I had the pleasure of interviewing Deanna Cameron, author of What Happened That Night.
The book is out in September, being published by Wattpad Books. I reviewed it here.
How well can you ever really know your sister…?
Golden boy Griffin Tomlin is found dead, floating in his pool, the morning after his family’s Labor Day party, and neighbor Emily Porterfield is arrested for his murder. No one knows why she killed him, except for her younger sister, Clara. The secrets behind What Happened That Night unravel in dual timelines:
In the present, Clara struggles with the aftermath of the murder—questions and distrust from her friends, denial from her parents, and visits to her sister in jail. And amidst all of that, another body is discovered that could be connected.
In flashback, the events that brought Clara, Griffin, and Emily together and that led to his death are revealed—events that involve a crush, an obsession, and a shocking twist.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Q: What was your inspiration behind What Happened That Night and what made you decide to write it?
A: The inspiration behind it was that I had no inspiration. I had no direction to take after finishing my previous novel (which took me over two years, so I was pretty rusty with new ideas) and I just decided I would write. About nothing. I described scenes, atmospheres, with no real characters or any dialogue. I described the childhood Super Bowl parties I went to, trying to write down all the little details I remembered, and then I wrote about a couple caring for their garden in their suburban neighbourhood. Those things eventually turned into the turning-point Super Bowl scene, and Clara’s home environment. How everything else came into play is a little fuzzy (it was over five years ago) but I think I was trying to turn Ella Was into a full-length novel and then got side-tracked.
Q: Can you describe the novel in three words?
A: Secrets, lies, masks.
Q: Did you ever struggle with writing What Happened That Night? If so, what motivated you to keep going?
A: I think writing the ending was the hardest part for me. I just started a new job and, unlike my other books, I never really had an ending in mind for WHTN. My whole writing style for the first draft was just winging it, really. I wanted the ending to be perfect, and had no idea what perfect meant for the book. I had this whole perfect plan on when to post it (on the protagonist’s birthday, which was coming up around the time I was finishing the last chapter, August 17th) but couldn’t get it right. I ended up posting the ending on August 29th (which is Kolby’s birthday, so I still sort of saw it as a win) but my motivation was simple in that the book needed an ending. I didn’t come all this way, earning the support of so many, just to give up on the last chapter.
Q: Which one of your characters would you most like to meet? Why?
A: I really don’t know. They’re all pretty rough around the edges, but maybe Aniston? She’s really friendly, and would probably be the nicest to me about meeting each other. Everyone else (except for probably Kolby) would just ignore me or try to kill me instead.
Q: You’re a pretty popular writer on Wattpad! Have you thought about trying to publish some of your other works?
A: Not any of the books I’ve already written. Trapped in Forever (the book I wrote before WHTN) holds a really special place in my heart but it really was the book that changed my writing style from light-hearted teen romance to books with more substance and hardships. But I started it when I was fifteen, it’s over five hundred pages long, and needs such editing to even get me to consider wanting it to be published that I probably wouldn’t do it. As for future books, I mean, I’m hopeful but not there yet.
Q: What was your initial reaction when you found out you were selected by Wattpad to be published?
A: I got an email from my talent manager, Monica, asking to meet on a phone call with me and two others (Ashleigh Gardener and Deanna McFadden, who I would learn are super involved in Wattpad Books, but no one heard of it yet at that point) and it was so close to WattCon I assumed it was about that. I was speaking as a panellist that year, so I thought the call about going to be something about that, but I kind of had my hopes that maybe it was about something new and exciting. I was home alone and got the phone call, and I really don’t remember how they told me, I just remember saying, “Wow, really?” over and over again. I probably sounded like a broken record to them! There were some details at that point, but it was mostly about asking me if I was on board, which I totally was. After I hung up, I told my friends on our group chat and there were GIFs flying back and forth. I called my mom at work. The rest is kind of a blur of excitement.
Q: Who is your favourite character in What Happened That Night? Who is your least liked character?
A: My favourite was always Wilson Westbrooke. I don’t know why, but it was and that’s what kind of started his more involved storyline. Maybe I just really liked his name (and I did). My least favourite was probably Emily. I don’t know why on that one either. I like her better now in the published version, but as I was writing her, she just felt kind of boring. Maybe because I was making up her motivation as I went. Now the book starts and ends with her actions being much more calculated than before.
Q: As we continue to read your book, it’s clear to see that Clara is an unreliable narrator. Did you intentionally make her that way? What do you think of her as the main character and her judgements or actions?
