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Centennial HS Student Transforms Class Assignment into a Published Novel

May 16th, 2023

Rus VanWestervelt and Nicole Cavey in front of the CHS mascot.
Centennial High School English Teacher Rus VanWestervelt and CHS junior Nicole Cavey, holding Cavey’s self-published book “The Realm Crashers and the Shadow King.”

Centennial High School junior Nicole Cavey didn’t set out to write a novel.

As a student in Rus VanWestervelt’s Fall 2021 10th grade Honors English class, she started out by completing an assignment to write a 3,000-word short story. But she didn’t stop there. In the two months that followed, Cavey added 28,000 words to her story.

She shared the expanded version with VanWestervelt, who encouraged her to continue writing and publish a novel-length story. Cavey did not hesitate to act on that encouragement.

By May 2022, Cavey’s short story had evolved into a 91,500-word novel titled “The Realm Crashers and the Shadow King.” Geared toward young adults who in Cavey’s words “enjoy fantasy with magic, hidden heritage, and adventures that will last a lifetime,” the novel follows two teenage boys who travel across realms, facing danger along the way.

Having significantly expanded her story, Cavey once again reached out to VanWestervelt for guidance about how to proceed. He reviewed the manuscript and provided feedback, but this time as a fellow writer, not a teacher.

Rus VanWestervelt speaking with Nicole Cavey.

“This was no longer about helping a student with a school assignment. This was one writer helping another,” he says.

As such, VanWestervelt’s focus shifted to helping Cavey to refine what she had written such as grammar and word choice.

One thing VanWestervelt was clear about in his review: the ending of Cavey’s story should remain untouched.

“It was just masterful. It absolutely delivered on my hopes as a reader. I did not want to change anything.”

VanWestervelt also encouraged Cavey to explore the option of self-publishing her work.

“When you self-publish, you have a lot more say in how things get done than if you work with a traditional publisher,” he explains. “You can choose the cover art, the paper, the font, the size. You really get to make it your own.”

A close-up of Nicole Cavey's book "Realm Crashers and the Shadow King".

With help from her father and mother, Cavey acted on VanWestervelt’s advice and enlisted a company to self-publish her book, which is currently available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers. It also can be found at Barnes and Noble in Ellicott City.

“It feels incredible to see my book on the shelf alongside the YA [Young Adult] authors I look up to,” says Cavey, who already has begun working on the book’s sequel and is ultimately hoping to produce a five-part series.

VanWestervelt shares Cavey’s sense of pride.

“As a teacher, I try to ignite a spark in my students. I’m thrilled to see that spark take off in Nicole. She has an incredibly bright future in writing ahead of her.”