Athena Scalzi

Woman’s Weekend at Camp Willson

Athena ScalziWhen I was a kid, I went to Camp Willson, a YMCA summer camp in Bellefontaine, Ohio. I went for nine years. The first time I went, I was seven, and the last time I went, I was sixteen, and I was a counselor in training that time around rather than a camper. I had meant to be a junior counselor the next year, and become one of the legendary ten year campers, but I never did it, because I was more interested in being a camper and having fun than actually having responsibility.

Camp Willson was one of the best things in my life. I’m so glad my parents sent me to camp (even if the first year or two I got homesick and kind of maybe cried a smidge). I have always remembered my camp days fondly, and part of me always wished I could go back. Well, little did I know what awaited me at their Woman’s Weekend!

Once the summer camp season is over, Camp Willson offers a couple different programs. Usually they partner with schools in the area for field trips and whatnot, but they also have weekend camps for kids like spring, fall, and winter camp (which I also used to go to), and then for adults they have Woman’s Weekend twice a year and Men’s Weekend, as well. And it was exactly what I had been hoping for: Summer camp for adults!

My mom and I signed up and went this past weekend to Camp Willson, where we had a blast. But, how do you make something like summer camp safe during a pandemic? I’m here to say, Camp Willson did a great job of being safe and sanitary, by giving each party (for example, my mom and I) our own cabin. Cabins normally sleep fourteen, so to have one or two people staying in a whole cabin by themselves was interesting, but definitely a necessary precaution. The cabins had attached bathrooms, as well, so there was no worry over germy communal bathrooms.

Also, everyone sat six feet apart at the campfire and at meals, and instead of their usual serve-yourself style, gloved and masked staff served the food. Not to mention there were only a dozen women including my mom and I, and we rarely interacted with each other outside of the socially distanced meals, so contact was certainly limited.

My mom and I arrived Friday night, but the only thing that really happened that evening was the welcoming campfire. Oh my gosh there was the most amazing cheeseball, it was like strawberries and cream cheese and it was bright pink, it was really good. Other than that there nothing worth noting for that night, so I’ll just skip straight to Saturday.

We woke up at seven and went to breakfast. All the meals were outdoors (probably also a safety precaution), and watching the sun rise over the horse pasture in the crisp morning air while eating a fan flippin’ tastic waffle was definitely the right way to start off our activity packed day (man, those waffles… something about them was so good, they had some kind of crispy sugar crust on the outside).

First up, we did archery. It was just my mom and I and one other woman, and we all stood about ten feet apart, and the staff wiped down our bows with sanitizer repeatedly. My mom did a great job! I didn’t shoot quite as well, but I think we all could’ve guessed my mom is kind of a bad ass.

We shot for about forty-five minutes before we went to our next activity, the Giant Swing. This is my personal favorite thing at Camp Willson, and something I haven’t done for roughly five years, since I was a CIT. My excitement was immense. The Giant Swing consists of three tall wooden poles, and you’re in a harness, then you get pulled to the top of one pole, about thirty-five feet in the air, and are dropped, and you swing in between the other two poles. It’s really hard to explain so I’ve provided a video of an attraction that is very similar:

This one is at an amusement park in Canada and is a LOT taller than the one at camp, but that’s basically the gist of it is you’re pulled to a high height and then dropped and swing around for a bit. It’s insanely fun and feels like flying, you feel totally weightless and free (maybe not exactly free because of the harness) and it’s exhilarating! Here’s my mom and me swingin’ away:

After the high ropes escapade, we had some lunch, and then hit the lake! My mom kayaked, and while I do really enjoy kayaking I decided to paddleboard instead, which made for a much more interesting (and carefully balanced) expedition. I didn’t fall off though, which actually surprised me, I did much better than I thought I would! It was super fun, and it’s a decently large lake. I didn’t get any pictures because I didn’t want to risk dropping my phone in the water, but it’s a very pretty lake with woods all around it.

Once we had paddled around a bit, we went horseback riding. Granted, it was only a trail ride, but it was nice to explore some of the paths through the woods and be in a saddle again; horseback riding is something I did more often in my youth that I miss a lot.

These activities I mentioned weren’t our only options, by the way, the camp had a lot more to offer! There was yoga, wine glass painting, making your own bath bombs, a climbing wall, canoeing (and normally they offer massages and facials but due to COVID this year they only had manicures and pedicures, but those have like a 25 dollar extra fee). My mom and I had planned to go to a Sip and Paint (mocktails, not cocktails), but I ended up falling asleep super early in the evening and sleeping until the next morning.

Sunday morning, it was pouring outside, so my mom and I just sat on the cabin porch and read our books and drank the coffee the staff had brought to our cabin. The rain stopped just in time for brunch, where we had a really good quiche and some seriously delicious scones. One was chocolate strawberry and one was pumpkin spice, so my mom and I each picked one and then split with each other, because how could you not try both?! After brunch, we packed up and headed out for the little over an hour drive back home.

It was a seriously fun weekend, and I’m so glad I was able to do these awesome activities with my mom. There’s no one I would’ve rather gone with, and I hope we get to go again soon. And I’m so happy that places like Camp Willson exist. It gave me amazing memories as a child that will last for the rest of my life; I never expected it could give me new fantastic memories as an adult, too.


