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Lakewood middle school student uses remote learning time to write, publish her own novel

Similar to a lot of 11-year-olds, Marlowe Middle School student Ella Selvaggio likes to cheer and play soccer, and she spends much of her free time drawing. Unlike most 11-year-olds, Ella has just published her first novel and is well on her way to finishing her second.

Ella has harbored a love of fantasy novels, such as Tui T. Sutherland’s “Wings of Fire” and Christopher Paolini’s “Eragon,” since she was old enough to read, she said in an interview last week. When she read about an author who wrote their first novel at 11 years old, Ella said she decided she could do that, too.

“Whenever I write, it just makes me very happy, and I feel like it kind of suits me because I like to read,” said Ella, who lives in Lakewood.

Ella’s first novel, “Legends of Morana: The Dark Threat Rises,” began as an 8,000-word submission for the statewide Young Authors writing competition this past fall, she said.

When the Young Authors contest was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ella was devastated, said Sal Selvaggio, her father.

After reading what she had written for the competition, Selvaggio said he was taken aback by his daughter’s natural talent and the maturity of her writing style. He encouraged her to keep writing and exploring the depths of her imagination.

The end result was the creation of Morana, a fantastical world filled with dragons, elves and dark magic that filled the pages of a full chapter book.

The first in the series, “Legends of Morana” is available to buy online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It also is available locally at Read Between the Lynes in Woodstock, according to a news release from Huntley School District 158.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” Selvaggio said. “It is really this good – this is not just because it’s my daughter.”

Ella said remote learning has allowed her to dedicate more time to her writing.

“Whenever we’re like on a 15-minute break, I usually go to my story and I just write until I have to get back online,” she said.

The first book in the “Legends of Morana” series tells the story of six dragons with different skills and personalities, Ella said. Her personal favorite is Apollo, the ice dragon who also happens to be on the cover of the book.

Ella said she unknowingly based another one of the dragons, Jinx, off of her little brother, Dominic, who is 8 years old. Like her brother, Jinx is a jokester who doesn’t eat red meat and makes the other dragons laugh, she said.

When asked what she hopes the book will accomplish, Ella said she always has been struck by how connected she feels to her favorite authors even though they “don’t even know [she’s] alive.”

“I feel like [books] can bring a very happy feeling,” Ella said. “I just want somebody who I don’t even know to read one of my books. … I just think that’s really cool.”

Writing the book was exciting but challenging, especially the editing process, Ella said.

The book took Ella about seven months to finish, and she received editing help from her father and another writer who is a friend of the family, Selvaggio said.

“She has this amazing world built in her head, and she sees it, but it was more so a process of pulling that out and saying, ‘Hey, OK, why is this happening?’” he said.

Ella kept her mother, Kristin, outside of the editing process so that she could serve as the novel’s first test audience. When Kristin finished the book, she said she couldn’t wait to read more.

“I looked at her and said, ‘That’s how you’re going to end it? You better get working on the second one because [the ending] is such a cliffhanger,’” Kristin said.

Ella already is well into writing the next book in the series, which she said she plans to publish as soon as possible.

“Something I want to say [to other young writers] is to just keep going, achieve your goals and don’t stop trying,” she said. “Keep trying, keep going, keep pushing and don’t give up.”

Ella’s website advertises the next book, “Legends of Morana: A Big Fight,” as coming this winter, meaning she could publish her second novel before she finishes sixth grade.

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