April 3, 2014



COON RAPIDS

An ancestral curse. A nautical mystery. An enchanted world. Magic.

"The key thing about writing is getting excited," Erik Gonzales-Kramer told the seventh-grade students assembled in Paula Davis' language arts classroom in Coon Rapids-Bayard. "Then you can go anywhere - and as far as you want."

Erik is one of four writers who contributed to his family's first book, "Return of the Bloodwind," published in February.

Joining him in this feat were his brother, Lief, a sophomore at Coon Rapids-Bayard High School; his mother, Lisa; and his father, Conrad, executive director at Whiterock Conservancy. Erik is completing his freshman year at Oberlin College in Ohio.

The idea to write an adventure story together was sparked seven years ago, said Lief.

"It started with Dad - he was always into writing," Lief explained. "He'd come home from work, say hi and shut the door to write."

Until one day, while sitting around a hammock in the backyard, they were inspired.

"We were all into the creative process," Erik said. "We decided to join forces."

Lisa and Conrad work in environmental conservation, a vocation that kept the family moving and living among rural towns in Indiana, Michigan, Idaho and southern California, before they moved to Iowa last July.

The boys started reading in elementary school, said Lisa. The family had a television but didn't watch often. In the summer of third grade, Erik began to read "prolifically," covering 10,000 pages in a few months of lying in a hammock or a tree house.

As they grew older, the writing began.

"In the first two years, we probably wrote more than 600 pages - it was all fun, but it wasn't cohesive," Lisa said.

The real writing is in the rewriting, she said.

"Then you're really trying to convey what came out of your imagination," she said.

The family began serious work on their published work about two years ago - building their world, creating its history and laws, discovering the characters' stories and determining how their development fit into the story's arcs, then working their way back through the chapters to foreshadow key plot events.

"It became a way for us to uncover how characters would react," Lisa said. "We're working to weave a masterful tale."

The writing process also created a unique bond among the family, she said. Dinner conversations were filled with ideas for scenes. The family members would read different pieces and pick the ones to carry forward.

Writing became a way to develop other life skills - empathy, communication.

"There is a lot to relate to," she said. "You study people and personalities to make it realistic."

Davis had no idea she lived next door to a family of authors until they set up a booth to promote their book during parent-teacher conferences. She immediately asked them to conduct a creative-writing workshop for her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

Efforts to encourage middle school students to write can be compared to pulling teeth, said Davis. Younger students, inundated with the 160-character of limit of Twitter, often don't see the value, she said.

But during the workshop, she saw her students fill pages with words.

"They're seeing the writing process from a different perspective," Davis said. "That kid wrote a book, and he goes to school here - it sparks interest."

Davis has been teaching for 29 years, 24 of them in Coon Rapids.

"I used to think authors were so untouchable," she said. "Now we have some right here."

Lisa said the family intends to write a series of seven or eight books. They are currently writing their first sequel, Skyping each week with Erik in Ohio.

The family's favorite books include J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series, and anything by Terry Brooks.

When not writing, Lief can be found participating in basketball, track, football, baseball, choir, theater or writing his own blog on Pleistocene-era animals.

Erik can be found ballroom dancing, volunteering at the local long-term-care facility and working toward a degree in environmental studies.

"Kids never think they're writers," Lisa said. "It's great finding a way to ignite that passion."

To read more from the Gonzales-Kramer family, visit their blog at gonzaleskramerfamily.com.