- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) - Shawn Stout vividly remembers the moment she found her “writer’s voice.”

It was 2005. The Frederick resident signed up for a few classes at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda to ease her return back into writing after a long hiatus.

She sat down to her first exercise and began to write.

“What came out was the voice of this 10-year-old person, a young girl,” she recalled.

The rest was history. Stout’s initial effort led to her becoming a published children’s book author, with a literary agent and eight books under her belt.

Each of her books centers on a young girl as the main character. She debuted with the whimsical musings of fourth-grader Penelope Crumb in a four-book series, followed by the “Not-So-Ordinary Girl” trilogy chronicling aspiring ballerina Fiona Finkelstein.

Her latest work, “A Tiny Piece of Sky,” uses 10-year-old Frankie Baum to depict life as a German-American in World War II.

It’s this particular style that makes her work stand out, according to Sarah Davies, her agent and founder of the U.K.-based Greenhouse Literary Agency.

“She has what we in the business call a really wonderful voice,” Davies said. “What Shawn really nails so brilliantly is getting into the mind of a child and expressing that child’s voice through fiction.”

None of the books is autobiographical, Stout said.

But each of the characters contains a piece of herself. Penelope wonders whether her older brother is an alien, drawing upon Stout’s relationship with her older brother. “A Tiny Piece of Sky” was inspired by the experience of her grandparents, German-Americans labeled as spies in their Hagerstown community amid escalating tensions between the United States and Germany at the start of World War II.

At age 4, her daughter Opal is too young to draw from as a character yet.

“But I can see that going forward she may be an influence,” Stout said. “I’m writing things down as she’s saying them.”

Most of her writing happens after Opal goes to bed. She also uses her commute - to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health in Bethesda, where she works as a science writer - to brainstorm and prepare for writing.

The process is slow, and frustrating at times, Stout said. “Some days I’m just staring at the screen,” she said.

But after more than a decade of work and eight books, she’s learned a few tricks of the trade - take a walk, leave the room, find a temporary distraction. She’s also a voracious reader, almost exclusively of young adult and children’s books.

“I haven’t read an adult book in years,” Stout admitted, quickly adding the disclaimer “not like that” with a laugh.

The No. 1 rule of writing?

“Just show up,” she said. “Take the time. Sit down to do something every day.”

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Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, https://www.fredericknewspost.com

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