McCombs Student Turns School Assignment into Novel

McCombs student Zakiya McPherson

McCombs student Zakiya McPherson turned a school writing project into her first novel.

Zakiya McPherson is a 7th grader at McCombs Middle School. And as of this month she’s also a published author.

What started as a teacher’s encouragement to participate in a program called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and work towards a word count goal kept going and going until it became 20 Days, a 185 page, 25k word+ thriller about Jade, a 13-year-old girl living a rather ordinary life until she’s kidnapped by terrorists. If she doesn’t escape within 20 days it’s curtains for Jade. Curious? Check out a sample at Amazon. For only $9.95 you can find out the rest of the story.

Carrey Okland is a Spanish teacher and the Gifted/Talented consultant at McCombs. She facilitates a writing group of about 10 students and Zakiya’s book is the first to emerge from it but there are others in the works.

“We hope at some point to have a special section in the school library for books written by McCombs students,” said Okland.

Not many middle school libraries reserve space for in-house authors.

Zakiya’s first book gushed out of her in “about a month,” she said in an afterschool meeting Wednesday when she was reticent at first to talk about it. Like many authors, she would rather be read than spoken to.

“I didn’t know how it was going to end,” she explained, “and I was anxious to find out.”

Her mother, Beverley McPherson, also teaches at McCombs, and she said once Zakiya got started there was practically no stopping her.

“I would have to make her stop writing to do chores and eat meals,” Beverley laughed. Zakiya rearranged her schoolwork routines to allow for her professional work.

“I tried to do my homework riding the bus between McCombs and Central Campus,” she said. “That way I had more time after school to work on the book.”

When she finished the manuscript she arranged publication through Create Space, an Amazon subsidiary that also provided some editorial review. Zakiya’s costs were minimal and she nets a royalty of $2.89 from each sale. She didn’t say so, but it shouldn’t go without saying that the book would make an affordable and unique holiday gift.

Besides the financial rewards what other fringe benefits might accrue to the young writer? Extra credit at school perhaps?

“I asked my English teacher if I could get an ‘A’ for the book,” Zakiya admitted. But all she got were encouragement and congratulations. Already, though, she has inspired others.

“My little brother Michael is in 3rd grade,” she said. He was the only one she let in on her work while it was still in progress. “And now he’s written a book of his own. I’m proud of him.”

“Other students are surprised when they realize that it’s possible for them to write and publish books, even at their young age,” said Okland.

The Algonquin Round Table was a group of famous New York writers who met daily for lunch in the 1920s. Something similar may soon be underway in the cafeteria at McCombs.

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