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Daily Record newspaper article on Natalie O’Neil
Roxbury woman turns beloved characters into young adults

For her first novel, “Guardian House,” Natalie O’Neil decided she’d like to take characters from two of her favorite childhood books and turn them into young adults.

Taking Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” and Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” O’Neil thought it would be fun to place them in a fantasy world of her own creation.

“It’s pretty much just a matter of me wanting to see characters from my childhood grow up a little bit and sort of take on a slightly more adult role because they’re coming from children’s stories,” said O’Neil, 33, who lives in Ledgewood with her husband Brendan. “So when you think of Dorothy just getting to and understanding Oz and Alice getting to and just sort of understanding Wonderland, that’s the first book.”

Part of the young adult genre, “Guardian House” is O’Neil’s first full-length novel and her first book in the Curious Adventures series. The books will highlight the happenings of naïve Alice, a peculiar young woman who is forced to uncover her past in order to pave the way for her future.

With the support of her best friend, Dorothy, and her clique of misfit orphans with excess baggage, Alice ventures beyond her comfort zone to unlock the mysteries surrounding Guardian House and her bizarre connections to the world she doesn’t remember she’s a part of.

“It’s definitely young adult but it’s more so a mystery. It’s purposely placed in a make-believe fantasy land that is somewhere a crossover between modern-day-teenage-trends and steam-punk-meets-fantasy-Europe. It’s meant to be a place that doesn’t necessarily exist but possibly could in your head,” O’Neil said.

An English teacher for the past 10 years, O’Neil wanted her book to reflect the way today’s teens communicate with each other. She also purposely created less detail and made the book more about the dialogue while writing in the first person.

“I tried to really make sure that this was written the way a 17-year-old would speak. The way they talk is different. Just the way they talk with their hands, it’s abbreviated sentences, it’s abbreviated words and they even have their own slang. That’s a big issue nowadays with texting and Facebook and not really communicating the way our parents want us to communicate,” said O’Neil, who is a Google Certified Teacher and Trainer, Raspberry Pi Certified Teacher, and Adjunct Professor.

“When you teach writing in school, you follow that very sort of formulaic construction where you’re writing to a particular audience that really doesn’t exist in the modern, every day world. And I feel that’s part of the problem. I figured, if it’s dialogue heavy and you have a couple of strong characters, they could sort of see things themselves and let their imaginations fill in the detail, rather than me giving them every single little detail which is what a lot of literature does.”

O’Neil spent eight hours a day for three months working on her book before spending the next year tweaking and editing copy. She also sent out an unfinished manuscript to many of the leading book publishers.

At the same time, she decided to change careers, becoming a technology coordinator in a school district. With very little spare time, she didn’t think about anyone reading her book until Solstice Publishing contacted her.

“I did what people tell you to never do. I sent out the unfinished manuscript to a good 25 to 50 places. I was getting rejection email after rejection email and after about a year I forgot about it. It’s funny that it took me until I stopped being an English teacher to actually get the novel published. It was pretty much finished at that point but it was picked up right after I left the classroom,” O’Neil said.

“Solstice Publishing does a lot of the YA romance and fantasy. They read it and said, this would fit perfectly with us. Even more fantastic, they provided me with an editor and suggestions to help me promote and things to consider, that as an individual not having done it before, I had no idea about what to do.”

As an English major in college, O’Neil had never written fiction before instead focusing on academic writing. But turning to two of her favorite childhood stories gave her a chance to really use her imagination.

“Because I’m still an educator, I think this is a particularly good book. Not just for kids but for their parents because being the age that I am and even growing up with the ‘Wizard of Oz,’ one of my mom’s favorite movies, there’s that connection to those characters and I think it makes it interesting. I think you can actually bring that conversation that parents today want from their children when they’re able to read a book and have those different experiences about similar characters.”

‘Guardian House’ is available at www.amazon.com. O’Neil will also be signing copies from 2-5 p.m. on Sept. 19 at Skylands Gallery, located at 7 Boulder Hills Boulevard in Wantage. For more information, call 973-512-8588, email to info@skylandsgallery.comor visit www.natalieoneil.com.

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Randolph’s Schollmeyer earns honors

Rebecca Schollmeyer, a 2011 graduate of Randolph High School, was recognized as a Cum Laude Graduate at Boston College’s recent commencement. A double major in Elementary Education and Applied Psychology and Human Development, she will begin her teaching career in September at UP Academy Charter School in Dorchester, Massachusetts as a 5th Grade Science Teacher.

Schollmeyer was the President of The Lynch School of Education Student Senate and a Team Leader/Volunteer Coordinator for Jumpstart. A recipient of a scholarship from The Donovan Urban Teaching Scholars Program, she began an intensive one-year Master’s Program in Special Education at Boston College in July.

Staff Writer Leslie Ruse: 973-428-6671; lruse@GannettNJ.com.