The 2009 Atlanta Writers Club Youth Creative Writing Camp was a huge success. Over seventy attendees, ranging in age from 9 to 17, learned about character, plot, setting, editing and much more. The presenters were Marc Fitten, Lynda Fitzgerald, Hollis Gillespie, Annika Nielsen, Jack Riggs and Dr. Neil Shulman.
The first day opened with Lynda Fitzgerald (If Truth Be Told, Of Words and Music) who presented “Crawling Inside Your Characters’ Skin.” She touched upon ways to describe your characters as well as techniques that should not be used—“The mirror: the oldest (and most overused) trick in the book.” The attendees were given topics to write on throughout the presentation. By the time Ms. Fitzgerald concluded her presentation, the attendees were well on their way to creating strong, fleshed-out characters.
Ms. Fitzgerald was followed by the award-winning Hollis Gillespie (Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch, Confessions of a Recovering Slut, Trailer Trashed.)Hollis, a natural in front of any audience, encouraged the attendees to use their own life in their work. Many of the young writers shared humorous anecdotes from their lives, bringing the house down in laughter.
Jack Riggs (When the Finch Rises, The Fireman’s Wife) was the next presenter. Mr. Riggs discussed character, sharing how characters become real to the writer and how his own characters in his first novel made appearances in his dreams, asking when, “that man was going to come back and finish their story.” He then distributed a photo of a chair and asked the writers to create a story around it. The work was so strong and expressive, a category for the contest on the second day was created.
Best-selling author, Dr. Neil Shulman (Doc Hollywood, etc.) spoke to the attendees after Mr. Riggs. Dr. Shulman spoke about the importance of young people being heard in our culture and how storytelling can be their vehicle. He asked the attendees, “Why do we have war?” The responses were thought-provoking and intelligent.
For a short break, the attendees were invited to participate in an interactive spelling game that turned out to be a true adventure due to the high ceilings and acoustics in the building. The librarian who came barreling down the stairs was understanding after she realized there was no need to call SWAT—it was just seventy-plus kids stomping on balloons in order to get to the letters in each one so they could spell out the nine-letter words.
Marc Fitten (Valeria’s Last Stand, Editor of The Chattahoochee Review) closed the day with a casual Q & A where the attendees were free to ask any question having to do with writing—the questions showed the determination of many of the attendees when it comes to their writing and getting it published. A list of places that publish young people’s work was then distributed.
The second day opened with me introducing the experimental form of writing called Oulipo. The attendees were given writing restraints to use in their work: Writing a paragraph without using the letter E; Using the Snowball template—the first line of a poem starts with one letter, then each line adds one letter. The writers surprised themselves with the impressive work they produced.
Lynda Fitzgerald continued her presentation on character, giving the attendees a list of behaviors and characteristics all writers should know about the characters they create. They include physical attributes such as eye color, build, walk, as well as less concrete characteristics like goals, skills, biggest fears, greatest unmet desire, and virtues.
Jack Riggs returned with a geography presentation that included a photo of a stone fence—the attendees were instructed to write about the photo and were then invited to read their work on stage. The imaginations and strong writing abilities were quite impressive.
The presentations were brought to a close with fifteen-year-old Annika Nielsen, a 2008 attendee. Ms. Nielsen was asked to speak to her peers about her writing path (she’s on her fourth book) and why age should not hinder a young person who wants to write. The young, talented writer shared the things she’s learned—the importance of editing, how to receive and use critiques of your work. She did a quick Q&A then followed it with a reading of one of her short stories. The professionalism and ability that Ms. Nielsen showed in her presentation reinforces that age should never be an obstacle when following your dreams.
The camp ended with an open microphone where the writers shared their work with their peers, and an awards ceremony. Beautiful certificates, designed by the talented Emily Lupita Plum, gifts certificates donated by Eagle Eye Bookshop, and Ms. Fitzgerald’s novel, Of Words and Music, were given for Best Story, Best Poem, Character Development as well as many other categories.
My sincerest thank you goes out to all of the presenters. As writers, sharing our experiences and our knowledge allows us to stay connected and create a larger writing community. I would also like to thank The Atlanta Writers Club and Georgia Perimeter College—without them, the Youth Creative Writing Camp would not have been a possibility. A special thank you goes out to all of the volunteers who came both days and assisted in making the two-day camp a fun and secure environment for all of the attendees.
The Youth Creative Writing Camp is a labor of love for me. I knew when I was quite young that I wanted to be a writer, but not knowing any writers who could instruct me on craft as well as the world of publication, I spent a lot of time searching out a community that could help make the dream a reality. Writing camps that bring professional creative writers and new writers together offers an unparalleled opportunity for young people who may want to explore a writing path. I thank everyone who helped make this year a success. See you next year!