A Success Story: Two Recognized in Contest

Times Staff Writer

If life is a rainbow

breaking through the night

I am not in it.

If love is a bold bright star


trying desperately to outshine the sun

I do not see it.

If joy is an inviting spirit of good will

laughing and dancing


I do not hold its hand.

If serenity is a fresh white daffodil

sprinkled with dew, shiny and fragrant

I can not smell it.

For I am in the night,

turned away from the star

strayed too far from the happy spirit

Cannot find my way into the garden


And out of reach from those things

that make this world worthwhile.

“If Life Is a Rainbow”


At 13, Stephanie Cheung has already adopted the frustrated jargon of writers twice her age. But she has managed to beat “writer’s block” often enough to be selected as one of 104 promising young writers in a competition among 12,000 first- through eighth-graders nationwide.

Cheung and 9-year-old Bethany Martin, named for the second successive year, were Orange County winners in the fifth annual national competition of the Young Writers Contest Foundation.

“I feel happy,” Martin said Tuesday. The fourth-grader, who won this year for her short story entitled “A Gift of Time,” said she entered the contest again because she “thought it would be fun and a good experience for me because I like to write.”

Martin attends Arnold Elementary school in Cypress and said she has been writing “for a long, long time.” She estimated that she has created about 200 stories in her brief career.


Cheung, whose poem “If Life Is a Rainbow” won her recognition, also writes short stories. Her work explores a variety of genres, including science fiction, fairy tales and mysteries.

Cheung said some of her stories are stuffed, unfinished, in a desk drawer.

“Sometimes when I get an idea, I start writing and I can’t stop.” But other times, when she gets a writer’s block, she just puts the work aside, she said.

The stories she has finished include an engaging children’s tale about a country where chocolate is illegal to a Stephen King-like thriller about a living-dead man whose raspy laughter can still be heard though he has been buried in a wooden trunk with an ax plunged into his neck.

Cheung’s father, Stephen, an engineer at a Pasadena firm, said he and his wife, Rebecca, an accountant, have only read one or two of their daughter’s stories.

“She is so shy,” Stephen Cheung explained, “she doesn’t want us to read them.”

But those he has read were “very creative,” showing great imagination, he said. Cheung remembered the stories he would create for her at bedtime. “Maybe that’s why she has that kind of imagination,” he said, exuding

fatherly pride.

Cheung said her brother Kevin, 12, is her toughest critic: “He hates everything I write.”

In her winning poem, Cheung, motivated by depression and loneliness she felt after changing schools this year, is symbolically separated from the love, joy and serenity “that make this world worthwhile.”

Coincidentally, both Cheung, an eighth-grader at South Junior High School in Anaheim, and Martin named science as their favorite subject. Both want to be scientists when they grow up. Each has written stories reflecting that interest.

Martin’s winning story is about a girl who agrees to help an injured cat from a different time period find his way home.

“I started to make up little stories in my head,” she said of her early creations. Martin said she has always loved reading and was inspired by favorites like Ann M. Martin, who is not related. “I guess I just got the idea that I could read my own writing,” she said. “I guess I just got the idea that I’d like to see my own stories in a store.”

‘A Lot Younger Then’

Martin said her ideas have come from dreams, books and social problems. And a few stories, like last year’s winner called “Meg and the Week of Despair,” were based in part on personal experiences, she said.

“I just want it to be known that I was a lot younger then and that I’ve changed,” Martin said, referring to the autobiographical portions of her story about a girl who was punished after she threw a temper tantrum when she could not have a toy. “Now I just say, ‘OK, maybe next time.’ ”

The contest, begun in 1984, is designed to encourage youngsters to write well by recognizing their work and rewarding them with publication at an early age, according to Kathie Janger, 49, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Young Writers Contest Foundation.

“We were trying to figure out what we could do to combat future adult illiteracy,” Janger said. She explained that the thrust of the contest is to make youngsters realize that writing is important by publishing the annual winners in a book called “Rainbow Collection: Stories and Poetry by Young People.” Publicity also helps, she said.

“If we make it important by putting (the winners) into the newspapers, it spills over into the minds of the kids and they think, ‘Hey, this is important.’ ”