Every summer for the past four years I've had the pleasure of heading to Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to help run the Shared Worlds SF/F teen writing camp, along with founder Jeremy L.C. Jones and summer camps director Timothy Schmitz. It's a unique experience that helps the next generation of creatives interested in imaginative fiction begin to hone their skills, meet like-minded students, and learn from a bevy of great writer guests. In the first week, the participants, who range in age from 13 to 17, split into groups and build their own science fictional or fantasy worlds. In the second week, they write stories set in their world.
In addition to Wofford faculty, classroom teachers, and teaching assistants, we bring in professional guests to lecture, lead writing exercises, and give readings. Our Amazon.com Visiting Writer was current World Fantasy Award finalist Nnedi Okorafor, and she was joined by gaming expert Will Hindmarch, World Fantasy Award winner Ekaterina Sedia, Hugo Award winner Ann VanderMeer, and PK Dick Award finalist Minister Faust. (This past year, Amazon.com provided a generous grant to Shared Worlds.)
As Sedia said after the camp, echoing a common sentiment, "I feel truly lucky to have met all of the students. Their talent and camaraderie were an inspiration, and I hope that regardless of where their lives take them, they will hang on to the friendships they've made and the worlds created."
Not only does each student get a general critique of their story from a professional writer and one-on-one consults, but the opportunity to create video presentations of their worlds and a detailed Wiki of their world. Major publishers like Pyr, Del Rey, Tor, Penguin, Bantam, Tachyon, Prime, and Small Beer contribute free books for the students.
Next year's camp will feature returning guests Will Hindmarch and Ann VanderMeer, along with an impressive array of bestselling, critically acclaimed new guests: Julianna Baggott, Tobias Buckell, Karin Lowachee, and Naomi Novik. Guests beyond 2012 will include Lev Grossman, Karen Lord, and Holly Black.
The forty-plus students this year, listed under the name of the world they created were: Hartseer: Lauren Bailey, Taylor Feld, Jasper Ferehawk, Tyler Hayes, Taylor Lewis, Shane Parr, Claire Pillsbury, Elizabeth Rabon, Isaac Rader, Anya Stoehr; Kalixis: Kelsey Fuson, Luke Hayes, London Hu, Aimee Hyndman, Jake Johnson, Catherine Lewanski, Elena Milin, Susan Nichols, Andy Scull, Tim Shultz, Jada Thomas; Raffaliraka: Erica Broderhausen, Joe Cain, Zach Clay, Kate Clayborne, Savannah Finver, Nathan Goldwag, Mary Lifsey, Donovan MacPherson, Eleanor McClellion, Grayson Mooney, Ebony Taylor; Ystal: Jeremy Bell, John Belmont, Hannah "Axie" Churchwell, Collin Drummond, Taylor Feld, Will Holcomb, Megan Jackson, Aidan Jared, Taylor Livingston, Emma Sainsbury, Maddie Sweeney, and Zoe Whitaker.
After the camp, the students also receive a book of some of their camp writings, this year with an amazing cover by Jeremy Zerfoss. One of the fun exercises we had them do was to re-imagine themselves as fantastical animals, calling to mind medieval bestiaries, and we then used these descriptions as their author notes in the back of the book. Here are a few samples of the students' limitless creativity"¦
Lauren Bailey: The Lauren is a rodent-like creature covered completely in thin, fluffed fur, giving it the appearance of a ruddy dandelion. It lives solitarily and is nomadic, being known to travel vast distances within the span of a single day. Because of its itinerant and curious nature, it will frequently wander into cities; however, it is skittish and particularly sensitive towards loud noises. It forages for its food, often seen scavenging leftovers other creatures have discarded, or digging through garbage cans.
Kate Clayborne: The Kat resembles a bluish purple cat with feathery wings. Peculiar hazel eyes shine against the contrast of unusually dark lashes, only capable of focusing on one task at a time. A lighthearted creature, it selects allies by play-fighting and not-so-gentle teasing; it tends to gravitate toward males, other strange animals, and anything dark or fierce. It dines on some fruits, foods high in sugar, and most meat--with an aversion to fish and steak. Though it dreams of soaring high and far, the Kat most often allows itself to be tethered to the Earth within a safe distance of comrades; however, when set free, the Kat flies as far and for as long as possible, truly stretching its wings prouder than any other creature.
Taylor Feld: The Lorf is a nocturnal animal resembling a horned owl that revels in mystery and curiosity. It coexists with other creatures well, but it will occasionally show its bossy, dominant size. The voice of the Lorf is unusually loud for a creature so small: no larger than a thumbnail.
