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Debut novel takes an exaggerated look at summer camp life

Tags: Books and Authors Arts David Shaolian Happy Campers Itoh Press
David Shaolian

Debut novelist David Shaolian said his experience working at an overnight camp inspired him to write an “exaggerated” story of what could happen when camp counsellors’ experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex gets out of control.

Happy Campers, (Itoh Press) told in first person through the eyes of Simon Green, a Jewish high school English teacher who lands a photography gig at the fictitious Camp Black Pines in Canadian cottage country, explores two major themes, Shaolian said.

“One is the importance of responsible leadership and the [other is the] requirement to conduct oneself in an altruistic manner, instead of placing personal concerns first,” he said.

“With respect to leadership, it would be unrealistic to assume alcohol and drug consumption at overnight camps can be completely eliminated. However, responsible leadership can deal effectively with the issue, preventing it from raging out of control and becoming dangerous, like the situation in the novel.  As far as altruism is concerned, in the novel, Simon Green possesses certain character deficiencies, including being very naive, affecting his judgment and decision-making.  These flaws have adversely affected him in the past, and will come back into play during the course of the novel.” 

Shaolian, a 44-year-old English teacher at the Scarborough Academy for Technological, Environmental and Computer Education at W.A. Porter Collegiate Institute, said writing this novel,was a dream that took him years to fulfill.

“I’ve wanted to write a book for many years, since the late ’90s. I was inspired by great works of classic literature that I read and loved and cherished. I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time but I never had the idea,” said the Ottawa-native.

Having worked at an overnight camp that shall remain nameless he was inspired to write a story based loosely on his experiences.

“The protagonist in this novel is not me. It’s a fictitious character, who shares a few things in common with myself, but it’s not me,” he said.

 “I thought there were be a real story if I took the issues and just exaggerated them for dramatic effect,” he said.

In the novel, when the camp counsellors “abandon their duties to do drugs, to drink… and to satisfy their libidos,” Simon tries to reason with them. 

“What he attempts to do causes others to react, [to be] antagonistic. They want to protect their lifestyle. This is where they go to party and they want to protect this lifestyle.”

Shaolian said there is an underlying Jewish theme in his novel, which involves Simon’s struggle with his Jewish identity.

“He was a Conservative Jew, having gone to synagogue regularly and observed the holidays, coming from a kosher home. But at the same time, he’s turned his back on it, on a lot of things. He’s a guy that was devastated by a break up that happened a few years earlier and as a result he’s lost interest in things and he’s down on a lot of things in life, and he has basically turned his back on his religion,” he said. 

Shaolian, who said writing comes very naturally to him, said he hopes he’ll have the opportunity to write another novel, assuming he’s inspired by another idea.

“I loved it. It was wonderful.”

For more information, visit www.davidshaolian.com.

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