Brusly teacher sees debut novel published, students inspired

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POSTED: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 4:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 4:04am

A Brusly High teacher is showing her students more than what makes a good book. She is also showing them they can accomplish their dreams.

Sarah Guillory found herself in deep discussion with a group of students Tuesday afternoon. They were discussing Harry Potter, other books, and fan fiction. Guillory is an English teacher, and she was staying late to facilitate a meeting of Brusly High's book club, and it was hard to tell who was having the most fun.

"They're racing through these books," she said, "and they can't wait to run in here and talk to me about them. And that's really exciting, because it wasn't like that when I first started teaching. Makes my job easy."

Guillory has taught freshmen and sophomores at Brusly for 13 years. She credits the Harry Potter and Twilight series with bringing a new level of quality to the genre of young adult fiction.

The students in the book club have another novel they are dying to read, called Reclaimed. It is their teacher's.

Reclaimed was the first book Guillory tried to sell. She spent parts of six months writing it, two months editing it, and a year trying to convince an agent to sell it. Instead, an editor happened upon it and gave her the shock of her professional life.

"When I got that email that they were saying yes, it was like 5:30 in the morning," Guillory recalled, "and I was like, 'what?' After so many no's, I was like, 'really? Are they sure?'"

She first saw a copy of her book at a trade event in New York.

"You would think that it's this completely exciting moment, and it is, but it's surreal," she stated. "It doesn't feel like it's yours.

"The biggest (wow) moment was seeing it in the bookstore. So the day it came out, my husband and I went to Barnes and Noble to see it on a shelf, and took pictures next to it on the shelf. And that was really cool, to see me next to my author idols." 

Reclaimed went on sale last week, in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide and in England, and via several online retailers, three years after Guillory started writing it. It centers on three teenagers from Guillory's home state of Arkansas, and was written from the perspectives of all three.

Guillory proclaims that the story is not autobiographical, and none of the characters are based on her students. But she believes being in school all day added authenticity to her writing.

"A lot of young adult authors have to do research. And they have to talk to teens. 'Well, do y'all say this? Are y'all on Facebook anymore, or do you whatever?' And I don't have to do that because I know. I hear them talking all the time."

Aside from rejection, Guillory claimed her biggest struggle while trying to sell her book was with self-doubt. It took her editor to convince her that her work was good.

"Because I've never had someone that I didn't know tell me that," she said. "You know, I had people read my work and say they love it, but it's my husband, or it's my sister, or whatever; it's another teacher. And I'd never had someone who didn't know me at all say, 'yeah, this is amazing.'"

Brusly High School held a book signing last weekend and ran out of copies. Signs announcing the book's release are posted on the school's walls, and reviews have been positive. Local Barnes and Noble stores sold out of their initial shipments of the book, due in part to the school community's enthusiasm.

But do not expect Guillory to leave the classroom any time soon.

"I love teens," she exclaimed. "They are amazing. They are so excited about everything. That's why I like reading young adult, and teaching teens, and writing young adult, because there's so much possibility. They are on the edge of everything."

Tuesday, the students were excited about giving their reviews of Reclaimed. But that will have to wait for November's book club meeting.

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