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Bemidji State student pens young adult fantasy novel

Bemidi State University junior Kelsey Sutton won the William D. Elliott Creative Writing Scholarship this year. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – When you ask Bemidji State University junior Kelsey Sutton who her favorite authors are, she is eclectic in her reading choices, which span from Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen to Sarah Dessen.

But there is a common thread among these authors. They are all women authors known for accurately portraying life’s struggles and triumphs for their heroines.

Imagine a young girl, much like their heroines, who loved to read anything and everything she could get her hands on for as far back as she can remember in her small home town of Princeton. A way of escape perhaps or just honing her writing skills at an early age so that by the age of 20 she is anticipating the July release of her first young adult fantasy novel, “Some Quiet Place” while trying to meet the June deadline for her second companion novel due to be released in the summer of 2014.

Sutton is this year’s winner of the William D. Elliott Creative Writing Scholarship.

English professor Elliott was the founder of the Upper Midwest Writers Conference in the 1960’s. The competitive scholarship is based on the academic achievement as well as writing skills of an applicant. No small feat for a young student who finds herself working at 5:30 each morning for a shift that will end just prior to the beginning of her classes.

“I actually started writing this novel when I was out in California looking for a job; I couldn’t find a job so I wrote,” said Sutton. “It was the summer of 2010, and I had a blank word document open and just typed in a random sentence, something really cliché. I kept zeroing in on one word: fear. I pictured him as a person and the others characters just followed.”

Sutton’s heroine, Elizabeth Caldwell, is a teenager who does not even bother to try fitting in with the Queen Bee and her court. In fact, Elizabeth is the voice of some teens today experiencing isolation: “I can’t feel sadness, anger, or fear. I can’t feel anything, I’ve grown talented at pretending.”

 That is what Elizabeth says but her actions belie her words – for she feels love toward her dying friend, loyalty to her brother, pity for her mother, hatred for her father and gratitude to another outcast, her friend Joshua. In fact, Elizabeth not only feels deeply she also sees and reacts to the emotions goading on the actions of others.

And here is where we come to understand Elizabeth stands in two different planes. She is tortured by memories that come to life through her paintings and teased by fear into discovering what happened to her in childhood.

Sutton admits to never reading Stephen King novels and her books, although fantasy, can be read by young adults because “they are not gruesome.” But Sutton’s prose is mature beyond her chronological years and shows a depth of thought and understanding that may come from having lived in a blended family with all the required adjustments.

 Young adult readers will ponder these words: “Everyone has a purpose. There are those who are unfortunate enough not to know what that purpose is, and there are those that are bound by it, thrive in it, know nothing else.” Especially when they are being asked what they want to study or what college they to go.

So, perhaps, young adult readers just want to escape for awhile and enjoy fantasy so they do not have to constantly cope with the stresses in their lives.

“I wrote a lot starting in grade school when I would come home from school, get a stack of papers out and just draw pictures,” Sutton said. “Then I wrote little stories to accompany my pictures but in middle school I switched to writing chapter books. In high school, I took college level courses.

“Writing was an escape for me, so I guess that’s why I wrote some mature themes.”

Sutton moved to Bemidji because of family living here and stayed with an aunt and uncle until she could get herself situated in a new scholastic situation where the English department at BSU was an “added bonus.” Sutton does point to several favorites among the faculty. She said Maureen Gibbon is a lot of fun, Larry Swain is funny and Jeanette Lukowski is really sweet.

Sutton said there are a lot of aspiring writers at BSU and she wants them to know it is possible for their dreams to come true and it’s never too early to try to become published.  She also said fan-fiction is a good learning tool for writers because they get to end the story the way they want.

Sutton sent her first query when she was 16. It wasn’t picked up, but Beth Miller of Writers House took notice of her next work, a suspense story. Although the book was not accepted for publication, Sutton submitted her next novel, “Some Quiet Place,” and Miller “loved it” and submitted it to three publishing houses, Sutton said.

She took three months to write her book and two months of revisions with the guidance of her small publishing house Flux, based in Woodbury. She said they are excited to introduce a new writer in the genre. A book release party to introduce Sutton is being planned for the week of July 8 in St. Paul.

Word of mouth is how books are sold, someone tells another, “You have to read this!” 

Sutton said the “Twilight” series by Stephanie Meyers started the explosion in the young adult/fantasy market. Another science fiction novel, “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins is written in the voice of a 16-year old.

A book Sutton re-reads yearly is based upon an ancient Celtic legend of “The Six Swans.” Juliet Marillier’s “Daughter of the Forest” is a historical fantasy novel.

Sutton is counting on word of mouth to gain a wider audience and generate buzz for her work.

Sutton concurs with her favorite author, Sarah Dessen, who said, “Anyone can hide. Facing up to things, working through them, that’s what makes you strong.”