Thursday, January 27, 2022

Meet the Writers

Meet our grades 9-12 story writing Write the Hook contest winners: McKenna Marsh and Yash Bolishetti. It was rewarding to talk with them, hear about their writing process, and get their thoughts on the contest. Thanks McKenna and Yash!

Six Questions for McKenna Marsh ("Invitation of Affluence")

1. Did you enjoy the contest?

Yes, I've never entered a writing contest before. I liked sharing my writing. Everyone should do it - it was super fun.

2. What was your writing process and how did the story idea come to you?

I thought about ideas because of the contest. My ideas for the story came from thinking about people who go on an adventure, what would happen if mail got lost, and something special happening that changes your life. I wrote pieces of the story when I had free time and then edited.

3. How much of the story did you write? Did you finish? Are you still working on it?

I wrote more than the 1,000 word limit. I had to edit it down for the contest. I plan to continue working on it.

4. What do you think your story's ending will be?

I don't have an ending in mind. I will see where the story goes. It's mysterious.

5. If the contest is offered again next Fall, do you think you will enter? How did you learn about the contest?

Yes, I would. I liked the hook contest. I learned about the contest when I was visiting the library with my aunt. She found the flyer and suggested I enter.

6. What are you reading now and what is something you recently read that you liked?

I'm currently reading Amanda Gorman's book Call Us What We Carry. I recently read and liked, A Gentleman in Moscow. And I want to read We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart.

Six Questions for Yash Bolishetti ("Aaron Aarrowood and the Arena")

1. Did you enjoy the contest?

Yes, it was nice to get the story out there. I liked getting feedback about my story. It led me to make some changes in the writing.

2. What was your writing process and how did the story idea come to you?

The story I submitted to the contest is an opener to a book series I am writing. I wrote four or five drafts and lots of things changed through the process. I used a graphic organizer (or bubble map) to plan the book series. When I began writing the story my main idea was about a random kid exposed to a new world who becomes an artificially enhanced soldier for a company, but then he uses those enhancements for his own gain. I wanted a character with imperfections.

3. How much of the story did you write? Did you finish? Are you still working on it?

I finished the first book which is 214 pages, and the second book which is 196 pages. I am now writing the third book in the series which is 250 pages so far.

4. What do you think your story's ending will be?

At the end of the first book my main character is captured by Bognerians and put in a gladiatorial arena and then the story escalates from there - which I found surprising when I was writing it.

 5. If the contest is offered again next Fall, do you think you will enter?

Yes, definitely. I would write something new if it is a Write the Hook contest again. It would be great if the maximum word limit would allow a margin of, maybe, 50 words. It was difficult to edit my story to exactly 1,000 words.

6. What are you reading now and what is something you recently read that you liked?

I'm currently reading On Writing and Worldbuilding, by Timothy Hickson (Note: This book is now on order for the Library). The book is good at explaining what to avoid and gives examples from pop culture. I recently read American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. I thought this book would be too fancy, but the the main character is very relatable, a real person. I admire that and would like to do something similar in my stories.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Write the Hook Contest Results

Nineteen stories were submitted to the Write the Hook contest in December.  Ten were from middle school age writers and nine were from high school age writers. The results are in! Our three Write the Hook contest judges, Elizabeth Bellucci, Sarah Lauderdale, and Jane Wolff, each carefully read and re-read all of the stories, and finished scoring them this week. 

Here is the rubric the judges used to score the stories:

Write the Hook Winning Stories
First Place Story Entry Grades 6-8  
Evelyn Esdaile, (Miles River Middle School student) 
for "Another Survivor"
I sprinted down the sidewalk with only the street lights guiding me through the foggy night. My brown hair was plastered to my face from the rain and my green eyes were fixated on my car, only one block away. My heart was pounding, sweat dripped from my forehead. I turned to see if he, no not he, IT was still there. It was. I was only 10 meters away from my car now. The black duffel bag I had swung over my shoulder was weighing me down. I could hear its bare feet padding on the pavement behind me. I made one final sprint to my car and I was there. I yanked on the door, got in the driver's seat, and threw my duffel in the passenger seat. Keys, I thought. Cursing under my breath, I dug around my pockets. Nothing. What now? I had to deliver this bag to them. My thoughts were cut short by a loud knocking on the window. Nothing was there. I held my breath, trying to comprehend what was happening. Seconds later, I felt the car shake violently, and as quickly as it started, it had stopped. I was breathing heavily at this point. I thought I would die from fear right on the spot. Just then, a silhouette came speeding towards my car and jumped on the windshield, bending down to look at me. My keys dangled in its sharp claws. I couldn’t even think, I could only look. It stared into my eyes, and I finally saw what had been hunting me all this time. 10 feet tall, at least. Its milky white eyes were full of desire. It had no nose but a smile that took up its entire lower face. That was all it let me see of it before picking up my car, and throwing it miles through the air like it was a mere pebble. My head got dizzy, but I couldn't die. Not like this. I woke up from my state of shock and grabbed my walkie-talkie from the center console. My shaky hands could barely manage to pick it up.

