Currituck junior Mary Santa took the challenge this past November to participate in the

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Currituck junior Mary Santa took the challenge this past November to participate in the "NaNoWrMo" challenge (write a novel in a month).

Currituck junior now a published author

By Corinne Saunders

The Daily Advance

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CURRITUCK — Writing down her dreams was nothing new for Currituck County High School junior Mary Santa, but winning NaNoWriMo, the (National Novel Writing Month) challenge to write a novel in 30 days, at the district level was a first.

Her book “Together Land” is a “post-apocalyptic fantasy” based on a strange dream about which her friends encouraged her to write, she said.

The dream involved shadows and giant rats, which “slithered through the dirt and would just appear and leave,” she said.

“It was an interesting dream, and I knew I had to do something about it because it didn’t make any sense.”

Mary said she typically writes about her dreams to get peace with them.

She thought the shadows represented four kids, so in the novel, “four kids end up getting sucked through a portal” and find themselves in a future world where “society has basically crumbled in on itself; and they try to get home.”

Her teacher challenged her and the other two Creative Writing 2 students to either do the “poem a day” challenge or NaNoWriMo in the month of November, she said, explaining they were in a combination class with Creative Writing 1 students, who could opt to participate in either challenge.

“I thought it might be fun to try” NaNoWriMo, she said, adding that she, as well as some of her friends, had attempted but not completed the challenge before.

Novels must have 50,000 words to be considered complete; “Together Land” ended up with 50,002, she said with a smile.

This year a friend in Virginia Beach, Va., made her fifth attempt at NaNoWriMo and finally also finished the challenge, she noted.

At first, Mary thought it would be too much to write a novel in a 30-day span, during the school year.

“Every chance I got I was writing,” she recalled.

Now, after publishing her book on, she is donating all proceeds — $7 per book —to NaNoWriMo.

“They’re a nonprofit, so they’re looking for money any way they can, and it’s such a good program,” she explained.

The contest encourages people to attempt something that seems impossible at first, but isn’t, she noted.

“It gives people a chance to do something they probably thought they would not have done,” she said. “It’s kind of like climbing mountains without leaving your house. Once you start, you realize it isn’t that hard.”

Born in Guam, where her father was stationed as a Navy nurse, Mary said winters here shocked her at first, when she moved to Currituck at age 11.

Some classmates thought she did not speak English because she was so quiet, she said.

Similarly, some classmates now, after reading her book, expressed surprise in finding out that she could write so well, she said.

A few students in her Advanced Placement classes tried to overanalyze her novel, she noted, because trying to find deeper meanings is “what we do with everything” in AP classes.

She added that her AP teacher, Bonita Robinson, placed after her in district results for NaNoWriMo.

“That was an interesting day of class,” she said.

The high school media center ordered a copy of her book, and she ordered copies for several friends and for her creative writing teacher, Valerie Person, under whom she will do an independent study Creative Writing 3 class next year.

“(Person) was very excited when I brought in her copy of the book,” Mary said. “She said I was the first person in our school to compete as a student that she knew of.”

Mary said she will keep writing, and “definitely” will participate in NaNoWriMo next year, but she considers writing a hobby.

She plans to go into music education, she said, noting that she plays clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, guitar and ukelele. She currently is involved with theatre, band, chorus and Girl Scouts.

“The two things I really like are music and writing,” she said.