WEST WARWICK — Despite her long-time passion for writing short stories, Brianna Timpson can hardly believe that she finally gets to call herself a published author.
"It's pretty cool," said Timpson, an eighth grader at Deering Middle School whose fantasy piece, “In the Coming Tides,” is among the short stories featured in an anthology by the West Warwick Public Library. "I've been writing for maybe six years now and had never had one of my stories published."
“If you’ve got something you want to do," she continued, "just go for it."
Titled “Voices of the Lost Year,” the anthology is a collection of short stories written over the last couple of months by a group of eight young writers, each a participant in the library's first ever virtual summer writing camp.
“This is an anthology that has surprises in it,” said librarian Amber Bliss, who led the 11-week camp that culminated in the anthology’s publication. “This is very different work than what you might expect from teen writers.”
Funded by a Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services grant, the camp taught dedicated teens the ins and outs of writing, editing and getting published. Participants, whose ages ranged from 13 to 19, met twice per week for intensive writing workshops and to hear from well-known guest lecturers.
The intent was to show the young writers that “they are up to the task” of publishing in the professional market, Bliss said, calling the amount of work participants put into their pieces for the anthology “monumental.”
“Each piece went through three rounds of fairly rigorous editing,” Bliss said, adding that the process mimicked what happens in professional publishing. “Some of these kids did total rewrites; they did a ton of work to get their pieces into publication shape.”
“Voices of the Lost Year” is composed of six longer short fiction stories and six pieces of flash fiction. The only theme connecting the stories, Bliss said, is that each was written by a teen during “the coronavirus year."
“Many of our teens lost the general experiences that a lot of them had been looking forward to — prom, homecoming, things like that,” Bliss said, adding that those lost experiences were the inspiration for the book's title.
The stories within the anthology cover a wide range of genres, from fantasy and science fiction to horror and contemporary. Still, Bliss noted that many of the pieces have somber tones.
“I don’t think there are any pieces that are strictly happy, although you can find little sparks of hope in many of them,” she said.
In “Justice,” a contemporary fiction by West Warwick High School student Ali Bryant, the protagonist fights against a corrupt school system following its attempt to cover up her sexual assault.
“More than anything, it’s a raw depiction of the aftermath of sexual assault,” Bryant said of the story. “It’s about what this horrible event does to a person and the injustice that follows for many, whether it be diminishing words, or self blame, or other people doubting you.”
Drawing from her own experience at a school she used to attend, Bryant said she made sure in the piece to focus on the victim, rather than on the predator.
“There’s no trying to sympathize with the villain, or looking for reasons as to why he did what he did,” said Bryant, a high school junior who aspires to work as a screenwriter. “The story isn’t about him at all.”
By using her own painful experience to write this story, Bryant said she hopes to bring more awareness to the serious subject of sexual violence.
“Victims need to know that they are not alone,” she said, adding that writing the story helped her make peace with what happened to her, as well.
“This is a horrible thing that happened,” she continued. “It destroyed me for a little while — it really did — but I wanted some sort of good to come from this. I didn’t want it to all be for nothing.”
While “Justice” shines light on a serious topic, so does Nathan Moone’s horror piece, “The Cost of Help.”
The story follows a young man as he travels after his mother’s death to the South to meet his estranged father.
“While he’s there he learns about this dark secret that he didn’t know about that ultimately is something that will challenge him,” Moone, a 2020 West Warwick High School graduate, said of his story. “There’s a group being marginalized, and a group that can help.”
The inspiration for Moone’s story came from current events, and the spotlight that recent nationwide protests over police brutality have put on the racial divide in the United States.
“And as I was writing it, it got more of a mystical feel,” he added, noting that the supernatural elements make the story “more influenced by than based off of our world.”
Timpson’s story also features mystical elements. It follows a young mermaid named Anahita who braves the land to break an ancient curse and save the merworld.
“I’ve always loved fiction,” said Timpson, who added that the plot line “just came to [her].”
Timpson has been working for around a year on another story called “Hybrid,” this one about a mermaid vampire. She hopes to turn the story into a novel, and said the writing camp has given her some useful tools to bring that goal to fruition.
Moone, who has just begun working — remotely, for now — toward a creative writing degree at Ithaca College, also lauded the program for giving student writers a place outside of school to hone their skills.
“I cannot speak more highly about this program,” he said, adding that he may even have landed himself an internship, thanks to connections he made through the camp. “What I can take from this, other than just bettering my skills as a writer, is that connections are a major part of being a writer.”
Moone added that it was inspiring to witness the passion of the other young authors in the program.
And as for those who will read “Voices of the Lost Year,” Bliss said she hopes they come away from it understanding that “everybody has a story to tell.”
“I think our youth gets discounted a lot,” she said.
It’s often assumed that young people haven’t had enough life experiences to make meaningful contributions to the world, Bliss added.
“All of these kids do, and I would dare say that all kids everywhere do,” she said. “They experience the world in a valuable and profoundly different way than others do, and they have valuable things to contribute.”
During a virtual event this afternoon, all eight writers who participated in the camp will read excerpts from their published stories. Beginning at 2 p.m., the event will be live-streamed on the West Warwick Public Library’s Facebook page.
“I learned a lot from these kids — from their stories, from their voices — and I think everybody could take away something from [reading ‘Voices of the Lost Year’],” Bliss continued. “It’s inspiring, honestly.”
“Voices of the Lost Year” is currently available on Smashwords as a free ebook, and is coming soon to various major ebook retailers and the RI ezone. Hard copies will be available to borrow from all Rhode Island libraries by late September.