The award-winning writer hosted a special workshop in Bensalem after Cecelia Snyder eighth-grader Abby Medykowski won his national essay contest
By Samantha Bambino
When Ransom Riggs, the New York Times best selling author of the popular book series Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, decided to conduct a nationwide writing contest last summer, he vowed to visit the winner, no matter their location.
Riggs and the team at Penguin Random House pored through hundreds of original short stories (500–1,000 words), submitted by teens ages 13–18 between Aug. 1-Dec. 3. Each participant created their own “peculiar” characters, plotline and setting, vying for a chance to have Riggs travel to their school to host a special writing workshop.
For Riggs, one particular tale stood out from the rest — Decomposers by Abby Medykowski, an eighth-grader at Bensalem’s Cecelia Snyder Middle School.
On Tuesday, May 14, Riggs traveled from his Southern California home to the Snyder library, located at 3330 Hulmeville Road, to not only congratulate Medykowski, but lead an intimate presentation on his background and creative process for 50 of her peers and teachers.
Before her invited guests arrived, Medykowski and her parents, Michael and Allison, had the opportunity to privately chat with the author. Riggs couldn’t praise her enough for Decomposers, which follows a young girl who feeds off fungus to stay alive. However, during the winter, she’s tasked with finding an alternative source of energy. Medykowski’s submission also included an original photograph of a mushroom, which she diligently watched grow every day on her way to school.
According to Riggs, Decomposers was selected as the winner because of Medykowski’s natural flair for writing.
“I feel like a lot of people when they’re writing, it feels really self-conscious. Having a natural flow and voice is hard to do. But your story was great. I reread it again this morning,” Riggs told her. “How did you do that? You’re so young.”
Her response was simple.
“Practice,” Medykowski said.
She went onto explain how her longtime love for books started because of her parents. Both would read to their daughter constantly…even when she was still in Allison’s womb.
“She has this huge bookcase in her room that we had to clear out a couple of times,” Michael said, adding how the Miss Peregrine series was one of his personal favorites.
Medykowski and Riggs spent the next 10 minutes conversing like old friends. She told her idol how she wishes to pursue a full-time career in therapy and continue writing as a hobby. He fully supported her plans.
At approximately 10:30 a.m., Medykowski’s friends began trickling into the library, each bearing awestruck faces when they saw her comfortably interacting with Riggs. After each was gifted a Penguin goodie bag and took their seats, Riggs commenced his promised writing workshop.
He began by sharing his personal journey to becoming a renowned author, a dream that began in middle school when he was forced to pen his ideas on legal pads, a time before the convenient days of laptops. Over the years, Riggs’ passion expanded to include movies after he viewed the classic thriller The Shining, and he studied film at the University of Southern California.
Simultaneously, he continued to hone his craft in writing, earning extra money by contributing to blogs and magazines and authoring The Sherlock Holmes Handbook.
He also started to obsessively collect old, black and white photographs, something he had been intrigued by as a child when he stumbled upon them at Florida flea markets with his grandmother. Riggs longed to fill in the blanks of who these people were and what was happening in the photos.
“I felt like I was saving this little person’s memory from the trash,” Riggs said.
These chilling, curious pictures went on to inspire Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which was published by Quirk Books in 2011 and turned into a film adaptation by Tim Burton in 2016. Riggs released Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Children in 2014 and Library of Souls, the third installment, in 2015.
Though Riggs’ finished products are well-crafted novels chock-full of mystery, suspense and loveable characters, crafting an award-winning book series isn’t something that happens overnight.
It takes practice.
“I didn’t go to school for it, I just taught myself over many years. I took one writing class in college and it was fun, but it’s all just practice,” he said. “There’s no real set of rules.”
The students then joined Riggs in collaborating on their own peculiar story, which chronicled lead character Abby and her time travel adventures.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org