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A Dream Come True


Cleveland Plain Dealer - April 14, 2006

Contest makes an author out of Shaker Heights Teen

by Debbie Snook

Sure, there's more than a wee fairy behind this cheery Irish tale:

Shaker Heights High School student Bridget O'Dwyer sits down to write a story about her enthralling six-month stay in Ireland with relatives, when she hears about a book-publishing contest for teens.

The crafty O'Dwyer comes up with an idea for an educational project, merging her personal experiences on the Emerald Isle with a contemporary retelling of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Shakespeare's play about mixed-up lovers. Her salable proposal -- fairies included -- wins the contest, giving her a $100 a week summer job of writing.

The assignment is nightmarishly demanding at times; the author laments having to cast her uncle as a bad guy, and the romance at the story's core is -- alas -- only imagined. But the grandmother sharing Irish myths is real, and the printing of the 160-page paperback is a dream come true.

It's for sale right now on Amazon.com for $5.95. By Thursday, May 11, the author will be able to walk into a major bookstore and find her "Celtic Night" on the shelf of young adult books.

"I know it's a sweet deal for a first book," she says, letting her brown tresses sway with nonchalance.

The sweet deal comes courtesy of Bill Jelen, creator of Fresh Writers Books, a publishing company he created. He's also a puckish Portage County resident who claims he can't write well, although he has 10 books to his credit.

Formerly an information-systems manager in Fairlawn, he became an independent guru of Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet programs. His consulting service, his Web site (www.mrexcel.com ) and his publications have made him a go-to guy on the subject. He says he's sold more than 45,000 books.

It convinced him that anyone could sell a book, so while speaking to a Junior Achievement class in 1990 at Lake High in Uniontown, he cooked up the idea of students creating, publishing and marketing their own books.

He admits now that it wasn't a fully formed idea.

"First I asked the class what books they like to read, and they said students don't like to read books," he says.

He also had a hard time choosing the first winner from 16 entries in 2004. He chose four, a more expensive proposition than he expected. In all, he says, he's invested some $45,000, with no monetary return. Yet.

Three of the first year's books had Christian themes, which he later realized was not an easy sell, even in Christian schools. Still, all four winners made it into print.

"It gives the authors a confidence none of their peers will have," he says.

The second time around, he chose two proposals: O'Dwyer's and an emotional sports championship memoir, "Harriers," by cousins Joseph and Paul Shivers of Salem, near Youngstown.

Jelen says O'Dwyer, the daughter of Cuyahoga County Public Library Executive Director Sari Feldman and Irish-born electrician Matt O'Dwyer, started out with confidence.

"In her entry letter, she was cheerfully dogging me about when I would choose a winner because she had to make plans for the summer," Jelen says.

O'Dwyer has lost no steam. She is preparing to earn academic credit and sell a few books on her own book tour, including a 4:15 p.m. Thursday, May 4, appearance at Barnes & Noble at Crocker Park in Westlake. Other appearances will be Thursday, May 11, at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Legacy Village; and Monday, May 15, at the Shaker Heights Public Library.

There's a lot behind the making of a book, she says, but little of it has to do with illuminated, winged creatures. She confesses she doesn't believe in fairies, although a lot of people do.

Loving the art of writing and having a lucky encounter with a career sprite such as Jelen is closer to reality.

Bill Jelen will skip his Fresh Writers contest for one summer so he can write his own books about a new Excel program. Find him regarding his current books and the 2007 contest at http://www.freshwritersbooks.com.