Writing 101

Children's book author teaches students the basics of publishing

Helen Lester's writing career had a rocky start.

"When I started writing, everything I wrote came out backwards," Lester said.

Literally.

Her teachers had to hold a mirror to her work to decipher what it said. She eventually worked out the kinks but still can write backward if she wants.

"That's probably the most useless talent I can think of," she said. "But I do it because everyone says, 'Oooo.'"

That's what the students who heard her presentation Tuesday at the Moffat County High School auditorium did.

Lester, 70, spoke to students from East, Maybell, Ridgeview and Sunset elementary schools and Craig Intermediate School about the writing, editing and publishing processes.

"My main goal is to encourage kids to write and tell them that authors don't know what they're doing either," Lester said.

The author of well-known books such as "Tacky the Penguin" and "Hooway for Wodney Wat" travels to 65 schools a year, sharing the story of her 30-year writing career.

Coming to Craig has an added incentive.

Her son, Jamie Lester, and his fiancee, Danyle Thiel, live in Steamboat Springs. Helen presented in Steamboat two years ago, but this is her first visit to Craig.

She is visiting from New York from Saturday to Thursday.

Jamie, a substitute teacher, said he sometimes uses his relationship to the author to his advantage.

"It helps to have that in your back pocket," Jamie said. "I'm Tacky's brother."

While Helen's Northwest Colorado visit held benefit for her, the students got a treat, as well.

Helen presented her newest book to the children.

"This is the first time I've had a chance to read this story ever out loud," she said.

The story centers around Ewetopia, a sheep who dresses as a wolf for a costume ball to draw attention. The book is scheduled to release this fall.

The Sagebrush Reading Council of the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association funded Lester's visit.

Sagebrush President Carolyn Casinger said the group brings in an author or storyteller every year. She feels lucky that Lester agreed.

"She has lots and lots of published books that are very familiar to the kids," Casinger said.

The Colorado Council sponsors annual Colorado Children's Book Awards, which Lester won for "Tacky the Penguin" in 1990 and "Hooway for Wodney Wat" in 2001.

Lester said she enjoyed her visit to Craig. Most of all, she hoped to express her love of writing and pass it onto the students. But, she stressed, getting to a polished, finished product is not always easy.

"(Writing is) like doing a maze, doing a puzzle. You have to keep trying different things," Lester said. "You get some really good ideas when you start writing, and you get some not-so-good ideas, and that's OK. You don't hit a homerun every time."

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