CONSHOHOCKEN — Literary titan Ernest Hemingway once reasoned: “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
Maybe. But writers who start putting pen to paper — or fingertips to keyboard — when they’re as young as Fiona Yiaski probably have considerably better odds when it comes to gaining mastery.
The 16-year-old Plymouth Whitemarsh High School junior recently landed second place, a $500 prize and an E-Book contract in a short story contest sponsored by Corinthian Publishing. Coincidentally, Yiaski’s achievement took root in a school art project.
“I was looking for a newspaper for an art project and saw the flyer (for the contest) in The Times Herald and decided to give it a shot,” she explains.
The end result? Yiaski’s “Gloomsdale,” the name of a fictitious small town whose youngest residents keep mysteriously disappearing.
“I adore criminal justice and stuff like that,” she says. “I am incredibly intrigued by serial killers and their thought patterns and (motivation). The ‘why’ is always what catches my attention. I watch many documentaries and television shows and read many books about criminology. Middle school was the first time I picked up a murder mystery novel – by April Henry – and continued reading that genre from that point forward. With that being said, all of these sick, twisted ideas just kind of morphed into ‘Gloomsdale.’”
Clearly, the competition’s “Scary Story” theme was tailor-made for Yiaski.
“After I found the flyer, I sat on the idea for a few days before deciding that I would eventually write it,” she says. “It was the middle of the week after school. I sat down with a cup of iced coffee and, literally, just started writing…letting the words just flow. After I let everything out, I reread this puzzle and started fixing and adding and cutting and replacing and practically changing everything until I liked it.”
Yiaski recalls she “had an overall idea of the plot when I started writing” and describes that plot as “smooth with some mystery, which made the flow just perfect because when the readers start with the title, they automatically picture ‘dark, rain, mystery,’ setting the perfect stage to dive right in.”
Given her subject matter, Yiaski says “the toughest part of writing it was definitely my speed.”
“The toughest part of writing it was definitely my speed,” she continues. “Whenever I write anything, I always feel that the pace is too little or too fast. It’s very rare that I think the flow is efficient. And especially since ‘Scary Story’ equals suspense in my head, I don’t want the suspense to be rushed or known. I want the reader to have their own theory and have the excitement of knowing whether they were right or on the right track or wrong. I always try to incorporate my feelings – what I would want if I was reading this when I write – because why publish something you don’t like.”
Yiaski, who also writes for PW’s “Town Crier” newspaper and “Continental” literary magazine, treasures advice from favorite author, April Henry – “Good writing is rewriting” – which the latter sent her in an email following her Corinthian win.
The Conshohocken teen remembers the impact Henry’s “The Body in the Woods” had on her. The novel was her introduction to the author, and, as Yiaski tells it, she “had me on the hook from the first word.”
“Extraordinary doesn’t even begin to explain her writing style,” she says. “Her flow (in ‘The Body in the Woods’) was perfect, and the mystery was just that until the very end. I love how committed she is to her work. For example, on her website, she has images of her in police cars and actually wanting to be educated on the subject of her novels. So, I guess if I’d have to sum it up, her dedication and her writing style are what inspired – inspires – me.”
Although Yiaski doesn’t have “a definite plan after PW,” she foresees something “along the lines of becoming a writer.”
“I plan on going to college (and) majoring in writing-creative writing,” she adds. “If amazing opportunities keep showing up like this, I could be famous by senior year…haha.”