Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Serpent in Silk by Nicholas Cameron

By Nicholas Cameron
ABOUT THE BOOK:         In a remote corner of tropical Costa Rica, Jack Davis has realized his dream of establishing a research station devoted to the study of sea turtles.  When his government funding is not renewed, he accepts the help of a private foundation, relieved to have continued support, and delighted when they agree to money for an airstrip at the site. Jack, who’s been flying his own plane to the nearest town and commuting by boat to the station, is pleased when the foundation puts up money to build an airstrip there.  In the next few months, however, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems with the foundation, and the airstrip has opened a portal into their isolated world that threatens all that Jack has worked for.  Beset by a crumbling marriage and departmental pressure at home, and by increasingly troubling events at the station, Jack struggles to keep it all from coming apart.  When a plane loaded with a sinister cargo crashes at the strip in the middle of the night, Jack is suddenly trapped in a nightmare that will forever change his life and the lives of those close to him.


Nicholas Cameron spent 25 years as a professor of zoology, writing scientific books and reports, then started writing fiction in between running a small electronics company and building airplanes.  He has had a pilot's license since 1987, and has traveled extensively in Costa Rica and South America.  He now makes furniture and generally goofs off in a house he and his wife built in the Texas Hill Country.


Given your background as a zoologist and academic, how autobiographical is the story of Jack Davis?

We write about what we know, but that doesn't necessarily mean it comes out as autobiography.  The story is drawn from my love of the beauty of nature in general, and Costa Rica in particular, and draws on my experience of the pressures inherent in maintaining a research career in academia.   Happily, the rest of the elements of the story are pure fiction, although I've tried to keep in within bounds of plausibility.

What's the main point you're trying to make in the story?

Well, I guess it's mostly about integrity and self-respect -- how hard those can be to uphold.  To the main character, as a scientist, integrity is paramount.  After all, what is science about if not honest and objective observation of the real world?  Yet in a series of small steps, he compromises in a way that leads ultimately to his downfall.  We all have a capacity for self-deception, especially when it helps us rationalize away doubts.

What was the biggest adjustment going from scientific and technical writing to fiction?

Happily some things are the same.   You want to write clear prose no matter what the subject.  Scientific writing is far easier, however, since all you have to do is describe results of some sort.  It can get a little stickier when you're trying to say what they mean, but it's still a pretty straightforward proposition.  In fiction, however, you need all sorts of other elements:  plot, atmosphere, and, most of all, human beings in all their befuddling complexity.   I would say that A Serpent in Silk was roughly ten times harder to write than either of the two scientific books I've written.  You eat, sleep, and breathe the story for months on end, and by the nature of these human things, you can't ever be sure you got it just right.

The element of drug trafficking that comes into the story --  isn't that sort of cliche these days?

Perhaps it is, but it's also an inescapable facet of life in Central and South America now.  Most of us can't imagine the sums of money that are involved in this trade, nor the raw power that represents.  Who cannot be corrupted?   Most of us think of ourselves as basically honest, and would deny the possibility.  But what if?  Would we do this or that for a thousand dollars?  For ten thousand?  For a million?  To save a career, or salvage a research program?   Would we just maybe not look too closely at something coming our way?  It's insidious, and scary, and we need to think about doing something differently.

Any plans for new books?

Working on something now, but waiting for the energy burst to get it going.   Also thinking about building another airplane, since I sold my last one a couple of years ago and kind of miss the flying.  We'll see.  Maybe someone will make a movie out of the book and I can hire on as an aviation consultant.   Now that would be fun!

Coming Soon: Our Review of A Serpent in Silk


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