We chat with Delilah S. Dawson about her new middle-grade novel camp scarewhich is an eerie, twisty ghost story about twelve-year-old Parker, who only wanted a summer of fun and new friendship, and the nightmare she finds instead.
Hey Delilah! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Hi! I’m a writer who enjoys Olympic lifting, mountain biking, Star Wars, Transformers, vintage My Little Pony, gluten free cake, and having adventures. I have two children and have been married for twenty years. I collect weird old taxidermy and love gaming on my Switch. If anyone ever has a question for me about writing, books, or anything else, I’m happy to answer at Twitter or Instagram, @delilahsdawson.
When did you first discover your love for writing?
Around third grade, we did a unit on poetry, and I wrote a poem about my family and entered it in the Patchwork competition. He received an honorable mention, and I was hooked. From then on, I kept poetry journals to express myself and did poetry slams in high school. I never thought it was possible I might become a novelist; I thought that writers, like surgeons or nuns, always knew exactly what they were meant to be from an early age. I wrote my first book because my baby stopped sleeping and my brain broke, and my husband suggested I find a hobby just for me. I was a visual artist, but art supplies are toxic, so instead, I wrote a book. Finishing that first book was one of the best feelings in the world.
Quick lightning round! Tell us the first book you ever remember reading, the one that made you want to become an author, and one that you can’t stop thinking about!
First books: The Ewoks Join the Fight, a Read-Along book. Turn the page when R2-D2 beeps!
The book that made me want to become an author: I didn’t know I wanted to be an author until I was 31, but Stephen King’s On Writing made it feel possible. I also remember reading Dead After Dark by Charlaine Harris and thinking, “If we can have country vampires, then there really are no rules!”
The book I can’t stop thinking about: The one I’m working on, of course!
Your new novel, camp scare, is out now! If you could only describe it in five words, what would they be?
Bullied kid at creepy camp!
What can readers expect?
The school pariah goes to her first overnight camp dreaming of the perfect summer where no one knows her (or her shameful past) and she can make friends and have fun. Instead, things go very dark. Consider everything that could go wrong at sleepaway camp, and then add in a vengeful ghost!
Where did the inspiration for camp scare eat from?
In fifth grade, my best friend was going to an overnight camp, so I signed up, too. Turns out she was actually going with her Girl Scout troop, so I was an awkward third (or tenth!) wheel. I was miserable and lonely and kept thinking that if I just had one friend, everything would’ve been perfect. Parker is definitely based on me at that age—a social misfit, bullied nerd, and overeager teacher’s pet who hates camp. Parker does find one friend who truly understands her, but unfortunately, that friend isn’t exactly who she claims to be…
Can you tell us a bit about the challenges you faced while writing and how you were able to overcome them?
The biggest challenge is that there were questions regarding whether the book was too dark for kids and whether bullying is really bad as it’s portrayed in the story. I ultimately chose not to soften things up because I’ve lived through bullying like that, and the adults really did ignore the problem and favor the bullies. Kids who know what it’s like to be bullied deserve to see it shown realistically on the page. As for whether it’s too dark, I read Pet Sematary and ITEM when I was still in elementary school, so I believe that some kids live for books that truly terrify them!
Were there any favorite moments or characters you really enjoyed writing or exploring?
The big reveal, of course, is always super fun to write. And I loved envisioning this old, haunted camp and all the ways things could go wrong out in the forest. There’s this one scene in the lake that still gives me chills. There was a dark, murky water scene in my other middle grade Horror, MINE, so maybe that will be a recurring theme for me.
What’s the best and the worst writing advice you have received?
The best is that all first drafts are pretty terrible and the magic happens in the edits. Even Stephen King doesn’t write like Stephen King until he’s done plenty of refining himself and received editorial feedback.
The worst is when writers are told, “Stay in your lane!” The fun of writing is to see what idea bubbles up next and explore it. I don’t want to put myself in a box and only be allowed to write one genre for the rest of my career.
What’s next for you?
Well, the paperback of my other middle grade horror novel, MINE, came out on the same day as CAMP SCARE, so you can always make that a double feature. In November, we have the third book in my Minecraft Mob Squad trilogy, DON’T FEAR THE CREEPER, as well as the paperback of my latest adult novel, THE VIOLENCE. I also have a YA romance, a Stranger Things book, and a Star Wars book on the way next year!
Lastly, do you have any 2022 book recommendations for our readers?
If you’re looking for sweet YA romance, Jenn Bennett is my go-to, and I recently binged Chasing Lucky and Always Jane. If you want kids’ horror, Wrecked Water Park by Kiersten White was super fun. For adult horror, I enjoyed The Book of Accidents by my pal Chuck Wendig and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix.