Inspired by a peer, 14-year-old Roseville author publishes first book


courtesy of Sigma’s Bookshelf • Vivian Olson’s first book, “Ela’s Diary.”

Reading the Roseville Review one day, 14-year-old Vivian Olson had an “aha” moment.

“I read in the newspaper about a 13-year-old girl from Roseville who published “The Murder at Emerson’s,” she says.

Olson was sitting on a book of her own — she’d started it in fourth grade and finished it for a seventh grade writing project — and had dreamed of being a published author, but only thought it would happen when she was an adult.

Still, here was a fellow teenager, Ruby Jane Schwieger, from the same town — Olson’s lived in Roseville all her life — whose book was out in the world for all to see. 

Olson says she tracked down information about Schwieger’s publisher, west metro-based Sigma’s Bookshelf, which publishes young writers’ books for free.

She took the plunge, sending off her work to Sigma’s without having totally internalized what was happening.

“It didn’t really register that I sent it off to a publishing company,” Olson says. “Then it came back and it was like ‘Oh, it’s actually going to be published.’”

Now, Olson’s first book, “Ela’s Diary,” is set for its big debut. Olson will read and sign copies of it Sunday, April 15, at 2 p.m. at the Roseville Barnes & Noble at the Har Mar Mall.

With her mother having posted about the book event on Facebook, Olson says family and friends are set to attend, along with folks coming from school and church. “I’m very excited,” she says.

IF YOU GO: Vivian Olson, a 14-year-old author from Roseville, will be reading and signing copies of her book “Ela’s Diary” at the Roseville Barnes & Noble at Har Mar Mall on Sunday, April 15, starting at 2 p.m. The mall is located at 2100 Snelling Ave. You can also purchase Olson’s book through the bookstore’s website, www.barnesandnoble.com, or at www.amazon.com

On assignment

Olson, an eighth-grader at Great River School in St. Paul, says parts of “Ela’s Diary” drew from her experiences at her previous school, Oak Hill Montessori in Shoreview. “I actually took the color of my classroom [there] as inspiration for Ela’s childhood home’s wall color,” she says.

As for the book’s plot, “It’s about a girl, [Ela], and she gets a disease that no one has ever heard of, and no one has a name for,” Olson says. “Throughout the book she tries to find a cure for the disease.”

Started when she was a fourth-grader, “Ela’s Diary” was incomplete until Olson was given a seventh-grade English class assignment of writing a story around the “Hero’s Journey” outline, a familiar story arc for anyone familiar with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy or a Harry Potter book.

Olson’s idea of using her nearly complete book was given the green light, and she finished it, adding four more chapters. Did she get a good grade? “Yes I did,” she says.

The added chapters were just a prelude to the work it took to get “Ela’s Diary” ready to publish. Through the editing process, she says she added another chapter and looked her work over some 30 times, at the behest of her publisher.

The publisher, Sigma’s Bookshelf, was started by Rachel Anderson and her son, Justin, who has a couple published books to his name. The nonprofit is funded by donations and grants, providing free publishing for its young writers. 

As Anderson puts it, “It’s really not fair to have kids spend money to do these things,” adding the writers receive royalties for their sales.

A year and a half old, Sigma’s Bookshelf has now published seven books by seven teen-aged authors from around Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada.

Anderson, a former TV news producer and now a publicist, has presented a program called “Empowering Teen Writers to Become Published Authors” at nearly 10 schools this year. This summer, she’ll be teaching a six-week workshop called “Novel Writing for Teens” through Minnetonka Community Education.

 

‘Just keep writing’

Olson says the publishing process made her a better writer and that knowing her work is available to everyone has made her even more motivated to write. She adds that she’s working on a sequel to “Ela’s Diary,” joking that she hopes it doesn’t again take four years to complete.

Though she’s involved in online writing communities where she can have others read her work and she can read theirs, Olson says she’s made the switch to writing by hand. “With a notebook, you can take it anywhere.”

Olson says a recent spring break vacation to Oklahoma was a great opportunity to practice her craft. “We drove, so that was the perfect time to write.”

Though an avid writer now, Olson says she hasn’t made up her mind that being an author will be her life’s pursuit. 

“I’m really not sure,” she says of her future career. “I’m 14, I have time to figure out what to do, but I do really love to write.”

Olson, inspired by a fellow young writer and a fan of Harry Potter books, “The Golden Compass” and fantasy author Kate O’Hearn, has a bit of advice for other young writers.

“Just keep writing,” she says, adding, “Read other people’s work, because the more you read the more ideas you’ll get.”

 

For more information about Sigma’s Bookshelf go to www.sigmasbookshelf.com.


 

– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813

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