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The Next Literary Voices: Cara Hadden

It’s a classic story. A group of possessed marshmallows unleashes havoc on a small town in California. You’ve heard it before, right? Probably not. This type of atypical idea can only come from an inventive mind with a Roald Dahl sense of humor.

This story of marshmallow mayhem came from a mind in Virginia’s Spotsylvania County, just outside of Fredericksburg. This brave mind isn’t afraid to invent strange stories about sugary snacks. In a world where book readership is shrinking, it’s the kind of mind that just might be the future of books. It’s the mind of Cara Hadden.

“The worst kind of failure is to not try at all,” Cara explains when talking about writing and the fear criticism.

This sounds like an old proverb from a tattered library book or a piece of advice a grandparent might rattle off over dinner. It’s a thought of a person who has experienced life and its fickle fate.

But Cara’s not a grandparent or even an adult. She’s a 15-year-old freshman at Chancellor High School, and she understands failure and loss in a way most teens do not. I certainly wasn’t spouting Confucius-like quotes in high school. Like many, in my teens, my problems were more of the self-created melodrama variety.

This was not so for Cara.

There is an old saying that artists must suffer for their art. Whether this is true or not is debatable. In Cara’s case, from suffering an artist was born.

When Cara was just over a year old, her father was diagnosed with brain cancer. He battled the disease for ten years, passing away in 2014 when Cara was eleven and had just started middle school. Cara could have channeled her grief into any number of noble causes. Barely a decade old, it would have been understandable if she did nothing more than get up in the morning, hug her mother and grandmother, and go to school.

A few months after her father’s death, as part of an in-class assignment, Cara wrote a time travel story about a boy living during a nuclear war, based on a prompt titled, “Another Time, Another Place.” By the end of class, Cara’s story was not complete. She had more to say. Her teacher allowed her to finish the story at home. The next day, she returned to class with 9-pages of prose and a realization. She wanted to be a writer.

Armed with this new purpose, in 7th grade, Cara wrote another story, a very personal about her father’s life, including his four years in the Army’s 82nd and his battle with cancer.

“Even though he knew he was dying, he dealt with life as it came, and always had a positive attitude. That is one of the most heroic things that anyone could ever do,” Cara says of her father.

It wasn’t an easy story for Cara to write. Despite the fear of judgment not just of her writing, but of her representation of her father, Cara submitted the story to a writing contest. It won. She placed 2nd in the 2015 Spotsylvania County Teen Veteran’s Day Writing Contest.

Cara didn’t just write it to heal herself. She wrote it help heal others.

“Maybe other teens who have gone through similar experiences as me can be comforted by my words,” Cara says of the story.

What is clear about Cara is that her young mind understands a fundamental truism in writing. Whether it is marshmallows springing to life, memorializing her father or historical romances, writing is about connections. It’s about creating something that cuts through the confusion and pain to reach another person.

Perhaps Cara understands this because she has known suffering. But there is more to Cara than loss. To talk to her is to talk to a vibrant young woman who oozes potential and positivity. She’s a girl whose love of musical theater causes her to break into song in the middle of the day. She easily admits to her clumsiness while downplaying her obvious talents. Not only has she won writing contests, she has also starred as Ariel in a school production of The Little Mermaid. She’s a real, complex girl who has the same worries as most teens.

“At times I struggle with the normal fears that come with being fifteen, like fitting in and meeting new people,” Cara admits.

Cara describes herself as an imaginative, God-loving, intelligent, performer and bibliophile. She left out an important descriptor, likely a symptom of her humility. Cara is a writer. She’s not the kind of teen writer who scribbles a few lines in notebooks and hides them in a drawer, collecting cobwebs and dreaming of the day she sees her stories in print.

At 15, Cara is already an award-winning writer and soon to be published. Her story called The Letter, which is loosely based on her grandparents’ love story, was chosen to be part of an anthology from her writing group, the Riverside Young Writers, part of the Virginia Writers’ Club.

She credits the writing group with giving her a safe space to share her work and recommends potential writers join a writing group or create one.

“I cannot recommend joining a writing group highly enough. It is such an amazing opportunity because you get to be in an accepting environment with other kids around your age who share the same love of writing that you possess,” Cara says.

Cara and her story serve as a lesson for any girl or woman who wants to follow her dreams. You cannot let tragedy or difficulty stop you. If you don’t try, you’ll never know what you can do.

Written by Kristin Kanes