Mid-Pen sophomore Collette Zubizaretta always wanted to become an author. After publishing her first collection of short stories, A Little Bit Creative, she made her dream come true.
Collette, who goes by CoCo at school, first began noodling the idea of writing a book in middle school when she embarked on a project with her friends. After they graduated from eighth grade, the book stalled.
Coco’s dream to publish a book didn’t leave her, though; as is the tale of many writers, however, she’d start a story and find herself with the proverbial writer’s block. That is until her sophomore year when she landed in English class with teacher Cory Huttenga. Cory asks his student to take five minutes of each class to freewrite, which is a writing exercise used to generate ideas without restrictions.
“I don't provide extensive feedback on student journals,” said Cory. “I grade them exclusively on effort and encourage students to experiment as much as possible, so most of my feedback is motivational...When I created the activity, I imagined that some students might be inspired to turn something they wrote for class into a bigger project like a short story, a novel, or a screenplay,” said Cory. “To see Coco's book on Amazon is obviously very cool!”
Coco chose the stories and poems from her freewrites in Cory’s class and continued developing those works at home. Her grandmother, author Alma Flor Ada, asked Coco if she would co-write a book with her. When Coco showed Alma her works in progress, A Little Bit Creative was born. Collette’s mom, Hannah Brooks, designed the cover art, which adds to the specialness of this collaborative effort.
With her grandmother's help, Coco’s book was self-published on Amazon in early March. Her grandmother called her with the news: “Congratulations you are officially a published author. Go check it out on Amazon!” When Coco found her book listed, she said it felt like a dream.
“It didn’t feel real at all. It felt like I was going to wake up and it’d be gone.”
But her book is very real. Her stories in the collection are presented in English and Spanish. The translations, which were done by her grandmother, are lyrical and flow as if they were written specifically for the language.
“I would describe Coco's writing style as delicate,” said Cory.”Her prose often reads as if she carefully knitted each word onto the page and her simple yet varied sentence structures create a soothing rhythm. Even when she writes about dark or violent subjects, her tone and diction tend to express a deep calm. Coco's word choice and rhythm are rarely harsh. Her narrative voice seems to quietly sing to readers -- just above a whisper. Coco also has a unique ability to spontaneously create original characters. She will often use my journal prompts to create a conflict, and then she will put some characters in a room and have them talk to one another. With her developing ear for dialogue and her rich descriptions, she consistently succeeds in bringing her characters to life.”
Coco says her favorite piece of writing in the collection is “Mirror Dimension,” with a surprise ending that leads the reader to question what really happened in the story. In a letter to her readers at the start of the collection, she wants them to know that they should consider themselves active participants in her stories.
“You have to kind of use your imagination and make up alternate endings,” she said.
Coco is working on a new project with a grade-school friend; the two will use a single pen name when it’s published.
We can’t wait!
You can watch Coco’s interview with Mid-Pen’s Director of Communications, Charlene Prince Birkeland, and hear Coco read the poem, “ Make a Wish,” from her book A Little Bit Creative.