TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery. Your newest novel, New Charity Blues, was published on April 12th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote Letters to Zell to New Charity Blues?
Camille: While my writing process hasn’t changed much from my first effort, New Charity Blues led me to two realizations:
The first is that I don’t need as many eyes on a project as I once did. Sometimes, too much feedback can leave a writer swimming in decisions. Everyone brings different motivations to a manuscript, and I feel like I’m better equipped to use and discard portions of critiques that steer my own ideas into a different place. So this time, I had a few trusted eyes instead of shoving paper into the hands of anyone who showed a lick of interest.
More importantly, I’ve learned the value of taking the time to think before I make critical decisions. When I’m at a crossroads in a project, taking the time to daydream and brainstorm is just as important as the writing itself, though I don’t think we as writers – as humans, really – allow ourselves the latitude, time, and space to really think through the hook, the POV, the settings, the internal and external tensions and how to balance them before we dive in. I feel like I’m getting a lot better at that thought process prior to writing. Doing so makes the process of drafting, for me, invaluably more efficient.
TQ: What do you wish that you knew about book publishing when Letters to Zell came out that you know now?
Camille: Everyone from my agent to my Publisher was absolutely amazing my first time through the publishing gauntlet. In some ways I wish I’d known how to be a bit more ruthless with my own work, how to cut a little deeper into the precious words of my first book. It’s not that I don’t love it and stand by it, but I know now how important certain ideas can be to an author when they mean less to a reader.
Process aside, though, I wish I’d known a bit better what noise to revel in and which noise to block out during the actual release of my first book while concurrently writing the second. That’s a process each author has to learn to guide for themselves: how to channel what sorts of energy when and where it’s valuable. When to listen to the cheering, when to block out the jeering and vice versa. When to shut everything off and start writing again. When to stop worrying about what isn’t under our control. Honestly, though, I expect this learning curve to be life long. And I’m okay with that.
TQ: Tell us something about New Charity Blues that is not found in the book description.
Camille: It doesn’t say so in the book description, but Syd grew up training to be a ballet dancer. The plague of the book hits just as her career is about to take off. I wanted to explore the deep sorrow an artist might feel when their form is no longer considered relevant or useful. I think, as an overarching rule, this is never the case – art always has use. But in the near term, Syd has lost her family and her moorings and her career and her artistic expression. She casts about to find her purpose and ultimately finds value in a history she’s been forced to leave behind.
TQ: Which character in the New Charity Blues has surprised you the most? Who has been the hardest character to write and why?
Camille: The very minor character of Becky probably surprised me the most during the writing of the book. Here we have someone fairly external to the main storyline and yet, through a series of revelations about Syd, she ends up being a critical ally in the end. She’s somewhat of an allegory on growing up from my own life. I made a lot of assumptions about people when I was young that were probably unfair by simply listening to those around me. As I’ve grown up and learned more about some of those people, I’m thankful for second chances.
The hardest character to write was probably Nelle – another relatively minor player. Though the water in the story is the true Helen, she is also Helen of sorts. I wanted to balance her mythical beauty with intelligence and bravery and wit in addition to making her a big problem for Syd. Trying to draw her complex motivations – Nelle’s obligations to the Survivor Camp’s own plans to liberate New Charity’s water as well as her strange, shifting relationship with Perry, was unwieldy at times. I hope I honestly captured the sense that not every motivation is clear all the time, and the ground beneath us can constantly shift, as it does for Nelle.
TQ: New Charity Blues is Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction. What appeals to you about writing SF?
Camille: Hope is the reason I write science fiction. Sometimes when I look around, the world is full of really ugly things – disease and war and sorrow – and then, again, it’s also filled with beauty and art and love. I want to imagine a future where the latter triumphs over the former. I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, but I do want to tip the scales so to speak. I write Science Fiction – every genre, really – with an eye toward a time, near or far or completely made up, where, even when the inevitable crises come, the human spirit will rise to the challenge: surprise, amaze, and persevere.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in New Charity Blues?
Camille: There are a lot of social issues in New Charity Blues because I want to reflect the world as it is evolving. In my life, social issues exist, so I want them to exist here, too.
The most obvious example, of course, is New Charity’s Sanctuary. While it’s not a direct allegory of Judeo-Christianity, it is a stand-in for groupthink, which happens in a great many social circles. And while this groupthink can be supportive and useful, it can also, particularly with the wrong shepherding, become exceedingly dangerous. When the belief in anything strips away the unique layers of humanity, it can become something altogether monstrous.
