Known as "Strikewriters," winners of author Crystal Allen’s student story writing contest in Conway were recently treated to a unique opportunity – the chance to hear critiques of their work from a published writer.
Allen has written two books "The Laura Line" and "How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy."
Seventeen stories from Bob Courtway Middle School students were chosen out of a pool of more than 100 submitted during the school contest.
"Every writer has a personality in their writing, kind of like a little flavor, a little spice they like to put on their writing," she said to the BCMS students during their winners’ party. "I was in search of that and I found it. Each one of you all has a strength that may not be like anyone else."
BCMS invited Allen to come speak with students in the fall, where the author introduced middle schoolers to new writing techniques and her "Strikewriters" contest.
"I try to ignite students to write, to empty out feelings and be creative with any kind of story that they want to write," she said. "The response from Bob Courtway was overwhelming."
Corey Oliver, seventh-grade literacy teacher at BCMS, said the interest in writing he saw from students during the contest was the highest he has seen during his time teaching at the school.
During a party Jan. 14 for the winners at the school, Allen handed out manilla envelopes with printed copies of the students’ writing, each with a name printed on the outside and typed comments pointing to strengths each student had in their stories.
"Things that I knew were just mega pieces of awesome, I let you know," she said, adding that at times she had questions about characters, emotion and world-building techniques.
The stories ranged in topic from a spin on "The Hunger Games" to a school where staff turn into robots. Others discussed personal experiences and different approaches to previous tales.
During the author visit, the students were also treated to pizza and the opportunity to ask questions about where to go next in their writing.
Allen said the submitted stories were fantastic.
"To be able to put a face to a story made it just that much better for me," she said.
Allen said she is doing what she wishes someone had done for her to inspire her to become an author.
"When I was in school, we didn’t have any authors visiting us and I absolutely loved writing," she said. "Wasn’t much of a big reader but, oh my gosh, did I love to write and make up stories. But no one ever told me that I could."
"When I figured out that was something I could do, it was so much later in life and I felt so jipped by that. I thought, you know what, I’m not going to let that happen to the kids today."
Students, Allen said, need to hear the words of encouragement to delve further into the possibilities of writing.
The "Strikewriters" program began in 2012, though her travels to different schools began in 2011.
"I began to think that maybe this is a way to take away the fear of a blank page for students, if they could see a picture, they could relate to that," she said, taking her formula for educating on writing from a conference she attended.
Chiara Bunting, a sixth-grader at BCMS, wrote "Robert Chambliss’ Thoughts When He Was Convicted for Murder," which details elements of the Civil Rights Movement.
"I thought [Allen’s] comments were very motivational, and I’m definitely going to take them to heart," she said, adding that the pledge all "Strikewriters" took at the beginning of her visit was particularly inspiring.
Fifth-grader Ashlin Charlton, who wrote her "The Deathly Games" story with fifth-grader Brianna Elms, said the story describes a world of sacrifice similar to that of "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins.
"My story was definitely dystopian, she said. "We actually had two different stories that we combined into one story."
Charlton said she learned about not giving up with writing.
Elms learned that submitted writing can’t just be good, it has to be great.
Andre Walker, a seventh-grader, wrote "It’s Out There Alright!"
"It’s about this guy named Ken," he said. "He has like really weird hair and he goes to this town and he helps out another guy who is in a giant pickle."
Walker said he learned that he could have a really good future in writing.
"I will continue to write stories and draw pictures," he said.
Seventh-grader Jaylen Jones wrote "The Road to Something New" with fellow seventh-grader Kolton O’Neal.
"It’s about this 17-year-old named Richard Davis who is going through Great Depression times and he gets fired from his job in the beginning of the story," Jones said.
The story explains Davis’ journey to find work in another state.
Keeveun James, a sixth-grader, said his inspiration for writing "Zack the Weasel" came from "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."
"I originally wrote a different story called ‘Caroline the Catfish’ but I finished it, reread it and decided I had to trash the entire thing," he said. "It was no good. It was like bad pizza – couldn’t eat it."
From Allen’s visit, James said he hopes he can publish a book before he turns 15 years old.
"I’m going to make a series off of ‘Zack the Weasel’," he said.
Other writers who won in the contest are fifth-grader Tara Ray, who wrote "Because of Peridot"; fifth-grader Kristen Halvorson, "Poppy’s Problem"; sixth-grader Jennasis Whisenant, "Twin of the Party"; sixth-grader Lucia Redditt, "Don’t Panic"; seventh-grader Joe Woods, "The Evil School Robots"; Elizabeth George, "The Life She Thought She Had"; seventh grader Madison Blevins, "My Story – Aubrey"; seventh-grader Lorelai Bagwell, "Prologue"; sixth-grader Earl Alobuia, "How to Survive Being Last Born"; seventh-grader McKenzie Keathley, "Dreams Do Come True"; seventh-graders Annabelle LaBakis and Blevins, "Snow White: The Truth to the Tale"; and seventh-grader Rayleigh Rogers, "Write Your Life."
Full versions of the winning stories are available at crystalallenbooks.com/strikewriters.php.
(Staff writer Brandon Riddle can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 505-1215 or on Twitter @BrandonCRiddle. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to thecabin.net.)