The mind of Emma Locken is populated with dozens of worlds and characters, from grieving girls to manipulative villains. And often, Emma sets them free as her fingers fly over the keyboard of her Lenovo laptop, shaping and guiding them into a Microsoft Word document.
An award-winning novelist and short story author from Gillette, Emma, 11, has developed a passion for writing for over the past couple of years.
Her work is deeper than that of most kids her age.
“I think a theme in all of her stories is finding yourself, finding out who you are,” said her mom, Tracy.
And like the characters in her writings, Emma is going through that same journey, discovering who she is as an author with each story.
Emma, who just finished her fifth-grade year at Buffalo Ridge Elementary, gets her writing skills from her parents. Tracy’s a self-described “grammar snob,” while father Dusty is the storyteller.
But Emma’s “got everything,” Dusty said. “She’s the full package.”
She’s had a love for storytelling as long as she can remember. She started reading at age 3, and wrote her first story when she was 5. It was about cats who could turn into humans.
“It’s cute, like the spellings and things that didn’t really fit together,” she said. “I just want to read it because it makes me happy.”
She started writing again four years later in the summer of 2016. Inspired by her dad reading her bedtime stories, she started work on “Tick Tock,” and finished it in December. It clocks in at about 38,000 words, nearly the same length as C.S. Lewis’ fantasy classic “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Emma said she wanted to print it out then and there.
When Dusty and Tracy read “Tick Tock,” they were blown away.
The novel follows a character named Raven who is trying to save Earth but is lost in space.
“Fifth-grade writer me is a completely different writer than her,” Tracy said. “It’s really good writing.”
As great as they thought Emma’s writing was, her parents weren’t sure if “it was just us being the parents of the kid and thinking our kid is great,” Dusty said.
Five months removed from finishing her first novel, Emma is writing the sequel, “Retriever,” but that’s not all. She’s working on not one, not two and not three but 33 writing projects, all saved on her Lenovo laptop.
Her worlds range from forests to cities to space, and they’re populated by a collection of characters, especially humans, aliens and foxes.
Carolin Hardesty, a librarian at Buffalo Ridge and Stocktrail elementary schools, said Emma “writes way beyond her age” and her stories have “great voice and creativity.”
“When most kids her age write, it’s very simple sentences, not a lot of details,” Hardesty said. “She writes with dialogue. Her stories are very lengthy and include lots of details. She really develops the characters where most kids her age don’t have that skill yet.”
Emma came to Hardesty for editing help on a story titled “Lily,” and Hardesty was amazed.
“Her writing now is better than my writing as an adult,” she said.
Emma’s not a very outgoing person and said she finds it much easier to write out her thoughts than say them aloud.
“She’s actually a very quiet student and you wouldn’t know she had such a creative mind unless you read her work,” Hardesty said.
TRUST THE PROCESS
Emma can sum up her stories in one sentence without giving away any spoilers. “First Black Star” is about an 8-year-old girl who loses her mom and finds a friend to help her along.
“The Mysteries Within” follows someone who’s investigating a crime when she discovers she was the one who committed the crime. Its sequel, “The Memories Within,” is about a sociopath who brainwashes an entire city.
Emma’s not sure where her story ideas come from, but she finds inspiration in just about anything, whether it’s a picture of a fox or a random song. It’s not uncommon for her to stop what she’s doing to write down a story idea, Tracy said.
One day Emma heard “Under Giant Trees,” an instrumental track by Danish singer Agnes Obel. She sat down, asked her mom to play the song again and again and wrote a short story about a boy who “had been abandoned in a colorful forest between life and death.”
Emma said she’s written multiple short stories in a day, and sometimes she won’t stop writing until her eyes hurt.
“Sometimes we have to tell her to stop,” Dusty said.
And like most authors, she has the occasional bout of writer’s block.
“It’s frustrating, because I have this idea but I can’t get it out,” she said. “It just doesn’t work how I want it to.”
She’ll step away from the story for one or two weeks, but she doesn’t stop writing altogether. Instead, she’ll move onto one of the other 30-plus stories she has on her computer.
Emma writes mostly fantasy and science fiction, and said she doesn’t know if she’ll branch out into other genres. “I’m just trying stuff out right now.”
Her stories usually start with one idea and they grow from there. She rarely starts the writing process knowing how a story will end, but said she’s “trying to get in the groove of doing that now.”
She also wants to make her short stories shorter. They’re now about 4,000 words, but she wants to cut that down to 1,000 to get the same point across with fewer words.
“You’ve got time to develop all of that,” Dusty said.
Tracy said her daughter is “pretty receptive” to criticism, and Hardesty said Emma accepts it “very graciously,” adding that there usually isn’t much to fix.
“I’m fine with it because it’s helping me,” Emma said.
If there’s one part of the writing process that she hates, it’s editing.
The pages of her first draft of “Tick Tock” are covered in edit marks. Phrases are circled, words scribbled out and notes are scrawled in the margins.
“It’s horrible. I really don’t want to do it. I just want to show my family,” she said. “I don’t want to go through that work, but it’s necessary.”
Emma already has a couple of awards from her writing.
In January, she entered a contest by the Library of Congress called Letters About Literature. She wrote a letter to author Kelly Barnhill about how her book, “The Girl Who Drank the Moon,” affected her life.
Emma wrote the letter in one day — the same day it was to be postmarked — and got it to the post office 20 minutes before closing time. Despite the rush, she won second place for Wyoming grades 4-6.
She also submitted a short story title “Fly” into the Wyoming Young Authors competition this year.
In it, a boy named Julio grows wings and learns how to fly thanks to the power of belief and some help from a talking bird. She earned first-place for Campbell County and on the state level for fifth-grade fiction.
Not bad for someone who had never entered a writing competition before.
Emma said she was happy and nervous about sending her work out.
“I wasn’t really sure about what they’d think,” she said of the strangers who judged her writing. “I don’t know what kind of a writer I am.”
Despite the accolades, Emma said she doesn’t feel any added pressure being an award-winning author and her parents are careful not to make her feel like she has to write.
“Just do it if you enjoy it,” Dusty said.
When she grows up, Emma wants to be an astronomer and an author of young adult fiction. Hardesty doesn’t see why she has to wait until she’s an adult.
“I’d like to see her get published as a young author,” she said. “There have been teenage authors. I’d like to get her stuff out there.”
Hardesty added she hopes to one day see Emma’s novels in school libraries.
For now, being published isn’t the goal; rather, it’s “just to foster the love of it and grow her skill,” Tracy said.
And if at any point Emma decides that she doesn’t want to write anymore, Dusty and Tracy won’t push her to continue. Emma said she doesn’t know if her love for writing will one day fade away.
From behind the keyboard of her busy Lenovo laptop, this 11-year-old Gillette wordsmith churns out chapter after chapter.
She has many stories yet to tell.