When Teachers Make All the Difference...

I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by people who have been supportive and contributed to me developing my writing skills and creativity. Many of those people were teachers who seemed to recognize my potential and went out of their way to help me along that road. People are quick to criticize public school, but I stand as proof of how some select teachers really made their mark in my life.

Specifically, I have to thank Ms. Adams, Mrs. Ferrin, Mrs. Demond, Mrs. McKinnon,

Mrs. Sawaya, Dr. Fogo, and Dr. Hodgson. At Westvale Elementary School in West Jordan, Utah, Ms. Adams taught my Gifted & Talented class when I was 9 years old. She is directly responsible for my first publication credit. For her class, I wrote a poem. There was a contest through the local newspaper and she submitted that poem on my behalf. I didn’t even know she did it! Then the poem won first place and was published.

After, she started a school newsletter and, whether I wanted to or not, she put me on

staff as a writer and the cartoonist, giving me my first taste of journalism and receiving positive feedback for my drawing. At West Jordan Middle School, in sixth grade, Mrs. Ferrin taught my Language Arts and Gifted & Talented classes. She suggested that I not do the same writing assignments as everyone else in those two classes.

Instead, she suggested that I write a new chapter of a novel for each assignment (regardless of the actual lesson plan). As a result, by the end of the year, I wrote my first novel, which I still have. From that moment on, my career goal changed from wanting to start my own comic-book company to novelist.

At Joel P. Jensen Middle School, in eighth grade, Mrs. Demond was my Computer Science

teacher. She read my handwritten manuscripts for a sci-fi trilogy I had written and was incredibly supportive. When only a few pages into the first book, she pulled strings for me to be her student aide, but my time was to be spent typing up my books, since I didn’t have a computer at home.

History seemed to repeat itself as she started a school newsletter and assigned me to be the staff photographer because my dad had taught me how to use a bulk loader. (Remember film?) Mrs. Demond then said, “And maybe you should be doing some writing for the newsletter, too ....” At West Jordan High School, in ninth grade, my Honors English teacher, Mrs. McKinnon, was extremely supportive. She would read my stories to the class, be it excerpts or the entire piece.

When I told her I had written several novels, she didn’t say that she didn’t believe me ... but told me to prove it. So, I brought in some maps I had drawn for the setting for that first novel I wrote when I was 12.

They were large pages that interconnected and covered about 10 square feet of floor. She was amazed at the amount of work, the detail, et cetera, then persuaded the school to laminate them for me at no cost. Again, I have those maps still.

In tenth grade, Mrs. Sawaya, who taught my Journalism class and was the newspaper and

literary-magazine advisor, really pushed me to write. She read my work, persuaded me to take part in newspaper staff for three years, first as a columnist and cartoonist, then as a staff writer, until I was editor-in-chief my senior year. For literary magazine, she selected a lot of my writing and art, and I eventually served as editor for two years.

At Westminster College of Salt Lake City, Dr. Fogo taught most of my Communication classes and was the newspaper advisor. He really helped me raise my level of writing to a higher level. When he marked up my work, he was more than happy to discuss the edits, particularly why they were necessary. Knowing why is so important to learning. Again, history repeated itself, with Dr. Fogo pushing me until I served as editor.

That college-level mentorship continued at Westminster when I was getting my master’s degree with Dr. Hodgson. She taught most of the Writing classes I took and really forced me to learn the mechanics of writing. I can still hear her voice saying, “These are a writer’s tools ... seems kind of silly not to know how to use all of them!” Again, she forced me to raise my level as a writer.

Most of this is written in gratitude to some specific teachers throughout my life, but I also had

parents who really supported my creativity has been encouraged throughout my life, dating back to when I wasn’t even school age.

I used to go to my mom and ask her to feel my head because I was pretty sure that I was growing horns. She felt my head with both hands and said, “Yep, I can feel them!” When I went back again, she said she was sure they were bigger than the last time, and so on.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to enter a contest for teen novelists, but we didn’t have a computer, so my dad paid a secretary at his work to type my handwritten manuscript. Of course, both would read my work and make comments, even if it was a single word written in pencil in the margin: “Good.”

All of these were stones on the path to where I am today, internationally published and awarded, with critically acclaimed and award-winning novels in the epic fantasy series, the New Blood Saga (Crown Prince, Order of Light, and Demon Seed), and my sci-fi novella, Pale Face. Crown Prince won the Firebird Book Award and Pale Face received special recognition from the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.

As a freelance writer, I have been published hundreds of times, be it poetry, news, fiction, or nonfiction, and that’s not even counting all the publications where I was on staff. So, I have to raise my hand and say “thank you” to all those teachers who went out of their way for me, to try to help me progress and learn. I don’t know if I could have managed it without them.

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