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Speaking of Dragons

Speaking to a group of Perham seventh- and eighth-graders, author Izzyana Andersen is poised and exudes confidence as she talks about the first book in her 15-book series about dragons.

Izzyana Andersen went through several drawing drafts and worked with an art teacher to draw the illustrations in her book, “The Power of the Gemstones: Revealing her Secret.”
Izzyana Andersen went through several drawing drafts and worked with an art teacher to draw the illustrations in her book, “The Power of the Gemstones: Revealing her Secret.”

Speaking to a group of Perham seventh- and eighth-graders, author Izzyana Andersen is poised and exudes confidence as she talks about the first book in her 15-book series about dragons.

What's surprising is that she started writing and illustrating the book, "The Power of the Gemstones: Revealing her Secret," about dragons and a girl who is hiding a secret, when she was 13. It was published in late March; and she has enough material to write an additional 14 books to complete the series.

Initially, she thought it would be a five-book series, but as she thought more about each of the first five book's plots, her ideas became more epic than the previous, and so she added another 10 books.

The first few books will have two main dragon species, she said, but multiple other dragons will be introduced in future books.

The Moorhead, Minn., teen was in Perham last Thursday to talk to students about the writing process and how to keep readers interested. She also talked to Perham fifth graders in the morning on following their dreams and how to stay focused on achieving their goals.

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"Stories are amazing works that can take you anywhere," she told the students.

She advised the audience to think through their ideas and develop the scene and characters using specific details, keeping the action consistent and using short sentences during suspenseful places in the story. She also suggested building suspense through foreshadowing and cliff-hanging chapter endings.

"People will ask about what happens," she said. "I have plenty of experience with that."

She also told students to stuff their stories with emotion and use descriptive words.

"It keeps people interested," Andersen said. "And it will help readers connect with the characters."

For each writing tip, she read excerpts from her book to drive home her point.

Andersen also talked about writer's block, something she experienced in the two years it took her to write "Gemstones."

"Stay calm, it will pass." she said. "Just wait it out. Do your chores, your homework and find a quiet place to write."

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But if there are siblings involved, it may be difficult to find that space, she said, sharing how her brothers sometimes interfered with her writing.

She also told Perham middle schoolers to plan on editing their stories multiple times. She edited her story more than six times, she said, pulling from a backpack a several inches-thick, three-ring binder of the edits she made to her book.

Once the story was completed, she turned to the internet to find a publisher. She was fortunate that the first publisher she sent the manuscript to, Beaver's Pond Press in Edina, Minn., accepted it, though they wanted to interview her before they accepted her, she said.

"They loved my story, but they were nervous to take me on," she said, primarily because of her age.

The publishers were concerned about how she would handle critiques, saying that adults often had trouble with that aspect of writing, they told her.

Andersen admitted it was a little difficult to accept the critiquing process at first. But she ended up doing some rewriting of her book, which in the end, made it better, she said.

But when the publisher suggested she kill off the primary antagonist, Andersen balked.

"I didn't want to (kill off the main character)," she said. "I thought about it for a week, and rewrote the story multiple times to create an additional sidekick character so I could kill it."

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Another suggestion was to use a different illustrator, but she didn't think anyone else could capture the essence of her dragons as well as she could, Andersen said.

"(The publisher) said my drawings weren't good enough," she said. "That was a pretty big blow to my pride, but I used the criticism as motivation."

She went back to the drawing board and went through several revisions of her drawings, improving until they were accepted.

She credits her mother and grandmother as important people in her journey to publish her book, she said.

In the acknowledgements at the back of the book, she writes: To Mom, for everything. For inspiring me to never give up, to follow my dreams, and to try new things. For motivating me to turn my story into a book.

Her grandmother, LaValle Andersen, an English teacher, she thanked for countless edits of the manuscript, despite her concern it was rather gory for a children's book.

"I thought there was too much blood in the book," LaValle said. "But she gave me other dragon books to read and I said 'OK. Blood is OK."

Izzyana also writes a comic strip and poetry, which her mother and grandmother have encouraged her to publish, and has ideas in mind for another dragon series and possibly a book series featuring parrots.

After speaking to the middle school students, Izzyana did a book signing at Goose Gang, which is selling the book locally. She will be signing copies of her book again at Goose Gang June 17, during Turtle Fest.

Izzyana hopes to release the second book in the "Gemstones" series by the end of the year, she said.

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