With help from Portland’s The Telling Room, Elizabeth Flanagan debuts historical novel

Waldoboro teen author wrote, published her first novel in one school year

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 3:00pm

    WALDOBORO— Elizabeth Flanagan, 18, a senior at Medomak Valley High School, got a crash course this past year in what it’s like to be a published author, thanks to Portland’s Telling Room, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering youth in writing and storytelling.

    “She applied for our Young Emerging Authors program last year and had to submit a book pitch, 10 sample pages and a recommendation,” said Kathryn Williams, the lead teacher of the YEA program. “Of the number of applicants, we chose four fellows, which included Elizabeth. I was really intrigued by her concept, because we’d never done a historical novel before.”

    The premise of the novel, titled The Secrets They Left Behind, is set in 1950s and 1920s Iowa and follows 14-year-old Clara Rollins as she untangles an intricate web of secrets involving her father, his brother, an infamous bootlegger, and his beguiling wife.

    “I came up with the idea for the book when I applied for the fellowship,” said Flanagan. “It developed more once I got accepted. I sat down and wrote four chapters and those ended up being the sample pages.”

    Williams, who served as Elizabeth’s executive editor, said: “It was fairly ambitious because it weaves together two different timelines with a mystery at the heart of it. I was also impressed at how ell thought out the book concept already was.”

    “It felt right to be a historical novel and take place in a small farm town and I knew I wanted it to be about two generations so there needed to be a time jump with mysterious goings on,” she said.  “And I love the Roaring Twenties and the Prohibition era, so I wanted that in there too.”

    Each week, she was allowed an early release from school to fulfill the fellowship. Her father drove her down to Portland to The Telling Room from Waldoboro, and waited while she attended a two-hour writing and mentoring session. “I couldn’t have done it without my Dad. When I applied, both of my parents told me that if I won the fellowship, they were going to make it work,” she said.

    Like all authors, she had to delve deeply into researching her setting and characters, the most challenging of which, was describing farming, something she’s never done. “I did a lot of research online, and ended up on this Iowa Historical Society website,” said Flanagan. “In one scene, I had the characters on a working farm and needed to learn about winter wheat harvesting, so I listened to these recordings of these old farmers and working with threshers and how to harvest winter wheat.”

    “We worked with Elizabeth for almost a full year,” said Williams. “At one point, we brought in writing mentors who came in to work with the students and really get into the manuscript, starting out on structural issues on the macro level, on character development and for almost four months, they worked on editing and revising the manuscript.”

    Flanagan worked closely with a mentor, published author Deirdre McDonough-Fulton, as well as the book’s editors and designer. “Dierdre got to know my characters and story so well, almost as well as I did and just talking with her fleshed out a lot of things in the editing process,” said Flanagan. As for the cover, Flanagan also had input with The Telling Room’s designers, supplying the idea for the overlay of the farm silhouette superimposed on what looks like an old-fashioned handwritten letter.  “There’s a letter in the book that sparks the start of solving the mystery,” she said.

    As part of her fellowship, Flanagan signed a contract with the Telling Room that allowed her the copyright of the manuscript, but assigned The Telling Room exclusive worldwide rights to publish the novel, with all proceeds reinvested into Telling Room programs.  “All of our core programs are free to students,” said Williams.

    In August, The Telling Room celebrated with the launch of the fellows’ books and a celebration of the authors. “It was awesome. Some days I really can’t believe it; and I have to hold the book and say it was real. I did it,” she said.

    The publishing launch has been a success. “The first print run of 75 copies book sold out, so we are on our second print run,” said Williams.

    Flanagan is only planning to do a one-night-only book reading at the Waldoboro Public Library on Wednesday, November 14 at 6: 30 p.m. Williams will also be on hand this evening to sell copies of the book. For more information visit: http://www.waldoborolibrary.org/

    To purchase a copy of Flanagan’s book online visit: https://www.tellingroom.org/store#Books

    Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com