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Shared Worlds: Zombies, Alien Babies, and Book Recommendations from Students

(Shared Worlds video from year one.)

Every year now for the past three years I've gone to Wofford College in South Carolina in the summer to help run Shared Worlds, a teen writing camp for students interested in science fiction and fantasy. The camp is fairly unique, in that the first week the students split off into groups of ten and build their own SF or fantasy world. This years' worlds were incredibly complex, including mind-blowing creations like living islands and space squid. During this time, they're also getting discussion of biology, politics, and other relevant subjects from Wofford faculty. In the second week, they write short stories in their worlds, which are then constructively critiqued by professional writers.

Throughout the process, guest writers come in to lead discussions, do readings, and talk to the students. This summer, guests included short story writer Nathan Ballingrud, Holly Black and Kathe Koja, with Michael Bishop, Marly Youmans, and Will Hindmarch conducting the critiques and making themselves available in the writing labs. Camp director Jeremy Jones and I provide content in the form of lectures, and also help the director of summer programs, Timothy Schmitz, keep things on track.RAs and TAs assist by giving the students structure and activities outside of class and writing time. Publishers like Wizards of the Coast provide scholarship money, while websites like SF Signal ran special MindMeld interviews to provide additional advice. Due to its unique approach, the camp has received coverage from the Guardian online, the Washington Post blog, and many others.

This summer we had almost 40 students, the most ever. They worked hard, had a lot of fun, and came out the other side invigorated and energized. The camp validates their love of fiction and of writing, and it allows them to concentrate on being creative for two weeks without any other distractions. We had 15 returning students, some of whom were coming back for a third year. We love that kind of loyalty, especially since it keeps us on our toes to keep fine-tuning and honing the program.

Harmony and megan
(Students Harmony Riley and Megan Jackson. Apparently, Megan thought the baby might be edible.)

This year, I had to leave after the first week, so I left a proxy: a green plastic alien baby who, as a kind of jump-start to my website many years ago, I sent to various writers and others around the world. This particular alien baby has been to the South Pole, to Thailand, to Finland, to Central Asia, and many other places---thus some of the photos in this post. The students really adopted the alien baby and took him (her?) to heart!

(Student Miranda Severance took several photos, including one of the baby's tanning session...)

In addition to the alien baby, zombies were a pet subject for some, including "zombie boy" Christopher Davis, a student whose obsession with zombies led Jones to write a series of posts, one interviewing contributors to the anthology The Best of All Flesh, another talking to writers generally about zombies, and a third discussing zombies in the context of guest writers Holly Black and Carrie Ryan.

(Why does Davis like zombies? “Because they never stop coming for you,” he said.  “And your life just gets harder and harder…”)

As you might expect, this group was composed of amazing readers---the kinds of readers that make the purported death of reading seem far, far away. They're conversant and comfortable with new technology, but often prefer to curl up with an old-fashioned hardcopy book. (Indeed, publishers like Tor, Pyr, First Second, Small Beer Press, Firebird, HarperCollins, and others donate books to Shared Worlds, which are ravenously devoured by the students.)

(Is the alien baby going somewhere, or about to play D&D? Only Miranda Severance knows.)
Under the guidance of Will Hindmarch, and using as the writing prompt "found objects" I gave them on the first day--everything from an old medal to arcane parts from a garage door remote control---the students created content for a chapbook of their writing that served as a nice keepsake.


Several students were kind enough to provide their reading recommendations for Omnivoracious:

Kate Clayborne: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley... and World War Z by Max Brooks

Caitlyn Cody - The Outside of a Horse by Ginny Rorby and Willow by Julia Hoban

Zak Frey: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Megan Jackson: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Cassandra Konz: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss andPeter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Jackie Gitlin: Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

Harmony Riley: Willow by Julia Hoban

Students3 Studentsinclass 
(Some of the students during initial orientation, and in class) 

Who were the 2010 Shared Worlders? Jayde Barton, John Belmont, Rachel Berry, Joe Cain, McKinley Churchwell, Kate Clayborne, Cait Cody, James Cookson, Christopher Davis, Jasper Ferehawk, Zak Frey, Kelsey Fuson, Jackie Gitlin, Killian Glenn, Nathan Goldwag, Tyler Hayes, Taylor Hocutt, Will Holcomb, London Hu, Aimee Hyndman, Megan Jackson, Jake Johnson, Cassandra Konz, Carmen Laughlin, Taylor Lewis, Taylor Livingston, Megan McKay, Grayson Mooney, John Muller, Shannon Owens, Claire Pilsbury, Monica Quiñones-Rivera, Isaac Rader, Harmony Riley, Allie Roose, Miranda Severance, Conner Smith, Laura Wagner, and Ryan Yappert. (For more about them, check out this blog post.)

This is the future of science fiction and fantasy. Clearly, it's in good hands.

Next year, the instructors will include Nnedi Okorafor, Ekaterina Sedia, Minister Faust, and Will Hindmarch, among others.


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That's all I read and still read more science fiction than anything! Great idea for anyone intersted in writing sci-fi!

Good simple tip..thanks for sharing it.

That's all I read and still read more science fiction than anything! Great idea for anyone intersted in writing sci-fi!

Great clips and post. It's so inspiring to see young minds soak things up and turn around and create their own worlds. I recently saw a great clip of 10-year-olds at book camp with Norton Juster, of Phantom Tollbooth fame. It is well worth watching.

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