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At Utah writing camp, teens will workshop stories with their favorite authors

Published June 27, 2017 3:54 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If Daniel Sigafus isn't devouring a book by Utah fantasy authors Brandon Mull or Brandon Sanderson, he's probably plotting a novel of his own.

Most of his story workshopping takes place outside on the trampoline with his 12-year-old sister, the family's other passionate reader and writer.

But next week, the Pleasant Grove teenager will be mentored by one of five professional young-adult authors —¬†Ally Condie, Brendan Reichs, Margaret Stohl, Ann Dee Ellis or even Brandon Mull — as part of the inaugural WriteOut summer camp.



Each author will work with a group of 20 young writers over the course of three days in Cedar City, providing hands-on editing, feedback and advice.

Sigafus doesn't know whom he'll be working with, but he's excited to learn how to "not just write words but craft them," he says.

"I've never been able to get beyond much more than a rough draft," he says. "I'm hoping that some of the advice given at camp will help me to progress."

Condie formed the nonprofit camp after recalling that when she was growing up in Cedar City, no famous author ever visited her school. If it weren't for the support of her parents and teachers, she says, she might never have realized that writing was a worthwhile hobby, let alone a potential career.

The best-selling author of the dystopian "Matched" trilogy hopes to convey that possibility to teens ages 13-18 — especially rural teenagers who might not have talked with many full-time writers.

"It's fun for kids to see that this is a real job, and they can be creative," Condie says. "It doesn't mean that they have to grow up to be authors, but if they want to express themselves, there's someone saying, 'We'd love to help you with that.' "

The inaugural event runs June 28-30 at Southern Utah University.

WriteOut attendees will also be able to explore SUU — going swimming, playing pickleball, attempting the climbing wall or writing independently in the computer labs. And trips are planned to Bryce Canyon National Park and to the Utah Shakespeare Festival for "As You Like It" and a special seminar.

"We're aiming high, but we want it to be one of the coolest experiences that they've had," Condie says.

'Anything is possible' • Of the 100 student spots at WriteOut, 20 were reserved for students like Sigafus who had the merit to attend the camp but needed financial help to do so.

Sigafus, the oldest of five siblings, traces his love of writing back to first grade, when he would fold and staple pieces of paper to create tiny picture books. He's drafting several fantasy novels now, drawn to "the idea that anything is possible."

One story involves a boy with wings, raised on a pirate ship, who is sent off on "some crazy quest" by his father. Another is set in southern Utah, so he hopes to "find better ways to describe it" as he takes in the redrock scenery around the camp.

Condie estimates that close to 50 teens applied for scholarships, submitting personal essays and providing references.

Shayla Baker, who lives in Delta, doesn't have a computer at home and does most of her writing on her phone. Last year, the 14-year-old posted one of her stories — about a girl who is a werewolf and becomes the Alpha of her clan — on Wattpad, an online community for sharing original writing and feedback.

She deleted the story after revisions became too much of a "hassle." She loves writing, she says, but "editing on your phone is really hard."

Her language-arts teacher mentioned the WriteOut camp to her this past spring. Baker, who'd read one of Condie's books, was excited — until she saw the cost and knew that her family wouldn't be able to afford the $250 tuition.

She applied for the scholarship and got in.

At the camp, Baker will be able to write on a computer and get critiques on her work from the author leading her group. She could polish an existing piece, but she thinks she'll instead start new stories while she's there.

Fantasy is her favorite kind of story to write, but more than anything, she likes creating characters. "You can make them from scratch, have them be or do whatever your imagination wants," Baker says.

She plans to take creative writing next year, when she'll be a freshman at Delta High School.

Seventeen-year-old Kaleb Walker, who writes horror and science fiction and considers Ray Bradbury a major influence, also will head to WriteOut with the help of a scholarship.

He traces his zeal for writing to a seventh-grade art class at Mount Ogden Junior High, he says, where teacher Chris Fasy let students develop their own innovations.

Walker started storyboarding a video game and became fascinated by the process of storytelling and how it differs across mediums — video games, books, movies, graphic novels and even news articles.

He studies YouTube videos on rhetoric, themes and literary devices. He serves on Ogden High School's "Literary Harvest" magazine, publishes horror stories on his website and is working on a dystopian novel called "If By Fire," which he publishes in installments.

"When I'm creating something cool and new, I pour all my energy into it," the Riverdale teen says.

He works part time at Arby's and plans to attend Weber State University and get an English degree. He thinks he'll end up teaching, probably high-school English.

But, he adds: "I definitely intend to continue writing for the rest of my life."

'A lot of hope' • Condie also became a teacher with the intention to write on the side. But she loved teaching so much that she almost never became an author.

As soon as she stopped teaching to stay home with her son, she says, she realized she wanted to write a book. And it was only then that she knew exactly what she wanted to write: young-adult books, for the age group she'd spent so much time with.

"I like being around teenagers," Condie says. "It's an interesting, exciting time. You can make a difference, but also they make a difference with you. There's just a lot of hope surrounding young people."

Gaining national acclaim has put her back in classrooms. In the past seven years she's visited dozens of schools across the country, discussing her books and the writing process with students and teachers.

But heading back to school herself — the Master of Fine Arts program at Vermont College — provided the final impetus for pushing forward with WriteOut. She felt invigorated by being surrounded by fellow creative writers, and it made her want to create the same experience for kids.

"It feels really awesome when you're all loving something and working together," Condie says.

As she got her nonprofit off the ground, her first middle-grade novel, "Summerlost," was published and nominated for an Edgar Award. She serves on the board of Yallwest, a huge annual book festival in California. She recently turned in a new book to her editor and was a mentor at another writing workshop in Minneapolis this month.

And on July 1, the day after the inaugural WriteOut ends, Condie will start planning next year's — at least she hopes so.

The group needs to secure a large sponsor to make a second year of the camp possible. This year, with countless hours of volunteer work from SUU staff, the Shakespeare Festival, the guest authors and Condie herself, it still barely broke even.

Each of her projects "could have an infinite amount of time put into it." But they all feed off one another, she says, making her more creative and helping her form powerful connections with other writers and young people.

"And I've never once come away from working with kids and wished I'd stayed home and written instead."

rpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @racheltachel

 

 

 

 

 

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