“Please, if you're still there, help me!” I screeched. No response.
Looking out my window, I figured I only had 30 seconds before I died. 25. 20. 15. I was ready to accept my fate when something ripped off the top of my car, and a rope ladder dropped in. “CLIMB!” A woman's voice screamed. I had nothing to lose. Without thinking, I grabbed my bag and reached for the ladder. Above me was a helicopter, the loud propellers clouding my thoughts. My car dropped from under me, and I heard a crash. On the 3rd step up, I looked down to see my car in pieces and the thing looked up at me. With nothing but anger in its eyes. Only 10 more steps. It jumped on a street light and slowly crouched. 5 steps. I knew what was coming next. I clenched my jaw and ignored it. 2 steps. It lunged at me. I threw myself inside and slammed the door shut. Just as I did, it rammed into the side of the helicopter and plummeted to the street. My heart was beating against my chest, I felt nauseous, and tears slid down my cheeks. Looking up, I found six people staring at me. One of them smirked. She looked to be about 17, her black hair was in a messy ponytail, and her hazel eyes smiled at mine.
“Another survivor.”

Second Place Story Entry Grades 6-8  
Molly Degnan, (Miles River Middle School student) 
for "Moonshade"
I was standing in a corner of an alleyway with my hood up. My mask was on my face and I was dressed in all black. Just then, a man came up to me.
“Do you need help?” he asked.
I swiftly turned my head and looked him directly in the eye. I could see a glint of fear scurry across his eyes but he held strong. Everyone knows what the symbol on my mask meant and many cowered in fear once they saw it. The symbol was a circle with two lines creating an “x”, but in the middle of the circle, there was an eye. Little did everyone else know, but that eye was feminine and it was mine. The man stood there and just looked at me. Most of the time when someone was this close to me they had a death wish but this man stood his ground. Next, I pulled off my face mask and as I did, my hair came loose; it was brown but had golden streaks in it. I looked up at him to see the shock on his face.
“What?” I asked in a ? tone. “Not what you expected?” I looked at him and heard a loud bang from behind me. I watched as the life drained out of the man’s eyes. He crumbled to the floor revealing my best friend holding a gun from behind him. I walked over and high-fived her. Just then, I remembered the mission objective.
“We have to get going!” I exclaimed.
“I know, but we have to check him.” I rolled my eyes and knelt down. I looked through his pockets and found his wallet. I opened it up to find something that I definitely didn’t expect. I found out that it was not a wallet but inside was a badge, that said in big golden letters FBI.
“Shoot,” I groaned. I closed it and shoved it into my pocket. My dad had always taught me that if there is something that might distract the team from the mission, don’t share it. I caught up with Amiah and showed her the man’s credit card.
“Great job Viv,” she said. For as long as I can remember that is what she called me. Not by my real name, or anything else, but just Viv. For as long as I can remember, Amiah and I had a complicated relationship. Amiah was five years older than me, which made her think that she was the boss of me when really it was me who had more authority and could get her killed or kicked out…or both. Nonetheless, we became close after a few years.
I was walking down a dark alleyway behind her when I heard boots clap the pavement behind me. I put on my mask and put up my hair. I turned around to see…nothing.
“Hey, did you hear tha-,” but to my surprise, I saw her lying on the ground, unconscious. I knelt down just to see her body in perfect condition but her eyes lifeless. Just then I felt a sharp pain in my head and everything went black. 
First Place Story Entry Grades 9-12 
McKenna Marsh, (student at The Academy at Penguin Hall) 
for "Invitation of Affluence"
The invitations were sent out in November. The loneliest month, from which no one ever expects anything. But the glossy envelopes, stamped with wax and scrawled with fine script, arrived all the same. The mailman was questioned, he claimed he had never seen them. He was right. It seemed almost as if they had arrived on a gust of wind, landing gently in the finest mailboxes across Europe. And one landed in New York. We certainly cannot forget that one. Many hands touched the envelopes before arriving in the hands of their recipients. White gloved butlers and tired nannies received the mail and set them on glossy side tables, maids rearranged that mail to make room for silver tea pots and stacked tea cups. When their recipients arrived they sat on their velvet sofas, or in their oak paneled offices, and sliced the envelopes with monogrammed letter-openers. They thought nothing of the rich cream paper and glossy wax seals, like most of their status, they were numb to the pleasures of wealth, they had seen more than kings ever would. Madame Garnier of Paris called her butler over and asked him to dispose of the envelope before she had even touched it. “It’s probably another gala invite, and I’m so sick of dancing, wine, and speeches.” But her butler urged her to open it, and she consented, pulling a thick piece of embossed parchment from the envelope. A bored look crossed her face, but as she read the elegant calligraphy her eyes grew wide. “Timothee, look at this.” She handed the butler the invitation, and he read:

