(Art by Jeremy Zerfoss)
Ann and I just finished our ninth year of teaching at and helping run the Shared Worlds teen SF/fantasy writing camp, based at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. You can get a sense for all of the amazing things the students got to do at this link, including bookstore readings, critiques from professional writers, building their own worlds, and much more.
But another activity we have the students do is create a flash fiction based around a “found object,” which is an actual “artifact” Ann and I pass out at the beginning of camp. The students are asked to transform what is often a very mundane object and repurpose it in the world they’re creating.
Something about having a physical thing in their hands that they have to write about helps make what they’re doing more real. These short fictions comprise the main part of the annual Shared Worlds student writing book (see cover above).
In keeping with the theme of transformation, we also have them write author bios where they reimagine themselves as fantastical creatures—to create a Shared Worlds bestiary with themselves as the subjects. This exercise is based on Max Brod creating a bestiary for Kafka’s writing group, in which he described Kafka as a “little seen, moon-blue mouse” with a taste for “bitter herbs.”
To give you a taste of just how great the students’ creativity was, I’ve posted this year’s bestiary entries below, from all 59 students (from 5 countries and 20 U.S. states). The entries include a little bit of everything—jokes about their own names (see: Kat or the Mamilton), references to the worlds they created, reveals of their personalities, creation of new personas, and creations that seem born whole from their imaginations. Since we try to protect the students’ privacy, I haven’t revealed their full names below.
(Apparently, there were already some fantastical creatures at Shared Worlds besides the students.)
–The Dalexro is an absolutely fantastic yet incredibly shy sea-blue hippogriff which eats copious amounts of meat, flesh and all. It is enormous but doesn’t use it to terrify others, it is incredibly gentle and kind and its sole purpose to comfort and give nourishment to others.
–The Zorinia is a bright yellow flower, resembling a miniature sun. Its only desire is to attract bees and befriend the gentle creature, but, unfortunately for the Zorinia, its petals are practically dripping with the deadliest poison of all: Sarcasm. Scientists are beside themselves trying to find a cure for its fatal toxin, while the Zorinia, blissfully ignorant of its predicament, blooms brighter with each passing day.
–The Furgao is a small wine-red, winged, weasel-like creature with bright golden eyes. It is a creature that lives in mostly solitude, with the exception of having one or two companions. It eats a variety of foods, but prefers sweet things. It enjoys hoarding random soft and shiny objects.
–The Emsie is a rare and quirky type of cat, skittish and wary of strangers and known to avoid groups of people. To find the Emsie approach alone and slowly – for best results, try offering sweets. This cat is known for its small amount of sleep, tendency to stare at nothing for hours, and creative means of self-entertainment. However, the Emsie is best known for its incredible loyalty to those who befriend it.
–The Lynnx is a creature almost always seen, but never heard, that practices a lifestyle of solitude and darkness in its secluded home. The Lynnx enjoys the taste of grasses and berries much more than that of flesh, and drinks only the iciest of waters. The Lynnx is an odd, two-legged being with a large nose, small paws, an untamable mane, and fur darker than the night sky.
–Mia is a narcissistic but lovable mouse. She likes to think she’s intimidating, but she’s harmless. She is a fiery red.
–Maleda is a spirit cat. Its fur is spotted, much like its relative, the snow leopard, which lives in the be-specked Himalayan cliffs. Its fur is draped with jewels like tears, and its cry sounds like laughter. When its cry and the sound of the wind sweeping the jewels mix, the resulting sound is a melody that draws thought and story and echoes them into the night, begging others to let its magic into their hearts. It is a friend to both dragonkind and ghostkind, and it will often feast with them on banquets of meats, finished with desserts of decadent chocolate.
–The Tortigra is a velvet turtle, richly purple in color, which finds itself inspired when the moon is out. Although shy, the Tortigra is an amiable creature who can be coaxed out of its shell with funny jokes and words of encouragement.
–The Tenebris habitator is a curious species, primarily dwelling in caves or similarly dark locations. As such, it is nearly blind, making it easily startled by sudden stimuli. Its hind legs are much larger than its front ones, but are positioned in such a way to discourage standing completely upright. It often scavenges for materials to make primitive cave paintings, and covers itself in moss and fungi to keep warm.
–The Aamu is an amethyst-hued owl, and prefers the night to sunshine. Reading and observing everything while gliding smoothly over its dominion. When in low spirits, it can only be appeased with music.
–The tan wolf is an odd creature. To someone who doesn’t know its ways, it may seem confused. It stays quiet and secluded at first, but once it is at ease it is loud and sociable. Its bark is unnervingly human, almost like a cackling man.