Jasper Ferehawk: The Jasper is a wild animal, who dwells in the most wild and dangerous places imaginable. It lets itself get pushed around by the lesser beasts, but itself is a strong animal powerful in both strength and in mind. Its imagination is only rivaled by its ability to [irritate] everyone"¦but it makes up for it in its timid attitude. All in all, the Jasper is a strong beast who can be a great opponent when provoked, which is extremely rare.
Savannah Finver: The Finver is a rare breed of light-blue humming bird. Quiet, petite, and often timid, the Finver is easily overlooked, but is always friendly when approached. She is diligent in her work, highly attentive, and always dedicated to her cause.
Kelsey Fuson: The platypus experiment version 32--affectionately called 32 by its genetic engineers and visiting scientist friends--is a mostly loving and happy creature. It greatly enjoys being hugged and loves almost everyone it meets. Full of energy, 32 bounds around from one thing to the next, even when acting on little rest. Every once in a while, 32 will get in a bad mood and snap people's fingers off, but always feels bad afterwards and seems to ask forgiveness by attempting a hug.
Nathan Goldwag: The Nathedilgold is small creature the size of a house cat. It is half unicorn and half sun bear, though it also possesses wings and is capable of sustained flight. The Nathedilgold is quite shy, mainly due to that fact that the entire species is rather paranoid. However, if you can convince a Nathedilgold that you have no plans to eat it, dunk it in boiling water, or poison it, it will become a loyal and delightful companion.
Tyler Hayes: The Thayes is a tall slender semi-nocturnal hunter. It enjoys playing with its food, often batting it in the air from paw to paw for long periods of time. The Thayes sleeps in enclosed dark caves and has hearing that is less than that of a typical hunter.
Megan Jackson: The Meg is a dwarven giraffe with a sharp tongue that cuts others as often as it accidentally harms itself.
Mary Lifsey: Mizuo Juushi is a shapeshifting cat capable of sentient thought and elemental ability. Its persona and abilities are represented by its five forms: the raven for darkness and wind; the wolf for sorrow and earth; the dolphin for energy and water; the serpent for cleverness and fire; and its natural form, the cat, for strong emotions and spirit. The cat has a strong spiritual presence but little interest in normal cats and other beings incapable of sentient thought. Mizuo Juushi's name comes from its affinity for water and its fourteen claws in cat form (four each on the front paws, three each on the back paws).
Taylor Livingston: The Living Stone is a small, shrew-like creature, fitting comfortably in one's palm. Its face is dominated by large absorbing eyes, which are always at work. It moves slowly, and has a long, flitting tail for balance, for it is unsteady and clumsy on its feet. The Living Stone is usually indecisive, but, once set on a decision, it is stubborn and hard to dissuade. It is also shy, remaining silent around strangers if not already hidden away. Once it has made one its friend, though, it will chatter in gruff, drawl quips, and, if it sees a friend approaching, it barks ceaselessly until it has the person's attention, at which time it remains quiet until sufficient conversation is started.
Susan Nichols: The Doom is a slim, black and grey cat that can make itself turn invisible and tends to do so in overwhelming situations. Despite its name, the Doom often avoids confrontations, and prefers to just intimidate foes into backing down, or to turn invisible. In non-hostile situations, the Doom is mostly friendly. The Doom likes collecting knowledge and shiny, fantastical objects. The Doom is an omnivore who prefers certain fruits, and tries to sleep at least nine hours each night, but not always with success.
Claire Pillsbury: The Axie is a clumsy creature which speaks in verse but never rhymes and resembles a shark with flat teeth meant for chomping on fruits and vegetables. The top of its head can be removed, but the creature will shriek loud enough to be heard halfway around the world if someone is heartless enough to do so for it has such a deep love for the top of its head!
Isaac Rader: The Rader is a doglike creature with an immense appetite, both for desserts and entertainment not made by talentless hacks. It enjoys ripping apart horrible works of fiction, and perhaps creating its own fiction, particularly involving werewolves. Also, never mention the name of Gloria Tesch or the movie CSA Confederate States of America, or it will explode.
Ebony Taylor: The Taylor is a small brown dove, a rare specimen of the breed. It lives with three others atop a golden cross on a church steeple. It prefers flying alone, but enjoys pleasant company, and can always be found if one knows where to look.
Jada Thomas: With small kitten ears and a matching soft voice, this creature is known for its warming kindness and shy personality. It lives in the blazing heat and despises chilly winter nights. It is always seen creating something wonderful. This sweet creature is called a Shima. When you meet a Shima, you won't forget it.