If there was one message Oak Harbor graduate and published author Sandra Evans left a group of hometown youngsters last Friday, it’s that you can do it too.
Evans held a question-and-answer session last week about her children’s book, “This is Not a Werewolf Story,” with a group of third and fourth graders at Crescent Harbor Elementary.
She told students in Michelle Geer’s, Lindsey O’Toole’s and Rebecca Ching’s classes that they aren’t too young to become writers.
Evans, who received more than 800 rejections before signing a single publishing contact, encouraged the students to never accept “no.”
“That is the one thing I would like all of you guys to remember: People are going to say ‘no’ to you all the time,” Evans said.
“You have to get used to it. You wait until someone says ‘yes.’
“Don’t let people saying no to you, or saying ‘this isn’t good enough,’ or ‘you’re not good enough’ or ‘you’re not smart enough’ or ‘you don’t write well enough’ stop you,” she said. “You have to ignore that, and you keep working.
“Don’t let that stop you from working.”
Evans admitted having doubts of her own at times.
“I imagine in my head all those words and all those stories I’ve written that will never be good enough to get published,” she said. “I had to write those … even sometimes in the middle of something, I would ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this? Nothing I write is ever going to get published. This is never gonna work.’
“I’m just glad I kept trying. I think I liked it enough that I just kept trying.”
Shortly before Evans secured a ‘yes,’ she revised the title of her book, a change she says is a partial reason for the book’s success.
The book was originally called, “The Secrets that We Keep,” a play on one of the story’s themes, intended to teach her son and other children the difference between the secrets we divulge to others and ones we keep within. Other themes, those of friendship, betrayal and personal change, evolved as she developed the narrative.
One publisher who was interested in the book ultimately declined because one of the characters appeared to be a werewolf.
Evan said that led to a moment in her living room. Looking at the rejection slip, she said, “This is not a werewolf story.”
The title stuck and soon after a book deal was struck.
Evans said she was first inspired to write the book when her son, now 13, told her about a story he’d read in school.
“He came home one day after school and he’d read this picture book of this story that I had studied while writing my dissertation on Medieval French literature.”
She remembered being surprised that her son’s picture book matched up with the Medieval tale she’d studied. She began to re-imagine the tale.
“The original story is not for kids,” she said. “It’s … about a man who goes into the woods and becomes a wolf, and his wife starts getting very suspicious. Then she decides to force the secret out of him.”
When the man tells his wife his secret, she becomes disgusted.
“She has her boyfriend come and steal the husband’s clothes and he ends up being a wolf forever until the king comes along.” Evans said. “This king sees this wolf acting like this human, like bowing down to him and everything.”
In the end of the Medieval tale, Evans said the king stops all hunting and takes the husband-turned-wolf back to his court.
“Really it’s about keeping secrets, about keeping your private self private,” she said.
“My son was helping me all throughout the process,” she said. “He would talk to me about it.
“I’m a very quiet person, and I don’t tend to talk about things,” she said. “I think just having him be part of the process (helped). If you want to do something, there’s no one more enthusiastic than 9-year-olds.”
Evans teaches French part-time at Stadium High School in Tacoma.
“I knew that this story was different because I had written it with my son,” Evans said. “I thought, ‘What if I don’t keep trying to get this book published? What kind of message am I telling my son?’”