–The Chau is a plump starfish that busies itself in quiet tidal pools, but begins to glow when other fellows drift in. The sounds of crashing waves may be discordant noise to them, but are music to it.
–The Molarf loves music and tap dancing even though she is blind. She is tall and lanky with skin as gray as can be. Her hair flows to her knees and looks like a starry night sky- pitch black with solid white stars scattered across her long hair. She has been told that even though she is blind she can beautifully navigate a stage while doing a routine. She loves to listen to any type of music and even plays a few instruments herself.
–The fuzzy Kinchu resembles a parrot and its face looks older than it truly is. The Kinchu contemplates before decisions, sometimes to the point of hesitation, and loves words in general.
–A brown-feathered creature with large eyes, which somewhat resembles a cat. The animal is known to make long annual migrations, but otherwise prefers to remain stationary. Its behavior is generally non-aggressive, responding passively to those who take notice of it, and it can often be found at home in its nest, resting or carefully watching the skies.
–The Kate is a small, bear-like creature with bright eyes and a forked tongue. It has shimmery golden fur and wings of amber, which wrap it in a warm cocoon to protect from frigid temperatures. Its primary source of nutrition is wheat, and it only leaves its den to search for food.
–The Etchells arrives in the summer from a foreign land as part of its migration every year. Living on an odd diet, its social habits change depending on its mood.
–The Alessandra is a nocturnal, cave-dwelling creature that only leaves its cave when forced to. It has weak eyes, pale skin, and no muscle. WARNING: If spotted, do not approach the Alessandra, it will talk your ear off with Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and other fandom references. The Alessandra can be lured out of its cave with books, food, or fandom merchandise, but it is not recommended to disturb the beast.
–The Garcia is a rare type of raccoon, distinguished by its midnight blue fur color. It relies on its intelligence to solve its problems, however, if pushed too hard, it will begin to fight back. Its main interest is its family, and it pursues to complete the task at hand, mainly eating a diet of fruits, insects, and crayfish. It’s very precise in keeping order to its den, and though it can be distracted at some points, it will always make up for lost time.
–A small, fuzzy, blind, little animal with the heart of a lion feeding on the vegetation around him.
–A mouse with fur in #AEB6EC.
–The Elenfare is a curious creature. Always joining herds, packs, and murders alike, though never being in one of its own. It rarely remains still or quiet, always having sporadic yelps and hollers for no particular reason.
–A Kroef is a lion-like animal that has two spiraling horns that come out of its head. The horns give the Kroef the power to tell when someone is lying. They can change size on command. Kroefs are a lilac color with patches of silver. Large feathered white wings adorn their back, allowing them to go where they want. Kroefs love to travel and explore new places. They eat a fruit called Ginju that gives them the power to spit poison. They are fiercely loyal and will protect their companions until death. Kroefs live in the mountains and can see in the dark. If aggravated they can be a danger, but they will be most dangerous if you attack their companions.
–Shifting Dune Man wanders sandy places in the night as a glinting mass trailing behind the vague impression of a human form, all wrought in nebulous particulate. In the pursuit of perfection, it often finds itself poring over its components, searching for those it finds repellent and strives to purge them from the cloud that constitutes its being. In the meantime, though, it likes to manipulate its body mass into puppet shows for the enjoyment of those around it.
–Maya is definitely a human. No question there, right? Ignore the whiskers and the tendency to sleep at any given opportunity. All accusations of being a domestic cat are completely false, despite the pointed mobile ears tipped with fluff. Maya the human enjoys eating sushi, listening to electronic music containing far too synthesizer, and tries her best to avoid doing undignified things while other people are watching. Cats don’t like these things, do they? They do? What are you talking about? Well, I don’t care. They make Maya go to school and do math, and cats don’t have to do that!
–A brilliant creature, but deathly afraid of morning light and water, the skittish Ashdrake is an obsidian-dark dragon with an insatiable sweet tooth. It should not be provoked under any circumstances, for it is terribly sleep-deprived and agitated easily.
–The Kalmur is a nocturnal and night-blue cat like creature with shaggy hair and human eyes that is native to Washington D.C. and the surrounding area, but has since migrated to Indiana, New Hampshire, and the Carolinas. It is an omnivore and is sometimes seen sleeping with house cats or wandering around bookstores or libraries. It is lazy and will often wait until the last possible opportunities to do things. However, it usually does what it has to do well.
–The spindly, wide-eyed, feathery Malu, at first glance, appears to be a rather dull creature. However, upon closer examination it has been found that the Malu hides a layer of soft colorful feathers within its dull outer ones. Its eyes are said to spark wonder and a sense of adventure into all those who get close enough to it to gaze into them. The feathery, wide-eyed, spindly Malu, is an unpredictable creature and thrives when given the chance to.
–The Pearl is a loud Great Dane that can often be seen lying alone with a book across its paws. It is a joyful and bright creature, known to not be the first to run and play, but rather to eat and bark with its playmates. The creature can be seen cradling a pencil between its nails, but is always ready to have more adventures and fun with its friends and family.
–The elusive Suri is a strange beast. It spends most of its time in its lair, coming out only to feed, preferably on something with a fair amount of sugar. The Suri is nocturnal and can become quite violent during the day, particularly in the morning.
–The Brettiteli is a large bird located in the mountains. It’s usually solitary, and drawn to bright and creative objects. People believe that the Brettiteli is sentient, and able to understand human emotion.
–A furry, flying, fanged creature with six eyes is no animal to mess with… Just kidding! The Kalihila is a sweet, loving, and adventurous pet. She loves to eat, because of the mouth on each wing, and, yes, she does have a mouth on her face too. She also has a hound dog nose to sniff out her prey and enormous ears to listen out for it. To catch small insects, which is the Kalihila’s main diet, she springs up with the strength of her tail; it has a bulb shape on the end to keep her balance. She may be a little crazy at times, but she will always stay by your side!
–The average Lee is a reptilian creature of small stature. With an innate need for height, it balances precariously on wooden slabs strapped to its feet. Its four eyes have been described as uncomfortably large, making it seem almost unhinged. When excited, there are known to defenestrate.
–Dressed in widow clothing the Noa marches on endlessly filling in the morbid questions in her mind with more cynical answers as she copes with the reality that is the messed up society of humanity.
–Everyone knew about the Iolanda; this creature tends to roam around after everyone is deep in their slumber. The Iolanda is an irregular and misshaped monster that is covered with slimy skin with patches of black fur on top of that. If someone spots this creature around at night, the Iolanda rolls up in a ball and uses its bad smell to run away any wandering humans. The Iolanda lives in the ocean and eats mostly fish and jellyfish.
–The Mamilton tends to reside in a cave for most of the hours of the day. It requires much sleep, but rarely gets enough. It’s a quiet, nocturnal creature that will only become aggressive if disturbed. Its diet mainly consists of cocoa and nuts. One can identify it by the dark curly hair that covers its large body.
–The AlyKat is a golden retriever that can often be found with its nose in a flower. It mostly eats flowers although it is morally conflicted about this because it really likes flowers. It originated on the world of Serenitus, but has since spread to Suevat Prime, Rigma, and Stryd, and is expected to spread to other worlds in the future. As time passes, it continues to evolve in unexpected ways
–The Perspikaz is a tall, slender beast that often makes a fool out of itself and offends others if only to provoke the laughter of another creature. It is remarkably insightful, for it is born with poor eyesight yet is able to see through walls and tell exactly how a creature is feeling based solely on its body language. The Perspikaz sometimes moves and acts in a very serious and professional manner, and when it is not it relaxes completely and seems to forget what seriousness is. The Perspikaz is an intelligent and passionate creature, yet its positive attributes can sometimes be overshadowed by its love to make an impression, no matter the cost.
–The Riwolf is a miniature wolf that spends most of its time tucked away in caves for no one to see. Once she becomes brave enough to venture into the unknown and meet other creatures, she is not the shy wolf most beings think she is. As soon as the Riwolf is out and about, she forms a bond with the creatures she sees as friends. Although she is a short and quiet creature, she can be fearsome and loud when something disrupts her territory. She does not like speaking in front of crowds, for she becomes completely still; but she works well with small groups.
–In the great depths of an otherwise uninhabited cave, a salamander, known as Jack, glides about the pond, being sad and alone in the dark. Those who walk by the edge of the cave report poor singing and mediocre ukulele playing.
–The creature known as the Rame, despite its love for the outdoors, can almost indefinitely be found inside, due to its irrational fear of confrontation with the human species. It has an unreasonable obsession with foreign places, primarily Japan, and you can perfectly derive an accurate summary of the being from its name.
–The Anna is a furry creature that is small enough to sit on your shoulders – though it wouldn´t do that since it scares everyone and everything that moves. That´s why it thrives in abandoned places such behind library´s furthest shelf or in shade of trees. Overall, this shy beast is very harmless if you keep distance to it; if you come too close, it might say things you better not to hear. Otherwise it really don´t want to hurt anyone – it´s even a vegetarian. It is most creative when it´s rainy, twilight and cool, then it may want to leave small traces of itself in drawings. This way it gets enough attention to its taste.
