Publication. It’s the dream of many a writer.
Now, 10 local teens can count themselves as members of a very special club – traditionally published authors.
“Sisters of the Old West” is their collaborative western novella that was published in the 2013 Anthology of the Western Writers of America’s “Young Writers Project.”
Oakdale High School creative writing teacher Chris Perez led the project and distributed the recently received anthology books, as well as certificates and a congratulatory letter from WWA at OHS on June 22. Only four schools throughout the nation, with OHS representing California, plus schools in Texas and Nebraska, were given the chance to be published in the anthology.
The opportunity was presented to Perez by WWA member author and Oakdale resident Dale Jackson. Perez was the one person Jackson contacted, out of several, who showed true interest and commitment.
“It was a challenge and, really, a tremendous opportunity,” Perez said. “When Dale brought the project to me with publication as an end goal… That can’t happen without outside help. Schools don’t have the money to do these types of projects.”
Perez then extended the chance to be involved in the project to his students in the latter part of the 2011-2012 school year and a few of them took him up on it. The project was voluntary and did not have a grade attached to it. Jackson stated that they also researched California learning standards and that the project met quite a few of them.
The group began meeting in the summer of 2012, with Jackson hosting some writing workshops at his ranch. At that time the writers included recent OHS graduates, incoming seniors, juniors, and sophomores, and the youngest, Perez’ daughter Avalon, was going into eighth grade.
Perez said that the project was “nose to the grindstone and go.” He added that he knew his students were just as busy as he but he was excited at the opportunity for his students to be traditionally published.
“You don’t know how huge this is. Once you’re a published author, you’re a published author,” he said.
Those who were involved in the project are OHS students and alumni Kassidy Aksland, Maria Loza, Katie Schultz, Joshua Tanis, Amanda Munoz, Ariana “AJ” Moses, Fernando Cruz, James Eagleton, and Sierra Avvenire, and also Avalon Perez, who will be a freshman at Whitmore Charter High School.
Perez’ young writers agreed on their characters’ traits and general story outline and then went and wrote, submitting the various parts of their stories to Perez online. Then they worked together in trying to blend their works without any one dominating the storyline.
“You kind of pour yourself into those stories,” Perez said. “…Everything they sent was good. Each has their own unique voice. Each could’ve probably written their own story.”
He reported that there were some hiccups along the way, as writers feel strongly about their work, and filtering all of the students’ stories was challenging. Plus there was the task of making their work into one cohesive story.
“Writing a collaborative piece is very hard,” Jackson added. “It’s hard enough to take advice, let alone agree on concepts.”
When it came time to submit their story to the professional editor, Perez wanted it to be real for his students – just like it is for other published writers, with no special treatment because they’re kids. He said the students took the red lines and constructive criticism in stride because they could see how the edits and revision requests made the story better.
“If the kids hadn’t have had respect and trust in Chris, that process would’ve been difficult,” Jackson said.
Perez also said that WWA was very gracious and allowed them more room, doubling the word count for their short story.
“It gave us the luxury of being able to write a full story,” he noted.
Their short fiction work is about two orphaned sisters in the old west, one of them gravely ill, and a young cowboy who steps in to help the pair.
“It’s kind of crazy. It’s surreal. It doesn’t feel real yet,” said Kassidy Aksland of being published. “(The project) helped me build up a lot of confidence for writing. I’ve been working on a lot of stuff for writing. This has really helped me.”
Jackson told Perez, “I think you’ve discovered some authors.”
“We’ve got talent,” Perez acknowledged.
Jackson was authorized by WWA to design the anthology’s cover, work with the printer, and format its size and style.
“It was very important to me that this book honored the students,” he said. “…Their names inside, something they can hold, and then the teachers’ names on the back.”
All the previous issues of the anthology were done in a magazine-style format but Jackson decided this one needed to be an actual book.
“It’s very professional,” Perez said of the anthology.
Jackson also reported that this was the first year that WWA gave out certificates to the student authors.
“They were so impressed with everybody’s efforts and involvement,” he said.
He added that the teachers who participated and whose names that are listed on the back of the anthology are the unsung heroes of the project because of their dedication and guidance.
Perez said they hope to be able to work with WWA again but Jackson said if the opportunity doesn’t arise, there are some avenues that could be pursued for an anthology to be produced affordably with a few fundraising efforts.