Heading Out to Shared Worlds: What Was the Best or Weirdest Summer Camp You Ever Went To?

(Me in the Chelsea Hotel, in the middle of a Hawk Alfredson painting slashed by a madman while it had been hanging on a wall. It’s a painting inspired by Ambergris, I believe.)

So, Ann and I are headed off to to teach at the Shared Worlds teen writing camp in South Carolina tomorrow, and although I may be blogging next week I thought I’d share a last link–the latest Sofanauts, recorded by Tony Smith and featuring Amy Sturgis, Damien Walter, and moi. (Thanks btw to Jeremy Tolbert for many kindnesses.)

While I’m in transit–what’s the best or strangest summer camp you ever went to? (Erm, nothing R-rated in yer language, please, and Bob L–consider yourself warned.)


  1. says

    Turbines to speed RE Shared Worlds, Jeff and Ann. Those lucky kids.

    My best summer camp? Sorry for the self-biggin’, but it’s curiously appropriate. When I was 16, I was a counselor at the Boy’s Club Day Camp in Gloomy, MA. Every lunch hour I told my guys a story, just winged it, boom, start to finish. The tales, of course, were dreadful—zombies, space opera, etc— but the kids loved it, and the camp director, god bless him, dubbed me Hans Christian Andersen. Oh yeah.

  2. says

    The weirdest summer camp that I ever went to was the one where I was a Councilor. How weird is this: send your 6-year old to sleep away camp FOR 8 STRAIGHT WEEKS? That’s right. 8-weeks. Only one parent visitation, right in the middle, and some poor kid’s ba&stard parents would forget to show up. It happened every year. Weirder still was the cost – more than my whole college education! AND that’s no lie. 8-weeks vs. 4 years.
    As a last note – have you heard of Alpha? It’s an upper teen “Summer Camp” for girls who write Sci-Fi. Author Diane Turnshek runs it. Ends with the kids going to Confluence. Check it out. http://alpha.spellcaster.org

  3. jeff vandermeer says

    heh. that is strange.

    shared worlds is a little different. one week actually building worlds, then writing in them.

  4. says

    [Bob L–consider yourself warned] oh that hurts… all my innuendos have been ‘tongue in cheek…’ surely?

    Anyway, can’t contribute much to this one as we Welsh don’t tend to have ‘summer camps’ (probably because the word – summer- is an anathema over here. Once someone mentions it the heavens open and we are deluged, like today for instance. I should be out hiking or sunbathing but it is bucketing down and I’m forced to try and add to my 45,500 collection of words in my burgeoning SF novel whilst watching 2001 on the telly. Oops, HAL is just starting to play up and has that nasty look in his eye. Don’t trust him Frank!

  5. says

    I only ever went to one – the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, now known as Idyllwild Arts. I did the six-week summer theater program there, three years in a row. Met one of my best friends there, too – he was musical theater, but I forgive him for it.

  6. says

    I never went to one, there are not that common in my country, but I would love to go I imagine it can be really fun, well probably depends a lot about who you go with

  7. hellbound heart says

    we don’t have summer camps in australia although we have sport and recreation camps that families can go to…..is it just me, or does the idea of sending your children off for 8 weeks or something and only seeing them once strike other people as a bit odd? or am i being overprotective and neurotic? probably

    peace and love….

  8. says

    Genre camps… hmmm. Just screams Himmler to me. But then again, I have a condition of the inner ear, so maybe I’m misunderstanding the sounds I hear. This does tie nicely into the All Against All, though. Does genre division in summer camps beget ghettoism amongst the developing writers? Or is it just too hard to get kiddies to attend Lit Camp? I wonder if, given the opportunity, I would have attended a General Fiction camp as a teen. I’m thinking probably no, but only due to the sort of ‘literature’ thrust upon me in public school.

  9. jeff vandermeer says

    That’s a great question/issue. That’s why the first week is devoted to working in teams to create their own worlds, backed by crash/refresher courses in history, politics, etc. Although they do general writing exercises, the emphasis is on a greater skill set that includes analysis, team building, and related things.

    In week two they write a story set in their world while getting more intensive creative writing instruction.

    The fantasy/SF bit is the core context perhaps, the entry point or delivery system, but what they learn is what they would in any creative writing course plus a lot of unique and proprietarial added value. At this age of course the feedback and revision is handled in different way since it is most important that they just also have time to write. Students from SW might then go on to Clarion when older or any university writing program.

    When I teach for adults, my methods do not change for mainstream versus genre contexts. In fact, I often make writers in an sf/f workshop context write stories without a speculative element. This is because many writers use a fantastical element as a crutch in place of better characterization or better logic/story. I.e., the fantastical element is imposed on the story to force conflict or resolution artificially because the writer doesn’t really know their story or character implications/effects/etc.

  10. says

    “In fact, I often make writers in an sf/f workshop context write stories without a speculative element. This is because many writers use a fantastical element as a crutch in place of better characterization or better logic/story. I.e., the fantastical element is imposed on the story to force conflict or resolution artificially because the writer doesn’t really know their story or character implications/effects/etc.”

