Our guest today is Molly Harper, author of the "Nice Girls" series starring Jane Jameson and its new spinoff novels, which include Molly's latest, THE CARE AND FEEDING OF STRAY VAMPIRES. This book was just released on July 31 so it's fresh off the presses. =)
Molly is sharing some of her personal camp stories with us today. Enjoy!
At summer camp, I learned the value of subtlety.
I’m not saying I use it a lot. I just know it’s valuable.
I attended a youth camp here in Kentucky as a camper, teen counselor and adult volunteer. I had no choice. My whole family was deeply enmeshed in the camp program. My brother served as a teen counselor. My sister was on staff and eventually served as camp director. My mom was the “dean of women,” meaning she was in charge of disciplinary issues for the girls’ side of the camp. Seriously, try sneaking over to the boys side of camp to see your boyfriend when your MOM is the one running night-time patrols. Yes, my then-boyfriend, now-husband, David, was a teen counselor, too, and eventually joined the staff as the “emergency medical technician.” So I was a camp legacy, whether I wanted to be, or not.
I had the full range of exotic and horrifying outdoor experiences intended to build my character. We had canoeing and campfires and crafts. There was a lake (fully stocked with snapping turtles) that could only be accessed by a path set at a 45-degree downhill angle. The official camp program was carefully planned and the staff did their best to keep us in line. The problem was, well, everybody else.
We had the pranksters. The TP-ers. The sugar/salt swappers. The toilet Saran Wrapp-ers. The guy who filled the staff cabins with bait crickets. (OK, that one was a little funny – except for the part where it made the staff miserable – and it did influence an event in one of my books, years later.)
And then there were the story-tellers. There are certain spooky stories that simply must told at any summer camp or the camp will be closed by whatever government branch oversees Terrifying Formative Experiences. It’s the same set of stories at every camp. There’s the story about the camper who drowned in the requisite camp lake and now wanders the campground, searching for another camper to join him/her in the murky depths. And the story about the escaped patient from the mental hospital, that always seems to be placed conveniently within fifty miles of any summer camp, who sneaks on to the campground and slaughters entire cabins full of campers at a time. And of course, the “Golden Arm” story that caps any campfire session. It’s a little bit like that “bald-headed bear” scene from The Great Outdoors. The trusted authority figure tells the kids the story of a dead man searching for his expensive prosthesis, asking “Who has my golden arm?” The point is to build the tension, describing the dead man as he searches the camp, getting closer and closer to the cabin, asking who has the golden arm over and over, until you scream, “YOU DO!” at the campers so loudly that at least one of them wets their pants.
None of these tales are particularly subtle. And while the stories did scare me as a camper, leaving me huddled in my bunk, sleeping bag stretched over my head, bladder miserably full because I was too scared to walk the twenty or so fee to the outdoor bathrooms, I was pretty jaded by the time I was a teen. Sure, the camp was in the middle of nowhere. And the light of the outdoor security lamps cast everything in an eerie green light. And the crickets would suddenly stop chirping all together for a few seconds, making you wonder what was walking by your cabin and how close they were to your door. I wasn’t a kid anymore. I was practically an adult and I was in charge of a group of little kids. I couldn’t be scared to take them to the bathroom at night!
And then, when I was 15 or 16, I met the new staffer. Let’s call him Shawn. Shawn had a “different” sense of humor. He had a set of dark blue overalls that he’d ripped up to the point that they looked like Jason Vorhees’ Sunday best. His goal in life was to don these overalls and a hockey mask and scare the ever-loving hell out of his co-workers. I was helping him clean up the sing-a-long area one afternoon and heard someone mention his prank goals. I scoffed at him and said, “What are you going to do, chase the poor lifeguards around the pool, swinging a chainsaw?”
Shawn was all puckish humor until I laughed. All traces of the funny, quirky guy I’d come to know over the past week drained away from his face and he said, “No, if I wanted to scare someone, I wouldn’t chase them. I’d put on the overalls, wait until it’s dark and they’re all alone, walking back to their cabin, and then I would just walk out into their path and stand there. Waiting. How much scarier is it for someone to just stand there, staring at you? You don’t know what they’re going to do or if they’re going to come after you. The anticipation would be so much worse than running at them.”
I think my jaw dropped at this point and I made an embarrassing little squeaking noise.
Shawn continued. “And if I REALLY wanted to scary somebody, I’d just stand outside their window, in the dark, in the full hockey mask outfit, staring at them until they realized I was there and then screamed their heads off.”
He saw the expression of absolute horror on my face and I could almost hear the wheels turning in his head. I poked my finger into his chest and growled, “If I see you outside my window, I don’t care if you have an actual chainsaw, I will destroy you and everything you ever loved… or I will get my mom to do it.”
That was actually a credible threat. Most people at the camp were terrified of my mom.
That night, I got back to my cabin to help the adult counselor do the kids’ lights-out routine and realized, my bunk bed was right next to the window. And by that, I mean, I was sleeping in the top bunk by the front door, and the head of my bed was about four inches away from the window pane. And of course, the cabin wasn’t air-conditioned, so the kids wanted to sleep with the window open.
It was a looooooooong night.
I spent the entire night, scrunched as far away from the window as I could get. I was afraid to face the window because I didn’t want to wake up and find Shawn’s hockey mask staring at me, but even more afraid to turn my back to the window because I didn’t want him to sneak up on me. Every time I let myself relax enough to close my eyes, a twig would snap outside and I would practically bolt up in bed. I never did reach the REM cycle that night.
Of course, Shawn never actually pulled his prank on me, probably because he was afraid of being fired when the entire county was raised by my screaming. But just the possibility of his terrorizing me was enough to seriously mess with my head.
I am now working on a book about a haunted house and Shawn’s lessons have been very valuable. Shawn, brilliant weirdo that he was, taught me the value of an implied threat, of anticipation and suspense, and how scary a freaking window can be. I am trying to use all of these elements to create something a bit more frightening than my usual "snarky and sassy" work.
But if I ever look out of a window and see a hockey mask, I am so telling my mom.
More about THE CARE AND FEEDING OF STRAY VAMPIRES:
Iris Scanlon, Half-Moon Hollow's only daytime vampire concierge, knows more about the undead than she'd like. Running all their daylight errands--from letting in the plumber to picking up some chilled O neg--gives her a look at the not-so-glamorous side of vampire life. Her rules are strict; relationships with vamps are strictly business, not friendship--and certainly not anything else. But then she finds her newest client, Cal, poisoned on his kitchen floor, and only Iris can help.
Cal - who would be devastatingly sexy, if Iris allowed herself to think that way - offers Iris a hefty fee for hiding him at her place until he figures out who wants him permanently dead. Even though he's imperious, unfriendly and doesn't seem to understand the difference between "employee" and "servant," Iris agrees, and finds herself breaking more and more of her own rules to help him - particularly those concerning nudity. Turns out what her quiet little life needed was some intrigue & romance--in the form of her very own stray vampire.
The "Nice Girls" series + spinoff:
The "Naked Werewolf" Series:
To enter the giveaway, fill out the Rafflecopter form below.
Ends Wednesday, September 5th, 2012
(like all of our Paranormal Summer Camp giveaways)
Molly Harper worked for six years as a reporter and humor columnist for The Paducah Sun. Her reporting duties included covering courts, school board meetings, quilt shows, and once, the arrest of a Florida man who faked his suicide by shark attack and spent the next few months tossing pies at a local pizzeria. Molly lives in western Kentucky with her family.