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writer
Sandra Cook Jerome
illustration

My completed Middle-Grade Fiction book, Sleep Warrior is 31000 words and also based partly on a true story; Clarissa is my actual Cherokee ancestor but the flying horse and talking bears are fictional. The Cherokee Nation is the largest tribe, but certainly an underrepresented audience. Recently Marvel announced they will include a Cherokee character in their upcoming Indigenous Voices series.

I am a former technical writer, programmer, and developer for the software industry and have written numerous PAL mass-market computer self-help guides along with reviews of accounting and early childhood educational software for major computer magazines. I am a C.P.A. and have an advanced degree in screenwriting from UCLA. I wrote dozens of award-winning screenplays with one animated script being produced by BlackOrb.com. Two years ago, I started planning my retirement from the software industry. I knew that I wanted to continue writing, and was excited at the prospect of being able to tell stories instead of writing computer instructions.

I learned how to write screenplays by completing UCLA’s Advanced Screenwriting program with Jack B. Sowards (Wrath of Kahn) and Jim Schmerer (Chips, MacGyver, Vega$.) I wrote over a dozen screenplays and did well in contests, but unless you’re willing to move to LA and take a lot of meetings; it is a hard industry to break into – especially when you have a full-time paying job. I tried to convert one of them, Princess Quest, into a novel; but couldn’t make the transition; so, when Covid struck and my 25-year-old granddaughter got stranded and locked down and unable to be a yoga instructor; I paid her to learn how to convert screenplays into novels and convert mine. After she completed that, I did a major rewrite to bring it into MG. We ended up self-publishing it and I learned the hard way that self-publishing and promotion take away from the writing. I have a passion for animals (especially talking ones) and concurrently with Sleep Warrior wrote a non-fiction book, Amazing Animals of Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

My hobby is genealogy. While I was researching the Native Americans that our family uses for enrollment in the Cherokee Nation, I found that one of them, Clarissa, died very young with two young sons and I couldn’t find out why. I decided to make up her story, add some Cherokee lore and fantasy and bring it into modern times and through the eyes of a middle schooler.

My pre-teen protagonist, AYA Mankiller has started sleepwalking at night. When she falls asleep, her Native American ancestor, CLARISSA, uses Aya’s body to rescue a little girl that CHIEF EVE BLACKHORSE’s animal guide, NIGHTWIND, has snatched and plans to drown. But the real villain is the chief who controls this flying horse and wants to point out that the dam her tribe has built will save lives by flooding part of the reservation to make way for a lake and new homes. Aya is half Cherokee and looks like a “rez kid,” as the other students at her new middle school call her. She has difficulty fitting in and making friends after her family moved from Oregon to Asheville, North Carolina, and she doesn’t know why she is sleepwalking. She doesn’t remember Clarissa’s nighttime heroics at first and only knows she is waking up wet, dirty, and exhausted.

To make matters worse, the ever-popular mean girl, MEGAN, makes fun of her twin brother, ALEC, who has a severe stutter. In a “save the cat” moment, Aya comes up with an act of clever revenge, but she and Alec are busted. Aya takes the fall for both of them, but Alec resents Aya’s over-protection; he might be smaller and have a stutter, but he is brave.
Another Cherokee kid, DAKOTA, seeks Aya out at school. He asks if she has discovered her “dream spirit.” At first, Aya doesn’t know what he is talking about and her anger gets them both detention. But, after visiting her grandma on the nearby Cherokee reservation during the weekend and reading old journals, Aya now understands what is happening.

Aya and Dakota work together to understand why Clarissa is here and what she wants Aya to do. Clarissa is your typical superhero. She is a fearless expert archer, and she has taught STANDING BEAR how to fly and hover. Clarissa continues to take over Aya at night, and together they rescue a stranded hiker. The evil Eve and Nightwind try to stop this and shoot an arrow into Standing Bear’s paw.

Both Standing Bear and SITTING BEAR (Dakota’s animal guide) have day jobs. They are on display at the (actual) Cherokee Bear Zoo on the reservation but spend their nights being animal spirits and animal guides. The whole “spirits and guides” might be confusing at first, but after a while, Aya comes to understand that a spirit “joins” with a human body (Clarissa), and they become one. An animal guide merely talks to his human charge and helps them grow and learn.
Things get worse. Aya realizes that her brother’s injured hand is Standing Bear’s “paw” shot by Chief Eve. Alec has been joining with his animal spirit Standing Bear and flying around at night, putting both of them in danger. Now Clarissa wants Dakota and Aya to expose the dangerously built dam. Aya plans to shoot an arrow into the spillway gate to expose the wooden beams, but it means flying on Standing Bear and possibly dodging more deadly arrows. That night Eve and Nightwind try to shoot Aya/Clarissa and Alec/Standing Bear out of the sky. They hit Standing Bear again, causing Aya/Clarissa’s arrow to hit the toe drain instead - causing the dam to fail. A flood starts with Megan’s house in the path of the boulders, mud, and raging water.

Aya takes charge of her body and races with Dakota’s animal guide, Sitting Bear, to Megan’s house and saves Megan’s family. Megan is grateful and regrets being mean to Aya. Aya has a new friend! But as required by the tribe to protect spirits and guides, Dakota gives them a potion that makes them forget Aya’s heroics. Crushed at losing her opportunity to be a hero and fit in at school, Aya realizes that sometimes to fit in, you need to find your own tribe. She and Dakota become close friends, and she now understands that Clarissa didn’t become her dream spirit to expose the dam; Aya invited her in with her loneliness, anger, and yearning to fit in.

I learned a lot about being Cherokee and my own “tribe,” the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. I remember the pain my granddaughters went through when they moved from Oregon to Florida and the difficulty of making new friends and adjusting to a huge new public middle school after many years at the more nature-focused and inclusive Waldorf School in Oregon. Sleep Warrior takes place in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina, and features the Eastern Tribe of the Cherokee Nation.



This writer is looking for an agent
SKILLS
Writing
GENRES & SPECIALTIES
Juvenile fiction, Children's books
PROJECTS ON OFFER/ PROPOSALS AVAILABLE
Sleep Warrior