Author James Dashner always wanted to be a writer.
Sure, he studied accounting in college and even worked in that field for a while, but it wasn’t his passion.
“It wasn’t my favorite thing in the world,” Dashner told a group of Blandford Elementary students on a visit Friday to the school. “I really, really wanted to be an author.”
Dashner realized his dream of earning a living as a writer, penning several series of books: “Infinity Ring,” “Maze Runner,” “Jimmy Fincher” and “The 13th Reality.” He encouraged the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders assembled in the gym to pursue their passions as well.
“I really like to try to inspire them to accomplish their dreams,” Dashner said, “because I always wanted to be an author, but it wasn’t that easy getting there.”
Fittingly, Dashner’s trip to Blandford resulted from the efforts of an aspiring novelist. BES fifth-grader Anna Freeman earned Dasher’s visit by winning Scholastic Book Club’s Infinity Ring Rewrite History Contest.
“I was really impressed with her essay. She deserved to win,” Dashner said. “It’s just great to meet someone who’s so obviously excited about reading and about writing, and I’m really impressed with her.”
Students from across the country entered the essay contest. Freeman’s essay was selected as the best from nearly 3,000 submissions.
“It’s very humbling,” she said. “It’s kind of a wake-up call that I could really do this, because I want to publish a novel in my lifetime.”
Freeman anticipates her first novel will be a work of historical fiction, as her winning essay was. The contest called for rewriting history, so she said she “brainstormed and wrote down a list of the worst events that have ever happened in history.”
From that list, Anna decided to focus on the Holocaust. Her essay provided a look at how life might have been different had Adolf Hitler never been born.
“Anna is an exceptional writer who has a true gift with words,” said BES teacher Stacy Mincey. “I know she will have a great future as a writer; the story she wrote for the contest gave me chill bumps the first time I read it. Not only does she have a knack for writing an interesting story, she shows true insight and creativity.”
Dashner entertained the students with stories of growing up in Georgia and developing an interest in writing at an early age. He said his parents often read books to him when he was young — “I couldn’t get enough of them” — and that inspired him to start writing stories when he was in elementary school.
He involved the BES students in his presentation, inviting a few of them to join him for an exercise in creative storytelling. The volunteers acted out suggestions from the audience for characters and plot turns.
Anna’s two teachers, Keeli Wadley and Fran Parker, had an additional treat for their students. Following his presentation, Dashner met with their classes and gave each student a signed copy of “A Mutiny in Time,” the first book in the “Infinity Ring” series.
“We’re really just trying to get kids to associate reading with fun,” Dashner said.
Freeman has been doing that for years. She said she has “always loved reading,” and she enjoys reading and writing in her spare time. Anna even combines the two hobbies by creating alternate endings to the books she reads.
“So then you think, ‘let’s just start over and then add that alternate,’” she said. “So you start writing your own stories, and it’s a lot of fun.”
The daughter of Drs. Kerry and Sally Freeman of Effingham Eye Care in Rincon, Anna will attend the 2013 Duke University Young Writers Summer Camp. The camp is tailored for students in grades 6-8, but Freeman was invited as a fifth-grader “based on her extraordinary writing abilities,” according to her teachers.