
Yes, two fierce battle tabbies, Kaylee and Zoe.
Writing, reading, research. Going to museums and exploring cultures through food and drink.
Do you watch TV? What?
Lately: “Orange is the New Black,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Fargo,” and “Orphan Black.” I’m looking forward to the next season of “Justified,” “BBC’s Sherlock,” “House of Cards,” and maybe “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Can you sing?
No, but sometimes I do anyway.
Best concert you’ve ever seen.
Jazz pianist Hiromi Uehara at Scullers in Cambridge on April 14, 2013. One of the most joyful expressions of technical brilliance I’ve ever seen. People left that show exalted, better than they were before.
Book you wish you had written.
There are many, but The Bone People, by Keri Hulme, is the first that came to mind.
Because it is brutal and exquisite and poetical; it is a book I slowed down reading to keep from getting to the end.
Fear or phobia?
SPIDERS! SPIDERS! ARRRRGH!
What someone might not know about you.
I cannot whistle.
Do you have a recurring dream?
Several, and they’re all horrible.
Okay, but what? Now you have me curious. And what do you think they mean?
When I’m being dramatic, I intone darkly, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” But I’m incredibly literal in my nightmares. They’re all obviously my worries about striving and failure, seeking and being besieged. A lot of stage-dressing and foo-farah for not very much plot.
And she quotes Hamlet, too! But how about a secret talent?
I bake pretty good bread.
If you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Either Shakespeare or Cleopatra. Both are fascinating historical characters about whom little is known.
Can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
I’m constantly amazed and so, so grateful.
Things you say to yourself when writing
Just write something. You can only learn something new about your character or edit your work into something readable if you get words down on the page first.
What are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
I’m working on my third Fangborn novel, which right now is called Hellbender; I’m also working on a horror short story (“Whiskey and Light”) and a Sherlockian pastiche (“The Curious Case of Miss Amelia Vernet”).
Tell us something else about that!
Hellbender is my third Fangborn novel, an urban fantasy adventure featuring archaeologist Zoe Miller. She’s starting to come to grips with her powers—she’s a werewolf and part of a family of creatures dedicated to protecting humanity from evil—and is working hard to keep the secret identity of the Fangborn, well, secret. But I left her in a very difficult place in the last book, Pack of Strays, which came out last April, so I need to make sure I get her out of that, first.
Huh. Are you brave, in real life?
I think I’m emotionally brave, which means to me that I’m capable of challenging myself. I’m still working on the physical bravery; I have too much in my life I don’t want to lose. I leave that kind of bravery to my protagonists.
Are you enjoying it? The writing, I mean?
Yes/no. I write out of sequence and without an outline. Right now, the book is at the stage where it has to start coming together. For every fantastic moment I discover something new or make a connection between scenes, I worry it’s just a big, random mess devoid of originality or art. But when I do make one of those connections, it’s magical, it’s the best part of writing. All the drama and angst is part of exactly the same process that got me through my first eight books (and about twenty short stories), so I try to remember it’s just what happens.
Eight books and twenty short stories! (Ah, so far, right?)
Yep, the count is still ticking up!
Do you have a motto? What is it?
One apocalypse at a time.
Like her series protagonists, Dana Cameron was a professional archaeologist, working on Old and New World sites dating from prehistoric times to the nineteenth century. She began writing mystery fiction after an encounter with an armed site looter. Site Unseen(2002) featured New England archaeologist Emma Fielding; this was followed by Grave Consequences, Past Malice, A Fugitive Truth, and More Bitter Than Death, and the Anthony Award-winning Ashes and Bones. A series of short stories led her to explore other genres and subgenres, including historicals, thrillers, and noir (“Femme Sole” was short-listed for the Edgar Award).
But it was her Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Award-winning urban fantasy short stories (including “The Night Things Changed” and “Swing Shift”) that inspired Seven Kinds of Hell, the first Fangborn novel (47North), followed by Pack of Strays. The protagonist Zoe Miller discovers her identity as a werewolf and one of the Fangborn, a race of vampires, werewolves, and oracles secretly dedicated to protecting humanity.
Dana is a member of The Femmes Fatales, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime (she’s a past president of the New England Chapter). Dana lives in Massachusetts with her husband and feline overlords.
Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 32 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of seven mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: three Agathas, the Anthony, Daphne, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.”
Her 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller.
Her newest hardcover, TRUTH BE TOLD, is a Library Journal Editor’s Pick and RT Book Reviews Top Pick, with starred reviews from Booklist and from Library Journal, which raves, “Drop everything and binge read!” She’s a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime.