Steven Barnes, New York Times bestselling author
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Shared Worlds, a non-profit science fiction/fantasy teen writing summer camp hosted by Wofford College, has received a fourth consecutive supporting grant from Amazon.com and has named New York Times bestselling author Steven Barnes as its Amazon.com Writer in Residence for 2014.
A unique summer camp for rising eighth- through 12th-graders, Shared Worlds’ innovative approach organizes participants into small groups in which they imagine and design a world. They then write fiction set in the worlds they have created. The objectives are to write good fiction, develop the skills necessary to work well in a group, and to realize a student’s full creative potential – all in a safe and structured environment. This year’s program will be held from July 13 to 26, and registration is well under way.
Barnes’s visit to campus, funded by the Amazon.com grant, will include workshops, discussions with students, and a reading at a Spartanburg bookstore.
Barnes hasn’t always been an award-winning novelist, innovative teacher and screenwriter with multiple black belts, but after four decades in the business, he is a creative force to be reckoned with. He’s written fiction and non-fiction, novels and short stories, fantasy and science fiction, screenplays and teleplays, series and standalones, media tie-in and creator-owned fiction. He’s been a columnist for Black Belt Magazine and a writer for Baywatch. He’s written novels set in the Star Wars Expanded Universe and co-authored novels with his wife, Tananarive Due, and with the actor Blair Underwood.
Without question, Barnes has maintained a certain degree of versatility and creative risk-taking, even while the basics have remained the same.
“I usually start with an idea for a story, then ask myself what character would be the perfect person to experience this,” Barnes says. “‘For whom would this situation be their worst nightmare, and how could it turn into the best thing that ever happened?’ and vice versa. I go through cycles of research, experimentation with style, outlining, creating new text, polishing, reading aloud ... and every time, new factors are revealed in a constant process of self-surprise.”
Later, the surprises and revelations will translate into more richly developed characters and organically structured novels, he says. But that’s later on.
While drafting, Barnes says, “I'm following music in my head that I can't always quite hear, but can detect dissonant notes. The story emerges in a manner similar to developing a Polaroid picture, and I have to combat fear to keep the insecurity at bay in the midst of the process. It's not just a job – definitely an adventure.”
Barnes focuses on the writing process.
“Learn to love the process, not just the result,” he says. “Don't be one of those writers who wish elves would pound the keys for them. This is the life you chose: embrace it.”
His classes are interactive and engaging.
“My intent is to give every student the tools they need to understand creative process and set themselves up for the best chance of success,” Barnes says. “That means that I have to engage them as people, get them to look at their lives, their favorite fictions, and their prospective work all through the same lens. I have to engage them, challenge them, be prepared to move spontaneously in any direction things need to go.”
Barnes also will critique student manuscripts while at Shared Worlds. He says he focuses on “structure” when reading student manuscripts.
“Do I see the plot points clearly?” he says. “Do I see the character progressions clearly? Do the poetics of the language guide the emotions to a payoff, considering the first two factors? These three things – plot, character and poetics – must all interact to create the reading experience.”
A unique creative writing experience, Shared Worlds challenges students to collaborate, world-build and write a story under a tight deadline. A versatile, adventurous writer at the height of his career, who better to advise students than Steven Barnes?
“Writing is re-writing,” he says. “Get the first draft done, and learn to ignore the voices in your head that create writer's block. In collaboration, agree on the rules of engagement before you begin, including who is taking the lead. In world-building, your first obligation is to have a solid set of theories about how this world works. Not just the physics, geology and biology, but psychology and sociology. What are we, as human beings? What is the world we see? And where do you, as an artist, stand in this intersection of inner and outer realities? That is what you, as an artist, have to offer – an honest perspective, wrapped in entertainment.”
For more information or to register for Shared Worlds, go to www.wofford.edu/sharedworlds/.