Indie Author Spotlight: An Interview with Dawn McCullough-White, Author of CAMEO THE ASSASSIN

And we’re back! A new installment of the Indie Author Spotlight is here at SF Signal for your reading pleasure. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and find out about a fantastic self-published author whom you need to be aware of!

Since first receiving my Kindle Fire over a year and a half ago, I have been scrambling to find a self-published female fantasy/science fiction author who brings something new to the popular genre. Let me tell you, it has not been an easy undertaking. I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction, and most of the female authors in speculative fiction tend to produce that variety of work when self-publishing. That’s fine, it’s just not what I’m looking for.

And then I found Dawn McCullough-White.

Dark and gritty historical fantasy; assassins and vampires; and a strong female protagonist. These (and more) are all things you’ll find in Dawn’s first series. Check out the synopsis for Cameo the Assassin, book one in the Trilogy of Shadows:

The Kingdom of Sieunes is rife with taverns, dirty streets, and clay pipe smoking citizens all toiling to feed their families and keep themselves in something little better than rags. With a foiled revolution just ten years prior still burning in the hearts of many, the royals enlist the aid of assassins to keep things in order.

The townsfolk entertain themselves by dreaming of better times to come and regaling in stories of the undead said to walk the graveyards at night… and of Cameo the killer with corpse-like eyes… Scarred and jaded Cameo is one of the most effective assassins in the employ of the Association, moving from one mission to the next as long as the alcohol keeps flowing.

Her acceptance of the murder-for-hire lifestyle is thrown into doubt when she meets a local highwayman with a penchant for fine clothes and women, and then she begins to think about breaking with the company but no one ever breaks with the Association under good terms.

And there you have it. If the above interests you in the slightest, keep reading as I present my interview with Dawn — and then treat yourself to one (or all) of her books and fall in love with the colorful characters and story just as I did!

Interview with Dawn McCullough-White


Dawn McCullough-White is known for her strong female protagonists, and dark gritty fantasy. Ms. McCullough-White has lived the majority of her life in and around Rochester, NY with a brief stint in Tucson, AZ. She is pursuing a degree in psychology at R.I.T. Dawn is a history buff and was a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism for years, active as a heavy weapons fighter. She currently resides with her husband and son in a quaint neighborhood next to a cemetery.

Max Pfeffer: First off, I’d just like to let you know how excited I am to have you here for SF Signal’s Indie Author Spotlight!

Dawn McCullough-White: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

MP: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like you self-published your first novel, Cameo the Assassin, back in the summer of 2009. What made you choose the self-publishing track?

DMW: Yes, I did. It was a fairly new thing to self-publish e-books back then. I did it basically because I’d been writing for years and really just wanted to get my work out there in the public eye. It was a pretty scary thing at the time, because there was such a stigma attached to self-publishing, there was this idea that once you went ahead and published there was no turning back, no traditional publisher would consider publishing you. But, that’s all changed now.

MP: It sure has! Can you tell us a little bit about what goes into the self-publishing process?

DMW: Well, for me it’s coming up with an idea of a character and then the plot, then sitting on that idea for a while, just letting it cook in my brain. I usually start envisioning scenes of dialog between a couple characters, until their story rings true to me. Then I mull on it a little longer, and finally write a draft. After the initial draft I have a literary, line and copy editor/s go over it. I order a cover, look at the draft of the cover, and then ask them to tweak it in until I’m happy with it, and then I have someone format the book for me and then I publish. And then the only thing left to do is market it, and write another one. Marketing is by far the most unappealing part of the process for me, and the most difficult. I don’t like to push myself on other people, and there’s a really fine line between making your book and your name visible and spamming everyone.

MP: I can imagine marketing being the least enjoyable aspect of self-publishing for most authors. What kind of success have you found as a self-published author, particularly in this digital e-book era?

DMW: In the beginning I had decent success with my first book Cameo the Assassin. It sat in the top 400 at Amazon for a while in 2010. But the book has gotten older, I hate to market, and there are a ton of other self-published books out there now it’s hard to compete.

But, for my own piece of mind I have found success. Ever since I was thirteen years old I wanted to write and to publish, because it makes me completely happy…and that’s what I’ve done. So, I guess that is something I’ll never regret when I’m lying on my death-bed someday.

MP: That is an amazing attitude and I completely agree. If you’re doing what you enjoy and something you’ve always wanted to do, that’s the greatest form of success.

You’ve said before that your books typically showcase strong, female protagonists in a gritty, fantasy setting. What drew you to this type of fiction?

DMW: It’s just what comes out of me when I write. Years ago I used to play some role-playing games, Warhammer was probably my favorite. It’s a dark and gritty fantasy setting, and I was really drawn to that type of world. But, I don’t emulate anyone else’s fantasy books because I don’t actually read much fantasy, like almost none. I read memoirs.

MP: Interesting! Well, you do a heck of a job writing in the genre. I explained the synopsis of the first book above, but can you shed some more light into the world that Cameo inhabits and a bit of insight into the lead as well?

DMW: Cameo, the main character is an assassin who seems to possess a certain, otherworldliness. She has a master that she works for at a place called The Association, which is a company of assassins, and a secret master who is a vampire. She’s sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place, she hates working as an assassin but she’s afraid if she breaks from the company they’ll kill her, and she has a vampire master who seems to delight in tormenting her by killing the people she loves. Up to this point in her career she has steered clear of any sort of friendship entanglements, until she meets up with two somewhat charming highwaymen.

It’s set in the pseudo 18th century, so it’s pretty gritty. The characters have scars and bad teeth from clay-pipe smoking, and hang out in dirty taverns. Death comes pretty quick and dirty, I don’t generally let characters with grievous wounds survive my novels. I try to stay fairly realistic to the medicine of the time except for an element of the supernatural and some magic. I really enjoy history so I try to inject odd bits of history into the story.

MP: You also have a new series out, Trilogy of the Tyrant, with the first book, The Emblazoned Red, currently on sale. What is this series all about?

DMW: This trilogy is set in Faetta, the same world that the Trilogy of Shadows (the Cameo books) take place in, and it takes place fifteen years after the last book in that trilogy ends. It is connected to the first trilogy but could be read as a stand-alone series.

This series focuses on Ilka, a young woman who has just completed her tests to become a paladin, she’s sent to another country to do service for her god in a temple there but unbeknownst to her a revolution has broken out and she’s caught in the middle of it. She loses everything and in the process of getting back home she begins to grow into the title of “paladin”, what that means to her, and at the same time she’s makes huge mistakes and longs for vengeance against the people who have wronged her. The first book leads into a trilogy about a revolution, it’s also about what ever became of Cameo and Black Opal, title characters of The Trilogy of Shadows, and about coming of age in a dark world.

MP: Aside from your books that we’ve already talked about, do you have any other projects in the works?

DMW: Yes, there is something super secret that I’m working on, but unfortunately, it’s super secret so I can’t talk about it.

MP: When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy spending your time doing?

DMW: Spending time with my 6 year-old son; feeding my Sims addiction; worshiping Tom Hiddleston, and working on watching all 8 seasons of Dexter.

MP: How can the SF Signal community support you in your writing endeavors?

DMW: You’re doing it right now. Thanks so much for the opportunity to be heard.