The OF Blog: Shared Worlds program and fantastic cities

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Shared Worlds program and fantastic cities

Over the past couple of days, many people have been blogging about the upcoming second annual Shared Worlds program, hosted by Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Here is some of the information on this program for teens, which I would have loved to have been a part of when I was younger:

Shared Worlds asked Elizabeth Hand, Nalo Hopkinson, Ursula K. LeGuin, China Miéville, and Michael Moorcock: “What’s your pick for the top real-life fantasy or science fiction city?”

At Shared Worlds our students create fantasy and science fiction worlds to fuel their art and writing projects. But even the strangest made-up place can have some real-world spark, and some of the real world’s cities can be stranger than anything found in fantasy and science fiction.

With this in mind, we asked some of speculative fiction’s brightest minds to tell us their own picks for real-life fantastic cities, and you can read their answers here:

“Our own planet is often surreal, alien, and beautifully strange—and cities tend to focus our fascination with these qualities,” said Shared Worlds Assistant Director Jeff VanderMeer. “Sometimes the exoticness comes from finding the unexpected where we live, and sometimes it comes from visiting a place that’s foreign to us.”

Want to join the discussion? Help one of the most unique teen "think tanks" in the country by posting the above link on your site or blog and asking your readers what cities they would choose.

Shared Worlds is also proud to announce Tor Books, Wizards of the Coast LCC, and Realms of Fantasy magazine as major sponsors. Thanks to them for their enthusiasm and support.

More information about Shared Worlds:

Now in its second year, Shared Worlds is a two-week unique summer camp for teens ages 13 to 18, held at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. This year the camp runs from July 19 to August 2, with registration still open to the end of June. Creative and fun, Shared Worlds emphasizes writing fiction, game development, and creating art—all in a safe and structured environment with award-winning faculty. Participants in this “teen think tank” meet like-minded students and learn how to work together and be proactive on their own. The first week, the students form teams and create their own worlds; the second week, they create in them. Faculty for 2009 will include Holly Black, co-creator of the Spiderwick Chronicles, Hugo Nominee Tobias Buckell, White Wolf game developer Will Hindmarch, World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer, Weird Tales fiction editor Ann VanderMeer, and more.

Relevant links:

Main Shared Worlds page:

Registration page:

Video from last year's camp:


But as for the question posed at the beginning of this piece in regards to places that I would consider to be the most fantastical, I would like to point out to potential writers and others alike that sometimes the "most fantastical" can exist in the least-imagined places. There are three places, two of which are in my home state of Tennessee and all in the American South, that I believe exhibit qualities of the "fantastical."

The first place that comes to mind is not even a city, but rather the dilapidated remnants of a former iron-working village. Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee (where my father was born in raised) is located in northern Dickson County, about 40 miles west of Nashville, TN. It is a place full of ruins. Driving along Highway 48 from either Dickson or Clarksville, one will see kudzu overtopping barns with warped planks and gaping holes. Rust coats many beaten-metal roofs. Faded paint on shuttered stores advertises soft drinks and beers for extremely low prices.

It is a place where my dad spoke of his adventures on Dog Hill and its environs, where he once saw a man who had the talent of cleaning each nostril without pinching the other or using a handkerchief or finger. Where farmers would fart into an earthen jar and then play a sort of perverse Spin the Bottle. A place where the old foundry that made the cannonballs used in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 had recently shut its doors, while the tobacco farms were fading due to the aftershocks of the farm collapse of the 1920s. Today, whenever I think of Cumberland Furnace, I think of a place where its few remaining residents live in a sort of a time warp, a Southern version of a Twin Peaks that contains strangeness within its rotting self.

The second fantastical city that comes to mind is Nashville, TN. Music City USA. It is in many ways a more deceptive and more cruel version of New York or LA. So many dreams come here to die. Driving along (walking is rarely recommended in Nashville) Printer's Row, Lower Broadway, or 2nd and 4th Avenue areas, one can see all sorts of rhinestone fantasies exiting or entering the buildings there. Some will strike it rich and become a Nashville Star, while others will continue to dream their fantasies for a while. There are so many faces to Nashville, some that draw tourists in, while others are snagged like flies in its Venus Fly Trap of a reputation for string music. It is a city where being a native is almost an anomaly, where so many accents and languages are now heard, not many of them being truly "Southern," at least not how many elsewhere imagine "Southern."

The third fantastical place I've ever seen is actually a stretch between two towns in southern Georgia, Cordele and Tifton. Here one expects to find Flannery O'Connor's South to still be fighting for its soul and resisting its damnation. For nearly 40 miles along I-75 from just north of Cordele through the middle of Tifton, one is bombarded with billboard signs proclaiming the wonders of the Magnolia Plantation (itself a miniature plantation house visible from the interstate), where one can buy pecans!, or educational signs letting the passer-by know that Cordele is the Watermelon Capital of the World or that Tifton is a High-Speed Internet City that is also the Turf Grass Capital of the World as well as being the Reading Capital of the World!

Each is renowned for their friendliness, as noted by their "award-winning hotels." Many stores will sell that Georgian speciality, the boiled peanut. While neither town, as far as I know, offers the legendary Porn Motel that an anthropologist friend of mine told me about, doubtless there are other local attractions that are almost as seedy. Frog jigging is very popular in this area and the flat plains of red clay, when baked with the humid 100ºF heat, add a sense of delirieum for the travelers who might pass by them.

While I highly doubt any of these three would appear anywhere near the top 3 of most people's minds, I would note that if one wants to create a vivid, "living" fictional "world" or setting, then one might want to look around them and see the strange, lurid features that surround us each and every day. And hey, boiled peanuts certainly would count as "strange," right?

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