Nine Waipahu High School students have the distinction of being published authors after collaborating on a 300-plus-page fiction paperback that’s now selling online.
The novel — believed to be a first for a public high school in Hawaii — is the culmination of a 15-week college-level creative writing course the students took in the spring.
“A lot of them said they had never written anything before and they were afraid to be creative, but it really took off,” said Amanda Silliman, a lecturer at Leeward Community College who taught the 200-level creative writing course.
The class was offered as part of the school’s Early College program, which allows students to earn college credit toward a future degree at a University of Hawaii campus while satisfying high school diploma requirements. The program targets low-income students who would be the first in their families to go to college. Courses are taught on the high school campus free of charge by university faculty.
Waipahu High Principal Keith Hayashi pioneered the Early College program in 2012 and now runs the largest program in the state with funding from the McInerny Foundation.
Participation has skyrocketed at Waipahu: 600 students took at least one Early College course last school year. Course offerings have expanded from one class in summer 2012 to 15 courses scheduled to be offered in the spring.
Silliman said the idea behind the novel was to give students a tangible goal to work toward.
“A lot of writing that students in general do doesn’t really amount to anything, meaning I give them a grade and they stay with me and don’t go anywhere,” she said. “It was nice to actually let them know that what they do would matter, that they would have their names out there. I feel like that was a really motivating factor.”
Silliman herself took college courses in high school while attending Myron B. Thompson Academy, a public charter school. She earned enough credits for an associate’s degree in fine arts through Leeward Community College while still in high school. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from UH West Oahu and her master’s in English from UH Manoa.
Her father, Mark Silliman, is director of Waipahu’s Early College program. A former chancellor at Leeward Community College, he said the Early College program helps to not only set a high bar for students, but make their learning relevant.
“The more we can get our students at the high school level to focus in on real, meaningful issues and problems in life, the more vested they become in their learning,” Mark Silliman said. “The book is just one of many instances where some of our best Early College teachers bring in meaningful, hands-on exercises that actually translate into a product that the students can then personally and emotionally be vested in, so they can say, ‘I’m going to work harder at this because I get something out of it.’”
Amanda Silliman, whose master’s thesis focused on creative writing and weaving stories together, crafted the setting and structure of the fictional story while the nine students developed the book’s characters. The novel is arranged into five sections with 10 short chapters apiece. The sections cover the same storyline, but each is told through the eyes of a different character.
The book — titled “C.O.R.A.L., the Lost Lock” — tells the tale of five C.O.R.A.L. (Collectors of Research and Legends) employees who are trapped in a crumbling underwater laboratory and find themselves tasked with retrieving sensitive research data before they can make an escape.
The paperback has a glossy cover featuring an underwater graphic with the byline “Stories by Marauders,” referring to Waipahu’s mascot. Head shots of the student authors grace the back cover.
During the semester the students were paired off and alternated between writing and editing each other’s work. They wrote 10 double-spaced pages a week — on top of their regular class load and extracurricular and family obligations — to fill the novel’s pages.
At a recent book-signing event in the school’s library, the students, some of them now alumni, acknowledged the project was a lot of work but said they’re proud of the result.
“It’s the most hard work I’ve put into something,” said Geofrey John Julian, 17.
He said it was a challenge to split his time between writing and other commitments including judo and serving as president of the Japanese National Honor Society. “I got to learn more about my limits,” he said.
Chavonnie Ramos, 18, said she appreciated the freedom the instructor gave them to develop their fictional characters.
“My favorite part of this was the different plot twists and being able to push our characters in different directions,” said Ramos, who graduated in the summer and is now studying journalism at UH Manoa.
Geraldine Ilan, who led the school’s slam poetry club, said she’s enjoyed writing fiction since elementary school. She was both nervous and excited when she found out the class would be publishing a book.
“I’ve always wanted to become a published author, but I never really imagined it would happen,” said Ilan, 18, who is studying hospitality and tourism management at Hawaii Pacific University.
Amanda Rae Valiente, 17, said she found the novel-
writing experience challenging but fulfilling.
“It was difficult because I’ve never really written a book before, but it was nice to express my ideas through a character,” Valiente said. “When I saw (the book) for the first time, I was really shocked and really happy. I always wanted to write a book when I was little, and I did it. I want to write another book.”
Silliman used her own money to cover about $200 in publishing costs to have the book edited, laid out and formatted through a friend in France. She hopes to use the profit from each sale — about $1 per book — to continue publishing students’ work in future classes.
“While it’s not much, hopefully it’ll accumulate and I can use that money to continue publishing their work,” Silliman said.
The book, which was published through Amazon, sells for $10: 808ne.ws/CORALnovel.