Interview with Cameron Gordon

What is your writing process?
That has changed over time. I would write in spurts when I was very young, churning out a lot of text. But I would not edit or revise. In fact, the written feedback I got in a junior high school fiction class grade report was spot on, something like 'Cameron has many great ideas but he does not follow through, simply going on to the next one.'

Then I began to drift from creative writing as I went into a more 'professional' and somewhat technical career. The spurts continued but got shorter, with mostly incomplete pieces of short fiction, set up but abandoned, though some complete poems did get through. The spurts also became less and less frequent until I was basically not writing any fiction at all. That set up a personal crisis for me about two decades ago when the pain of not writing creatively drove me, in a roundabout way, to a group working on Julia Cameron's "Artist Way" and then a breakthrough when I got the idea to write haiku. That was a short form that was not too daunting and I began to fitfully write again. From there my momentum has picked up and now I definitely read fiction of some sort every day and make an aim of advancing creative projects at least five days out of the week, usually involving writing and revising though also effort on the business side of things.

I don't have a set time to write but as I have now made writing my full-time focus, this does not seem to be important. I write because I want to and I have plenty of time and energy to do it. I'm not saying, obviously, that one cannot work full-time and also write, as many do this, but I found I have to drop the full-time work to write. And I am glad I did.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Not really. But I do remember the first play I wrote, a one-act absurdist piece called 'Macbeth Inc.' I was 16 at the time and it was for a high school class at my school in New York City, where I was born and raised. Basically I put the Macbeth plot into a corporate setting, which showed the rather rampant cynicism that was around the city then during the late 1970s post-lude to the fiscal crisis of 1975. I remember we were taking some kind of test one day and our instructor was reading through our assignments while we all did this and I saw he was reading my play and he would periodically guffaw. Which pleased me. I still have the draft and it obviously is very immature work but has a few nice touches. I've always loved plays and have one in development at a theatre right now. But my prime mode is short fiction and poetry. I guess that is why I cannot recall my first short story for I was writing at least fragments from a very young age.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote from a very early age. By first grade I was writing regularly, though not systematically in any sense. And what I wrote the most for much of my childhood were illustrated comic books. I then added editorial cartoons -- I was a bit of a nerd back then. In fact, I had an ambition for a while to be an editorial cartoonist and took drawing lessons when I was 15 at the Pheonix Institute just a few blocks from my childhood home in midtown Manhattan (later to become part of Pratt University). But sadly, though I got encouraging feedback, I judged myself as not talented enough to pursue my cartooning. I was a bit intimidated by my classmates at the drawing class who had been taking lessons all their lives but it was really more about not believing that art was a path towards making a living. That's a false belief, but I had it for various reasons and went in a more analytical direction, ultimately becoming an economist. But that's a whole other story. Fortunately I have returned to my original calling and am loving it.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born and raised in midtown Manhattan, back when that was a bad neighbourhood, if you can believe it. I have since left New York, but that incredibly unique and diverse city (The City as we New Yorkers call it) remains a deep part of my consciousness, style and sensibility. It has influenced my writing in both content, especially an abiding interest in capturing the way a city lives, and writing style. I'm vague on the style part for I cannot exactly tell you how my upbringing in the centre of Gotham has affected that, but I know it has. I can definitely point to a certain suave detachment that breaks through at times, typical of classic Manhattan culture, and a framing of sensual overload to make sense of it, an essential skill for any person living in New York.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Of course I am tempted to punt on this since there are so many great books. Also my favourites change as I change. Finally I have some books that are favourites for a particular reason, e.g. an innovative form, but not my favourite on some other dimension, such as the substance of the story.

Having said all of that, I'll nominate five books that have left an impression and influenced me.

Notes from the Underground (Dostoyevsky) ... a deep look at the ravings of a tortured mind, and an influence for my novel, "And Now We Rejoin a Life Already in Progress." And what human mind isn't tortured? Dostoyevsky captures this perfectly and painfully.

