Students win first place at California Association of Teachers of English writing contest

Amrutha Dorai

Sophomore Ann Fu and junior Allyson Gottlieb write fiction to express their love of literature.

Sophomore Ann Fu mastered the art of reading in the shower when she was in the third grade. The book was “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and the methodology was simple: Place the book in a Ziploc bag. Step into the shower. Need to turn a page? Step out of the shower. Dry hands. Take the book out of the bag, turn the page, put the book back in the bag. Step back into the shower. Rinse and repeat.

Fu was a creative reader before she was a creative writer. Both sides, however, were helpful when she decided to enter the annual California Association of Teachers of English writing contest last November.

The prompt was to either reflect upon or continue the story of a favorite piece of literature. It was the perfect task for both Fu and fellow MVHS participant junior Allyson Gottlieb. Final results for the Central Section — an area which, according to the girls’ English teacher Matt Brashears, spans from Fresno to Monterey to the Silicon Valley — were announced at a luncheon on April 28. Fu won first amongst all freshman and sophomores; Gottlieb, amongst juniors and seniors.

 

Sophomore Ann Fu’s submission to the CATE writing contest by Amrutha Dorai

 

The creative process

When Brashears introduced the contest to his World Studies and Mythology and Folklore classes last fall, Fu and Gottlieb knew not only that they would participate, but also which aspect of the prompt they would address.

“I was like, bingo!” Gottlieb said. “Wait a second, that prompt is basically saying, ‘Write fan fiction.’”

For Gottlieb, there was no question as to which story she would be continuing. Her submission was a prologue of sorts to her favorite young adult novel series, “The Mortal Instruments.” Cassandra Clare, the series’ author, actually started off writing fan fiction herself.

Fu, however, struggled with the decision. While she knew she would be continuing a novel, there were simply too many options. Eventually, she chose to write a continuation of Jodi Picoult’s 2003 novel “My Sister’s Keeper.” Fu and her friends had found Picoult’s ending unsatisfying. Now, she had the opportunity to fix it.

Once they had written five pages of fiction apiece, Fu, Gottlieb and other participants submitted their stories to Brashears; students could only take part in the competition if their piece was entered by an English teacher. Although each teacher can send up to three submissions, Brashears chose to submit only the strongest from each of the two subjects he teaches — Fu’s from his World Studies class and Gottlieb’s from his Mythology and Folklore classes.

“Above all, I looked for things that I would like to read, things that were enjoyable to read,” Brashears said. “In that respect, these two pieces really just rose to the top because they were like published pieces of fiction. It was the kind of thing you might have pulled off of a bookshelf or found in an anthology of short stories.”

 

Junior Allyson Gottlieb’s submission to the CATE writing contest by Amrutha Dorai

 

A true passion

The CATE contest marks neither the beginning nor the end of the girls’ ventures into creative writing. For them, writing is more than a skill necessary for literature class: it’s a true passion.

The cover of “Darkest Legacy,” a novella that junior Allyson Gottlieb plans to self-publish, was designed by Advanced Multimedia student junior Eshwar Swaminathan. Gottlieb, along with sophomore Ann Fu, submitted a five-page story to the California Association of Teachers of English writing contest. Both won first place in their respective divisions. Used with permission of Allyson Gottlieb.

The cover of “Darkest Legacy,” a novella that junior Allyson Gottlieb plans to self-publish, was designed by Advanced Multimedia student junior Eshwar Swaminathan. Gottlieb, along with sophomore Ann Fu, submitted a five-page story to the California Association of Teachers of English writing contest. Both won first place in their respective divisions. Used with permission of Allyson Gottlieb.

Gottlieb writes fan fiction — she won’t say what for because it’s apparently too embarrassing — and she has also been in the process of writing a novel for the last two years. It’s 67,000 words long, which is just about 20,000 more than “The Great Gatsby.” She has also written a 14,000 word novella called “Darkest Legacy” that she plans to self-publish.

“When I was writing my novella, I was carrying around a little journal,” Gottlieb said. “I was writing every single second I got.”

The story is complex, nonlinear. It involves lost love, escaped prisoners and possible world domination. When asked how it ends, Gottlieb laughs, puts her hands on her hips and says, “I can’t tell you that.”

Fu writes often as well, setting aside two-to-three-hour blocks a few times a week to craft stories which she later posts on YouTube. According to Fu, it’s a common practice in the community of aspiring writers to publish their work in the description boxes of videos that are often just five-second stills. Fu declined to provide the name of her YouTube channel; she prefers to keep it private.

As a prize for winning the CATE contest — which, according to Brashears, operates at the regional level only — each of the girls received a certificate, a journal, a book and a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card. Neither of them has decided what they will spend the gift card on. The problem isn’t that they have a shortage of books to read.

“I read when I get out of the shower, I read when I’m eating, if I’m not eating with anybody else,” Gottlieb said. “I read when I’m drying my hair.”

It’s just that they’re selective in their purchases. When they want to read a book without necessarily buying it, they know where to go.

“My dad says that I’m probably one of the last few people who still uses the library,” Gottlieb said.

“I love the library!” Fu said. She started to recite a quote engraved by the door of the Cupertino Library: “‘I’ve always imagined that a library…’” She paused, lost.

“‘…paradise would be a kind of library,’” Gottlieb finished.