I’d like to welcome Cameron Miller to Infinite Pathways today to chat about his new book The Steam Room Diaries and other authorly interests.
Cameron has been writing professionally for decades as a preacher, pastor, retreat and conference leader, and an adjunct professor of religion. Recently he traded that work to dance full time along the imaginative border between fiction, poetry and spiritual reflection. In addition to his published poems and The Steam Room Diaries, he is the preacher behind the curtain at subversivepreacher.org writing articles and essays on spirituality and contemporary culture, as well as publishing weekly sermons.
Thanks so much for coming!
Thank you for inviting me. And as a new author, thank you for Infinite Pathways.
You’re most welcome, Cameron. It continues to be my goal to help new and emerging authors find a foot-hold in this crazy industry 😉 Let’s dive into the interview then, shall we.
Can you describe the moment that launched you on your writing journey?
It was a sabbatical. I had four small children and so going somewhere was out of the question, which left writing as one of the few credible ways to use the time given me. I rented a small office I could bike to and set up a little space for myself that I imagined I would visit in the mornings and write a bit. Low and behold, I fell into a deep well and never wanted to come out! I would get so engrossed in writing that it would be 4:00 PM and I hadn’t left my little chamber since early morning. As an extravert I was shocked that I hungered every morning when I woke up for my chance to be alone and write.
The bug bit you hard – lol! I’m glad it did.
So then, can you let us in on how your ‘day job’ has influenced your writing?
My day job requires a great deal of writing and so I have been writing professionally for decades, simply not publishing to a wider audience. I am a preacher and since my sabbatical experience, I have wondered whether if I am a preacher that writes or a writer that preaches. What influences my writing most is being present with people in their suffering and the practice of being open to and exploring my own woundedness.
What were the most challenging aspects for you in bringing The Steam Room Diaries to life?
Two things. The first is that the whole novel takes place, for the most part, in a small steam room. There is an obvious challenge there to sustain enough movement and other texture so the reader doesn’t feel trapped or overly limited by the confines of the scene. The second challenge was to find creative ways to introduce female characters in the environment of a men’s locker room. But my imagination thrives on finding ways to break out of such dilemmas so these were fun challenges.
And you managed to find a good work-around for that dilemma 😉 Loved that scene with the ladies sneaking in! Still, there are an abundant of creative ways you’ve introduced this texture into a men’s steam room.
Over the course of your creative dilemma challenges did you find a favourite character emerging? If so, could you describe an interesting moment in the development of this character?
That’s an impossible choice as I came to feel affection for all the characters, even the ones I initially didn’t like at all. But having said that, the narrator was the most challenging and interesting because his experiences parallel the stories being told. Without giving anything away, there emerged a scene in which the narrator remembers an experience with his mother that helped me understand the nature of his wounds. I am still amazed how the lives of characters just seem to emerge without planning, and make themselves known to me as the author.
What was the most difficult scene for you to write? Can you describe your efforts to us without revealing too much or ‘spoiling’ the moment for future readers.
It is the one referred to above when something in the story the narrator is listening to trips the lever of a memory and sends him back into a horrendously painful experience. It was a difficult but compelling scene to write, not because I have had the same experience personally, but I have had pieces of it and have been privy to it with other people. So it was a matter of drawing on what I know about painful relationships and describing it in graphic details that would bring those experiences to life.
What insight can you give regarding the publishing industry and the route you chose for publication (traditional publishing vs. self-publishing)?
Ugh. It is hard. The character and qualities that inspire one to write are not the same ones required for publishing. I supposed tenacity and perseverance are required for both, but that may be it. The good news is that there are so many independent presses these days that the process is democratized. I think of it the same way as I remember the music performance and recording scene in the sixties and early seventies before the music industry commercialized it. In those days there were indy bands galore and music festivals everywhere that were inexpensive to attend. Great music abounded. Likewise with publishing today, great poetry and prose is making its way to the light of day and is accessible to millions. The bad news is also that there are so many independent presses because it is a slog for writers to find and be found in the hundreds of thousands of other manuscripts being filtered through the same small sieves. My only insight is to keep trying and keep looking and never assume it won’t happen – although it feels that way much of the time.
That’s a wonderful comparison, Cameron. It gives a me a different perspective on the trials we authors face.
What then, have you found to be the most challenging aspect of publicizing yourself and your work?
It is early yet for me but self-promotion is not my first instinct. In fact, I don’t enjoy it. Nevertheless, it must be done. Building a strong online platform is important and requires its own work. I see my website as just as important as any other writing I do, and the social media links that help to promote my website. Now comes the book events, signings, and public speaking, all of which challenge that internal reticence against self-promotion.
That’s so true. Many of us want to relish in the joy of writing and just focus on the next creative work bubbling around in our brain. And then, with so many of us having a healthy respect for modesty instilled in us, trying to find a balance between ‘getting the word out’ and ‘not being obnoxious’ about our achievement(s) is difficult.
So, what was it that drew you to this genre? What are your favourite scenes to write?
Honestly, it was utterly unexpected. I sat down to write nonfiction and what arrived was fiction. Sometimes I think I am working on fiction and a poem emerges. What I enjoy so much about fiction is it offers the freedom to explore dimensions of the human spirit and psyche that would sound too weird or scary in a nonfiction format. Poetry takes that even one step farther. I don’t know that I have a favourite kind of scene to write but I do relish bringing a particular emotion to life or the taste and feel of a given moment.
Now that you are a published writer, has anything changed for you?
There is an identity crisis that comes with success. I have been very shy about calling myself a “writer” because I wasn’t published. The same is true with describing myself as a “poet.” But now, with published poems and a novel on the market, I need to modify how I think of myself and how I describe myself to others. At this stage in my life and career I had imagined that my identity was pretty much settled, but here I am awkwardly learning to walk again. But hey, I’m not complaining!
It is surprising what we can do when we put our mind to the task – this new identity is certainly well-suited to you.
What projects are you currently working on and can you reveal or give any juicy hints?
A new novel has poked its head up and is asking to be written. It is early yet but I think that many of the individual neurosis and internal struggles explored in “The Steam Room Diaries” are going to be played out in a larger social context. I am also shopping a chapbook of poems and “rants” that cover some of the same introspective themes, but with a little more fierceness and intensity than with prose.
I wish you great success with these projects and look forward to hearing about your next book launch 😀
It’s been a pleasure chatting with you today, Cameron. Thank you again for stopping by and sharing your experiences and stories with us.
The Steam Room Diaries
A defrocked priest meets the angel of his darker nature, as well as the better one, in the confines of a dreary steam room filled with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.
In this new genre of God Noir – the sacred darkness in which God hides in plain sight where least expected – a dilapidated steam room in a threadbare men’s locker room hosts strange and beguiling encounters. An odd assortment of gym rats and strangers discover unexpected and disconcerting healing within a fog of steam crowded by stories of sexual mayhem, betrayal, love, friendship, and fatherhood. Become a voyeur and enjoy the heat as a guest of Craig, the twice-failed priest who has a front row seat.