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Words with wings

Elementary school teacher Sandy Stark-McGinnis is doing more than encouraging students to dream big and work hard. Stark-McGinnis is modeling it through her own life.

The Oakdale teacher launched her recently released book “Extraordinary Birds” at Barnes and Noble in Modesto earlier this year. A moment which the 209 author shared has been the most memorable moment of her writing career thus far.

“Many of my students, friends and family came to help me celebrate,” she said of the appearance. “It was an amazing afternoon. I’ve also had the opportunity to do dome school visits in Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington.”

Released by Bloomsbury Publishing, the book is the result of years of early morning writing sessions and a lifelong labor of love for the educator.

“I’ve been writing since I was probably in my mid-20s, so quite a long time,” Stark-McGinnis shared of her passion for storytelling. 

The teacher has spent 16 years as an educator, six of which have been for Oakdale schools. Noting her lifelong passion for writing, she has her Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.

With past books under her belt, “Extraordinary Birds” is the first to be published. She worked on the book off on for five to six years, before it went to print. The author shared the “off” part can be attributed to her two young children, ages 10 and 8.

“Extraordinary Birds” follows the journey of an 11-year-old girl, December, a foster child who has a passion for birds as a result of childhood trauma. The main character believes a scar on her back is where wings once unfolded.

“It’s her way of dealing with the tragic accident and where she really got her scars,” Stark-McGinnis said of December.

The inspiration for the character came from a newspaper article reporting on a mom high on drugs physically attacking her daughter.

As an educator, as well as a parent she recognizes the “heavy” subjects – abuse, foster care and the ability to accept the truth of one’s past. Stark-McGinnis shared however, she feels the themes of acceptance, hope and finding a place of belonging are valuable to her readers.

“The way I work as a writer, is it’s always about the character,” she continued, sharing her passion and commitment to December. “That’s my passion as far as writing. To be able to capture and be intimate with a voice.”

To aid with character development and ensure accuracy within the story line, Stark-McGinnis consulted with California Foster Care on certain details. 

“It took me a long time to get an agent,” the teacher said. “My first draft was just her talking to me. I know it sounds kind of crazy but the characters start to talk to you. That’s how usually books start for me, is just that voice.

“When I started writing this one, I revised a lot,” she added. “I kept rewriting and rewriting and then finally I submitted. In the spring of 2016 I was offered representation by an agent.”

With two young children, a full-time career and a husband, Stark-McGinnis shared maintaining a regular schedule was pertinent to seeing this project through. A journey which while it may have been long in coming, has been monumental with each step.

“Surreal,” she said of having a published book. “It’s funny because when you’re doing traditional writing you think, man if I could just secure an agent that would be it.”

Once that box was checked, it was on to the next – a publisher.

“So, the line in the sand just keeps getting higher and higher,” she said. 

The fifth-grade teacher noted the joy she’s experienced with sharing the journey with her students as well.

“What was really cool was to see my students carrying around my book and then they start to read it,” the author said. “It’s just really kind of surreal. You’re kind of distant from it a little bit. It’s great but is this real?”

At the time of signing with Bloomsbury Publishing, Stark-McGinnis took on a two-book commitment, another surreal undertaking in the process. The first draft of that book was due in late fall of 2018. She’s currently working on revisions and is hopeful that the trend will continue. 

Adding to the excitement will be the release of “The Space Between Lost and Found,” where she explores the journey of a young girl coping with her mother being affected by early onset Alzheimer’s.

“I love to work. I like to write, so that’s what keeps me grounded,” she said. “It’s just my thing.” 

You can find “Extraordinary Wings” by Sandy Stark-McGinnis locally at Barnes and Noble, in area Target stores, as well as online and on Amazon.