ANNA — Seventh- and eighth-grade students from ten local schools descended on Anna Middle School on Saturday for “Just Write! A Celebration of Creative Writing.”
Brainchild of Nancy Stutsman and Missy Rivera, “Just Write!” was put together after the cancellation of Power of the Pen competitions for this school year. The teachers did not want students to miss out on the opportunity for a writing competition.
Participating schools included Anna, Coldwater, DeColores Montessori School in Greenville, Franklin Monroe, Fort Loramie, Houston, McKinney in Yellow Springs, Milton Union, Minster, and Tippecanoe. There were 110 young writers in attendance.
Stutsman, who teaches eighth-grade English at Anna, and Rivera, Anna librarian, designed the event to include one round of writing, breakout sessions, and a keynote speaker, as well as an awards presentation. Unlike a Power of the Pen competition that features three rounds of writing, the format of this day was more geared to learning about and honing creative writing skills.
Students could select three breakout sessions on such topics as Sensory Settings, Building Character One Word at a Time, Cultivating Imagery and Mood through Diction, Writing Natural-Sounding Dialogue, You Can’t Spell Poetry without Try, Writing Ghost Stories and Historical Fiction, Creating Memorable Characters, and Sight, Speech, and Sound: Words in Visual Storytelling. Facilitators for the 40-minute sessions came from all over the area.
The keynote speaker was Sara Raasch, well-known young adult writer with local ties. Raasch, who lives in Cincinnati with her husband Kelson and one-year old son Oliver, grew up in Sidney and graduated from Fairlawn High School. After obtaining a business degree from Wright State University, she moved to Salt Lake City on the urging of friends. There she met her husband and the couple relocated to Washington, D.C. and then to Cincinnati.
“I always wanted to write,” said Raasch. “I was particularly interested in fantasy fiction which is the genre of my books.” Raasch’s initial trilogy Snow Like Ashes, Ice Like Fire, and Frost Like Night landed on the New York Times Young Adult Bestseller List. Written in the spirit of The Hunger Games and other serial fantasy titles, the Snow Like Ashes trilogy was chosen for Amazon Top 100 Books and Huffington Post Best Book of 2014.
In her keynote address, Raasch challenged the students to create a fictional world, the first step in developing a story. Prompting the students with a series of questions, and taking their shouted-out answers, she built a fictional monarchy of 2000 people who live in forests and mountains, celebrate Cake Day, wear Duct-tape clothing, speak through sign language, and use sundials. She explained to the students that from this kind of framework, a writer could then begin connecting things to develop characters and tell a story.
“I attempted to push their brains which is the secret to getting started,” said Raasch. “The difficulty with fictional writing is taking the time to sit down and process how the story can develop. It takes patience to figure it out.”
Admitting that the heroine in Snow Like Ashes is patterned after the person she always wanted to be, Raasch said that young adult fantasy fiction has a universal theme of “conquering evil.” Despite the dangers and challenges she invents for her characters throughout her books, she does like happy endings.
Raasch is currently at work on a new teen pirate fantasy series. The first book – These Rebel Waves – will be released in August by HarperCollins.
For the competitive writing round, students were given the prompt “The Last ______” and had 45 minutes to develop their stories. Raasch presented the top award of the day – The Young Talent Award – to Amelia Campbell of Tippecanoe for her story “Only One Left.” First place honors went to Isa Ramos, also of Tippecanoe, for “The Tree Who Stood Alone.” Receiving the second place trophy was Grace Rador from Houston for “The Last Tear” and the third place winner was Trent Bezeau of Minster for “The Last Trial.”
After the awards presentation, Raasch autographed copies of her books and posed for photos with the students.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.