To Madame Esmee Garnier, 17 Allee Maria Callas,
Apartemante Troix, Paris, France.
You are invited to view a fantastical new play, like nothing seen before, at your own risk. December 31, at exactly at 11:50 pm, be on the steps of the Tolstoy Theatre, on Chambre Street in London, in your finest. Do not come if you do not wish to experience the most amazing performance in the world. Yes, the entire world. No R.S.V.P needed. Come if you are ready. But never if you’re not.

“It’s very… unique.” Timothee said. “Well - should I attend?” Madame Garnier asked. Timothee stuttered. This was the most conversation he’d ever had with Madame. She wanted his opinion? “Well, if it suits your desire Madame. It could make a wonderful story to tell at soirees, non?” she smiled. “Place this on my dresser, and mark the calendar. I need to find the most stunning dress in all of Paris.”

The envelope-senders (for that is the best way to describe them) executed their invitations perfectly. Except, for one thing. The envelope that was sent to New York did not arrive at the fine Carnegie Hill house it was supposed to. Instead it arrived in the rusted mailbox of a cramped studio apartment belonging to a waitress. How it got there, nobody knows. Maybe it was on purpose, maybe not. Regardless, this little mistake became a loose thread that threatened to unravel a worldwide web of lies and deceit. And when the highest class is threatened, the highest hell is summoned to the offender.

