Stout writes with young readers in mind

November 23, 2009|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Shawn K. (Beard) Stout might be 36 years old, but she says when she writes, her inspiration comes from the voice of a 10-year-old in her head.

It's a voice she's been listening to for about six years, since she started writing seriously.

Stout, a 1991 North Hagerstown High School graduate, recently published her first book, "Fiona Finkelstein, Big-Time Ballerina!!" with elementary school readers in mind.

The manuscript was her thesis for a master's degree in fine arts from Vermont College. She earned her master's in January, majoring in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

"I loved to read as a kid. It was the only thing that got me through childhood," Stout said in a phone interview.


After obtaining a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Towson University, Stout worked in health care publishing and writing. While working for the American Red Cross, a project writing children's books about swimming sparked her interest in children's literature.

Stout took classes at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Md., and advanced writing workshops with Washington, D.C., children's author Mary Quattlebaum.

Stout's writing "took on a life of its own from there," she said.

Although she continues to work as a government contractor in Rockville, Md., Stout hopes one day to be a full-time author.

"It's the only thing that's been really fulfilling, more so than anything else I've ever done. Creating stories from nothing or one idea and watching the characters take over is such an interesting experience," Stout said.

Stout's graduate work involved residencies on campus in Vermont. The rest of the writing was done at home, with monthly packets of writing e-mailed to instructors for critique and revisions.

Stout's adviser during her first graduate semester suggested she write an autobiography. Stout wrote about her experience taking ballet lessons in Hagerstown from age 4 to 14, which involved a struggle with stage fright.

After about 25 rewrites over two years, Stout's book was finished and ready for a public reading, which was part of the master's program. An editor from Simon & Schuster was in the audience and, after the reading, told Stout she was interested in reading more of her work.

Stout, who had received many rejection letters from publishers, was hesitant. The editor's persistence led to a contract for a three-book series.

"It was sort of being in the right place at the right time," Stout said.

The first book was released in September and Stout is currently working on the second book, which is due out next fall. The final book is scheduled for release in the fall of 2011.

Stout's husband of eight years, Andy Stout, has been supportive of her crazy schedule this year -- graduation in January, changing jobs and book deadlines.

Stout is promoting her book with book readings and signings on evenings and weekends.

She will be at Discovery Station for a book signing on Saturday, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m. The book is available nationally at Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores, as well as independent bookstores in the area and online, Stout said.

More information on "Fiona Finkelstein, Big-Time Ballerina!!" and Stout is available at

The Herald-Mail Articles