Monday, February 9, 2015

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: David E. Shaolian, Author

David E. Shaolian, Author
David E. Shaolian brings HAPPY CAMPERS to us—a thriller inspired by his experience as a photographer at a summer camp and books such as William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Shaolian depicts his villains as “corrupted” and his protagonist as ‘a fish out of water.’ Although the story is a thriller with some “potent messages,” he adds humor to “lighten the mood.”

Originally from Ottawa, Shaolian currently lives in Toronto with his wife and two children. When he’s not writing, he serves as a high school English teacher, and enjoys spending time with his family and friends. He takes pleasure in pursuing photography, swimming, dining out, and traveling, and despite his book he still likes to go camping.

Q: What drove you to write HAPPY CAMPERS? How did you conceive of the story? Did you have an experience on which you based the novel?

David E. Shaolian: A number of summers ago, I was the camp photographer at a great camp, and some staff members were consuming alcohol and/or drugs, something that occurs, to some degree or other, at all overnight camps.  After all, everyone is there to have a great time, so it’s inevitable.  This issue, which is highly exaggerated in the novel for dramatic effect- and the safety concern it poses, inspired the novel.  However, I should mention that while the camp in this novel could be virtually any camp, in reality, it’s completely fictional, as are all characters and events.  

HAPPY CAMPERS was also inspired by some classic works of literature, especially William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; although the two novels are quite different, my novel deals with some of the same issues.  Once the story came to me, it got stuck in my head, and I kept getting flooded with more and more ideas, until I decided to begin writing the novel.  

Q: A reviewer applauded your ability to “hook” readers and describes HAPPY CAMPERS as a “thriller.” Would you characterize the book as a thriller? How do you “hook” readers?

David E. Shaolian: It is befitting in the sense that there are many surprises, things that you would never see coming in the story.  In fact, some of these events, which were never in the original draft, would have surprised even me.  There is one event in particular that’s really ‘out there’ later in the novel, and I had never considered including it originally.  It was included in the final draft since it is crucial to the protagonist’s character development and the story’s progression.

Q: How do you get readers to care about your protagonist? What makes us engage in his story?

David E. Shaolian: Simon Green, the protagonist, could easily be considered ‘a fish out of water.’  At camp, he’s considerably older that almost everyone, so he doesn’t relate well to many staff members, and his values differ greatly from theirs.  As a result, some of these relations are highly antagonistic. He spends a great deal of his time there alone. Even back in the city, he’s a bit of a loner, since all his friends are married and busy with their families, while he’s still single, so he rarely sees them. I think many people can relate to feeling out of place or lonely at times. 

Also, Simon experienced a break-up a few years before the novel opens, and has not recovered, so he is still discontented, and feels a great deal of regret as the novel opens. Most people have experienced this at least once, so this is another way readers will connect.      

Q:  You’ve written HAPPY CAMPERS in the first person. Why? Did you find it restrictive or helpful?

David E. Shaolian: I found it very helpful.  I wanted readers to understand what Simon Green is all about, what makes him tick. He’s basically a good person who tries to do the right thing, but he has some character flaws, which are an impediment.  No other perspective would allow readers to access the character, his thought process, actions, and the impact of his decisions like the first person point of view.

Q: Does the concept of heroes vs villains apply to HAPPY CAMPERS? If so, can you identify your villains? What makes an effective villain?

David E. Shaolian: Yes, this concept definitely applies to HAPPY CAMPERS. There are three main villains in the novel, namely Miranda Divine, Haze (Jake Hazelton), and Ted Savage.  Miranda is the camp director, who turns out to be extremely cruel and corrupted.  It is also largely due to her weak leadership that the situation is so chaotic at camp.  There are some fascinating revelations about her as the story unfolds.  Haze is the camp program director, who is often high on drugs, and unconcerned about his responsibilities, or anything else, except having a great time.  Ted Savage is a very violent counsellor, who is also often high, and blindly obeys his close friend, Haze.

A good villain is someone who is evil or corrupted, someone the reader dislikes more and more as additional information is revealed in the story.  The reader hopes that the villain gets what he or she deserves by the end of the novel, that there is a sense of justice.  In HAPPY CAMPERS, although Miranda Devine is quite loathsome,  she is briefly humanized too, through an account of her back story.

Q: Do you like to go camping? Just curious! Have you had any interesting experiences you’d like to relate?

David E. Shaolian: I do enjoy camping a great deal.  I had a wonderful time as the camp photographer, roaming around the campsite as I worked, meeting lots of great people, and enjoying the facilities, especially the lake.  I also enjoy pitching a tent at a campsite with friends or family.  I did that a few times many years ago, and it was lots of fun too.

Q:  I really appreciate your cover. The sign with its broken chain link tells me immediately that there is more to HAPPY CAMPERS than, well, “happy” campers. Did you intend to deliver a message when you wrote the story, or were you writing strictly to entertain?

David E. Shaolian: My publisher’s graphic artist did a great job with that cover; it’s really reflective of what’s inside.  Just like the sign is broken down, so is the situation at camp- broken down and corrupted.  The intention was to deliver some very strong messages, especially about the importance of responsible leadership, as well as the significance of conducting oneself altruistically, instead of placing personal concerns first.  The title is supposed to be highly sarcastic. Simon is anything but a happy camper, even before starting to work at camp; he's been devastated by a horrible break-up from a few years earlier, and still hasn't recovered from it. Although he enjoys his gig as photographer at camp, he is mistreated there, and is forced to face a major dilemma, and this only adds to his troubles.  Later in the novel, as a result of the corrupted situation and its inevitable consequence, nobody will leave camp a happy camper.  However, perhaps someone will, ultimately, emerge a happy camper, as a result of his/her camp experience.

Q: How helpful is humor to telling your story?

David E. Shaolian: Although HAPPY CAMPERS is a serious story with some potent messages, there is some mild humour throughout the novel.  It’s not all doom and gloom, but I included some humour to lighten the mood, especially before some very intense scenes.

Q: What’s next? Will you write more novels?

David E. Shaolian: Hopefully, I will write more novels.  I absolutely love writing, but I need the right idea to be inspired. 

Q: Tell us about David E. Shaolian. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

David E. Shaolian: When I’m not writing, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, photography, classic literature, swimming, dining out, and travelling.

About David E. Shaolian

David E. Shaolian, who is originally from Ottawa, Canada, is an experienced high school English teacher.  He is an alumnus of Tel Aviv University (Overseas Student Program), Carleton University, and the University of Windsor.  This book, his debut novel, was inspired by his experience as camp photographer at one camp, issues of alcohol and drug abuse at overnight camps generally, and classic works of literature.  He lives in Toronto with his wife and two children.

Simon Green, high school English teacher and photography enthusiast, is offered the camp photographer position for Camp Black Pines, an overnight camp attended by campers from mostly wealthy families in one of the most prestigious cottage areas in Canada. Following a thorny period in his life, Simon accepts the position, attempting to escape his woes by immersing himself in his passion for photography.  However, the natural beauty of this locale masks weighty issues: a prevalence of an 'anything goes' attitude concerning widespread drinking, illicit drug consumption, and promiscuous sexual activity among staff, eclipsing concern for the safety and well-being of the children attending the camp. It's a volatile recipe for disaster, where anything can happen at any moment.  How long will this situation persist before everything boils over and disaster strikes?  Will Simon, an innate procrastinator with a commitment phobia, act altruistically, or will his reluctant nature prove an impediment?  And how would such a situation impact on him and others?  

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