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Claire Cameron

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

Claire Cameron and The Line Painter – the road to publication.

If you’re here to read the note from Douglas Preston…
Please click here. There is an update at the end of that post, and I thank you for the interest in his story.

What about the baby born in the car?
In personal news, I mentioned over the weekend that two writers were driving in their Saturn on Saturday morning when their new baby boy was born. I’ve been given the okay to announce the news, so…. Congratulations to Sarah and Terry Bain for the baby I’ll always think of as Baby Saturn, whose head was born at 1st and Stevens at 6:49 a.m. and whose body was born at 4rth and Stevens at 6:50 a.m. You can send congratulations via Terry’s blog, or you can simply buy his book as a way of investing in diapers and chew toys for little Saturn (Terry may or may not post the baby’s real name on his blog–I’ll leave that up to him).

A quickie about Crash.
I was kind of rooting for Capote, but what a great thing to see such unexpected joy in the faces of the winners. And I’m happy for Sandy Bullock, who, when I was a kid, used to corn-row anyone’s hair at the local pool as long as they brought their own bag of those little colored rubberbands. She’d sit with her legs wrapped around you and braid for hours until it was done and you looked as ridiculous as a flat-chested Bo Derek.

Introducing Claire Cameron.

And now, for the only news I actually planned to share today–an interview with a debut novelist at HarperCollins–a warm and humble new mother: Claire Cameron, author of THE LINE PAINTER (HarperCollins, Spring 2007). We’ll talk about the road to publication.


But first, can you give my readers a little background on you?

I was born and raised in Toronto. After University, I worked as a mountain and river guide in Oregon. I moved to San Francisco, decided I need to grow up, and took a job with Pearson Plc in academic publishing. I moved to London, UK in 1999 where I now live. I am writing full time. My husband, son and I are moving back to Toronto in the spring.

Where in England are you living? My husband grew up in Gerrards Cross and went to Wellington College for boarding school.

I live is London, in Islington. I’m sure I’ve been to a lovely pub in Gerrards Cross. I remember it looking just like how you imagine England is supposed to look. [Editor’s note: Perhaps she’s referring to The Three Pigeons?]

Tell me about your book THE LINE PAINTER. A brief description…

It’s about a woman, Carrie, who goes on a road trip. When her car breaks down, Frank, who paints the lines on the road gives her a lift. She is trying to reconcile her past and gets tangled up in his. If I had to give it a label, I’d say it’s literary suspense.

My editor recently said it had a touch of film noir, or the style of old Raymond Chandler novels. I would be flattered if I weren’t too nervous to accept compliments about it.

How did you first get the idea for it?

Part of me has always wanted to be a musician (specifically, a rock star — like maybe the female version of Motorhead?). [Editor’s note: Did she just plug Motorhead..?! I love her!] I set up a home studio and was recording songs, one of which was called Painting Lines. Meanwhile, I was also having a bit of a career crisis. I was working in academic publishing and enjoying it in many ways, but I didn’t feel like it was my life calling.

So, I was trying to record the Painting Lines and I realised it sounded really bad. I’m actually a pretty awful singer and a hack on the guitar. I had this moment where I got so frustrated and had a minor freak out. I guess I realised a gig at Wembley stadium wasn’t coming my way anytime soon.

After I calmed down, I still really liked the idea of a line painter. I sat down and started to write.

When in the process did you find your agent, and can you tell me how you found that person and how many partials/fulls until you struck a match?

I started submitting in the UK first. I got a listing of all the agents and looked online at their clients for good matches. I looked at the acknowledgements in books I thought were similar or enjoyed as authors often thank his or her agent. I also had a theory that newer agents were more likely to be taking on clients. I submitted to 15 agents, got 5 requests for the full manuscript, 3 were quite interested, but they all ended up saying I needed to do another draft. No cigar.

I had a rule that I would send out another query everytime I got rejected. At the time of the last rejection, I was in Toronto for a wedding. I saw that Denise, at The Bukowski Agency, had opened up her list and was taking submissions. I decided to give her a try. She took me on, provided that I do another draft. I was very lucky to find an agent willing to work with me. It’s a rare thing.

For all my research and theories, I think there is a strong element of chance in finding an agent. With fiction, it often comes down to personal taste, something that is impossible to predict.

What was the book submission process like, and what did you do during the wait?

My agent submitted the manuscript and booked meetings with interested publishers soon after. I met with the publishers in the space of a week and took offers on the last day. It happened quickly, which was merciful. It was kind of like ripping off a band-aid, you hope it happens quickly so you don’t have to agonize.

It’s not over though. I am polishing a final draft, then my agent will submit to publishers in the US and UK this autumn. I just realised this undermines my band-aid analogy it’s going to be slow and painful after all.

So this was in Canada? Can you say more about the meetings or how the submission process might be different in Canada?

The submissions process and my publisher are in Canada. As I was born and have a base there, my agent started with getting me a publishing deal in Canada. When I finish this next draft and have bound galleys in September, she is going to sell in the US, UK and other markets.

I don’t think the submissions process is too different in Canada from the U.S. Any difference is probably more to do with how various publishing houses are run. The meetings gave me a chance to get a sense for how each publisher works, everything from a brief view of the editorial work needed to how they might sell and market the book. I think the publishers were eyeing me up at the same time. I am sure they wanted to know how open I was to suggestion and how I speak for my book.

What’s it been like working with an editor? Have you had to make big or unexpected changes to your book?

I write in a very taut, sparse style and I knew I needed an editor who wouldn’t push me away from that. My editor, Iris Tupholme at HarperCollins Canada, has commented on things like character consistency and pushed me to sharpen some of the dialogue — all things I agree need work.

The biggest rewrite I did was with my agent before my book was submitted. She asked me all the really tough questions I didn’t want to hear, meaning I had chickened out and not addressed them in the first draft. In retrospect, I think I needed her vote of confidence to dig a bit deeper and try to make my book really good. It’s a scary thing to try.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

My writing is most influenced by songwriters who tell stories, like Will Oldman, Bruce Springsteen, a guy named Simple Kid in the UK and Neil Young.

My favourite authors change all the time, but Raymond Carver, Margaret Atwood, Charles Bukowski and Kurt Vonnegut are constants.

And what are you working on now?

I’m working on a short story called Old Queenie. It is set on Owens Lake, which is a lake that was drained completely dry by the L.A. aqueduct in 1926. The main character is a man who loses his dog. It is about trying to find a home I suppose — something that’s on my mind.

I know some other HarperCollins people read this blog, and I hope they contact you here at your website and say hello. Thanks for coming on, Claire.

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Okay, that’s it for today. Tomorrow I’ll give another clue to my upcoming mystery guest. You guys can keep writing me to guess who it is, but I’m still not going to tell.

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