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Valenzuela wins national writing contest

Sofia holds up the book of winning short stories Barnes and Noble published, featuring her story, 'The Real Adventure.'

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporte

When it became clear that people were going to be spending months in lockdown due to COVID-19, a few common pandemic resolutions arose. Other than losing weight or improving fitness levels, the most common thing people proclaimed they were going to do with all their free time was finally write the story they’d been kicking around in their head for years. But now, nearly nine months into lockdowns and with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) ending on December 1, scores of writers are forced to come to terms with the fact that even with all that time stuck at home, they didn’t write anything.

Except for ten-year-old Sherborn resident Sofia Valenzuela, that is.

While so many older writers never put pen to paper, Sofia wrote “The Real Adventure,” entered it in the Barnes & Noble National Children’s Short Story Contest, won, and now has a traditionally published book with her story in it.

Billed as a competition for children ages 6-12, Sofia’s story was one of only fifteen entries selected for publication. While her mother, Christina, noted that Sofia is constantly crafting stories in a notebook, some credit belongs to her teacher at St. Benedict Classical Academy in Natick, Katie Boren, for telling Sofia about the competition.  

“Everyone was home in the spring and all the kids were looking for ways to stay connected," Valenzuela explained, "and her teacher sent us an email that said: ‘I just found out about this short story competition, and I know that Sophia loves to write stories, so I thought that it would be something fun for her to do and kind of take her mind off of everything that’s going on right now.

“So it was a very sweet gesture on her part to think of Sofia.”

Sofia was unsure of what her contest story should be about, initially considering one about an earthworm who wanted to be a fashion model, before her mother and father tried to help her decide. It was then that Sofia came up with a more timely theme.

“Sofia wrote a number of stories, and this was the one she ultimately landed on. The first one, I think, was about an earthworm who wanted to be a fashion model, and she toyed with submitting that one for a little while. But the story she ended up with actually has ‘being at home during lockdown’ as kind of its starting premise. She said ‘I don’t have any ideas for what to write,’ and we said, ‘it sounds like you have a lot of great ideas but start with what you know,’ and she said, ‘well I know what it’s like to be bored during lockdown, stuck at home,’ so she had her characters start from that.”

When asked for a synopsis of “The Real Adventure,” Christina offered the following: “Sofia's story is about a girl named Katie who turns to books for adventure and excitement. But when she is cut off from the library and her e-reader breaks, a hooded stranger teaches her about the adventures and excitement you can find in everyday little tasks when you help others.”

Sofia herself noted that she’d be willing to enter another contest if she came across one, and when pressed on whether her story left room for a sequel, she explained: “It might. I have a character that I think I might like to be a recurring character. I’d have to think of somewhere to work them in.”

Sofia said that she was “very, very excited” when she found out that she had won, while her mother explained that her daughter was elated. But while part of winning involved receiving a signed copy of “Writing Magic” by Gail Carson Levine, the author of “Ella Enchanted” - both of Christina’s daughters are huge fans of it - for the Valenzuela family, there is another writer from whom Sofia’s sibling are much more excited to receive signed work: their big sister.

“Sofia’s very excited. She’s proud of herself, and she feels like she’s accomplished something important. She’s also very grateful to her teacher. One of the first things she did is write a thank-you note, so she said ‘mommy, can I send an email to thank my teacher for telling me about the contest?’ Her younger siblings are aged eight, five and two, and they all have special copies of the book that were autographed by their big sister, at their request. And Sofia’s going to be giving books out as Christmas presents to family members, writing cute little dedication pages, and signing them. It’s been very sweet.”

Winning a writing contest and having a story traditionally published is already better than most would-be authors have on their resumes. But while Sofia is looking to be an author in the future, Christina was looking at the contest victory as more of a pleasant memory during a tough time than an addition to the “author bio” section of a future query letter Sofia will send to literary agents.

“She dreams of being an author when she grows up, so I think this is something that is going to help her set her sights on what she wants to do, and it’s a nice memory from 2020 for sure.”

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