Tag Archives: writers

Writing Outside the Box

Meet Emma Choi

Written by K.L. Kranes

Talking with 18-year-old Emma Choi of Vienna, Virginia feels a bit like jumping into an episode of Gilmore Girls. If you are unfamiliar with the iconic TV show, it is about two fast-talking ladies who throw around references to things like pop culture, philosophy and books so quickly even the best viewers can’t catch them all. 

During our phone interview, Emma’s words and ideas swirl so fast in my ear my nimble little typing fingers can barely keep up. When she starts listing off her writing resume, I have to ask her to stop and repeat. The list is long, especially for someone so young. 

  • An off-Broadway play performed in New York. Two plays performed at DC’s Capital Fringe Fest, one of which one the “best of ” week. 
  • Gold and silver medal winner of the American Voices Award for Poetry. 
  • Commended Foyle Young Poet. 
  • Winner National Young Arts Foundation Honorable Mention. 
  • Winner Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Young Creator Contest. 

During our interview, I quip that Emma is quite the overachiever. But Emma doesn’t agree. 

“I’ve never thought about it as being an overachiever. I do a lot of contests because I want to challenge myself,” Emma explains. 

In fact, Emma is very humble when it comes to her writing. Whenever my questions turn to her achievements, her voice leaps from overdrive to hyper-speed and she quickly tries to change the topic. Emma is much more comfortable talking about literature, her writing process or diversity in books. 

Perhaps this is because Emma has a writer’s soul. She understands a writer’s purpose isn’t to shine the light on herself but to shine it on the truth. Uncovering truth is one of the reasons Emma plans to major in writing in college despite the well-known struggles that scare many writers into safer academic pursuits. 

“A lot of people frown on me when I tell them I want to be a writer,” Emma says. “They don’t realize the impact of writers on the world. Science changes but certain truths in writing always stay the same. I think writers show others their own subjective truths in the hope that it’ll resonate with someone else.” 

For Emma, writing helps her process her emotions and sort through the complicated layers of the world. She focuses on discovering her own truths, particularly what it means to be an Asian American. Emma struggles with straddling the culture of her family’s Korean past with the culture of their Western present. 

“It’s like being a child of two worlds and not really belonging to one,” she explains. 

Growing up, literature did little to help Emma make sense of her identity, if anything it further complicated her search. 

“As a reader I grew up on the classics and so many of the classics are by white men. I’m trying to reconcile how can my influences be who they are if I am who I am,” Emma says. 

It is not surprising Emma views the recent focus on diverse women writers as an important shift in the literary world. She looks up to writers like Roxane Gay and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who help bring diverse female voices to the forefront. Emma hopes to add her voice to the chorus one day. However, perhaps not in the way most people expect. 

“It’s a great time to be an Asian-American and a woman writer. People really care and want to hear about your experience,” Emma says. “But with that kind of attention comes expectations about the kind of work you put out.” 

As a minority, Emma explains, writing can become a vicious circle where simply by writing about not wanting to be defined by race, a writer ends up being defined by race. Emma doesn’t want to be, “stuck in a box by people who want you to write about being stuck in a box.” Emma wants to be outside the box. She wants to define the box, regardless of sex or race or ethnicity. 

“I don’t want to be one of the best women or Asian-American writers. I want to be one of the great writers. Period,” she says. 

This is not surprising coming from a young woman who started an underground satirical newspaper at her high school after being denied permission at every level of county administration. Determined, hard-working and driven, Emma is one of only two students at her high school to be accepted to Harvard, which is another accolade she tries to slip in at Gilmore Girl speed. 

If Emma had a motto, it would be ‘don’t stop’. 

“I tend to barrel headfirst into things and I don’t stop until I’m done. Resilience is one thing I like to pride myself on,” Emma explains. 

That said, Emma has no plans to overlook the importance of diversity. She feels writing about diverse topics drives forward acceptance and awareness and she wants to be part of that movement. 

“I made a pact with myself to make all my characters a person of color or a woman,” she explains. 

It is very likely Emma’s social awareness, drive for self-improvement and search for truth may just be the perfect combination for success as a professional author. 

“I love that writing lets me be in a space with no rules— where I can experiment and play with language in ways I wouldn’t normally,” she says. 

She certainly already sounds like one.