The U.S.A. Trilogy (Dos Passos)... a very interesting formal experiment using montage as a way of capturing a time and place. This has dated somewhat but still stands for me as a great and mostly successful experiment in form. I am attempting to adapt it to my in-progress novel, "Three Cities of the Apocalypse" where I am trying to make the cities of New York, Washington, DC and Los Angeles the 'characters' of the novel. It's not been easy, I can tell you, but Dos Passos has opened a path to at least begin the journey. You can see my 'sandbox' for this novel in my blog: http://threecitiesoftheapocalypse.blogspot.com.au/#!

The Gulag Archipelago (Solzhenitsyn)...a masterpiece of non-fiction that reads like an epic novel and captures the whole experience of a nightmare age, namely Stalin's Russia. I actually like all of Solzhenitsyn's work but this is undoubtedly his greatest, and most courageous since it was smuggled out of Russia to show the world what was going on there.

The novels of James Baldwin...I haven't nominated a particular novel here but am highlighting his fiction in general which show tremendous genius and sensitivity though I think each one of them has some kind of limiting flaw that keep the whole work from being 'great' in the conventional sense. 'Another Country' is certainly his greatest fiction in my view. This is just a case of wow, can that man write! And he was both gay, black and an expat so his exploration of being an 'outsider' is profound. Since I'm an expat myself I learn a lot from his writing on this particular point.

Walden (Thoreau)...this is still one of the most unique works out there, a diary of a personal experiment of living in the wilderness. Spiritually and emotionally this is a profound well that keeps on giving for me. I have become something of an expert in Thoreau's rather exceptional life as a result of reading this book and get a lot of personal inspiration on how to live authentically from both the book and the life of the man who wrote it.

So much more could be said, for I have not mentioned Ray Carver's short stories, or Tolstoy or O'Neill's plays. Probably if you asked me another day my list would look different. But really there is such an abundance of great and inspiring work.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Partly it is just something I have to do and am in pain if I don't do it for too long. I'm just wired for it. And it is sort of like dreaming while you're awake. It has all that pleasure of the boundlessness and creativity of dreaming but you're conscious and are actively participating in making the dream and, even better, you can share the dream directly with others, not just describe it afterwards. Even the nightmares are pleasurable with this dimension added.
How do you approach cover design?
This varies. I take a lot of pictures and travel a lot and I almost always seem to find an image from my stock that fits my work perfectly. In fact, usually I don't have to search through my photos looking for images since the idea of the perfect image that I have seems to come to me after some sitting. As an example, for my haiku collection 'Bubbles in the Air', I used a photo I took of a busker in a Madrid park who was blowing these huge bubbles (I was living in Madrid for three months at the time). In this case the image came to me first and that was how I got the book title, thinking of haiku as a sort of bubble that lives briefly but leaves a lasting impression.

I also draw and paint and will use these images at times, both for covers and illustrations. I actually have quite a stock of these too and something always seems to fit. I have yet to make a purpose built cover though I'm sure that is coming for some future work.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
Ah, an easy prosaic question. I actually have a Nook and for ease on the eyes and clarity of images and text, this is the best. I often read on my Sony Xperia tablet, though, because it is a full-featured tablet and my whole life seems to be on it now!
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Very good question. Before I decided to pursue writing full-time, just recently, there were periods when I was a 'shadow' writer, furtively pursuing my work between full-time engagements, and before the internet, where I would do the usual thing of buying the thick 'Writer's Market' volume -- remember those? -- and send out a short story or a poem to a few selected publications. Nothing ever took though I didn't try too hard and did get one very encouraging rejection. I loved the writing but all the production -- formatting, xeroxing, printing, sending out, tracking, researching -- got real old for me. You have to do it, of course, but it was really a lot more physical effort and I knew a few freelancers who did it systematically and got published regularly but were still making peanuts so I gave all that up.

