If you’ve been following my TBR Loves over on my other blog, you’d know by now that one of my favorite authors as of last year (or was it the year before) is Camilla Monk, author of the most hilarious and action-packed series I’ve read since…since…I guess DiscWorld. So, how does Spotless differ from DiscWorld?
Well, it’s more Hitman than Guards, more Princess Bride than that time Carrot went off in search of Angua in Uberwald, and more Vimes and Lady Vimes than Granny Ogg and Casanunda.
In short, the two series have nothing in common except satire. One is a fantasy/adventure delving deep into the modern psyche and meaning of reality while the other is a romance/adventure delving deep into…well, romance reading and the reality/fantasy of…unusual, shall we say, relationships. Both delve into the seriously weird and incomprehensible at times, be they clacksing or sloth memes. But I digress hugely.
Camilla Monk graciously agreed to an interview with this fangirl. Note to Spotless fans, there are small spoilers for Book 5 (Ancient Aliens) and Book 4 (Butterfly in Amber).
If you’ve never read a Spotless book, prepare to be intrigued by Island (yes, that’s her name) and March (maybe it’s his name). And if you have read a book or two, prepare to have some of your burning questions addressed.
Me: Spotless begins, and for the most part, both satirises and celebrates the many genres of romantic fiction. What made you undertake such a dangerous path, not knowing whether the many-genred romance readers would enjoy it or rip you to shreds with howls of fury and outrage?
Camilla: Fortunately, I don’t remember ever stopping to wonder whether Spotless might offend romance fans as I wrote it. I might have scrapped the whole manuscript otherwise, being a world champion at second-guessing myself. I just loved the idea of a candid, naïve heroine, and I strongly believe that reading romance impacts our romantic expectations, be it only at an unconscious level, so I wanted to portray that: a girl whose take on love and relationship has been completely skewed by her (intensive) literary diet.
Me: Another departure from typical chick-lit/romantic suspense is Spotless’ hilarious, but more realistic, depiction of the awkwardness in…shall we say new intimacy and romantic partners, even without the many couple’s-interrupted scenes. What’s been the feedback from your readers regarding this more candid approach?
Camilla: Overall positive, although I also received a few outraged reviews about the
money shot sex scene in Butterfly in Amber, from readers who felt that they had waited four books to read about . . . an okay first time. To be honest, this is actually my favorite part about the romance in Spotless: March is at once an over-the-top badass hitman and a completely average dude in private. I love James Bond, but I could never really connect him to any of the guys I knew, and, as a result, his sex-appeal was never what drew me to binge-watch James Bond movies. I loved writing a guy who’s no experienced Casanova, who keeps expired condoms, and who crosses the finish line a bit too soon when he finally gets to make love with the woman of his dreams for the first time. 😉
Me: Let’s talk March, or Mr November/September—whatever his current name is. What made you decide on him being South African, and his fixation with ostriches?
His OCD tendencies are also treated with compassion when Island recognises his illness. Do you think this is one of the reasons why March fell in love with her? Or is it because she’s his complete opposite, do you think?
Camilla: My father was an insurance exec (kind of like Alex pretends to be!) and specialized in emergency healthcare solutions for expatriates on the African continent, among other destinations. I grew up listening to the stories of his travels throughout Africa, from Cameroon and Benin to Darfur, or Centrafrican Republic, and, of course, South Africa. My dad would bring back all sorts of souvenirs from his trips, and his fascination for the many faces of the continent shone through every time it came up in the discussion. I knew from the start that Spotless would somehow evoke Africa, and I remember going through a series of news articles and photo reports about white poverty in South Africa at the time when I started writing Spotless. That was the spark, the idea I needed as I tried to shape March and figure out who this weird hitman might be. Being French, I felt it was the perfect medium to nudge my US readers outside of their comfort zone. I like that he’s no cliched Russian mobster, or your average red-blooded American: it shows in his mindset, his occasional speech patterns, in the cartoons he watched as child, the foods he enjoys . . . As for ostriches, honestly, I don’t remember how that happened. I’m just obsessed with weird and unnecessarily aggressive animals.
Now, regarding his relationship with Island . . . I think what first drew March to her is that she incarnates a sense of innocence that he’s lost. He first sees her from afar, and she starts out as an ideal, almost a concept to him. Then, when they finally meet, it’s both a case of opposites attract and of finding his perfect, awkward match. As I mentioned earlier, when he’s not being a badass hitman, March is actually a slightly awkward guy with OCD issues and a mild obsession for crosswords. Island appeals to that side of him and he finds a kindred soul in her, someone who won’t mind that he likes wearing hotel slippers and doesn’t really know how to woo a girl.
