Nanowrimo Scene Winner: Shooting Star by Emily McCullouch

Emily is in the last row on the far left, proudly holding her NaNoWriMo winner certificate.

Emily is in the last row on the far left, proudly holding her NaNoWriMo winner certificate.

The first winner of the NaNoWriMo scene contest is…drumroll, please…Emily McCullouch. This polished and poised 5th grade student of Heritage Elementary School wrote over 11,000 words in the month of November 2014. By achieving her goal of over 10,000 words, Emily earned the privilege of entering a scene into a contest judged by her teachers. As the winner (I think I was the winner here!) she earned an editing conference with me. I was immediately impressed with her talent, and her desire to polish her work. When I met with her, I had already edited her scene on Word, using tracked changes, so there were plenty of blue colored bubbles marking suggestions, deletions, and questions I wanted her to consider. When I asked Emily if she was intimidated by the amount of ink I’d placed on her scene, she answered in a way that surprised me. “A little, but I know you want to help me become a better writer, so it’s okay.” If only adult writers understood the process with the same openness!

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Emily and I worked together for forty-five minutes or so, talking about her scene and then sharing our passion for writing. I’m not sure who had the better time, but for me, the hour was heart-warming and inspiring. I was struck by her explanation of her ability to write such a powerful scene. “I just move my feelings into my story.”

Please enjoy Emily’s scene:

SHOOTING STAR

My eyes blinked rapidly, threatening to close from exhaustion. Was this homework ever going to end? I glanced at the clock and realized it was 11:30, way past my designated bedtime. The complete darkness outside reminded me I still had twenty-three science questions to complete and two essays. I was about ready to plain give up and get a bad grade when I heard thumping on my door. I rubbed my eyes and forced myself to answer the knocking, which was now getting louder. When I opened the door I found an unexpected visitor. Instead of mom, I found Tessa, in her mismatched pajamas, with her curly red hair a tangled mess. Her shiny eyes, just like a 7-year-olds always are matched her gleaming smile. “What are you doing up so late?” I instantly felt bad because her smile faded. I had come across too strong.

“I want to show you something.”

My toes scrunched with an anxious feeling and every nerve in my body was screaming, “Go to bed, shut the door,” but I somehow forced myself to follow her.

Tessa tramped over to a window in her too perfect, too neat room. “You ready?” she whispered.

I bit my lip and managed to push out a “yeah.” I don’t know if I was just being antsy because I hadn’t slept in nineteen hours, or if it was from the six cups of coffee I drank to keep me from passing out with exhaustion. Tessa slowly opened her window and began taking out the screen. “Tessa, mom said it’s dan—“

“Shhhhhhhh,” she flashed me one of those sisterly looks. Tessa stuck her left foot through the window, which led to about eight feet of flat roof. She turned around and signaled me to follow, grabbed my hand and squeezed it hard, then proceeded out the window. She had laid a purple picnic blanket out, as she had predicted I would come. I tingled inside, knowing she had gone to so much trouble just to show me something. She fastened the window back in place behind us then whispered for me to lie down. She nuzzled up next to me on the roof. It only took me a second to realize I was gazing up at one of nature’s beauties, the constellation of Ursa Minor.

My heart thudded. In my fourteen years of living, I had never seen anything so beautiful. It made me feel extraordinary and special in a way I have never experienced before. In my mind, I took a picture of Ursa Minor and stored it in a glass bottle in my heart, and I knew I wouldn’t let go of the memory for as long as I lived. Tessa and I lay silent for a long time until she finally spoke. I imagined she would say something like, “Isn’t it beautiful?”

But instead she tried to blink back tears as a near flood ran down her face. “I just want a dad,” she whimpered.

I was glad it was so dark she couldn’t see me struggling to push out words. I didn’t know what to say, so I just hugged her and whispered in her ear, “me too.” My heart ached an unbearable pain and we cried together for what seemed like hours, but it was only minutes. Most of the time I try hard not to cry around Tessa, but this time I just let it go. All the tears I had held back for so long came out until I didn’t have a drop left in me.

“Tell me the sadness gets easier,” she said, grimacing. I eased out of our hug and rested my hand on her waist. “I wish I could do that, but I’m a horrible liar.”

“Ugg,” she replied, as we laughed and wiped tears from our cheeks onto the block of ice that was now our blanket. Our conversation silenced as both witnessed a sparkle flash across the sky—a shooting star that looked as if it came from right out of a fairy tale. Tessa’s mouth dropped open as my heart beat two hundred miles-per-hour and a smile spread across my face. There were a million, billion things I wanted and could have wished for, but instead I wished for the only thing I could think of, the one thing I wanted most…

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Back left to right: Emily M., Alexa D., Tina C., Amanda M., Gwen T., Claudia Whitsitt. Front left to right: Jason H., Mason K., Brendan T., Hayden D.BETWEEN THE LINES (book cover)