Many people dream of writing a book and finding their name within the sea of authors amidst bookstore shelves. For most, that sadly never becomes a reality for numerous reasons. For one student, however, her fantasy became a reality before she was even in high school.
For William & Mary junior Bezi Yohannes, an English major with a Medieval and Renaissance studies minor, she accomplished just that, and all by the time she was 14 years old. What started as a mere bet between grade-school friends turned into something so much bigger than she ever thought it would be.
“When I was in 5th grade, my friend dared me that she could write a novel before I did, and I took her up on that and I just started writing not really knowing what I was getting into,” Yohannes said. “I loved reading and I thought writing would be easy. It wasn’t obviously, but I took the dare very literally.”
Finding inspiration from authors like C.S. Lewis, Yohannes began writing Secrets of Meynch, a coming-of-age fantasy adventure story for young adults, at only 11 years old. Published in December of 2012, the story follows Chris and Abi Candial, a brother and sister who discover a secret staircase in their backyard. They are drawn into a world where they are caught up in prophecies, politics and numerous other daunting conflicts that they could have never imagined or prepared for. In the midst of it all, however, they discover the reason why they happened upon this secret world and how exactly they fit into the picture.
Referring to a quote by Toni Morrison that says, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it,” Yohannes said that Secrets of Meynch was the missing piece in what she was reading at the time.
“As I was writing, I realized that [Secrets of Meynch] was really the story I wanted to read, so I went about trying to use the influences that shaped my love [of reading], primarily being C.S. Lewis, and crafted a story that would fit into the gap of what I wanted to read,” she said.
She signed a three-book contract with a publisher and currently is working on the second installment of the trilogy.
For Yohannes, being published at a young age “opened a lot of doors.” Going along with all the book signings and various events that come with publishing a book, she used the opportunity to elicit a love of reading and writing in children who were only a little younger than herself at the time.
“I think it’s wrong to kind of underestimate what people are capable of even at a young age,” she said. “And I’m not necessarily saying that I hold myself as the example of that, but I think that if I could help motivate other kids to do the work and stick with something that they really care about, then I could have done some good.”
Since her journey began four years ago, Yohannes stated that she has used her story to both grow as a writer and center herself amidst all of life’s struggles.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself — some things good, some things not so good — just because a lot of me is in the story, and as I’m writing it, I’m learning things about myself and how my own mind works,” she said. “Coming out of it now, I definitely feel like my writing helped me center myself.”
Ultimately though, focusing on the passion that she puts into her writing and hopes to instill in not only readers and writers, but in everyone, is what her main goal for her books remains to be. In her book, Yohannes stated, there’s a line that essentially became the tag line of the series and is essentially what she hopes she can show others through her experience.“When the king in the story talks to my main character, he tells her, ‘You have been chosen for greater things.’ And that’s something I needed to hear as an 11-year-old, and that’s something I wanted to tell other people is that you’ve been chosen for greater things,” she said. “The concept of you’ve been chosen for greater things I think is really key, not just to future writers and people who are passionate about writing, but really anything that you are passionate about … Don’t settle for the path that’s easier for something you’re really passionate about. Do the hard work and go further with it.”