I also made sure to include LGBT characters because they are a part of my world, though I purposefully did not include prejudice against them, which is something I repeated from Letters to Zell. While I don’t want to contradict myself in reflecting the world at large, in this case, I’m trying to reflect the part of the world I want to live in. A world where love is love and who that love is for has no consequence.
Finally, you’ll find the book is filled with people, women especially, not in relationships, nor stated sexual preference. Part of this is because it’s reality for many. Another reason is because I want to write books about young people about just being in addition to being in love.
TQ: Please give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from New Charity Blues.
Camille: My friend Dave just finished the book, and wrote me an amazing note, quoting his favorite part, and so I think I’ll repurpose the lines he so gracefully noted:
“A morning beer wouldn’t be a first for us. The summer before I left, he and Cas and Len and I would sit in sleeping bags up on the ridge on Friday nights, looking at the stars, talking about what our lives would be. We never drank to forget—not like Len does now—but to get into that hazy place where everything seemed possible. When the sun shed its pink robe, stars blinking out, we finished the last of the full cans, sneaking home full of hope.”
TQ: What's next?
Camille: I’m working on a third novel, right now, involving the fairy tale trope “Love Like Salt,” weather magic, and sky deities. But I’m doing so slowly. I’ve been taking some time to build Easy Street, a literary magazine that started just over a year ago. We have an amazing team, and we’re in one of those periods of contests and submissions and growth. It’s really exciting but also very time consuming. I’m doing some mentoring, as well, and working with a nascent nonprofit called Prison Renaissance, matching incarcerated artists with mentors and collaborators who can help them to embrace their artistic visions, assert their humanity, and, hopefully someday, contribute to breaking cycles of incarceration. I could use about six more hours in a day, and I think recently, taking those hours out of my nights slowed me down a bit more than I’d meant.
But it’s all worth it: I’d rather go down with wicked con crud swinging hard for the fences, than from a chance encounter at the grocery store. I try to live my writing life fully, and I promise I won’t let readers wait too long until I loosen some more, hopeful stories into the wild.
TQ: Thank you for joining us again at The Qwillery.
New Charity Blues
47North, April 12, 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 286 pages
In the wake of a devastating plague, two communities emerge as bastions of survival. One is called the City, and its people scrabble for scraps in the wasteland. The other, New Charity, enjoys the bounty of its hydroelectric dam and refuses City denizens so much as a drop of precious water. When City-dweller Cressyda inherits her father’s ranch within New Charity, she becomes intent on opening the dam to all—no matter the cost.
But when Syd reunites with her old best friend, Casandra, a born seer and religious acolyte, she realizes that her plans could destroy the fragile lives they’ve built in order to survive. What’s more, the strange magic securing the dam’s operations could prove deadly if disturbed. Yet when Syd discovers evidence that her father might have been murdered, she is more determined than ever to exact revenge on New Charity’s corrupt.
Pitted against Cas, as well as her own family, Syd must decide how to secure the survival of both settlements without tipping them over the brink to utter annihilation. In this intense and emotional reimagining of the Trojan War epic, two women clash when loyalty, identity, community, and family are all put to the ultimate test.
Letters to Zell
47North, July 1, 2015
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 336 pages
Everything is going according to story for CeCi (Cinderella), Bianca (Snow White), and Rory (Sleeping Beauty)—until the day that Zell (Rapunzel) decides to leave Grimmland and pursue her life. Now, Zell’s best friends are left to wonder whether their own passions are worth risking their predetermined “happily ever afters,” regardless of the consequences. CeCi wonders whether she should become a professional chef, sharp-tongued and quick-witted Bianca wants to escape an engagement to her platonic friend, and Rory will do anything to make her boorish husband love her. But as Bianca’s wedding approaches, can they escape their fates—and is there enough wine in all of the Realm to help them?
In this hilarious modern interpretation of the fairy-tale stories we all know and love, Letters to Zell explores what happens when women abandon the stories they didn’t write for themselves and go completely off script to follow their dreams.
Camille Griep lives just north of Seattle with her partner, Adam, and their dog Dutch(ess). Born in Billings, Montana, she moved to Southern California to attend Claremont McKenna College, graduating with a dual degree in Biology and Literature.
She wrote her way through corporate careers in marketing, commercial real estate, and financial analysis before taking an extended sabbatical to devote more time to her craft.
She has since sold short fiction and creative nonfiction to dozens of online and print magazines. She is the editor of Easy Street and is a senior editor at The Lascaux Review. She is a 2012 graduate of Viable Paradise, a residential workshop for speculative fiction novelists.
Her first novel, Letters to Zell, was released in July 2015 47North. Look for New Charity Blues in April of 2016.