Many of us think we have a terrific story inside us just waiting to get out on paper as a great book. But turning a novel idea into an actual novel is hard work -- and takes tremendous talent. This week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever has that talent and that work ethic -- author Shasta Venegas.
"Words have always been powerful and meaningful to me and I've tried to make that evident in everything I do," says Shasta Venegas as she takes a short break from entering her words into a laptop computer. When Shasta was 12 she started putting her words down on paper in earnest. Poems, shorts stories, award-winning essays, song lyrics -- hundreds of them -- many with themes inspired by the songs of the musical artists she loves whose posters adorn her bedroom where she does much of her writing in longhand.
"It's so easy to get lost and wrapped up in what you're writing and what you're creating," says Shasta, "that it makes you feel good and fulfilled in a way I don't think other things can."
And Shasta started a novel back when she was 12, too, a story she's now resurrected to make into a book, working title, The Effect of a Domino, a saga about a young girl who fakes her own death and runs away to Hollywood.
"My guess is that I would finish writing it in fall of this year so hopefully I could send it to publishing by winter and get it out there," says Shasta. What give this teenager who just finished her senior year at Pleasant Hill High School the notion she can write and publish a major novel? Simple. She already has published a novel. When she was 16 Shasta wrote Standing Invisible, cranked it out in just five months, and sent it off to a publishing house. And the publisher liked it.
"My heart stopped," says Shasta about getting word from the publisher. "It was a dream come true. In so little time even. Crazy." Writing as "Shasta Jane" she worked on it for months with the publisher's editors and designers. It finally came out for sale on bookstore shelves and websites late last fall.
"It was the most rewarding experience I've ever had in my life, seeing my name in print and the words I'd written in a book," says Shasta. And people are buying -- around 500 copies sold already.
"It's amazing," says Shasta. "You think that maybe you can touch the people around you, that your friends will read it because they feel obligated to. But when other people you've never met in the world start reading your book and buying it because of what they've heard about it or how they think it looks, it's incredible. Seeing it in the bookstore for the first time, I had to do a double take because I didn't really think it was my book." Standing Invisible is a powerful little book with a very big, important theme for young readers -- bullying.
"Just the way she intertwined those characters is just so, you can't put the book down," says Ann Sullivan who saw Shasta's spark of writing genius as her teacher at Strasburg Middle School in Strasburg, Mo. Sullivan encouraged Shasta to keep at it and mentored her along the way. Sullivan is not surprised at all that Shasta is already a published author.
"This is a girl who would read Jane Austen in junior high," says Sullivan. "Pride and Prejudice is one of her favorite books. When someone is that into classical literature and then can write like she can, it would be criminal to not take that and use that and write something." And so Shasta keeps writing, aiming one day to write for TV and the movies as well as novels -- perhaps changing people's lives just like the heroine of her new book.
"I just want people to get out of it, the choices we make can influence everything and sometimes even the smallest person can have a big effect on the world," says Shasta.
Shasta's very busy right now putting the finishing touches on The Effect of a Domino so she can be ready for classes to start at the University of Missouri next month. She plans to study journalism and creative writing there.
Shasta's done several book singing events already and she has another one scheduled Labor Day weekend at a metro area Books-A-Million store. She'll be at the store in The Legends at Village West in Kansas City, KS September 3rd from 1:00-4:00 p.m.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.