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Wake Forest authors share their thoughts with WS/FCS students

By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
MARCH 23 – When Frances O’Roark Dowell dropped by Cook Elementary School to talk with fifth-graders about writing, she left with an intriguing idea for a sequel to her award-winning novel Dovey Coe. Student Jaeshaune’ Fisher suggested having a character that died come back as a ghost and haunt Dovey.

“And nobody believes her,” Jaeshaune’ said.

Dowell liked the idea. “I love ghost stories,” she said.

Dowell was one of 17 Wake Forest University graduates who became novelists, journalists, screenwriters, poets and biographers who spent time Friday with students in elementary, middle and high schools in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Dowell, the author of 12 novels aimed at children ages 9 to 12, said she was delighted to be able to spend time with the students at Cook.

“These are my people,” Dowell said. “This is who I write for. It’s fun to hang out with them…These guys are amazing.”

The writers were in town to participate in Words Awake! A Celebration of Wake Forest Writers and Writing. Dowell, who lives in Durham, graduated from Wake Forest in 1986. Other visiting writers included Laura Elliott, the author of such young-adult historical novels as A Trouble Peace, and Malcolm Jones, a book critic for Newsweek. Jones, who graduated from Reynolds High School, talked to students there, and Elliott dropped by Northwest Middle School

Dowell covered such topics as the importance of revisions (“no writer writes a good first draft”), how to come up with names for characters (walk around old graveyards and look at headstones) and what people attending awards banquets in New York wear (black).

Dowell earned a laugh from students when she told them about arriving at an awards banquet in New York wearing a pink, flowered dress, only to discover to her dismay that it seemed as if everyone else had dressed in black. She opened her acceptance speech by saying, “I’m from North Carolina and we’re allowed to wear pink.”

The 25 or so students had read Dovey Coe beforehand so they had plenty of knowledgeable questions and thoughts about the action and characters’ motivations. Student Shydae Coleman said she liked the book’s message.

“They will always stay together as a family,” said Sydae, who would like to write a book someday about a girl who is scared on the first day of school.

When asked what he learned from Dowell’s visit, student Dmondrea Williams said it was the importance of believing in yourself. “You can do anything you want to do if you keep trying and don’t stop,” said Dmondrea, who plans to write a novel with a super villain, a super hero and a ghost.

Jaeshaune’ - who would like to write a book about a short boy who, after a magician makes him extra tall, wishes that he was small again - came away with the understanding that, if you want to be a writer, “you have to keep going.”

Dovey Coe certainly serves as an excellent example of the importance of patience and sticking with something. The main character and first line for the book came to Dowell in 1994 while she was driving near Boone. She went home, started writing and completed the first draft in a couple of weeks. But the manuscript spent considerable time in a drawer and went through many revisions before it appeared in print in 2000.

When Dowell asked the students what careers they plan to pursue, the answers included nurse, fashion designer, lawyer and crime-scene investigator. Many are considering multiple options. Although he is only in the fifth grade, Corey Hamer is already thinking about writing his autobiography. If becoming a writer doesn’t work out, he plans to become an engineer or a secret agent for the President of the United States.

“I have two back-up plans,” Corey said.
Kim Underwood