By Aila Boyd
Bruce Ingram, an English teacher at Lord Botetourt High School, has finished the fourth and final book in his series of young adult novels.
Using first person perspectives, the books follow the lives of four high school students throughout their four years of high school. The series chronicles the changes that Luke, Elly, Marcus, and Mia undergo as they go from freshmen to high school graduates.
The first book “Ninth Grade Blues” was published in 2017. “Tenth Grade Angst” came out in 2018. “Eleventh Grade Stress” came out earlier this year. The final book will be released next year.
He sent the manuscript to his publisher, Secant Publishing, after working closely with several of his creative writing students to ensure that he was doing justice to the experiences of high school students today.
Madison Gunter, McKayla Hoke, Taylor Jones, Julia Garber, Faith Overbay, and Sidney Saunders edited the book. According to Ingram, they didn’t hesitate to offer their honest opinions about his writing because they have been collaborating with him on his series since the very beginning. “I need the feedback and trust their judgment,” he said. “The students have made the books better. I really owe a lot to them.”
Madison Gunter, a senior who wants to pursue a degree in multimedia journalism at Virginia Tech, has taken creative writing with Ingram for a total of three times. “It’s not just the writing part that he gives us great advice in, he keeps it real with us by telling us that you don’t get that much money as a writer,” she said of Ingram. “Mr. Ingram has done so much for me the past four years. I’m just so glad he has trusted me to help with his books. I’m so glad he’s let me collaborate on his books because most students don’t get to do something like this.”
McKayla Hoke, a senior who plans to pursue a business management degree at Longwood University, has also taken creative writing with Ingram three times. “He knows all of the little grammar rules that drive us crazy, but will help us in our other classes and once we get to college,” she said of Ingram.
Taylor Jones, a senior who plans to major in creative writing with aspirations of becoming a copy editor and author, has taken creative writing three times, two of which have been with Ingram. “He’s been through the process of being published and he tells us how to do it, which is more helpful that just looking it up on the Internet,” she said of Ingram.
For the fourth book, the creative writing students who collaborated on the book read six chapters a week. Every Thursday, they would meet with Ingram and provide him with feedback on what worked and what didn’t work.
Hoke has collaborated with Ingram on all of the books in the series except for the second one. Her area of focus was grammar. “The characters are very relatable,” she said of Ingram’s characters. “They do things that I would do.”
“He’s done a great job of making sure that the series is relatable, that it is something that high school students would do,” Gunter, whose focus during the editing process was plot, said.
Jones has worked with Ingram on both the third and fourth books in the series.
She explained that Ingram is always seeking input from his students. “If the characters or scenes aren’t relatable, he asks us what he can do to make it more along the lines of what we would do,” she said. Gunter added that Ingram is “always trying to make his books better.”
Hoke noted that there was a scene in the fourth installment of the series in which one of the characters didn’t react enough to what was going on. After being informed that the character’s lack of a response wasn’t realistic, Ingram changed it. “We would be calm in a situation like that,” Hoke said. “We would be freaking out.”
In addition to the input that Ingram has received from his students, he has also relied on guidance from his fellow Lord Botetourt teachers. “I’m really grateful for the collaboration from the staff here at the school,” he said.
When he started work on the series several years back, it marked a departure from the outdoor nonfiction writing that he had become known for.
The idea to start writing young adult fiction started when Ingram realized that the school librarian was Skyping with young adult fiction novelists from around the country. “I had written six books on the outdoors, but I wanted a challenge for book number seven,” Ingram said. “I listened to how the young adult fiction novelists did it and thought that I might be able to do it too.”
Once the decision to undertake the challenge of writing a young adult novel was made, Ingram wrote the first eight chapters and gave it to his wife for her input. She informed him that the chapters “weren’t bad.” From there, he sent the chapters to a publisher who asked him to finish the rest of the book before saying whether or not they were interested.
The draft was completed during the summer of 2016. Wanting to make sure that the narrative and characters were right, Ingram sought approval from Amanda Collins, who was serving as the assistant principal of Lord Botetourt at the time, to use his creative writing class to help him proofread the book. She agreed. As a result, the class changed quite a bit of the book. “I took every one of their suggestions,” Ingram said.
The input from the students paid off and as a result, the publisher told Ingram to get started on the second book in the series.
Over the course of the series, many of people who walk the halls of Lord Botetourt and the events that have occurred since 2016 have made their way into the books. “I’ve written about what’s going on here,” he said.
Looking forward, Ingram said that he doesn’t know whether or not he’ll return to young adult fiction again now that the final book in the series has been sent to the publisher. Since 2014, he has written one book per year. Additionally, he has written 70 magazine articles this year alone in addition to his full-time teaching job. Because of just how prolific he has been in recent years, he plans on taking next year off from book writing. “I’m not sure where I’m going next, but I know that I don’t want to write a book next year because it takes a lot out of you,” he said.