Ask the Author: Renee Perez
What would you like readers to know about you?
The itch to create started as young as seven years old. I was constantly writing stories with illustrations in a comic book style focusing mostly on my obsession with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the 1988 Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. My earliest “publication” (not real and totally imaginary) was based on Magic Johnson and Coach Pat Riley in an epic battle against the Boston Celtics Larry Bird. It wasn’t enough that I wrote such a grandiose victory, but it had to end with Magic ripping off the heads of the opposing team. Aside from writing, I was a very early reader. I finished the entire series of Ann Martin’s Babysitters Club, Stephen King’s IT, Pet Sematary, & V.C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic by the time I was 11. I had a wide range.
I loved to read and write, so naturally, I wanted to be an English Lit teacher so I could geek out every day on symbolism and metaphors. I got the English Lit degree but didn’t quite go into teaching yet I continued to write.
What is Camp Strange about for those who haven’t read it?
Camp Strange focuses on 12-year-old Ezekiel Raroso who has gone through his entire life feeling like a weirdo. Strange unexplainable things happen to him – like the time he went to blow his birthday candles out and ended up creating a massive fireball that set a space raptor mascot on fire. Aside from being a magnet for oddities, there is a bit of emptiness he experiences since his father has never been in his life and none of his family members are willing to speak about him He’s faced with the transition from elementary school to middle school, so his mom thinks it’s time to let him sprout his wings (literally) and attend summer camp. Once he gets on the bus to camp, he quickly realizes not is all as it seems when the bus goes flying off the side of a cliff and continues to fly. He meets a squad of diverse friends who help him cope and learn the truth about himself and his magical oddities. Feeling like these truths are strange, he dons the camp, Camp Strange. Camp is a wonderful experience until a beloved Pegasus and camper go missing, and the group of friends finds themselves with a mystery to solve.
What has been your inspiration for writing Camp Strange?
My tales of a wonderful flying boy who used the world around him to perform magical feats started as night time stories for my son, the real-life Ezekiel. “Ezie’s” diagnosis of autism has made it difficult for him to use expressive language, yet he always had a desire to have friends and be social. Unfortunately, his peers were not very accepting of him and he would often cry about his day at school. It broke my heart, but I would tell him stories where he would save the kids at the park from Darth Vader, tripled eyed monsters, and bullies not sharing play equipment. Every story would end with him flying off in the sunset victorious. I wanted to take his experiences, as well as some of my own when I was bullied, and create something in the spirit of classics like Goonies or Star Wars – a silly, yet serious adventure kids and adults could enjoy.
What was your favorite scene or part of Camp Strange to write?
What a tough decision! There are spoilers here: if I can only choose one, I would say my favorite scene to write was when Ezekiel realizes someone he has closely befriended is behind the “kidnappings” and evil uprising. The big reveal is connected to a magical toy called a Mimic that has the ability to transform itself into the last person to hold it and speak. It also mimics the last words spoken to it while being held. It was particularly fun to create something unique to this world knowing what I wanted to do with it when I was in the early phases of writing it. The intensity of the reveal and the confrontation peak of the scene made my heart race writing it! Who doesn’t love a major plot twist that makes your mouth drop and say, “No friggin’ way”?
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
Too many to list, but I knew I wanted to pursue Camp Strange as a published novel after my fifth re-read (in my lifetime) of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale (pre-Hulu show). It’s a raw, creative, and socially impactful novel. Grammar, style, and every rule is thrown out the window because of the sheer importance of what you are reading stays with you. I’ll never forget the ending as well. It makes you flip back the pages so you can make sure you didn’t miss a part of the big reveal. Many nuggets of personal social justice issues are woven throughout Camp Strange ranging from bullying, acceptance of diversity, ethics, empathy, and politics.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
Writing is easy, editing is hard. Marketing is even harder. Know that all three of these work together like a triamese monster (yes I made that up) you need to slay every day. Have a plan on all three so you are not surprised later down the road. I see a lot of great books and talent from authors every day, but they are not active on social networks, relying on purchased ads, and just kind of sitting around waiting for their book to get picked up or sold. Don’t wait, do. (That was so Yoda wasn’t it?) Be social. Blog so potential readers know your writing and want more.