Caroline Palmer on music, coming out and their new middle grade graphic novel, Camp Prodigy

"If I’d never planned to create a slice of life story, a coming out story would be even further from my comfort zone."

This post was written by Caroline Palmer, author and illustrator of Camp Prodigy.

Camp Prodigy is not a book I ever thought I’d create.

I’ve always been inclined toward genres like fantasy and sci-fi, bringing us out of our normal lives and into worlds that seem completely different, at least on the outside. Contemporary fiction and slice of life stories, especially, were never on my radar. But I knew they were popular, and after the first pitch I cast out into the publishing world fell through, a few editors expressed interest in seeing what I could do with contemporary fiction. So I figured I would give it a shot. I wanted to step a bit deeper into the genre I’d overlooked and find out if I could make it work for me.

At first, it was a bit rocky. Ideas didn’t come to me spontaneously, as they usually did, and I had to work to find the story I wanted to tell. How could I make it unique? How could I make it my own? There was really only one answer I could find to those questions: drawing inspiration from my own life.

If I’d never planned to create a slice of life story, a coming out story would be even further from my comfort zone. And yet, in some ways, it’s what I settled on. Camp Prodigystarted with two vague elements–a nonbinary main character and an orchestra. What it’s become is much bigger than that.

The year I spent creating this story was also a year I spent uncovering what it was about. This, I’ve found, is the appeal of contemporary fiction, at least for me. The process of finding meaning in the plot of Camp Prodigy seemed to parallel the process of coming to understand myself. No wonder I subconsciously avoided it, it’s a lot of work! Fulfilling, though.


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Camp Prodigy is more complex than I realized, originally. It has a lot of me in it, and a lot of things I’ve never personally experienced as well. Tate, the main character, struggles to talk about themself–and isn’t coming out the pinnacle of talking about yourself? But their competitive drive to be the best violist at camp is something I’ve only seen in others. The familiar awkwardness of being a quiet middle schooler manifests itself in many characters, but so does the joy of being included by those much more outgoing than you. These campers are weird, off-putting, kind, thoughtful, and stubborn, and I hope it’s clear that all of them were written with love.

The two initial elements–a nonbinary main character and an orchestra–remain imbedded in Camp Prodigy. But something else has arisen, a theme spawned from feelings so strong they bled into this story without me noticing at first. The importance of being kind and gracious to yourself, of having fun, and of relying on the people who care instead of trying to be a solo act.

If you were to ask me if this theme is particularly unique, I don’t know if I could say it is. But when I look back at how Camp Prodigy has turned out, I have no more worries about trying to make it ‘special’. I put my heart into this story, and despite the rough start, I’m perfectly satisfied with the results. I suppose I’ve found another appealing aspect of contemporary fiction–as ordinary as real life seemed to me, everyone has their own interesting story, unique by virtue of being wholly and completely theirs. It’s quite a fun genre after all!

Get your copy of Camp Prodigy by Caroline Palmer here.

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