Writing on a Dare: Guest Post by YA Author Mary McCoy

Author Mary McCoy shares the story behind Camp So-and-So, her second YA novel. 

As perhaps befits a book set at summer camp, I wrote Camp So-and-So on a dare.

My first novel, Dead to Me, is a crime novel, a mystery set in 1948 Los Angeles, and once I’d finished writing it, I was itching to try my hand at the most wildly disparate and distant thing I could imagine.

You see, I didn’t want to be a crime novelist. I didn’t want to be a mystery writer. I didn’t want to be the author of historical fictions.

I wanted to be the Author of Everything.

To that end, I dared myself to find a way to write every kind of novel I’d ever wanted to write at the same time.

What came out of this self-imposed dare and quest to be the Author of Everything was a story involving five cabins of girls at a summer camp, each one finding themselves trapped into acting out a different classic summer camp story: the rivalry with the rich, cool kids on the other side of the lake; the slasher movie; the quest story; the summer romance; the tale of wilderness survival.

In earlier drafts, there was a sixth cabin, one where all the girls got super powers that they proceeded to use in the worst possible ways. Alas, their chapters were awful, and they were cut (though one character, Renata, survived and found her way to Cabin 3, where I realized she’d truly belonged all along).

Did I mention earlier drafts? Because there were earlier drafts. A shocking number of earlier drafts. So many times I ripped out the floors, ripped out the walls, and built them again. I cut tens of thousands of words and wrote them again. I took Samuel Beckett’s words to heart: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Writing a story with twenty-five characters and five major plot lines, all of which intersect and weave together is like building a Rube Goldberg machine. You change one little piece, and the whole enterprise falls apart. And who cares if you’ve made a perfect little jewel box of a novel unless the characters are real, and there are stakes, and you care if they get a happy ending?

Because that’s what stories have in common, whether they’re fantasies, horror, romances, or adventures. That’s what storytellers have in common, whether they’re crime writers, mystery writers, wild-eyed dreamers sitting by the fireside with bits of day-old stew in their beards, or fools who set out to be authors of everything.

We are trying to make you believe. We are trying to make you care. We are trying to make you remember, forget, cry, fall in love, visit a different world, see something you’ve never seen before, gasp, swoon, and hold your breath.

And in that way, every story is a mystery, a horror story, a fantasy, a romance, and adventure, and every author is the Author of Everything.

Thanks, Mary!
Camp So-and-So is coming to bookstores and libraries near you on Tuesday, March 1. Can’t wait to start reading? Check out a sample chapter