Work of local sixth-grader featured in library’s short story dispenser
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colorado’s first short story dispenser has a new author in its mix, and the journey that her piece took to get there is a story in itself.
When Kailani Clark Lay heard about Bud Werner Memorial Library’s short fiction contest last summer, she got right to work. Kailani, who’s currently in sixth grade at Steamboat Springs Middle School, often reads books about horses and is a horseback rider herself. Last summer, she trained a horse named Pendleton, and the two formed a close connection. Her short story begins with a girl who adopts a mustang.
“I got inspiration from the world around me,” she said, “and from my imagination.”
As incredible as it is for the girl to have her own mustang, she sees that the animal isn’t happy living with her on her ranch, and she realizes she’s at a point where she needs to make a choice: keep the horse or release it back into the wild.
Kailani submitted “A Mustang’s Decision” — the first short story she’d ever finished — to the contest; it would go onto be evaluated by a literary panel of judges who considered the storytelling prowess, grammar and craft. The prize: to be published in the Short Story Dispenser among a mix of thousands of others, printed at random at the push of a button.
The dispenser was installed in the library in January 2019. As of last week, the dispenser had shared nearly 10,500 short stories, including 1-minute reads, 3-minute reads and children’s stories.
The contest closed on August 15, 2019; winners were notified by Sept. 15.
“When I found out I didn’t make the contest, I was pretty disappointed,” Kailani recalled. “I worked really hard on it.”
But the rejection was not the end of this story.
“Kailani is clearly a talented young writer, and I really wanted to see her story published,” said the library’s Adult Programs Coordinator Jennie Lay, who has no relation to Kailani. “But I also wanted to make sure it was the best possible version of her story, and I wanted her to have the opportunity to make it so.”
So, Lay set out on a mission to find Kailani a local editor.
“The matchmaker in me couldn’t resist,” she said.
Kate Krautkramer, who’s based in Yampa, is a teacher and writer of creative nonfiction. Her work has been published in everything from literary reviews, books, newspapers and magazines, including National Geographic Magazine, the North American Review and Colorado Review.
“When (Krautkramer) agreed to mentor Kailani and help see this through to a fine polish, I couldn’t have been more thrilled,” Lay said.
Krautkramer and Kailani worked on “A Mustang’s Decision” in person and over email.
“She gave me grammar suggestions and helped me add more sensory details and helped me mix up my sentences a little,” Kailani said. “I definitely learned from that process and it was a really great experience.”
The final draft of “A Mustang’s Decision” rang in at 1,009 words.
“It’s not always easy being edited,” Lay said. “(Kailani) carried it off like a pro.”
And so, “A Mustang’s Decision” was welcomed into the dispenser in the children’s story category.
“When I found out I was getting published, I was just so excited,” Kailani said. “It felt so great.”
“A Mustang’s Decision” joins the work of nine other local authors in the permanent circulation of the machine, including Patrina Corsetti, Jess Gantt-Shafer, Rachel Jackson, J.T. Milway, Jenny Spencer, Ken Proper, E.Q. Humphreys, Beverly Andrus and Constance Sigler; their short stories are distinguished by a “local author” notation at the bottom of the scroll. The stories range from classic to contemporary to poetry, and sometimes, the dispenser features a new batch of short stories in a theme of a current holiday or season.
Other local writers may submit their stories for a chance to join the dispenser in future short fiction contests, the dates and details of which have yet to be decided. Kailani shares some writing advice.
“Just keep writing. It’s okay to be frustrated — just keep working hard,” Kailani recommends. “It’s really good to have a person read over your work and just keep encouraging you. That’s what my mom does for me.”
Find the short story dispenser in the lobby of Bud Werner Memorial Library at 1289 Lincoln Ave.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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It was a love story that brought Jason Erwin to Steamboat Springs from Nashville, Tennessee.