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Nationally known author visits Brainerd High School English classes (via Skype)

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Brainerd High School welcomed a celebrity guest in its freshman English classes Thursday.

But this was not exactly the standard visit from a guest speaker.

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Freshman English students filled the high school’s Little Theatre to meet with author Alane Ferguson via Skype during the schools’ third and sixth hours Thursday.

Ferguson joined the classes from her home in Colorado.

The students read Ferguson’s first book in her Christopher Series, “The Christopher Killer,” as part of their required reading. Teacher Melody Schulte said the students’ interest in the books just took off.

“They were just so enamored with the books,” Schulte said.

The Christopher Series includes four books with a fifth book to be published soon. Schulte said after “The Christopher Killer” was read as required text, the other books in the series were made available in the library on the South Campus of Brainerd High School and were extremely popular among the freshman students. “We couldn’t keep them on the shelves,” she said.

Ferguson’s Christopher series are forensic mystery fiction.

Freshman English teacher Joe Cloutier said his students were so interested in the books that they challenged Cloutier to contact Ferguson to find out when the fifth book would be published.

So he did.

Cloutier emailed Ferguson and said about a week later he got a phone call in his classroom from Ferguson during his sixth hour class. “(My students) thought I was joking,” Cloutier said. “They didn’t believe me.”

Cloutier arranged for Ferguson to Skype with the freshman English students. Other participating English teachers included Schulte, Bryce Gross and Aubrey Koman.

The event was the first of its kind for Brainerd High School, said BHS’s media programming specialist, Sue Thurlow.

Schulte said the school’s media department, including Thurlow and Aaron Anderson, played significant roles in helping the classes connect with Ferguson over Skype. “They made it possible to do this,” she said.

Schulte said she was impressed with Ferguson’s willingness to give her time to talk with the students.

“She was so excited that our students were reading the first book in her series,” Schulte said. “She said she would do this out of the kindness of her heart.”

Students watched Ferguson on the big screen as she talked from her home in Colorado about writing the series.

Ferguson answered questions from students about what real life situations influenced her writing, how long it takes her to write a single book and when her next book will be released.

Ferguson told the students her stories are based on actual forensic cases that have impacted her directly or people she knows.

“I have interesting dinner conversations,” she said.

Kaylee Wallner, 15 and a student in Gross’ class, said she has read three of the books. She asked Ferguson how making the series changed thre author’s life.

“I thought it was cool that the book came out of her own life and that she made it into a book for everyone to read,” Wallner said.

Ferguson told the students “The Christopher Killer” was inspired by the real-life murder of a friend of hers, something Wallner said was sad but interesting that Ferguson would use it to influence her writing.

Ferguson also told the students that her writing has given her the opportunity to resolve some of her own high school memories. She said she killed everyone who was mean to her in high school in her books.

“If they read my books, they’ll find themselves dead,” she joked.

Kirsten Johnshoy, 14 and also a student in Gross’ English class, said she really enjoyed the Skype session with Ferguson and, like her teachers, was surprised to hear that Ferguson wanted to talk to her class.

“This is really cool,” Johnshoy said of the Skype session with Ferguson. “It was a great experience especially after reading her books.”

Johnshoy said she has read the first two books in the Christopher Series and hopes to continue reading the rest of the books in the series. “I never thought I’d be reading forensics,” she said. “It’s really interesting though.”

Ferguson told the students the fifth book in her Christopher Series will be called “Dead Giveaway,” and said the book’s subject has to do with a dead body and a game show. She wouldn’t give much detail beyond that but did tell students some of their favorite characters from the earlier books would return.

Cloutier was unable to attend the Skype session with his students due to an illness but said in a phone interview that he was pleased to hear about the enthusiasm of his students during the session.

“It’s one of those things they’ll never forget,” he said.

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at sarah.nelsonkatzenberger@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5879.

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