Me: On to Island. On the surface, she’s every girl who’s never had a boyfriend, and yet the more you get to know her, the more remarkable she is, especially with her sudden inability to channel Lara Croft where so many other heroine’s do. Tell us more about her as she evolved in the series. Did she demand you supply her with Dr Pepper and Cheetos before tense action scenes with suppressed guns and Twitter posts? Did she call you inappropriate names in all eight (is it?) languages when her quest for chest hair was abruptly cut short?
Camilla: Island grew up fast throughout those five (and a half books). She’s not quite out of adolescence when we first meet her, but by the time Spotless ends, she’s grown comfortable into her own skin. She’s a woman at last, and she has a decent grasp of who she is and what she’s capable of. She’ll never be Lara Croft, but her investigation and negotiation skills are invaluable to March: she can ease the way where he cannot break doors down.
As for your second question, I’ve heard of authors having a mental dialogue with their characters, but I’m sorry to say that none of my characters has ever talked to me. I do hear their voice and thoughts as I write them, but those are never directed at me.
Me: I’ve just completed the fifth book in the series Island Chaptal And The Ancient Aliens, and I finally get what the sloth logo is about. Two questions here: Being a fan of the Dora The Explorer movie, I couldn’t help but notice some sly parallels. Was the bad guy here maybe inspired by your favorite Spanish explorer? And Logan? I get the feeling things got a little emotional for you when writing his last scene, maybe more so than that last scene in Butterfly In Amber with Alex The Ex. Did you always believe Logan was nobler than his commander?
Camilla: No relation to Dora, sorry! I didn’t realize there was a parallel (which is actually cool!). My main sources of inspirations here were Giorgo Tsoukalos’s Ancient Aliens show, and Ramirez is, well, the embodiment of Cost of Rica’s Ramirez—every Hollywood Hispanic villain ever all merged into one. Because I’m a huge James Bond fan, Angel Somoza heavily draws from License to Kill’s villain Sanchez, down to his acne scars!
What makes you think that Logan actually died? WE HAVE NOT SEEN HIS BODY. Alex’s death was definitely more emotional for me to write than Logan’s apparent suicide, but I liked portraying him as the stereotypical “mentally unstable villain with a code of honor.”
Me: Okay, those memes, graphs and artwork. I especially love the IWB magic in Ancient Aliens. Did you always intend putting them in the books or did March agree with Island, in his very polite voice, that you share them?
Camilla: I drew them before I was even done with the book. I really wanted to finish with a doodle extravaganza, to pay homage to the series’ spirit. It was a fun exercise to channel March’s minimalistic (and somewhat lacking) drawing skills, then Joy’s overly descriptive style, and, of course, Angel’s artistic maestria.
Me: Your website states there’s a spin-off of Spotless in the works. When reading Ancient Aliens I was all excited that Antonio and his lovely wife were finally going to get more scene time. I didn’t see the twist coming with his artistic brother-in-law stepping in instead. Am I right in assuming Joy and her South American adventures are going to be the focus of the spin-off? (And yes—hint, hint—more Antonio, please. Perhaps he’s running one of Struthio’s preferred partner programs with discounted rates?).
Camilla: There should be a Joy book, yes: it’s in the works, and yes, Antonio and Beatriz will make another appearance.
Me: Let’s talk music and soundtracks. I often write to a playlist and have a theme song for main characters. If the Spotless series had soundtrack or playlist, I’m guessing it doesn’t feature Moby or Tina Turner or Shirley Bassey. Maybe The Gorillaz? Goldfish? Fluke? And Grace Jones’ La Vie En Rose?
Camilla:I think that Die Antwoort’s Cookie Thumper is a good place to start! By the way, I discovered that song, after I started writing Anies, the series’ biggest(?) villain, so imagine my utter delight when I heard the following lyrics for the first time:
Daai bra Anies,
hy’s ‘n fokken gangsta
Haai, daai Anies,
hy lam innie mang, ja”
Ken sy my nommer?”
Xha! Boy, what’s your number?
(Number refers to his gang number—28—but it could just as well apply to a Lion’s code number!)
Me: Before you go, where can we find you, your books and Struthio goodies?
Camilla: I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and at camillamonk.com. However, the BEST way to connect with me and enjoy exclusive scenes and snippets from my books, as well as terrible memes, is my readers’ group, Yaycupid.
Many, many thanks to Camilla Monk for taking the time to reassure this fangirl that there’ll be more fun and addicting adventures to enjoy. Personally, I can’t wait to see what might happen if Angel ever runs into Logan again. The fur is sure to fly and I imagine it will be up to poor March to sweep up the mess! Even if it’s not, I’m eager to read more of Camilla Monk’s work. It’s the most fun you can have in modern romantic satire!
About Camilla Monk
Camilla Monk is a French native and the author of the Spotless series. She spent ten years building rickety websites for M&A boutiques and hedge funds, and is now a full-time writer living in Montreal, where she keeps a close watch on the squirrels and complains on a daily basis about the egregious number of Tim Hortons.