About This Summer at Shared Worlds SFF Writing Camp

In celebration of nine years in operation, our Shared Worlds teen science fiction and fantasy writing camp (Wofford College, South Carolina) featured several special guests, including Thomas Olde Heuvelt on his U.S. tour for the novel HEX. Olde Heuvelt met with the students to talk about the six-week tour, writing, and publishing, participated in a reading at Hub City Bookshop, and signed copies of HEX for all fifty-nine Shared Worlders. Tor graciously donated free copies of HEX for the students; they had a lot of fun posing with their copies, as you can tell. Olde Heuvelt visited Shared Worlds just as the students were finishing up their week two short stories.

Every year, we host thirteen- to seventeen-year-olds from all over the U.S. and the world. These students create their own unique worlds and then write stories in those worlds the second week. In 2016, they were assisted by classroom instructors and guest writers such as Olde Heuvelt, Tobias Buckell, Nnedi Okorafor, Julia Elliott, Terra Elan McVoy, Leah Thomas, and Nathan Ballingrud.

Tor.com’s own Ann VanderMeer serves as the editor-in-residence and I run the creative writing track as co-director. Alumni from the camp have gone on to publish novels, work for publishers, and, recently, as I found out during a trip to New York City, even intern for The Tonight Show. Many also come back to camp as teaching assistants.

Both camp founder Jeremy L.C. Jones and I have stressed the importance of an international element to SF and Fantasy over our nine years of operation. For that reason, as Jones told me, “It was great to have Thomas visit, and to have students this year from as far away as China and Finland. I really love how ‘shared worlds’ has come to mean so many different things to our camp.” In all, five countries and 20 states were represented at this year’s Shared Worlds.

Illustration by Jessie Watts, 2016 camp

Illustration by Jessie Watts, 2016 student

We try to have additional resources on hand for international students. For example, this year Shared Worlds was able to provide translations from the Finnish for one student who was fluent in English but preferred to write in her first language. Juha Tupasela and Leena Likitalo (now a Tor.com author herself!) were able to turn around translations of the writing exercise and longer story in under twenty-four hours so that her assigned guest writer could provide the same critique and one-on-one meeting as for the other students.

Olde Heuvelt hit on international themes in his presentation to the students, pointing out the extra layer of difficulty for writers wanting to “break in” but living overseas or writing in a language other than English. The extremely successful U.S. tour and the enthusiasm for HEX have been beyond Olde Heuvelt’s wildest expectations—including rave responses from both Stephen King and George R.R. Martin.

In addition to giving his impressions of the U.S.—and sharing misadventures like an attempt to jog across Orlando highways—Olde Heuvelt explained why he changed the setting of HEX to the Hudson Valley, giving the students valuable insight into world-building.

“Talking about my experiences with the Shared Worlds students was wonderful. It’s great to see the next generation is so creative and talented,” Olde Heuvelt said.

I really can’t believe we’ve done Shared Worlds for nine years, to be honest. There are so many moving parts and ways we work to make the experience a seamless and exciting, fun one for the students. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it in the world. It allows our students to be creative in so many different ways.

This year, the students also got to Skype with the creators of SyFy’s The Magicians and The Expanse, Lev Grossman and Daniel Abraham, respectively. Gaming expert Will Hindmarch runs the world-building track and many of the students also create illustrations for their worlds. The Amazon.com writer-in-residence was South Carolina’s own Julia Elliott, author of The Wilds. Amazon.com continues to provide a substantial grant to Shared Worlds that allows the camp to provide scholarships to needy students and bring in guest writers.

Next year, the camp will end with a ten-year reunion for alumni. Scheduled guest writers include Gwenda Bond, Kathe Koja, Ekaterina Sedia, and Tobias Buckell.


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