It was a dark and stormy night ... junior high kids writing novellas

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Author Susan Purvis throws a piece of candy to a student during a talk at the Columbia Falls Junior High last week.

Columbia Falls eighth graders are taking on a heady task this fall: Writing a novel, or at least a novella.

As part of National Novel Writing Month, English and literature teacher Rubianna Masa is challenging students to write their own stories.

Last week, they got some tips from local authors Susan Purvis and Debbie Burke, who are also active locally along with Masa in the group, Authors of the Flathead.

Purvis is the author of “Go Find” an adventure memoir of how she flopped her entire life around from a gold exploration geologist in the Dominican Republic to raising and training rescue and cadaver dogs.

Purvis coached students on the finer points of storytelling. It took her 50 years to write her story, she told students last week.

“That’s why you have to start when you’re in the eighth grade,” she said.

Purvis told the story of one woman who was the victim of a heinous murder. Her body was put in a stone crusher, then burned to crisp in a pit and then left. Still, her dogs were able to find the victim.

That story became part of her book as she went from geologist to dog trainer.

“Before I knew it, I was solving crimes for law enforcement,” she said. “And I wrote a book about it.”

Purvis and Burke challenged students to tell their own tales of adventure, or at least, make up good ones of their own.

Masa and fellow teacher Cecilia Byrd have been teaching the novel program for several years now through the National Novel Writing Month’s young writer’s program, which offers an entire curriculum to get young people writing books, from crafting a plot to creating a story arc.

As students craft their stories, Masa will be crafting one as well — a science fiction tale.

“I always take the challenge with the kids,” she said.

The students have until Nov. 30 to complete the assignment.

“It’s all about getting your story out,” Masa said.

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