Trouble is once again brewing at Camp Avalon in author Craig Battle's newest book Camp Average: Double Foul (Owlkids), the second in his Camp Average middle-grade series.
After last summer's baseball victory, Mack and his friends return to camp excited for a new season of fun. For camp director Winston, however, the focus is solely on how to win - and keep winning. With his creation of a new program only for high-tier athletes, the boys discover they have some new, unexpected company - a girl's team.
After finding out Winston has entered them in a highly-competitive basketball tournament, Mack leaves the program in pursuit of something with less pressure. But when all his chosen camp activities begin to mysteriously dry up, his intuition tells him something nefarious may be happening.
As Winston orchestrates a battle of the sexes in a misguided attempt at victory, Mack hatches a plan of his own, but it may come at the cost of both the boys' and girls' teams. Can Mack foil Winston's evil plot while keeping his friends and salvaging their summer?
Exploring the limits of competition as well as the value of cooperation and friendship, Camp Average: Double Foul is a funny and thoughtful middle-grade read.
We're thrilled to have Craig at Open Book today, where he talks about how his real-life experience as a camp counselor inspired the Camp Average series, balancing writing with life's other responsibilities, and how mapping out his books helps him avoid creative roadblocks.
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
My new book is called Camp Average: Double Foul. It’s the second in a middle-grade series loosely based on the summer I spent as a sleepaway sports camp counselor back when I was fresh out of university. At the time, the camp (not naming names) had a reputation for struggling in its games against other camps. But while the boys there kind of owned that reputation, the directors weren’t into it. They put a lot of effort that summer into a high-production-value video they could use to attract more serious athletic kids in the future.
Years later, when I was brainstorming ideas, I came back to that time. I wondered what it would have been like if the directors had wanted that change to happen immediately, and how the kids would have reacted. So that’s where the main conflict comes from — a group of strong kids fighting back against an overbearing, winning-obsessed camp director. The first book in the series focuses on a decades-old baseball tournament, and this latest book, Double Foul, centres around basketball.
Is there a message you hope kids might take away from reading your book?
To me, the book is about friendship — accepting, appreciating, supporting, and looking out for the people you care about. Even when the main character, Mack, messes up, it’s in an effort to protect his best camp friend, Andre. I hope that comes through when kids are reading the book.
What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?
As I was finishing Double Foul, I found out that a library in Leominster, Mass. (pronounced leh-min-ster not lee-oh-minster, a fact I learned the hard way) had added Camp Average to its boys’ book club. The thought of a group of kids gathering to discuss my work made the whole thing so much more real. It also raised my own expectations for the sequel - like, I’d really better not mess this up.
How do you cope with setbacks or tough points during the writing process? Do you have any strategies that are your go-to responses to difficult points in the process?
This is probably a cheat answer, but I try to head them off as much as possible. Before I sit down to write the book itself, I write a synopsis of the entire story and seek out feedback on it. Once I’m good with that, I put together a detailed chapter guide, which includes everything from general notes to snippets of dialogue that can be pasted into the eventual draft. That becomes the road map I need to get past whatever blocks I’m having.
What's your favourite part of the life cycle of a book? The inspiration, writing the first draft, revision, the editorial relationship, promotion and discussing the book, or something else altogether? What's the toughest part?
I love the editorial relationship. The first two books have been made leaps and bounds better by the creative, insightful work of my editors - Karen Li and Sarah Howden - and only possible thanks to the faith and encouragement of Karen Boersma, the publisher who greenlit the series. Prior to writing Camp Average, I had written short stories and comics, but had never tackled anything nearly as long as a novel, and there was a lot I needed to learn along the way. They were so good with that.
The toughest part is probably finding the time to work consistently. I work a full-time job in front of a computer and have a six-year-old son at home, so I spend a lot of time at cafés. I write mornings before work - sometimes just 30 minutes at a time, but it helps. I doubt I’m the only writer to experience this, but after I finish a writing session there’s a sense of relief, like I’ve pushed the button in Lost. As I get further and further away from that session, however, doubt and pressure begin to build, and I need to get back to writing to reassure myself I can do it at all.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on the third book in the series. This one brings ball hockey into the mix, inviting a bunch of new characters to Camp Average and sending one or two we’ve become really close with (no spoilers!) to another camp. I set the latter move up at the end of Double Foul, but when I did it, I didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. It was tricky to figure out in the outline process, but once I did, I thought it added a lot of new wrinkles that helped keep the series fresh. I hope readers agree.
Craig Battle has worked as a journalist, coach, and camp counselor. He is the former editor of OWL magazine, the former owner of a pretty solid jump shot, and the author of six books for middle-grade readers. Now an editor of stories big and small at Sportsnet.ca, Craig lives in Toronto with his wife and son.