A: Yeah, she was based off how people really are in real life. They take the information they know and assume its fact, and they also let their own personal feelings cloud their judgement. It was also something of a personal experiment I had going on with the readers. I wanted to see if the majority of readers’ opinions fell in line with what the character thought of them, so if a character disliked that one person, did the readers as well? For the most part, I found that to be true, and so I would have Clara’s opinions based on what she knew dictate her opinions and, like most people, she was often bias.
Q: Your books, including the unpublished ones, fall into the Young Adult category. Can you tell us what interests about this genre? Would you ever try to venture out into other genres?
A: It’s just the genre I like to read. I’ve tried writing other genres, but I never get very far and, inevitably, go back to writing YA. It’s one of the most exciting times of your life, it’s what I knew, and there’s so much changing in that time of your life. Coming-of-age is such a fascinating time of someone’s life, there are so many versions of it to tell.
Q: Is any part of What Happened That Night based on your own life?
A: My love of musical theatre. The Super Bowl party (although, mine always ended sleepily with my parents driving me home after playing with my friends all night instead of actually watching the game, or any of the things that happened to Clara that night) and her feelings regarded her young crush on Griffin Tomlin were some of the feelings I had about my first real crush as a teen.
Q: What is the one food or drink you have to have while writing?
A: None. It’s too distracting for me, plus I write in my bedroom where I don’t really bring food or drinks in with me anyway.
Q: Where do you usually write your books?
A: My bedroom. I used to write on my bed (the back pain is real everyone) but recently I bought myself an actual desk to write on. I used to have one before, it was a kids’ desk and my thighs would get squished sitting at it as an adult.
Q: Share with us your favourite quote from What Happened That Night.
A: “Always in the same galaxy, but never in the same orbit.” (I’m not sure if that line made it into the published version, but it’s on the Wattpad one still on the website).
Q: What are your top five favourite movies?
A: I always suck at answering questions like this, because my answer is always changing. My favourite go-to movies, in no particular order, are To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, When Harry Met Sally, Get Out, 10 Things I Hate About You (little piece of trivia here, Wilson Westbrooke was based off Patrick Verona) and Mean Girls.
Q: What was something you were told by someone that meant a lot to you?
A: I’ve been told a lot of things that meant to me. One that is a little off the topic of writing and the book was something my mom told me earlier this year. I just went on a bad date with this guy I had known for years (and didn’t really like romantically, but he caught my off-guard and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings) and we just had nothing to say to one another. It was just quiet and awkward, and I felt kind of rude, which I was mad about because we had a pretty good friendship beforehand but realizing he misinterpreted things before made me question how to be his friend now.
I went home and vented to my mom about how mad I was and how the date just went awful, and my mom told me, “One day, you’re going to meet someone who will be comfortable just sitting in silence with you.” That meant a lot to me.
So often, we’re told to change to fit other people’s standards, to be more talkative or to be more this or that, and it’s nice to be told not to do that, but just to find someone who likes you the way you are right now. I see so many young people lower their standards just to be with someone (which was what Clara did with Griffin, she lowered her standards because she wanted to be with him instead of recognizing what was right in front of her) and it can cause a lot of drama and trouble. We should all own our worth.
Q: What would you say are your top five book recommendations?
A: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbuam, What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton, and Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen (all her books really).
Q: Now that your book is getting published, what are your plans? What’s next for you?
A: Promoting the release mostly, jumpstarting my next book before fall semester starts, and hopefully finding a way out of my retail job before the holiday seasons starts.
Q: Name the top ten things you haven’t done, but would like to do.
A: I really don’t know. Probably visit somewhere tropical, see the ocean, see more iconic landmarks of the world, bake a loaf of bread from scratch, get a few gold raspberries from the bush I planted last month, finish laying down all the mulch, attend another author’s book signing, go swimming at night, start writing my next book, and see a cactus.
Q: If you could offer a piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
A: Write. My advice is always so boring, but there really isn’t some sort of magical formula to writing or to become successful in your writing. I wrote for over ten years before someone offered to publish my work. It takes time, a lot of it, and also a lot of work. And writing. So keep writing, keep reading, and keep going. It’s the only way you’re going to get anywhere.
Q: And finally, do you think your story has a meaning? What message do you hope to leave readers with?
A: That someone will listen to your story. Not everyone will, but there are people who will be on your side. And if you want to keep it to yourself, that’s okay too. We’ll be here, supporting anyway.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deanna Cameron has been writing on Wattpad since she was sixteen using the pseudonym LyssFrom1996. In 2015, she posted her novel, What Happened That Night, on the platform, which has gone on to be published in France and is forthcoming in North America. Deanna spends the early hours of the morning writing and currently resides in Western New York, where she attends university.
I’m so excited for What Happened That Night to come out — I preordered the paperback as soon as it was available. Have you read WHTN on Wattpad? Are you going to get a copy of it?