Anchorage Daily News
It began with a history class discussion on the Salem witch trials.
That piqued the student's interest. Then came an English class
assignment -- to write a fictional story at least three pages long.
That provided the impetus.
Most of the rest was 13-year-old Rebecca Nations' doing.
What the Palmer area eighth-grader (who goes by Becca) proceeded to
do was write a prize-winning short story for this year's University of
Alaska/Anchorage Daily News Creative Writing Contest -- one that
combined her newfound interest in the Salem witch trials, her research
skills on the computer, her love of literature and writing, and
particularly her willingness to revise and improve her work again and
The result was "The Courier," which preliminary judges awarded first
place in the 7th-to-9th grade fiction division, and final judges
awarded the Grand Prize, citing the story as a remarkable effort for a
"When you're a kid and you like to write, you write a lot of these,
well, just stupid little stories," says Becca, poking fun at her own
previous efforts. "And I got sick of it. . . . I wanted to write
something that would make people think."
So instead of easily dashing off a three-pager to fulfill her
assignment, Becca logged onto the Internet and found "SalemWeb" -- an
Internet site that provides historical information on Salem, Mass.,
including a link with transcripts from the town's famous witch trials.
She also found the true-life record of Bridget Bishop and took notes.
Then on a single afternoon, she wrote a 13-page story that focused
on the life of Bishop, using her imagination to fill in the gaps,
producing a work of historical fiction.
"One of the things that drew me so much to choose Bridget Bishop as
a character is there wasn't a lot of information about her," Becca
says. "So it wasn't as if I was changing facts that were already there.
Because I couldn't find a whole lot."
Then she showed the story to her English teacher at Colony Middle
School. Lura Hegg is used to receiving excellent school work from Becca
Nations, an honor student with interests that stretch from science to
orchestra to acting. "She's a real talented child," Hegg says. "She
loves to write."
Becca starred on the state champion Colony Middle School science
team that recently traveled to Grand Rapids, Mich., for the National
Science Olympiad. Competing against some of the top science students in
the country, she and classmate James Grand won eighth-place for solving
a water-quality problem.
Still, the witch trial story caught her teacher by surprise. "I told
her I thought it was just wonderful," Hegg recalls. "And I said, 'Do
you want to put some high school or college-level techniques in there?'
And she said, 'Yes.' "
So "The Courier" became a semester-long project for Becca. History
teacher Joe Nolting, suggested she research the subject in greater
depth by reading Arthur Miller's famous play, "The Crucible." Hegg
talked to her about controlling the vocabulary of the story, choosing
only words that contribute to the mood she wanted to create. About
foreshadowing to build tension. About the power of "showing, not
telling" by giving readers sensory details that help them create
pictures in their minds.
What she didn't do, she says, is take control of Becca's story.
"You can be assured she's a very independent child," Hegg says. "If
I make a suggestion . . . she doesn't write down what I say. She
reworks it. She's able to take the spirit (of the suggestion) and then
make it come real for herself. She can make that jump."
Becca credits a home environment that encourages writing on the
computer. Her parents, Scott, a land surveyor, and Andi, a special
education teacher, have always urged their two daughters (including
Lara, 11) to reach as high as they can.
How high will that be for Becca? Right now, she says, she's contemplating a career as a neurosurgeon.
But don't count out a possible future in the literary arts as well, her English teacher says.
"We're going to hear more from Becca," Lura Hegg says. "She's going to be good."