Writer Spotlight: Jamar J. Perry
Writer Spotlight Series, creates a positive image for young girls to refer to, by having conversations with different writers and illustrators. This month we have been doing Q&As with many writers, to get to know more about them and their work. Here, we are showcasing all the questions we have asked Jamar, the author of Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms. You can find more book reviews in our current issue, available to buy here
Percy Jackson meets Black Panther
- this blockbuster middle-grade adventure is perfect for fans of Amari and the Night Brothers.
Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms is your first debut novel. What inspired the idea for the story?
I grew up in a small town called Phenix City, Alabama, in America. It’s so small on the map that you can barely see it. I grew up very isolated and depressed. Depression was not knowledge like it is today. I was constantly tired. As a family, we grew up poor. We never had extra income to buy nice things, like new trainers. I come from a family of eight, so money went to food and bills. When I attended school, I noticed I differed from all the other boys around me. I wasn't that hyper masculine boy who liked to play sports, that just wasn't me. As a child, I couldn’t talk to anyone about my feelings. I didn’t understand the feelings that I was experiencing. Reading became something I was really interested in.
Books became an outlet for me. I remember just reading constantly. I would go to the library every single day. My goal was to read a book a day. The library was my safe place. It wasn't until I went to college, when I decided that, Jamal, you've been reading all these books, why don’t you write your own? I read all these fantasy novels. The fantasy novels were what I loved growing up, because my contemporary life, my real life, was so horrible.
I stayed away from contemporary novels; I didn’t want to read about real life because it was so connected to my own life. When I went to college, there was an awakening, where I realised that all the characters in the books I was reading rarely featured Black characters, especially Black boy characters, like me. In Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms, in the beginning Cameron is lonely, depressed because his parents are no longer living. That is an analogue towards my own life where my parents are still living, but I felt like my parents didn’t understand me growing up, which led me to be lonely during my earlier life. It was a cathartic feeling of tomorrow. These were the questions I would ask myself: How are you going to deal with the pressures of your life growing up? How are you going to deal with being alone? How did you deal with not having friends?
Writing Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms was just an exploration of this Black boy who’s lonely, who only has two friends. He misses his parents. How can he save the entire world?
How do you develop the plot and characters?
I developed my characters based on who I was, as a child. Zion and Aliyah are a sliver of me. Cameron is quiet and lonely, Zion is very smart, and can talk a lot! When I was in high school, I realised that in order for me to feel happiness; I knew how to make people laugh. That’s what Zion is like. He’s there for Cameron and he makes him laugh. Then there's Aliyah, who's always on the go, very intelligent and she can see things that Cameron doesn't want to see. I’m 31 now, very intelligent, very nuanced and I can pick up things. Once I developed those three characters, on who they were and what made them different from each other, it became easy to write the surrounding plot.
There are some authors who like to write an outline first, and then write the whole plot. However, for me, I write an outline, but I come up with who the characters are, first, what makes them tick, what makes them move, what makes them different from each other, because that's another thing that publishers want you to do is, if you have a cast of characters, they all have to be different in some sort of aspect.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
There will be a sequel. I was just talking to my editor about this the other day. She said to me “What do you think about a third novel?” I was only expected to write two novels, I was going to end the story in the sequel! My editor said, "if the first one does well enough, we’ll think about doing a third novel series." So there will be a future for these characters. Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms is released on 3 March 2022 and the sequel is March 2023.
In the first book, Cameron, Aliyah and Zion are together the entire time, in the sequel they are together in different ways. Cameron is learning to use his magic, however in the sequel he is literally magic! He’s more powerful than the Gods. I explained more in the book's epilogue, are the Gods nice people? Do they play games? How does Cameron react to that?
Do Zion and Aliyah have magic powers? They take more of a centre stage in the sequel. There’ll be some commentary around what makes a God. How can a human come against God?
What was the best highlight of writing this book?
I felt growing up, books I read that featured heroes are just that. As soon as someone said “you're a hero now!” They accepted that journey. Cameron is different; he struggles throughout the entire novel. I love how Cameron is a normal 12-year-old with special powers. He has emotions, feelings and doubts. There are moments where he doesn’t feel like he’s good enough. There is a scene where Zion and Aliyah are not supposed to be in that world, and they're doing really well. Cameron doesn't want to be in this world anymore. He’s feeling hurt, so he gets angry at his grandmother for not telling him about this world and he’s upset because his parents died. The best part about writing this book was to show how human Cameron is. He steps into a heroic archetype, but he’s still human. He has to learn to be a hero, there’s a process to that.
If you could ask one successful author three questions about their writing process, or books, what would they be? Who would you ask?
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston is a fantastic book. That book is just magical from beginning to the end. I'm currently writing a book about a Black boy trying to fit into magic school. I would like to know from B.B. Alston, how did you do that? It took me three years to write about Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms. Within Amari and the Night Brothers, there are many departments and ways of doing magic. How did he create an entire world within a world? The way Amari interacts with the magic world is amazing. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read. Another favourite book of mine is a Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. She writes books that capture an entire time period. The story is about a Black girl called Cassie Logan growing up during the Jim Crow laws. During this time, schools were segregated and Cassie's only way to school was by walking. Her walk to school was long. When reading any of Mildred's novels, I feel like I'm there. I would ask her, “how do you create something that will stand the test of time?
I really enjoy reading Christopher Paul Curtis books, including Bucking the Sarge and The Watsons Go to Birmingham. He has so much humour in his stories; it works really well. My question would be “How do you write subjects about racism and slavery, yet add humor to it without it being offensive?
What was your favourite book/author growing up?
I would say Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. My earliest memory of reading this book is back in elementary school. I’ve kept this book with me ever since. It reminds me of where I came from, also how kids can change the world! Adults are the ones that add racism, classism and homophobia. Kids are like blank slates. It's the adults that influence them. Over the years, it’s really shown me that kids can make a huge impact on others and technically, they can change the world. That’s why I wrote Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms. Cameron just lost his parents, but he has to make a mark on the entire world.
Jamar J. Perry lives in Maryland, USA, and has a PhD in Literacy Education, Language, Culture and Social Inquiry from the University of Maryland. He was previously a teacher and started writing for children so that Black boys, like his students and the boy he once was, can see themselves in literature as the heroes of their own stories and understand how magical and joyful they really are.
About the writer