Randall Teacher/The Coal Elf Author Sparks Student’s Love Of Writing

By Shayne Bernstein, 7th Grader, Randall MS

I have had a few teachers that have made a real positive impact on my life. Mrs. Maria DeVivo, my 7th grade English/Language arts teacher, is one such teacher. She not only made transitioning to a new class mid–year easier, but she has inspired me to consider pursuing writing. She has also made me feel comfortable with being who I am as a person and reassured me that I don’t have to sacrifice who I am just to fit in.

I had the pleasure of sitting with Mrs. DeVivo and ask her some questions about becoming a successful author.

Q – Who inspired you to write?
A – My Dad. He read to me as a kid. Newspapers, mags, then made up fairy tales. Stories about bears like Goldilocks. I loved that my dad was making up stories and I wanted to do the same thing.

Q – How old were you when you decided to start writing?
A – I knew I wanted to be a writer in 7th grade, when I read The Outsiders. I knew that this is what I wanted to do eventually. I wanted to one day walk into a book store, point to a shelf and say ’ha ha!’ I wrote that. When I was a little kid I loved to write and wrote all the time but it wasn’t until 7th grade that I knew I wanted to do this professionally.

Q – When was the first book of The Coal Elf series published?
A – The book was written in 2010 and published in 2012. The whole publishing process takes about a year once singed with Publishing house. Second book in 2015 and the last book came out this year.

Q – Why did you call the books The Coal Elf?
A – I was teaching at a Catholic school in New York. Because I am such a weirdo, I wore a black velvet dress and black velvet Santa hat with silver jewelry and people were looking at me like I was a nut – which I still am. The kids would come up to me and say Ms. DeVivo- you look like a bad elf. You look so evil. And I was like yeah – you’re all getting coal in your stocking. I’m coming to your house and putting coal in your stocking and from that it clicked in my head – if you are bad you get coal in your stocking but who brings that coal? Who mines it? My kids inspired me to write this book.

Q – What would you tell someone that wanted to start out writing?
A – Have a plan. Know what you want to write about. Read the genre you want to write about so you have an understanding of the market and the ways they are presenting material. Books from 50 years ago will be very different from books you read from five years ago. Read the genre, get a sense of style but find your own voice.

Q – How does one start a series not just one book? What tips would you give somebody?
A – Know your facts. Writing a series is super hard because you have to make sure there aren’t any continuity errors. If a character has a short hair the hair can get longer and that is something the audience will pay attention to but if the character in the first story doesn’t smoke and then all of a sudden they smoke – you know you have to pay attention to continuity. After I wrote the book I created a cheat sheet – I would have characters, setting, important dates and plot points. I’m bad with passage of time. It’s hard. Writing the second book was hard and writing the third book was hard with continuity.

I learned a lot from sitting with Mrs. DeVivo that day. I even had the pleasure of hearing her speak at the Tampa Bay Comic Con. I highly recommend reading the The Coal Elf series, which can be found on Amazon.