“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” More

Author Showcase

Summer 2008 Featured Author Hannah Stahlhut

RT: Congratulations on winning the inaugural Tweener Time International Chapter Book Competition. Your winning fantasy novel, Journey to the Homeland hit bookstores in March 2008. What has been the most exciting part of the process for you?

Hannah: The most exciting thing happened just after the book was published. I had the opportunity to visit a couple of local fourth grade classes and talk about my book. The kids had great questions and seemed so interested in what I had to say. It was amazing. Shortly after my visits, I received an email from a young girl saying she was inspired to write a book of her own after listening to me. The response I’ve had from students who were inspired by my success is greater than I could ever have imagined. It is really encouraging to think that I’ve helped them realize their own potential.

RT: Is there more in store for Keegan and Nora? The story wrapped up nicely, but they are still young. Do you foresee anymore journeys for them?

Hannah: I’m not sure. Currently, I am working on a sequel, but there is no guarantee it will be published. Tweener Ministries will be busy with this year’s winning books. Since word has spread about the competition, I think the entries will be very compelling.

RT: In your cover letter to the judges, you say that you were 400 pages into a "completely unrelated" manuscript. That is a lot of work to walk away from. Had Keegan and Nora been lurking about before you started writing?

Hannah: Even as I was deep into my other project, the seed of Keegan and Nora’s adventure was well planted in my head. I never allow myself to work on two stories at once, so I hadn't moved forward with it. In fact, it wasn't until I heard about the competition that I outlined Journey to the Homeland. It is amusing now to look back and remember what the story looked like in my mind before I started. One would hardly recognize it! In my head, I saw Nora as the main character—the one with a magical gift. But it turned out to be Keegan. Originally Nora and Keegan were going to be best friends from the beginning. I gave up on that when I started writing. It just seemed inevitable that they were meant to hate each other from the start. It is almost like they did it on their own!

RT: Can you tell us a little about the manuscript you "left behind"? Has winning the competition inspired you to return to it? Has it changed how you look at that book?

Hannah: That project is a manuscript I tentatively called Four Gifts. It is set in the same world as Keegan’s. It was the first writing project where I put together something more than twenty pages. I had been working on it for two years (beginning when I was 14), so I was rather attached to it. But it did have its flaws. It wasn't planned out well, the characters had little depth, and the story wasn't particularly original. I recently went through the files on my computer and re-read it. There are definitely good elements to the book, but I don’t think I will ever continue the story without re-writing those first 400 pages. In a way, the competition was just what I needed to let go of an admittedly weak story. I will always be attached to Four Gifts a litte bit because I learned so much while I was writing it. But that experience also taught me that it is important to recognize and let go of a mediocre project, no matter how much work you’ve put into it.

RT: The International Chapter Book Competition is a contest for high school students to write a book for the 8- to 12-year-old audience. What do you find to be the hardest part of writing a story for this age group?

Hannah: I really struggled with explaining the politics of Keegan’s world. I wanted to make the reader truly understand the relationship between Diggeret, Keegan’s home, and Iviannah, the land across the wide river. The rulers in Diggeret felt inferior to Iviannah, where all the power resided. It was completely natural for the leaders to do everything they could to acquire the same thing for themselves. In fact, the tense relationship between these countries goes deeper than I let on in the book, and their past is not always peaceful. I wanted to convey that the king of Diggeret was not pure evil; he was just doing what he thought would protect his country. He was going about it the wrong way, sure, but he did have his Kingdom’s interest at heart. This proved harder than I imagined, and I am not sure if I pulled it off.

RT: You are a homeschooled student. There is a perception that homeschool students aren't part of the "pulse" of their generation, because they don't connect with their peers where they spend most of their time: at school. Do you have thoughts about that?

Hannah: This is not an unfamiliar question for me. It is one of the main arguments against homeschooling, and a question I have given much thought. I do not consider myself typical of a teenager today. Most of my time is spent on the computer or in a book, and I’d rather have my fingernails ripped out than hold an entire conversation about makeup and clothing styles. I am intimidated by large crowds and get cranky if I am around people for too long. Is this because I am homeschooled? It could be. But I have met public school kids my age who are the exact same way (they’re hard to find, but they’re out there).

Similarly, some of the most social and outgoing people I know are homeschooled. Either way, I am fine being a true introvert. I have a group of great friends who are just as anti-social as me, and I don’t know if I would have it any other way.

RT: Hannah England, also a teen, created the cover art for Journey to the Homeland. Had she had the opportunity to read the whole story before she started drawing? Did you have any opportunity to collaborate on the art?

Hannah: She was not able to read the whole book before she made the cover. She was given character descriptions and an outline of the story, I believe, but no more. It is amazing she did it so well with only an outline to work from!

I was not involved in the art contest at all. I think the publishers were concerned I would be too picky, which might have been a problem if Hannah England’s art didn’t look just how I pictured Keegan and Adrian in the first place. She did a fantastic job and I couldn’t be happier with the judges’ choice.

RT: In addition to becoming a published author, you also won a college scholarship. Do you know what you want to major in? Do you know if any of the other teens in the competition will be attending the same school with you?

Hannah: I hope to study English. It’s the only thing I can see myself studying for years at a time. I still don’t know where I’m going to college, so it’s hard to say if I will attend with any of the other contestants. I have met some of the champions, and they seem like great people. Going to college with any one of them would be delightful!

RT: How would you characterize yourself as a reader: voracious (filling every possible minute with reading), hobbyist (reading is balanced with other passionate interests), casual (I read for fun regularly, but not every day)? What are your favorite types of books?

Hannah: I’m embarrassed to say my reading has dropped to a more casual level this year. Freshman year, I was very voracious about reading, but not about school. As I started paying more attention to my studies (and, now that I think about it, my writing), my reading slowed down. This summer, with college applications and work, my reading has officially dropped to casual. I still read the occasional thriller or fantasy, but not nearly as much as I should. Every writer should read a variety of books to learn from. I’ve been neglecting my duties!

RT: Is there an author, book, or books that inspired you to try your hand at writing?

Hannah: I was always interested in writing, but I never thought I could write a book until I read Christopher Paolini’s Eragon. Paolini was a 15-year-old homeschooler when he started his book. When I read it, I was 14. The sequel, Eldest, disappointed me, but my interests have changed, too. Still, I have always been encouraged by Paolini’s success.

RT: Have you had the opportunity to conduct readings with kids? Were there any questions that have stumped you? Do you have a favorite event?

Hannah: As I mentioned earlier, I have spoken with grade-school classes in my area. I haven’t read any excerpts, but I am fine with that. I am not yet comfortable reading my own work out loud. My favorite event was at my uncle’s fourth grade class. He had already read my manuscript to the students, and they were super excited to meet me. Everyone was very attentive and interested in what I had to say. Their questions were great, and I did have to spend a few minutes convincing them that Journey to the Homeland is not going to be a movie.

Of all the questions I’ve gotten, the most frustrating one is: How do you get your ideas? Even though I've been asked a dozen times, I still don’t have an understandable answer.

RT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Hannah: I would just like to thank Tweener Ministries for the work they do. I’ve always found joy in reading, and it is wonderful to become part of an organization that helps young people find that joy. Tweener Ministries is fulfilling the dreams of teen writers and publishing positive books for kids. How awesome is that?


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