After the internet took hold but before there was indie publishing in any proper sense I actually set up my own website and offered pdfs of a few poetry books I had written, fully illustrated, for voluntary donations. I had thought about selling through the website but the challenges of digital rights management (not a term used then) and establishing merchant accounts with refunds etc daunted me and I decided it was easy to allow people to take the book they liked and then donate through Paypal if they wanted. That was in no way a financial success but I did learn a lot.

Coming back to the game now, indie publishing is just so easy, relatively speaking. Granted, it is very difficult to get people to notice your work and then to buy it and I am early on that learning curve. But you can get your work 'out there' much more easily than when you had to identify and send printed work out to individual publishers. And most of my peers are doing this, at least in part (some do also publish traditional works). The one thing I will say about the 'old days' though was that there was some possibility of being a 'mid-list' author given that there were more paying markets out there. But that still was a long road, with very uncertain probabilities, and the start-up costs were much higher. Overall I do think indie publishing is method that allows you to concentrate on your writing more and to scale your marketing efforts as you desire.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I read a lot of course. I also cycle a lot. I used to be a long-distance cyclist and have in the past tackled the Rockies and the California Coastal ranges, the Adirondacks, the Tetons, most of New England, eastern Canada and a few other places in North America. I haven't done too much of that recently but still get out regularly in Canberra, Australia and the surrounding region for some short and middling day trips. This is a great place to cycle. I play piano also and have a daily yoga and meditation routine, nothing heavy, but essential for keeping my mind and body limber. Beyond that I hang with friends regularly and travel often.
Published 2015-10-17.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Orson in Oz
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 2,170. Language: English. Published: February 21, 2016. Categories: Plays » Australian & Oceanian
This is a one act play about the great film director Orson Welles. It depicts an imagined visit by Welles and members of his Mercury Theater Company to perform a radio play in Canberra, Australia in 1940 for the purpose of raising morale for the British war effort in World War 2, a war the US had not yet entered. All the personages and events referred to in the play are actual historical facts.
A Daily Lent Reader
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 24,090. Language: English. Published: February 9, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » Religion and Spirituality » Holidays / Easter & Lent
This book is written as a series of daily reflections for the season in the Christian calendar that is referred to as Lent. Practicing Lent in one's daily life puts this on a human scale where the truth and reality of eternity can penetrate into daily consciousness. This daily reader is a tool to help with such a practice.
Seven Days, Seven Gifts
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 9,980. Language: English. Published: January 8, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Inspirational
It was a short visit out to the wilderness, just a week. He had taken this trip to get some freedom and uplift and he got it, through the simple experiences of daily living in a new place and through a series of gifts the the universe offered him as he slowly opened up to reality as it is. Inspired by Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden' this is a story about what happens simply by being in the moment
Goodbye Mr. Zen: An informal wander through Zen via James Hilton’s “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 11,110. Language: American English. Published: December 15, 2015. Categories: Essay » Literature
This little book is a short meander through Zen thought and practice intertwined with a discussion of the novella by James Hilton about an eccentric Oxford don titled "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," interwoven with a discussion of James Hilton's short but remarkable life and the durability of the "Chips" book in its various stage and screen incarnations. Hopefully it will inspire readers to find out more.
Enlightenment and other trifles: poems
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,220. Language: English. Published: November 17, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Spiritual, Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
This is a collection of poems written over the course of two decades, with a few new ones written especially for this collection. Their theme is the ruminations and wanderings of the mind, sometimes beautiful, sometimes crazy, often mysterious. Those mental emanations can yield openings, more often closings and random static.
Bubbles In The Air
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 2,470. Language: English. Published: October 9, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
These 48 haiku are organised under broad themes of: Seasons, Waiting Rooms, Sexuality and Relationships, the Workings of the Mind, Perceptions of Reality, Satisfaction, Difficult Feelings and Apropos of Nothing. These haiku capture some moments of life, like soap bubbles in the air that form do not last long but nonetheless leave a vivid impression.