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reading and writing

Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Creative Contests  >  Creative Writing Contest
25th Annual Creative Writing Contest, 2006  -  Kahlin Blees - 2006 Editor's Choice
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Anchorage Daily News

Kahlin Blees doesn't look like a writer. For one thing, he's a bit short. For another, he doesn't wear glasses or pause in the middle of sentences to ramble out long, pretentious musings from books he hasn't really read.

He's much more straightforward than all that. Kahlin says he writes because he loves words and because "I just have to."

The energetic 9-year-old roamed through his South Anchorage home showing off pieces of comics and torn notebook pages jotted with characters and story ideas. He wore an orange T-shirt and rumpled jeans. His face was tanned, his smile toothy.

"Hey, listen to this," he said excitedly. "It's about this space alien named Zoid, and then he ... oops, wait. I never finished this."

His short-story entry, "Giraffe Boy," won honorable mention in the Grade 3 and Under category and Editor's Choice overall. Judges said they were "delighted by the imagination in the story and by amusing writing gems tucked here and there."

It's a simple story with surprisingly vivid detail: a scary school bus filled with sharks and cobras; a bedroom loaded with bananas; a gym teacher who makes students do 400 pull-ups; and a boy who turns into a giraffe and finds himself craving bamboo leaves.

Kahlin relaxed in an easy chair and kicked his feet against the side as he talked about his writing process.

"I really don't think about writing all the time," he said. "I just make something up and write a story about it."

The inspiration for "Giraffe Boy" came from the TV show "My Gym Partner Is a Monkey" and Carl Hiaasen's Newbury Honor book, "Hoot."

"I wrote a couple of chapters a day," Kahlin said, pulling at a colored tag around his wrist from a recent book fair. "Then I stopped for about two weeks because I had to do a bunch of stuff. Then I started again."

He didn't plan or outline the story. Instead, he depended on his imagination. When asked if he was afraid he might not be able to come up with an ending, he squinted and said, "Huh?"

His favorite part of the story is Chapter 9, "When Alfred Comes Over." He likes this Alfred, a gorilla who introduces himself as "Me Ulfred."

"I made up all the names," Kahlin said. "Like (Ms.) Grubbingloaf? I made that one up thinking of the disgusting school lunches."

He also drew a cover for "Giraffe Boy" but wasn't able to make copies in time to submit with his entry. It's an awesome cover, done in ink with a lot of contrasting white space. Tiny comic figures weave and intermingle.

According to parents David and Kathy Blees, Kahlin's teacher -- Lisa Kenning of Sand Lake Elementary School, where Kahlin is enrolled in the Japanese immersion program -- encouraged him to enter the writing contest. He was enthusiastic, they said, but it helped that he had a goal and a deadline to work toward. When they heard he had won Editor's Choice, they weren't surprised.

"That's just typical Kahlin," Kathy said. "Sometimes I see him and he has this faraway look, and you know he's thinking about writing."

Kahlin ran downstairs to his room, which is decorated with Elvis pictures and posters ("I like him but can't remember just why") and grabbed a handful of papers from his top desk drawer. He ran back to the living room and spread them over the floor. These, he said in a serious voice, were his rough drafts or, as he put it, "the writings that didn't quite make it." They are written in pen and pencil, with words scratched out and others cramped in above or below or alongside the margins. He wrote "Giraffe Boy" twice and changed small sections each time. Then his father typed it up on the computer.

The story, Kahlin said, is dedicated to his friend Ben O'Brien, who died May 28 in a boating accident on the Deshka River.

"I don't know why I decided to do that," he said. "I just thought, well ... I just did."

Then, as if to relieve the tension, he pulled a comb out of his pocket and held it in front of his face. "Hey, look!" he said. "I've got a mustache."

Kahlin is already working on his next story, which is about a shape-shifting machine.

"Your eyes could be on your toe," he said, jumping up and pointing to his foot. "And your ear could be coming out your knee."

He hopes to someday write stories and comics for a living. Comics, he says, are his real passion. He unfolded one he is especially proud of, about a character named Maxx who transforms himself into Super Elvis. It's drawn in ink, and the lines are smooth and confident.

"Where's my fat strap," Maxx yells from one panel, his white jumpsuit half pulled on. "Where's the grease for my wig?"

Kahlin reads a lot, two or three or four books at a time.

"I read one, and then I see another and I think maybe that one's better, so I have to start that one too. Then I see another and think, well, maybe this is even better. So, of course, I have to read that one too."

He pulled a yellow balloon from his pockets, stuck it in his mouth and started to blow it up, his cheeks puffing, his eyes widening.

"I'm like a hamster," he said, somewhat out of breath. "I do most of my writing at night."

He jumped up, hugged a folder to his chest and ran it back down to his room.

"This is a story I'm working on," he said when he returned. "I can't let anyone see it until I'm finished. I just have 11 more chapters to go."

Then he raced out the door, his Heelys shoes clomping down the stairs, the wheels gliding over the driveway as he sped away, his mind filled, no doubt, with images of aliens and shape-shifting machines and boys who turn into Elvis and rid the world of evil.

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