Local author covers sickness and friendship in new book
Last updated 7/2/2020 at 10:19am
Middle school can be a hard time for even the most well-adjusted kids. It's even harder for kids who have unusual conditions, as Kim Shatteen learned when she contracted ophthalmic shingles at age 12. At the time (1978), doctors knew less about the condition, and weren't entirely sure why Shatteen contracted it. Even today, most people think about shingles as something that only affects senior citizens. In fact, it can affect anybody who's ever had chickenpox.
"It's caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox," Shatteen explained. "I contracted chickenpox from my twin siblings' outbreak when I was 6 weeks old. I was at risk for reactivation, due to the virus still being in my nervous system." Shatteen also suspects physical changes associated with puberty had something to do with why the virus reactivated when she was so young.
Years later, Shatteen decided to use her experiences as the basis for a young adult novel, translating it into something that middle school students could relate to. She even based some of the book's other characters on students and teachers from Widefield School District 3 (although she declined to give any details on that). The novel, "The Checkers Club," came out in April and follows Missy Romo, who contracts shingles as she finishes up sixth grade. Like Shatteen, Missy finds out the virus is shingles and it damages one of her eyes. Missy struggles when she returns to school for the seventh grade, but becomes friends with the school's librarian and two classmates, Marjorie and Pat. The three girls start playing checkers together regularly and discuss all the usual changes that happen in middle school.
Shatteen fully committed to writing the book after having a lunch conversation with a friend who also had children in school.
"We discussed six suicides that happened in her children's school between the 2015-2016 school year," she recalled. "But then life happened, and work became busy. My daughter and then my son became middle and high schoolers, with ups and downs of their own. I thought, it's time to put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard."
Shatteen started writing "The Checkers Club" in January 2018, using advice from Sarah Domet's book "90 Days to Your Novel" to outline the plot. She had to stop writing due to medical issues, but started again in fall 2018 and finished the first draft in February 2019. She then had several family members help edit the manuscript. "My daughter, who has read books like 'The Fault in our Stars' and 'Everything, Everything,' was very good at tackling the edits," Shatteen said. "The word count came down from 71,000 words down to 49,000 words by the fall of 2019. I had to have surgery on my left thumb in October 2019 and was tackling edits right up until my surgery."
During spring 2019, Shatteen attended the Mountain of Authors Conference hosted by Pikes Peak Library District. Among other things, she learned that about differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing, including the fact that a traditional publishing house takes 15-18 months to edit a book before releasing it. She decided to take the self-publishing route.
"While at that conference I picked up a flyer of another library meeting called How to Self-Publish Your Novel. It was there that I decided that I would self-publish 'The Checkers Club,'" Shatteen explained. "Not that I didn't think my work would be picked up by a publishing house, I do think there is a place for it in a big five, young adult division. I just wanted to see this published quickly as I feel that this story can help young people find their voice and realize that they do matter."
Shatteen thought about releasing "The Checker's Club" in fall 2020, but COVID-19 changed that plan entirely. Her entire immediate family became sick in March, although since they weren't able to get tested for COVID-19, they were only presumed positive.
"As we healed, I knew I had to get the book out as soon as possible," she said. "Kids are home - they may find "The Checkers Club" an interesting read, I thought. I used my niece's design for the cover art. Next, I purchased the ISBN number, and then uploaded the finished product to be self-published through Kindle Direct Publishing."
Looking back, Shatteen feels she's come a long way since her shingles diagnosis.
"I now laugh with my family about my eye issue," she observed. "It has taken years for me to come to terms with what happened to me when I was twelve. However, I never considered myself 'disabled.' My parents thankfully never discouraged me from doing the things I liked to do, like riding my bike or trying out for sports and eventually driving a car."
"'The Checkers Club' is for all of those who worry if they will ever fit in, or if they will ever be liked or loved. You will be liked, and even loved despite your differences. And you will find your voice. Just wait!"
"The Checkers Club" is available as an ebook or paperback from Amazon.com. To learn more about the book or about Shatteen, visit https://throughonegoodeye.com.