Big Idea

The Big Idea: Paul Michael Anderson

Assassination isn’t always personal, sometimes it’s just business. And sometimes the people carrying out the business are from a different dimension and are dressed like nightmarish monsters. It’s all part of the gig in author Paul Michael Anderson’s newest sci-fi/horror novel, Standalone.


At the kick-off of what I’ve been calling The Standalone Promo Tour™ to my wife, writer Adam Cesare featured my new book on his Project: Black T-Shirt YouTube channel. Describing my slasher novella, he said, “Now, it’s being marketed as a horror book, it’s being marketed to horror people, but I would call this, without a doubt, a science fiction book.”

You know that meme where, in one frame, the stick figure holds up a finger as if to go, “hey, wait a minute,” but in the next frame, the finger wilts as the person reconsiders saying anything? That was me.  I couldn’t fault Adam for saying that about Standalone in a video where he gives a glowing recommendation for it. Adam, who’s written a slasher or two of his own (including the just-released Clown in the Cornfield from Harper Teen, which you should go pick up post-haste, and am I allowed to recommend someone else’s book while trying to sell my own? I hope so!), knows the genre, and Standalone…yeah, it has more than slight science-fiction undertones.  

See, Standalone is about a group of people who, once a month, jump from the Center of the Multiverse into various versions of Earth and, disguised as that location’s urban legend (think, like, Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th), kill preselected groups of people with the purpose of maintaining the energy balance of all existence. However, something is now stalking them and it’s up to the sole survivor to figure out a solution before the Multiverse winks out.  

So, yes, it’s not a straight forward horror story. It’s also not a stereotypical science fiction story, either.  It’s a weird blend.  

But, thinking it over, I’m not particularly surprised by this, for two reasons. One, I had to think of some way of making mass murderers both evil and convincingly empathetic, as well as doing the same with the people hunting the murderers, and the only way my head could think to do that was through using blue-collar guys jumping multiple-dimensions, like Sliders and Ghostbusters by way of Scream.  

And, two, my head worked the problem out that way because of Harlan Ellison and Jack Ketchum.  

I have on the top shelf of one of my book cases a memorial, for lack of a better term, to both writers, collecting their hardcovers and paperbacks in one place, separate from my otherwise anally-organized books (genre, then last name, then chronological, and, yes, it’s exhausting). These two writers shaped the kind of writer I eventually became more than any other—more than Stephen King or William Gibson or Shirley Jackson or Octavia Butler.  

Jack Ketchum, the writer of such novels as Off Season, The Girl Next Door, Red, and (with director Lucky McKee) The Secret Life of Souls, was known for writing brutal, heart-wrenching horror of unflinching violence but also unwavering pathos. His work hurt the mind and the heart. And I don’t need to, on this website, go over Harlan Ellison’s accolades, do I? The infamous grump was at the forefront of science fiction’s new wave and, even afterwards, remained, reluctantly, its squawking Jiminy Cricket. 

Both writers affected me deeply, shaping not just the way a story could be told, but the motivations of the people within that story, and how hard the emotional truth can be not just to get to, but to put into words. It’s not unkind to say that these writers were polar opposites of each other in terms of content, mode, and execution. Ketchum, predominately a novelist, could never have come up with something as fantastic as “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore” or “Shatterday”—but Ellison, who preferred to work in the short form, could never have written the heart-wrenching gray areas of Red or I’m Not Sam.

It’s in the middle of both writers and their respective oeuvre that I find myself more and more often, recently, none more so than with Standalone, which can be taken as something akin to a marriage between the two writers. I sometimes wish I was more out-and-out weird like, Harlan or Jeff VanderMeer or Kelly Link, or more hardboiled like Jack or Eddie Little or Jim Thompson, but the stories I tend to like to tell—and the stories that tend to resonate with readers—are those that shimmy between the two extremes.  It’s a tight-rope act, honestly. Will SF fans turn out for a horror story, and vice versa?  It’s cliché to say people should read widely, but the fact that we still have to tell others to do this lets you know how often people actually listen to that advice.

Standalone at the end of the day is about a single person who left behind their life and chose to commit extreme violence in a variety of realities, all in the hopes that it would somehow protect the people they left behind. Boiling away all the extra stuff—the multitude of genres, the punchy verbs I write to try and get your attention—Standalone is about that and nothing more.  

Hopefully, Harlan and Jack would’ve been happy with that. 


Standalone: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.



“Murder By Other Means” #1 on Audible’s “Top Audible Plus Listens” List

Well, this is a lovely way to start the week: Murder By Other Means, the sequel to The Dispatcher, has topped Audible’s new “Top Audible Plus Listens” chart, across all categories, not just science fiction and fantasy. This is the equivalent of topping the best seller chart, since the Audible Plus service includes access to the titles in the cost of the service itself, or, if you like, sort of the aural equivalent of being on Netflix’s “Most Watched” list. However you want to slice it, it’s pretty great.

Obviously, much of the credit here has to go to Zachary Quinto, who once again nails the narration, and to Audible for letting its subscribers know the story was there. And obviously to everyone who has been listening to it (including you, if you’re one of those folks). A little of that credit goes to me, too, however. Because I’m not gonna lie, I wrote a pretty good story this time around. I hope you’ll check it out if you haven’t already, either through Audible, or through the print/ebook edition that will come out from Subterranean Press in 2021.

In the meantime, I’m gonna enjoy being on the top of the heap. It’s a nice view! I’m happy Murder got there.

— JS

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