This summer I taught at Wofford College’s teen writing camp Shared Worlds. The ambition of Shared Worlds, the creativity and brilliance of its students, and the camaraderie I felt with my fellow writers and teachers were all amazing. As part of my Amazon Writer in Residence gig, co-founder and Nebula winner Jeff Vandermeer asked me some questions about what inspired me as a teen and the importance of encouraging creativity in young people. Here’s an excerpt:
Can you tell us a little about who inspired you when you were a teen?
My dad, an avid reader and talented liar who looked like Jack Nicholson in his youth, infected me with the writing bug when I was about four, taking me upon his knee and reading the entire Chronicles of Narnia series. When I started writing poetry as a teen, he hyped my work and encouraged me to read gigantic classics like Crime and Punishment. His crumbling 1938 edition featured creepy woodblock prints that I remember examining as a child, including an image of Raskolnikov skulking behind a door, clutching an axe in his freakishly sinewy hand. When I got my first adolescent nose zit, my dad informed me that I probably carried the ancestral gene for a disease called “scabrunocatosis,” which involved a malfunctioning nose bone that never stopped growing, that would pop through my skin and eventually wreathe my head in a tangle of bone. Dad not only taught me how to make up dark, outlandish stories, but also encouraged a love for Russian lit that led to a Nabokov obsession in high school and college. On the other hand, my grandmother, the postmistress of Davis Station, SC, provided a steady supply of torrid pulp romances, which I pinched from her secret stash. Finally, in tenth grade, my high-school English teacher, a writer of YA history and fiction books, encouraged my lurid poetry, which gave me the confidence to apply to the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts summer program and also helped me score the Archibald Rutledge Scholarship (for poetry) in twelfth grade.