–The Spillihp, a cat-sized spider covered in forest green fur lives in the forest-covered mountains. It sleeps during the midday in a cave, and goes into hibernation during the summer. Its long legs help it hike through the forest.
–The Chur Mav is a tiny dark purple mammal that represents a bunny, with very small rounded ears and feathered wings. It is very quiet and enjoys being included in things even if it doesn’t talk. However, when the Chur Mav has something it needs to say and wants people to hear it, they will roar to get attention.
–The Robin is a peculiar blue nocturnal bird. It collects bits of shiny metal, twisting them around the nest, and has an incredibly loud squawk. Robins tend to live lower to the ground, as to better hunt the little amount of food it needs to eat to survive. They will collaborate, but are primarily solitary birds.
–The Kgeal is a complex creature with many likings and dislikes. For one, the Kgeal is a small creature with short, soft, and fluffy strawberry blonde hairs all over its long (but still small) body and it sheds a lot. Kgeals stop growing after roughly around 12 years and are known to always been born with terrible eyesight (nearsightedness that basically makes them blind) despite their large, and, typically blue-gray in color, eyes. Kgeals are also known to enjoy quiet and very solitary lives in dark and humble habitats, the dark not helping with their eyesight but a nice and helping factor in the fact that they are nocturnal. Kgeals, however, will faint (like those goats) in instances of being scared from behind, loud noises happening in their ear, being caught in thunderstorms, running out of reading material, or running out of food to eat (although it will die a harsh death if given Brussel sprouts to eat and with prolonged exposure to sunlight and nature in general).
–The Amati is a small, fluffy mouse with observing hazel eyes. It lives primarily in dark places and will come out only if it smells food. The Amati, though usually docile, has a terrible temper and will screech viciously if provoked.
–The Blischat is a strange, dog-like creature that keeps to herself for the most part. She has a fluffy tail, large ears, and tiny wings that should be impossible to fly with, but somehow she manages. When approached, she will talk in a series of excited yips, but prefers the company of solitary nature. She is rumored to have an enchanting singing voice, but only does so when she believes she is alone.
–The Kat is a Kat and that is that.
–The Grey Lukamusis is a gentle giant. With a towering form and blue eyes it prefers to relax and go with the flow. Somewhat slow at times but quick enough to learn and very creative, the Grey Lukamusis prefers to take the simple solution over the complex one.
–G is a large hairy creature with piercing red eyes. Under its outer skin hair are sharp spikes that are used if anyone gets too close. It is able to retract them when it feels safe, however it is not completely trustworthy with others because it always has its razor sharp teeth and claws.
–The Einsling is a small, intelligent bird with bright red and orange feathers. It enjoys flying at great altitudes and eating a variety of bugs and berries.
–The Acritui Oculi – or the Evening Specter as it is often termed – appears as an ephemeral being, primarily translucent, though seemingly with a capacity to alter its own pigmentation. While encounters with this creature are frankly somewhat rare, it is thought to have a vaguely humanoid form with some reportedly observing the Oculi surrounded by a dark cloak of sorts. It typically resides in relatively warm, humid environs, though it has demonstrated a surprising level of adaption to far colder climes. Oculi also are prone to remain unresponsive to stimuli for extended periods of time with some remarking that this suggests that the creature is perhaps “lost” in thought, though the validity of this theory is currently unknown.
–The Mattie is a creature of many names and expressions. It does not like to go outside, and trying to coordinate meet-ups with other creatures stresses it out. Just let it choose some dessert to eat and nice music to listen to, and it won’t bother you at all.
–The TimmerRat, a quite large species of rodent, is a very strange animal for it collects bells and other metal objects to attach to its pelt. When the TimmerRat walks, it can be heard for miles around due to the overwhelming noise that the many ringing objects create. The TimmerRat is very fond of loud sounds, and often creates them herself.
–The black-coated wolf is a creature comfortable only in cold environments. It has a strict adherence to a very small pack, though it will often strike out on its own. It has an excellent memory but is frequently distracted. Above all, it prizes devotion to work.
–In the deepest reaches of the Mint of Legends lies the Evix. The Evix wields not a sword, as he is a pacifist. The Evix utilizes an armored shell to protect him from outside forces.
–The Wright is a dark purple and green shrew like creature with stars in its eyes. A nocturnal creature that purposely puts itself in dangerous positions and is still surprised when it gets scared.