We chat with Delilah S. Dawson about her new junior high school novel camp scaresan eerie, twisted ghost story about twelve-year-old Parker who just wanted a summer of fun and new friendships, and the nightmare she finds instead.
Hello Delilah! Can you tell our readers something about yourself?
Hi! I’m a writer who enjoys Olympic weightlifting, mountain biking, Star Wars, Transformers, old My Little Pony, gluten free cakes and adventure. I have two children and have been married for twenty years. I collect weird old taxidermy and love playing on my Switch. If anyone ever has a question for me about writing, books, or anything else, I’m happy to respond on Twitter or Instagram, @delilahsdawson.
When did you first discover your love for writing?
Around third grade we did a poetry unit and I wrote a poem about my family and submitted it to the patchwork contest. It received an honorable mention and I loved it. From then on I kept poetry journals to express myself and did poetry slams in high school. I never thought I could become a novelist; I thought that writers, like surgeons or nuns, knew exactly what to be from a young age. I wrote my first book because my baby stopped sleeping and my brain broke, and my husband suggested I get a hobby just for myself. I used to be a visual artist, but art supplies are toxic, so I wrote a book instead. The ending of that first book was one of the best feelings in the world.
Quick blitz round! Tell us the first book you remember reading that made you want to become an author and one you can’t stop thinking about!
First book: The Ewoks join the fight, a reading book. Turn the page when R2-D2 beeps!
The book that made me want to be a writer: I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I was 31, but Stephen Kings did About writing made it feel possible I remember reading too Dead after dark by Charlaine Harris and thought, “If we can have land vampires, then there really aren’t any rules!”
The book I can’t stop reading: The one I’m working on, of course!
her new novel, camp scares, is out now! If you could only describe it in five words, what would they be?
Bullied child in the horror camp!
What can readers expect?
The school pariah goes to her first sleepover camp and dreams of the perfect summer, where no one knows her (or her shameful past) and she can make friends and have fun. Instead, things get very dark. Think of everything that could go wrong at sleepaway camp, then add a vengeful ghost!
Where did the inspiration for come from camp scares I’m from?
In fifth grade, my best friend went to sleepover camp, so I signed up too. Turns out she actually went with her Boy Scout troop, so I was an awkward third (or tenth!) wheel. I was miserable and lonely, and kept thinking that if only I had had a boyfriend, everything would be perfect. Parker is definitely based on me at that age – a social misfit, bullied nerd, and overzealous teacher sweetheart who hates camps. Parker finds a friend who really understands her, but unfortunately that friend isn’t exactly who she says she is…
Can you tell us about the challenges you faced while writing and how you overcame them?
The biggest challenge was that there were questions about whether the book was too dark for children and whether bullying as portrayed in the story is really bad. Ultimately I decided not to soften things up because I’ve been through bullying like this and the adults really ignored the problem and favored the bullies. Children who know what it’s like to be bullied deserve a realistic portrayal of it on the site. I’ve read whether it’s too dark pet cemetery and IT when I was in elementary school, so I think some kids live for books that really scare them!
Were there any favorite moments or characters that you really enjoyed writing or exploring?
The big reveal is always great fun to write, of course. And I loved imagining this old haunted camp and all the ways things could go wrong out in the woods. There’s this one scene in the lake that still gives me goosebumps. In my other mid-range horror, MINE, there was a dark, murky water scene, so maybe that’ll be a recurring theme for me.
What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve received?
The best part is that all first drafts are pretty awful and the magic happens in the edits. Even Stephen King does not write like Stephen King until he has thoroughly refined himself and received editorial feedback.
The worst thing is when writers are told, “Stay on your lane!” The fun of writing is seeing what idea comes up next and exploring it. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself and only be allowed to write one genre for the rest of my career.
What’s next for you?
Well, the paperback for my other mid-range horror novel, MINE, came out the same day as CAMP SCARE, so you can always do that as a double feature. November will be the release of 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!
Finally, do you have any book recommendations for our readers for 2022?
If you’re looking for some sweet YA romance, Jenn Bennett is my go-to, and I recently binged Chasing Lucky and Always Jane. If you want children’s horror, Pathetic water park by Kiersten White was a lot of fun. For adult horror, I enjoyed it The accident book from my buddy Chuck Wendig and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Killing Vampires by Grady Hendrix.