Remember those hints I’ve been making about more author interviews on the way? Well today I get to bring you an interview with author Erica Cameron, whose YA fantasy book Island of Exiles was released this March! We’ll be talking about Island of Exiles, writing young adult fiction, and asexual representation in literature.
Can you describe your novel Island of Exiles for those not familiar with it?
On the rocky, desert island of Shiara, you have to be willing to fight to survive. Khya thrives in this world, her skills as a mage and a warrior not only enough to keep her alive but to ensure she’ll one day rise through the ranks of her society. The ascension of Yorri, her younger brother, isn’t as certain, but Khya hasn’t ever been one to accept failure. She’s determined to see him follow her up into a positon of command, but time is running out and he’s in danger of being dumped into the city’s magicless servant class. So she pushes him hard, forcing him to dig deep to discover the power that will keep him in the upper ranks of the upper city. But Itagami has secrets, and Khya’s goals for Yorri lead her—and two incredibly unexpected allies—straight to them. Soon, Khya has to make a choice between the city she always thought she would one day lead, and the brother she has always protected. Every choice has consequences, though, and the repercussions of Khya’s expose secrets hidden for hundreds of years, secrets that are impossible to forget or hide once they’re exposed.
What drives you to write young adult fiction?
So much about our lives is decided in our teen years. It’s when we begin finding our feet as individuals and when we realize what the most important things and/or people are to us. Everything is new, and we experience so many life-changing firsts in these years. How we come through those moments shapes the rest of our lives, especially regarding how we see the world. Which brings up a good point—if a teenager is jaded or cynical, they’ve got a damn good reason for it. Writing stories that can entertain, educate, or enthrall a teen reader is amazing, because like the characters themselves, these are important years in the readers’ lives. Young adult stories can make a huge impact on readers, and it’s an honor to be part of that catalog of literature.
I loved how Island of Exiles included a third gender, bi and pan people, and ace characters. What was it like to write a non-heteronormative world?
Incredibly liberating. I’m asexual myself, so I knew going in that I was going to include characters on the asexual spectrum, but as my editor and I worked on the proposal I’d originally submitted, I saw all the ways I could expand the world to include numerous levels of diversity. It’s aspirational, honestly, the kind of inclusion and acceptance I wish we were capable of in the here and now. The normalization of diversity in all forms of media has to happen before that sort of acceptance can ever happen in reality. It was incredibly gratifying to create a world that might help this happen.
I found your essay “Don’t Erase the Aces” incredibly moving. Can you talk some about the asexuality advocacy work you do in the context of fiction and publishing?
Thank you! Right now, the biggest thing I can do is include accurate representation in my books. Each of my series has at least one character who falls somewhere on the asexual spectrum, and every book I write will continue to do so. It’s not just the characters, though, it’s also the actual use of the terminology on the page (or, in the case of The Ryogan Chronicles, using my invented word for asexual on-page). Awareness is the first step, and that’s still where the asexuality movement is. I hope to be able to talk more about asexuality during school visits and on panels, and hopefully one day in front of larger audiences, but for now I’ll continue writing essays, including characters, and answering questions readers and other authors might have.
What was the inspiration behind the world of Island of Exiles? Did you have to do any specific research?
Most of the setting and society developed out of a question that stuck in my mind—what would a world have to look like for aggression to be considered normal and mercy to be seen as an oddity? I built the world bit by bit from that core concept, which is why I ended up with a Nevada-like desert island. From that point, most of my research focused on the desert, particularly survival, plant life, animals, weather patterns. A particularly interesting point came up when I was faced with the question of what Itagamins did with their dead. Burial isn’t a great choice when the ground is mostly rock, and both cremation and the building of above-ground tombs are a waste of valuable time and resources. This is a society that has found a way to use everything, so why wouldn’t that extend to their dead? I eventually found a research group called the Urban Death Project, and I learned about the method they’re developing to compost people into nutrient-rich soil and fertilizer. After talking to the program’s director and asking her a lot of questions (I’m incredibly thankful she didn’t think I was a burgeoning serial killer), I adapted their theories into my world.
What was the greatest challenge of writing Island of Exiles?
Leaving things out. There is so much about the island of Shiara and the society and history of Sagen sy Itagami that didn’t make it into the book. Stories and details and animals and beliefs—all of these things impact the characters, so I had to know what they were, but they weren’t directly relevant to the plot, so I couldn’t lay it out on the page. Balancing the relevant and irrelevant information was definitely one of the hardest parts of Island. Actually, it’s one of the hardest parts of writing any book within the scope of speculative fiction.
Do you have any current writing projects? Are there any future releases we should watch out for?
I have a lot! I’m currently finishing up Sea of Strangers, book 2 of The Ryogan Chronicles, and I’m also working on book 3 of both The Dream War Saga and Laguna Tides. Once I get those taken care of, I get to play in space! I’m working with Kate Brauning at Entangled Teen on an epic sci-fi trilogy that will begin with Pax Novis. Intragalactic war, massive cargo ships, stowaways, cybernetics, vanishing ships, and lots of trouble. It’s going to be an unfair amount of fun to write! Between all four of my ongoing series (the fifth is already finished!), there will be plenty of new stories coming in the next few years.
About the Author
After a lifelong obsession with books, Erica Cameron spent her college years studying psychology and creative writing, basically getting credit for reading and learning how to make stories of her own. Now, she’s the author of several series for young adults. She’s also a reader, asexuality advocate, dance fan, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, Florida resident, and quasi-recluse who loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon décor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.
Her debut novel, Sing Sweet Nightingale, released March 2014 and it was the first volume of The Dream War Saga. In May 2015, Erica and her co-author Lani Woodland launched the Laguna Tides series with Taken by Chance. Riptide’s YA imprint Triton Books began the Assassins series with Discord in September 2016. The Ryogan Chronicles, a fantasy trilogy through Entangled Teen, launched in 2017 with Island of Exiles. Next up, Erica will be working with Entangled Teen to create a young adult science fiction trilogy pitched as Star Trek: Voyager meets The Expanse and Battlestar Galactica; Pax Novis is set to fly in 2018.
Erica is available for speaking engagements, interviews, and appearances. She is also happy to speak to classrooms or reading and writing groups via telephone or Skype.
Contact Information and Social Media