A rectangle of light pierced the darkness, then set off an equality piercing blast of alarm. Beep. beep. Beep-beep. Avery punched the off button, then chucked her phone across the room, where it landed with a thunk on the carpet, not before adding another dent to the growing collection on the wall. Avery groaned and forced herself out of bed. Ignoring the messy sheets, she stumbled into the bathroom and splashed icy-cold water onto her face, then flicked on the lights. The clock in the corner of her bedroom read 4:17 am. She had been doing this for three years, yet had never gotten used to the grueling morning routine. Outside, the garbage trucks began their daily tasks with soft beeps as they turned onto NYC’s side streets. Once Avery had scrubbed her teeth and face, she threw on her uniform, pulled her hair back, and started the coffee pot. Time for her morning existential crisis while her cup of Joe brewed. At 25 years old, while her friends were climbing corporate ladders, taking lavish vacations to Cancun, and moving in with their serious significant others, Avery was stuck in a tiny NYC 4th floor studio, working 15 hours a day at a restaurant on the corner, lonely, bored, and lost. She had graduated from N.Y.U’s journalism school summa cum laude, and had been on her way to join The New Yorker when her mother suddenly got horribly sick. She flew back home to Iowa to help care for her for a month, when one month turned into two, two to three, three to four, until the whole summer was gone. Avery had to reject the job and stay home, until one bleary winter’s day, when her mother died. After that it was a blurry string of events, until Avery landed as a wash-up, in front of her coffee pot this cold November day. She poured the coffee into a thermos and put on her worn black coat and red scarf, and set off. Her shoes made soft clicks on the sidewalk as she hurried down the street against the cold. She pulled her keys from her pocket and unlocked the door to Cafe 11, and flipped the Closed sign to Open. She pulled down the chairs, straightened the tables, filled the napkin holders, and turned on the radio and danced to Tiny Dancer as she swept. She did everything she always did, multitasking while she waited. For what, she was not sure. Most likely adventure or destiny or a handsome man to come riding into town on a horse and take her away to Europe, to see art and to dance and to live lavishly. Luckily, she didn't have to wait long. Her adventure was in the mailbox, ready to flip her entire life on it’s head.
Second Place Story Entry Grades 9-12 
Yash Bolishetti, (Pingree School student) 
for "Aaron Aarrowood and the Arena"
I hate bognerians. What’s a bognerian? They’re disgusting slug-like creatures with four arms sticking out from their sides and one big eye that bulges in the middle of their faces. And don’t try to call them “boogernerians”. I can tell you from experience, it doesn’t end well.
Why do I hate them? Well, excluding the fact that they look like a green, one-eyed, slug-bottomed Sid from Ice Age, they’re also violent, make massive warships and weapons, and they talk like they have somebody scratching their nails down their chalkboard of a larynx.
BANG! An ion blast shot from one of the cannons, careening towards my ship, The Dragonfly. I swerved to the left, the blast grazing the back right-wing and taking out the Nyx lasers I had installed after my last repair. I groaned.
Sir, I’m afraid we’re going to drop if they take out any more of that wing my onboard A.I., S.I.M.O.N, said through the intercom in his soothing, buttery voice. I had tried to make him sound like Morgan Freeman when I made him, and I think I did a pretty good job. S.I.M.O.N. stood for “Stupidly Intelligent Mechanism for Onboard Navigation”. Although, as he so often liked to tell me, S.I.M.O.N. does a lot more than navigate. However, I couldn’t think of a good acronym that would include everything.
I already figured out that he was right. Out of the six wings on the dragonfly, only three of them were suitable for flying. One of the wings on the left was practically completely torn off, and there were only a few strips of metal holding the other two wings together.
“Find the nearest planet for me to land on Si,” I said, hitting a few more buttons on the controls panel. Judging from the camera monitors built above the windshield, I figured that there were about twelve ships on me, each one the size of a house for a family of four. I knew all about those ships.
They were specifically built to blow up thieves, but I’m surprised they weren’t better at it. They were officially called Forkships because of the distinct, four-pronged piece at the front, but I’ve heard people call them a lot more colorful things. Their engines were built for speed, but that was for smaller ships, so most of the power produced was going into the blasters and keeping the ships from careening down through the vast cosmos.
Yeah, I said they were for chasing thieves. Yes, they’re chasing me. Put two and two together guys, come on, it’s not that hard. What were you expecting, some goody-two-shoes, noble hero who is beloved by everyone they meet? Sorry to disappoint you. This brings us to the subject of what I stole. Honestly, I don’t know why they’re so mad. All I stole were a couple (Okay, maybe more than a couple) of dusty old relics from one of their temples. It’s not like I took anything too important, like a spaceship or a weapon of mass destruction (Both of which I have stolen before). I wasn’t too worried if they caught me. Even if I did get caught, they would have to tear the ship apart piece by piece to find the artifacts, and once they got the idea to do that, I would have escaped and flown the ship off to another galaxy.
New Oberon is less than half a sectum away from here, Sir S.I.M.O.N. said. I let out a breath. A sectum is about five thousand miles, which may be a lot for you earthlings (God, I sound like someone from Star Trek), but The Dragonfly would be able to get there in two to three Earth minutes.
We need to lose them, first sir, S.I.M.O.N. said. I suggest the fracture light screen. It will cover-
“Twenty square miles, which is enough for me to dive into New Oberon undetected if I time it right, I know,” I said, thrashing the controls again. I watched on a monitor and smiled. One of the Bognerian ships zoomed in front of the others, but before it could blast me with a tracing missile, another ship crashed into it, and both the ships tumbled down into the depths of space. I would have been caught ten times over if the Bognerians weren’t this bad at working together.
“GROOFT” A roar came from behind me. I turned around. A dog-like creature the size of a lion with long legs, pointed ears, sharp black fur, and a short, triangular snout. It was my pet Houston. He’s a draduzaru, which are basically hunting dogs for outer space. They can camouflage, have heightened senses are incredibly quiet despite being the size of a small rhino, and have sharp spikes hidden in their fur, which makes them hard to play with.
I met Houston on a planet called Udom, one of the biggest black markets in this galaxy. Houston was being sold there by an abusive owner with the rest of his litter. He was the runt of the litter and was always pushed around by his siblings, so I bought him. I also bought his entire litter to save them from their owner and gave them new homes.
I scratched his ear and stared through the windshield at the upcoming planet. From this distance, New Oberon was a churning gray and blue vortex in the sky. I zoomed closer to it.
I would do it now, sir S.I.M.O.N. said.
“No,” I retorted “If I do it now, there’s still a chance that they’ll see where I go.”
The chance is small, and if you don’t do it before you break the atmosphere, there will be a seventy-three percent chance that and the ship will blow up once you reach the atmosphere!
“I’ll take those odds.” I roared. I rocketed forward.