    Fabulous. I’m glad you said this. Because, if there’s one thing I hate about genre stories, it’s the substitution of the standard good vs. evil battle for a real conflict.

  11. jeff vandermeer says

    erm, yeah but g vs e isn’t a fantastical element. it’s a classic albeit overused and simple plot device or character device that can be found anywhere in fiction.

  12. says

    This is true, but I can barely think of a dramatic, non-genre book I’ve read recently that had a ‘villain’ who actually represented evil. Compare that to genre (and not just sf/f, but horror and thriller a lot of the time, too) stories where it, many times, never even needs to be explained why the forces of evil exist, what motivates them, etc. It simply matters that they are there to give the protags something to hack to bits. In movies, the g v. e is across the board. I dunno; maybe I just haven’t read enough crappy novels.

  13. Juha T says

    My weirdest summer camp experience was at a camp in Maine I attended when I was about ten. The camp in general was pretty standard, but the riflery instructor was a real character. He had been a sniper in the Irish army, and in between instructing us on the use of .22 caliber rifles in the sand pit that served as the camp’s riflery range, he would regale us kids with stories of how he was ranked amongst the top snipers in the world, had fenced with razor sharp samurai swords, and had been Stephen King’s house guest—all these stories offered as casual asides to whatever conversation was going on around him at the time.

    Now, there was a competition at the end of camp in which the campers were divided into four teams and were sent out to find the counselors, who had hidden themselves around the camp grounds. All of the coun-selors were found except for the riflery instructor. He shows up well after the competition is over in the mid-dle of the end of camp barbeque in full camo gear—face paint and all—with a sly smile on his face. When he was asked where he had been hiding, he pointed out a girl in the crowd and said, “You remember that little hill you were standing on behind the archery range? That hill was me.” He had apparently buried himself in the woods early in the morning and stayed buried all day until he was sure the competition was over. Need-less to say, us ten-year-olds were impressed.

  14. says

    I went to a summer camp with my friend when we were both about thirteen. It was sponsored by her church, and my memory tells me it was exactly eleven days long, though I might be mistaken about that.

    The important part was that it was sponsored by what seemed to be an innocent generic Christian church. When we got up there, we learned that camp activities were largely based around conversion and indocrinating us in proper Christian behavior. Saving the souls of those who had not devoted their lives to Jesus was also on the agenda.

    The counselors had an intervention for my friend and I because we had brought tarot cards, which they informed us were the tools of the devil. By the end of the camp, they’d also convinced me that my D&D books were evil and must be burned, that SF/F in general and the Piers Anthony book I’d been reading in particular (it had a devil on the cover) would subvert my soul from the path to redemption. Also, we were forbidden from listening to the radio, only Christian Rock.

    Eleven days at camp, and they managed to brainwash me. When I got home, I was holier-than-thou and in constant fear of doing evil thoughts and deeds. I would have burned my D&D books if my brother hadn’t been part owner of them, and I even went to church (though it proved too difficult, as I had no transportation.) Because of my close, agnostic family, I finally recovered, but for a few months I was insufferably “Christian”.

    While at that camp, I got a scar on my hand from tripping as I ran up the hill back to our cabin. It was my first permanant scar, and even now, nearly twenty years later, it hasn’t gone away. I consider it a good reminder that no one, no matter how strong or independent she thinks she is, is immune to cultish indoctrination.

    True story.

  15. says

    I don’t remember any of the other details of the camp, such as what kind of camp it was (I assume it was church-related, but who knows? Not the indoctrinating kind though, I’d remember that) or what I might have done there, all I remember is a counselor reading Roald Dahl short stories to us before bed. I wonder if I’m the only kid who, when told to remember summer camp, thinks of naive vegetarians getting ground up in The Jungle-era meat processing factories instead of horse rides and summer crushes.

  16. Andrew says

    Best? Strangest? I’ve been to one. Interlochen Arts Camp for creative writing in 05. Where I was brainwashed to believe that fantasy was inferior and I should only write literary fiction. I recovered but only a year later.

  17. KarenRL says

    I went to a YMCA camp from age 10 to 12 in upstate NY called Frost Valley. Had fun, but it was a bit hippy-ish.
    When I was 14 I went for one year to a theater arts camp in PA called Ballibay. It was a poor man’s Stage-Door Manor. No sports, no color war, no swimming in their lake. Just theater and crafts. It would have suited me fine, but the campers there were the WORST, most AWFUL SPOILED, SNOTNOSE pricks & Tw&ts-in-training you ever met. They all thought they had talent, they didn’t. I have really bad bullying memories of that place–I think several people do.

    When I was 20 I was a counselor at Lakota in NY. I liked being a counselor and am still friends with people I was there with, even 10+ years later. As a counselor, I tried to control any bullying I witnessed, and sometimes succeeded.