 

K.L. Kranes is a blogger and author of young adult novels. Her debut novel, The Travelers, was published in 2016 by Saguaro Books, LLC. See more from K.L. at www.klkranes.com/blog. 

Meet Maryam Durrani

Young Female Writers Club: Fan Girl Dreaming

Written by K.L. Kranes

It sounds like the plot of a book. 13-year-old Maryam turns fanfiction success into successful book series and finds her true self in the journey.

This isn’t fiction. Maryam Durrani, fanfiction writer, novelist, self-published author of three books, has accomplished more in her 18 years than many writers twice her age. Maryam’s book dreams likely started far before fanfiction readers discovered her stories of the Last Airbender. In fact, it really started with a shampoo bottle.

“I always loved reading,” Maryam explains. “When I was little, in the bathtub I’d read the back of shampoo bottles.”

As a child growing up in Ashburn, VA, Maryam would read anything. If it had letters strung together to make sentences, she devoured it. She spent hours daydreaming, building worlds and characters in her mind.

Soon she picked up a pencil and strung together sentences of her own. Family, friends, and teachers encouraged her to write. Maryam completed her first book in the back of an English classroom, filling 350 pages of a spiral-bound notebook. It still sits on her bookshelf in her room, a token of her passion and talent.

Winning first place in an international writing competition gave Maryam the courage to aim for something bigger. At 13-years-old Maryam stood in front of her parents and told them she wanted to publish a book.

Many parents would pat their young daughter on the head, smile, and forget about the idea five minutes later. Most 13-year-olds would forget five minutes later too and move on to another whim. Not Maryam. Writing was not a whim. She was ready to write and publish her novel even if no one supported her. She expected a lecture on the difficulties of publishing a book. Instead, her parents gave her the kind of advice Dumbledore might give Harry Potter. “You have to do it because you never know where it’s going to go until you reach the end,” they told her.

And so she did. Maryam was only 14 years old when she self-published her first novel, Assassin.

By its name alone one might expect Assassin to be a story of an innocent boy trained to be a deadly assassin. It might conjure an image of him with swords crisscrossed behind his back and a scar from his temple to his neck. But Maryam had read enough books about boys battling for the fate of their souls. She wanted to write something different.

A determined, intelligent girl, Maryam didn’t always connect with the characters in young adult books. She gravitated toward strong female characters and they were hard to find. Even Hermione Granger, one of Maryam’s literary idols, didn’t star in her own story. She was a sidekick.

Maryam longed to read books about smart, independent female characters who took control of their own destinies. Since she couldn’t find any, she decided to create one. Adalia, the main character of Assassin, became the character Maryam had always wanted to read. Instead of a boy with swords crisscrossed on his back, it was a girl battling for the fate of her soul.

“Adalia doesn’t let anyone slow her down. Her confidence, perseverance, and determination always shine through even in the darkest of times,” Maryam explains of her main character.

Like her main character, Maryam oozes confidence and determination.

“If I had a catchphrase would be, “Prove ‘em wrong!” Maryam explains.

Although there’s little reason to doubt Maryam’s ability to accomplish her goals. By the time she turned 18, Maryam’s young adult, science fiction novel had grown into a trilogy, Assassin, Ascendant, and Apprentice and Maryam had grown as a person and a writer.

She’d fought to write and publish her work. She’d fought against self-doubt, spending many nights wondering if editing, revising, and the painful process of story creation were all worth it. Now, at 18, Maryam speaks of herself and her writing with the kind of maturity usually found over three or four decades, not less than two.

“Don’t be afraid of what people think, because, at the end of the day, your writing is yours,” she says.

Maryam also looks to the future with a practical determination. Although filled with dreams, she understands the difficulty of becoming a professional novelist. It’s time for her to leave behind writing in the back of high school English classes. She is considering a career in the sciences. That doesn’t mean she won’t continue to write. Maryam has already figured out the writer’s secret. If you’re a real writer, then you’ll write. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s your job.

“Wherever I am with whatever I have and how much I’ve achieved,” she says. “I see myself content, curled up in a warm blanket with a hot cup of coffee and an exciting new book to read.”

Books are a part of Maryam’s soul and she could never leave them behind. It is only a matter of time before the story of another strong female character stirs Maryam’s pen to start writing again. Until then, there are plenty of chances to enjoy her writing.

Maryam’s work is available on Amazon and on Wattpad (www.watpad.com/user/draninator).

 

 

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