A Morro Bay writer has accomplished what many aspiring wordsmiths have not, getting a novel published. And what makes the feat so much more impressive, is that she was grade school age when she started her historic tale.
Sophia Wilke, 12, recently celebrated the publication of her first novel titled, “Rose’s Faith-Testing Adventure,” which her mom, Hillary Wilke and father Andrew Wilke say is “a beautifully written historical fiction novel; taking place in the 1870s on the prairie. It is historically accurate with beautiful family values and sweet characters.”
Sophia explains that the story, which she started when she was 9 and finished at 10, revolves around a young girl, Rose Parker, 15, from Astoria Ore. Her father is a doctor who’s been hired to become the town doc in Pembina, North Dakota, in 1870s America.
The story follows the family on an epic journey from the West Coast to the Great Plains at a time when traveling long distances was difficult and the Dakotas were in a wild and the mostly empty part of a young nation.
Sophia says “It’s about her struggles along the way.” The family travels by coach and train.
People who read a lot of western novels are probably accustomed to tales of hardship, sacrifice and tragic loss. Not Sophia’s book.
“They make it OK,” she reassures. “But there are struggles and she meets a friend on the way, who is also moving to Pembina.” Rose and Julia becoming fast friends, sharing the trip’s adventures.
Sophia, who has three older brothers and is homeschooled, says the story let her explore history and writing, which she says are her two favorite things. It also became an outlet for exploring what she says is her calling.
She’s always liked writing and reading about history. “It made me really want to start writing about history and things that are interesting.”
Her inspiration comes from the “Millie Keith” book series by Martha Finley that are actually contemporary for their times having been first published from 1876-1894.
Sophia says, “I really liked that time period and I wanted to write in that timeframe.”
And she also wanted to explore someplace new and about following one’s heart. “I write about a place that hadn’t been written about yet,” she says. And Rose’s doctor dad felt called to go where there were no doctors yet and help build the town, Sophia says.
It took her about six months to finish a first draft using one other historic tool — pen and paper — instead of a computer. How many kids these days would do that?
When the book was finished, Sophia went searching for a publisher. The story is faith-based, and was accepted for publication by Christian Faith Publishing.
The book deal included the publishers finding an artist to illustrate it. But Sophia didn’t like the resulting drawings, feeling they didn’t quite fit her story. She rejected the illustrations and looked for someone who would better suit her vision.
Then she found Diana Lynn in Arroyo Grande, a retired illustrator who came out of retirement to work with Sophia, who says she was delighted with the new illustrations.
The finished hardcover book came in at 142 pages with beautiful illustrations and at some 36,000 words, is altogether an impressive feat, no matter what age a person is. It’s also about the right length for her target readers — kids her age.
Sophia marvels at how quickly the book turned out and at the job the publishers did pulling it all together. “I’m really happy with what they did,” she says.
Her target audience is 8-14-year olds — the so-called “tweens.” but mom Hillary points out that anyone would enjoy it. “Adults that have read it,” Hillary says, “have really enjoyed the characters and family relationships.”
Perhaps a tale of adventure that doesn’t involve John Wick-style violence, is just the ticket these days. When even video games carry warnings for violent content, it’s possible the world is ripe for something a little lighter and more wholesome.
Having a book published at 12, no doubt calls for a follow up. Sophia is already well into her second novel, also about Rose and her further adventures.
“It’s about her meeting her future husband,” Sophia says. She plans to work with illustrator Lynn again, too.
Why write about history? Sophia believes that “It’s very important to remember the past. It’s important to write about it so we don’t forget.” Spoken like someone wise beyond her years. Writing itself these days would almost seem a dying form of communication compared to cell phones and their text messaging, social media and 200-plus channels on TV.
Sophia explains, “Writing is important and a way to express yourself.”
If readers would like to get a copy of Sophia Wilke’s book, “Rose’s Faith-Testing Adventure,” go to Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobel or Google. Or see her website at: sophiawilkiebooks.com.