What do you get when you combine a group of aspiring teen authors, one dedicated and caring English teacher, and a lot of determination and creativity? You get something like the Young Scribes.
This group of students from Shelly High School in Shelly, Idaho has taken on an unusual project and turned it into a career-building, self-published book called The Tale Hunters. The students each wrote short stories and then, with the help of their teacher, created a wrap-around plot to tie everything together into one cohesive narrative.
According to Coach/Editor/Contributing Writer Eric DuPuis, “In these sad days when our legislature is studiously cutting opportunities for Idaho students, we wanted to do something special for our youth: provide them with a truly unique opportunity to acquire real world experience in the publishing field.
“As a team, we created a fiction project, and rigorously edited it to a publishable quality. The resulting manuscript is like nothing we’ve ever seen from high school students before. But we are not stopping there. Our goal is to become agented writers. Our students are busily crafting query letters and sending them to agents and publishers. They are learning about publicity and participating in interviews.
“We’ve gained a whole new respect for writers, and for the hard work it takes to succeed in a highly competitive business.”
We got the chance to do a brief Q & A with this unique group of kids, and here is what they had to say:
Tell us about the Tale Hunters and how it came together.
Young Scribes: The Tale Hunters is a youth fantasy novel written by high school students. Collaborating with their English teacher, ten young writers from Shelley High School in Idaho created and published a one-of-a-kind adventure – the story of a small town girl chosen to represent Earth in a high-stakes contest of tale-swapping before the throne of the terrifying Ifrit, king of the jinn.
We had a dedicated group of writers at SHS. Many of us were serious about a future as novelists… you know… someday, when we’re older. Everybody knows that teens don’t write novels – not old enough yet.
But, one day, we challenged that assumption! Why can’t teens write novels? We saw teen collections of essays (Chicken Soup for the Teen Soul, Freedom Writers), even teen collections of short stories. But could teens actually come together and write a novel? We were just audacious enough to believe that we could!
It took a year to write the book, longer to edit it, and even longer to publish it. But The Tale Hunters is a reality at last, a 292-page novel available in paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon.com.
Can teens really write a novel? If you’ll give us a chance, we’ll prove to you that we can!
What was the hardest part about working together?
We had a lot of meetings and discussions. We had so many different styles, ideas, and genres. We needed a way to put a little of everything together in one novel and make it a coherent story, not a confusing mess. We thought of Queen Scheherazade telling stories to save her life, and The Arabian Nights became our inspiration.
From that root grew the idea for our frame story, a magical palace in the sky where jinn would gather storytellers from a thousand worlds to compete for magical treasures and the granting of wishes. In this way, we could each write our own stories – any style, any genre – and they would all make sense when we brought them together.
Nate Osburn: We had to have a lot of discipline. There was no class time, no teacher to give us a grade or take away points for late work. We had to manage our own schedules. We had to learn self-discipline. And that was what made it so rewarding when we finished our work. We did this! We had to work hard and stay motivated, and we did it.
What challenges did some of you face while writing and how did you overcome them?
Maryssa McLeish: We didn’t get the support we thought we were going to get. This wasn’t like sports. This was a bunch of kids who thought they could write! Our friends were behind us, but the staff and administration… they wouldn’t even let us bring our lunches to meetings so we could have some time to work together at noon! They just couldn’t catch the vision.
And even now that we’re published, some of us still have parents who don’t take us seriously. They think this is cute but not headed anywhere! It’s frustrating, but it just makes you all the more determined to succeed. We’re going to show you that we have something to say. We can do amazing things!
Are the stories heavily edited, or are they pretty much the way you kids wrote them? If heavily edited, what was the process like–and were there any conflicts? What part did Mr. DuPuis play in the creation of this project, and what role will he play in the future?
Eric DuPuis (English Teacher): The students were looking to me for coaching and organization. They wanted help with proofreading, editing – the technical side of writing. But we all felt strongly from the beginning, myself included, that the ideas, the tales, should be their own. I made them work hard to perfect their craft, but the story – that was all them.
Darrow Felsted: Some stories were rewritten as many as ten times. Each story really became a collaborative effort between all the people who edit and write. In a way, all of us wrote every story.
