Young writer meets a role model WEST COUNTY-Clarksville * Highland * Glenelg * Lisbon

November 26, 1992|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

It isn't often an aspiring young writer gets to meet a successful novelist; that is, one who doesn't have to drive a cab or wait tables to put food on the table.

But Michelle Weston, 14, of West Friendship got to do that and more on a whim.

The person she met at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York City was not only a successful author, but perhaps the most successful children's author since Kipling, a woman admired by thousands of young girls.

Anyone who knows a teen-age girl has likely heard of The Baby-sitters Club, a series of books by author Ann M. Martin that its publisher expects to have sold more than 100 million copies by early next year. That would put the series ahead of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series combined.

Michelle, who is actually two years past the books' target market of 6- to 12-year-olds, was one of two winners of the Prodigy computer network Baby-Sitters Club contest for its subscribers.

The contest challenged girls to end a story started by Ms. Martin, and offered a weekend trip to New York and a chat with Ms. Martin as incentive.

"I hadn't read them in a while, but I really love New York, so I entered," said the Glenelg High School freshman.

"It was great -- I had a lot of fun," she said of her trip to the Big Apple, which included a performance of "The Secret Garden" on Broadway.

She described the author as "really easygoing" and said she "pictured her as older" before the meeting.

"We talked about her plans for the Baby-sitters Club books, and we asked her questions, like where she gets her ideas," Michelle says of the meeting. "We didn't talk much; the music was pretty loud. But I liked it."

In a telephone interview, Ms. Martin took time from her book-a-month schedule to explain why she chose Michelle's work from five finalist entries.

"First, she completed the story, she tied in her ending with the beginning . . . and, she is a lovely storyteller. Her use of language is quite lovely," Ms. Martin said.

Michelle, who has been composing stories since age 3, says her subjects vary widely, from the problems of contemporary teen-agers to time travel to the Middle Ages. She believes the contest entry was her first ending.

"I never really finish a story, I just start 'em," Michelle said. But "maybe I'll finish them someday."

"I like real-life fiction the best," she says, citing S. E. Hinton as her main influence in that genre. At the other end of the spectrum, "I wrote about going back to help a prince in medieval times," she says of one work-in-progress. The problem, she explains, is "he doesn't know he's a prince yet."

Michelle lives on a 3 1/2 -acre farm, where her retired racehorse, Go Tea Go, a descendant of Man O' War, and a pony, Brooklyn Babe, can graze on a pasture near the Weston home.

Despite her recognized writing talent, Michelle says she wants to be a racehorse trainer "or maybe a jockey because I'm kind of short, around 5-foot-2." She says her first horse, an Arabian named Hauns Erka Elijah, appears in most of her stories.

The Baby-Sitters Club contest story, which Michelle and more than 4,500 other girls entered via computer, begins when the protagonist, a teen-ager named Dawn, gets home, notices her ** jewelry box has been opened and that the air is unusually cold. She hears scratching on the wall, which swings open to reveal a hidden passageway the girl knows leads to the barn, and then . . .

Michelle's ending produces a "dark figure" in the passageway, who leads Dawn to the barn, where she finds a trunk with a note.

"The note is from a woman to her nephew. His father has died of a fever," Michelle explains.

She finds a map of her back yard, which leads to a buried box.

"Inside the box, there's a note from the nephew to his lover, Mary, saying that he has the fever and he's going to die soon, so he's giving her the ring, which in the box. And it fits Dawn," Michelle says.

"The figure appears again, thinking that Dawn is Mary, and he says goodbye to her and he disappears. . . . Now he can rest in peace because he thinks that Mary has his ring."

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