HARTFORD, Conn. — The successes of Rockville High School’s creative writing classes have become well-known when it comes to receiving state, and even national, awards and recognition, partially due to the dedication shown, even during summer vacation.
Some of those students, along with teacher Victoria Nordland, spend time in the summer honing their craft by creating, writing, and producing an online literary magazine, Journey 75, at the Nook Farm Writers’ Collaborative — a program at the Mark Twain House and Museum.
For six weeks, the students (this year, 13 from area high schools are taking part), under the direction of Nordlund and program coordinator Dr. Erin Bartram, produce a variety of pieces in forms inspired by Twain’s writing career, including journalism, essays, poetry and short stories, culminating in a personal portfolio. With the support of workshops led by a variety of writers and editors from around the country, the students also work collaboratively to design and produce an online literary journal featuring their works.
“We bring in people... that have jobs within this field, so they can see what it’s like to be a writer, a marketer, or an editor,” Nordlund said. “They learn about these careers. They’re also putting together their own website, literary journal, and they get skills as part of an editorial team or a marketing team. Everybody has a job.”
Bartram said the magazine gives writers some perspective, because they learn there is more to the process than just writing.
“What we try to impress on them is that there are a lot of other people involved to make your work get out there,” she said. “There’s a reason why the author doesn’t get all the profits.”
On July 18, the students had a workshop with Courant Community reporter Steve Smith, who gave them some basic thoughts on how to interview people in order to dig deeper into their topic, how to stay conversational while being professional, and the “five W’s” -— who, what, where, when, and why — with emphasis on the why.
The next day, the students put those lessons to use, as they interviewed Nick Paley, who wrote and directed the movie “Marcel the Shell,” via Zoom, asking him about his process of writing the movie, creating the character and the challenges of filming stop-motion animation.
“It’s trying to bring something that you really care about, and something very personal, and it’s hard to put into words, and you’re afraid people aren’t going to understand it,” he said. “But now, on the other side of it, I can tell you that sharing the movie with everyone and having people hear it, really understand what we were trying to say with it... and they’re totally getting it, and you feel more known and heard. That makes the big dip in the middle of it worth it.”
Paley told the students that one key to successful writing is being fearless and doing what you want to do without worrying about whether or not other people like it.
“The best thing you can do to learn how to write is to learn how to pay attention to your own life,” he said. “See what you are interested in. There’s nobody in the world who can tell you you’re a writer. You just have to decided that, and act like everything you are interested in and care about really matters. It’s the most important thing to your work. It’s about giving yourself authority to say, ‘What I experience and think is interesting.’”
The students said they appreciated Paley’s thoughts.
“What’s always interesting to me in an interview like this is how people react to being asked questions,” Tovah Oslovich, a Rockville student, said. “He was really friendly, and he gave insight into the fact that people who make really cool things are really just humans with interesting brains.”
“What I found really interesting is I like to view what’s happening behind the scenes, and how people invent the magic before the actors and animation come in,” said Kim Yankson, also a Rockville student.
The students added that they are learning a great deal in the program, while thoroughly enjoying it.
“I enjoy being able to write in the Mark Twain House itself, because that’s where you can get a lot of inspiration from, just from the scenery,” Yankson said.
“I’ve always really liked writing,” said Rebecca Tsarkov, a Hall High School sophomore. “I enjoy interviewing people and writing for the school newspaper. I want to be an investigative journalist, which I haven’t tried yet, but out of all the different topics in journalism, that sounds the most interesting.”
That exposure the program provides, to different facets of writing, Tsarkov said, is valuable.
“I love trying all these different kinds of writing, like poetry, which I haven’t done before,” she said, adding that as part of the magazine’s marketing team, she’s working on publicity.
“We just kind of started that, but we’re going on social media, and figuring out how to get the word out there, about the magazine,” she said.