Where do the funds from the book sales go?
Young Scribes: College, man! Most of us are about to graduate and go on to college. A few of us are already there. This is about investing in our future in more ways than one.
Bobby Nelson: We’ve had our first few sales now. It isn’t much. When we divided it up, our first check was for 64¢. That’s a couple packages of ramen noodles. (Laughs) It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t really. I’m at Idaho State University now. I’m $20,000 in debt. Ramen noodles come in handy!
We know we’re doing this the hard way. We don’t have a big name publisher or agent. We have to take this right to our audience, prove that teen writers have something to say before anyone is going to invest in us, and that’s fine. We don’t mind working hard. We believe in ourselves or we wouldn’t be doing this.
OK, now, give us a quick pitch about the book—why should anyone read it? Think “elevator speech” or that you just met a literary agent and you have 30 words or less to sell your novel to him or her.
Rachel Kotter: We haven’t found another group of students who’ve done this. It’s absolutely unique. It’s worth reading!
Maryssa McLeish: Don’t discount our book just because it was written by high schoolers. Read it and discover what we have to offer, because it’s something good!
What was the most rewarding part of this project for each of you?
Calvin Boll: Writing is what I love! I was able to take this passion and work together with my friends who share that same passion. We all pushed each other to reach our goal of getting this project published. I’m serious about being a published writer, and this was the perfect way to get my feet on the ground.
Arielle Smith (Illustrator): As soon as I heard about this project, I was fascinated. I couldn’t not be a part of something like that, something so different!
Brennan Taylor: Being a part of this novel taught me humility, because I devour books. You read the Christopher Paolinis and the Rick Riordans, one after another, and you have no idea just how much work goes into a book like that! Getting a chance to help write a novel gives me a completely different view. I respect authors more for how much work they put in.
What is next for the Young Scribes?
Young Scribes: Publicity. We wrote to a lot of agents. Some of them were even interested, but they told us that they just didn’t want to take a chance on a bunch of new, young writers. There was a time when that was what the publishing world was all about – the search for new talent. But those days are nearly gone. Music, books, any of the arts – nobody’s taking a risk. You have to self-publish or sell your own CDs, build up a proven audience before anyone is going to take a look at you.
That’s ironic, because everyone likes to say that our youth are our future. We’re trying to show them that youth can be our today, if you’ll give us a chance, but no one is going to open the door for us.
That’s all right. We know it’s how today’s world works, and we don’t mind bringing our book straight to you, our readers; because we believe that when you hear what we have to say, you’ll ask for more!
What are your long term goals for the Young Scribes as a group, and each one of you as individuals?
Young Scribes: We’re all serious about college and our futures. We’re all serious about writing – all kinds of writing: journalism, novels, verse. You’ll be seeing more of us individually.
As a group? That may be more up to you than it is to us. We’re headed in a lot of different directions soon, and it takes a lot to keep a group like this together in today’s busy world. We won’t be in high school together anymore. We’ll need a team: editors, publishers (and some financial resources) to keep Young Scribes going.
We’d love to write other novels, maybe a sequel, a series – maybe all kinds of projects. And we’d like to help other young writers launch their dreams too, take our success and use it to open doors for others. But first, we need an audience. We need you.
What is the most valuable feedback you have gotten so far, and who was it from?
Young Scribes: In our community (the neighboring town of Blackfoot), we have a wonderful friend, a published author of youth fiction named Brenda Stanley, known in our region for years as the beloved news anchor, Brenda Baumgartner. (Check out her books I am Nuchu,The Color of Snow, and others on Amazon.com.)
Brenda has been an ally and inspiration to us. She taught us that writing a novel, difficult as it is, is only the beginning of the work. Publicity, marketing, building an audience, attracting the attention of agents and publishers – all that is even harder than the writing. But if you want to be a published writer, that’s your world. Get used to it.
Anything else we should know?
Brennan Taylor:The Tale Hunters offers a little something for everyone. There’s everything from a sword-and-sorcery quest story, to a realistic medical drama, to a campfire-style spine-tingler. (We call it a “Calvin”.) So you should give us a try. Even if fantasy isn’t your thing, we might have something for you.