With determination, Benet senior gets first novel published
"The narrating main character is indistinct and her language is stereotypical and without nuance or specificity," one publisher wrote. "Little is revealed."
Another publisher's words: "This seemed confused as to what kind of story it set out to tell. As a result, the characters felt flawed and unreal to me."
Such were the comments in the letters of rejection teenager Sophia Whittemore got last year as she attempted to get her first novel published. She made nearly 40 inquiries to publishers and was often met with silence.
But the unflappable Glendale Heights teen kept at it and achieved her goal when publisher Clean Reads offered her a contract last August. "Funnyman," the first of a three-part series, was published in March; parts two and three are in the pipeline.
"Why did I keep going? I kept going because I knew that every single step was one step closer to eventually getting that 'yes,'" said Sophia, now 18 and a senior at Benet Academy in Lisle. "I remained incredibly optimistic, perhaps because I'm young."
Clean Reads owner and editor-in-chief Stephanie Taylor said she had no idea Sophia was 17, becoming only the second teen author she's ever taken on, she said.
"I need good writing, a good story, and a writer willing to market. Sophia's book caught my eye right away because it was different," Taylor said. "Most companies thrive on formula and predicate ability. I tend to think you can't set a new trend without looking outside the box. If a story is good, it deserves to be published."
Sophia carries a 4.2 unweighed GPA and plans to attend Dartmouth University. She will major in film and English with a minor in Spanish, and she wants to become a novelist and screenwriter.
Benet Academy English teacher Lori Rogalski said Sophia has shown determination unlike any other student in her 20 years on the job.
"She's head and shoulders above the other kids," Rogalski said. "She figured out how to do this (publishing her book) on her own. She researched it, sent query letters and many, many submissions and rejections. Anybody and their mother can self-publish, but she actually was published. She's really given 110 percent."
Sophia's self-motivation also applied to her efforts in marketing her book. Clean Reads typically requires $500 in e-book sales before printing books, but it waived the requirement for Sophia.
"Most wait for me to do all the marketing, but she took the bull by the horns contacting people left and right for interviews, book orders and publicity," Taylor said.
"Funnyman" is "fantastic," Rogalski said. "It's not my genre, but she's such a bright scholar. She has amazing references to mythological allusions and the world of the gods. She talks about explosions of color and the magic that takes place. Her descriptive writing is breathtaking."
Sophia said she drew inspiration for her book from Greek mythology, a childhood passion of hers.
"I created a different canon of what these gods could be, of what the gods have been through time and how they've changed," she said. "It started with the embodiment of three emotions -- balance, wisdom and love. Love eventually turns to fear. Both are really the same thing, when you think about it."
Sophia started writing short stories as a little girl and began entering writing contests her sophomore year in high school. She now carefully plots her novels and scenes, but her first book was borne out of jotting down notes in a writer's journal from class to class.
Sophia grew up in a multicultural family, her mother from Indonesia and her father American, and she speaks several languages: Spanish and Indonesian fluently, along with some Hebrew and French. She has a blog at sophiawhittemore.com, where she writes about her life, food, travel, culture and her mini schnauzer, Tiger.
Her writing is a reflection of her multiculturalism, she said. "I always try to create characters who are never one-sided. For example, my main character Diana is half Indian and half Caucasian."
Theresa Whittemore said her daughter was a quiet child who absorbed the world around her in unexpected ways.
"Since she was little, my husband and I brought her to museums in other cities, other states and overseas -- art museums, history, natural history," she said. "She just looked and read (information) on the wall by an object. She doesn't talk much. For example, we went to the Japanese (American National) Museum in Los Angeles, and she pays a lot of attention but she doesn't talk. Three years later, she wrote a story (about it)."
Sophia credits her parents with giving her confidence and unfailingly supporting her goals.
"My optimism comes from both my parents," she said. "They always say, 'Hey, reach for the stars.' They always said, 'We have a lot of hope for you.'"
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