Student writers from Oakdale High School keep chipping away at their work and recently finished the first act of a short story they’re working on for the Western Writers of America’s student novella publication.
OHS is one of only a handful of schools throughout the U.S. that have been given the opportunity to write a western-style short story to contribute to the anthology. Western author and Oakdale resident Dale “D.B.” Jackson brought the opportunity to creative writing teacher Chris Perez at OHS after seeing a student-produced children’s story created in Perez’ class.
Perez said that his students made adjustments to characters and the setting and have done some light editing and fine tuning to the storyline. The length of the story was originally slated to be about 2,400 words but the story kept growing and now it’s been okayed by the publishers to be extended to 5,000 words.
“Dale (Jackson) has been a great advocate for us… He kind of lobbied for us,” Perez said about the story length extension.
The students work on the novella project separate from regular classwork and the writing has to fit around their schedules. They work on the story on their own time and submit their writing online to Perez through his website.
Perez said that they are running close to the schedule for their deadlines and he hopes they’ll meet an ambitious goal to wrap up the second section, or act, this week. The final story and characters will be an amalgam of each student’s own characters and writing.
“It’s shaping up to be an exciting story of adventure, romance, mayhem, a little bit of death…” Perez reported. “It’s like cooking. You’ve just got to season it, but not too much.”
He said that the hard part is paring down the amount of the students’ work, figuring out what to keep and what to cut.
OHS junior Kassidy Aksland said that staying focused on the story helps her to get her writing done.
“I’ve never written anything western before,” she said. “It’s fun to adjust to different kinds of writing.”
Another student working on the project is senior Joshua Tanis. He’s participated in Civil War re-enactments and has done a lot of reading about the Civil War, developing a level of expertise. That knowledge translates well to the story, as a secondary character is a Civil War veteran and Texas Ranger. Tanis said that it was a natural progression for Confederate veterans to become Rangers.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people… I couldn’t have asked for better writers,” Perez said.
However, he admitted that with deadlines and not knowing what to expect from the students, the process is a little scary at times.
“You have to trust in what’s going to happen,” he said. “They give me these great things. As soon as I see it, it’s gold.”
Perez explained that the students are learning the collaborative process, and learning it with others who want to be there to participate, as it’s not for a grade.
“Everyone has different ideas… It makes it even better,” Tanis added. “Everyone has their own thing – styles, wording, talent, and it makes a better story.”
Perez noted that when the project ends, he knows a couple of the students will move on with their writing. He said that he wants this writing project to be meaningful to the students and help them feel validated as writers.
“What this project does, it legitimizes their work in a very public way,” Perez said. “…It’s not just ‘student work.’ There’s no grade in this. It’s real life.”
“This makes me feel like I have a place,” Aksland agreed. “My work is in something.”
Perez added that the project makes a bridge from class to the real world. He also hopes the creative writing class becomes a conduit for outside experience, kind of like ROP classes.
Their next deadline is December to turn in their complete draft but Perez would like the students’ work to be in and sent off to the publisher for the first edits before Thanksgiving. Sometime between December and February, they will get to reshape the story and work on revisions with suggestions from the editor.
The students kicked off the project by meeting over the summer to get a rough outline of the story and its characters. Jackson hosted a writing workshop at his home over the summer to help the students with focusing their storyline and developing their characters. He also recently met with Perez and the students again at school during lunch to provide more guidance and support in the process.