South Allegheny grad shares award-winning writing experience

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 2:26 a.m.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award-winning author Kristin Ross sat with South Allegheny High School students in the library that nurtured her love of literature.

A 1996 South Allegheny graduate, Ross revisited her alma mater to talk with book club members about the writing craft and her journey to publishing “A Man Above Reproach” under the pen name Evelyn Pryce.

“It's the first book I've finished — certainly not the first book I've started,” Ross said. “I started the first one in this very room.”

Ross knew she wanted to be a writer early in life when she became an avid reader. Enjoying a variety of styles, she never dreamed her creative mind would be the breeding ground for what she assumed was a foolish, trashy genre. She didn't give romance novels a chance until she picked up a book out of desperation in an airport convenience shop.

“It's actually an interesting genre, because most guys are scared of it,” Ross said. “My book is a lot about feminism — not just romance. The two are really inextricable, I feel.”

Before writers get a knack for a particular subject or genre, even the best go through draft after draft. Ross said she was lucky to have received only 15 rejection letters before the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest took an interest in her completed work. In five categories, entries were narrowed down from 10,000 to 500, 100, 25 and eventually one.

“It was like novel American Idol,” Ross said. “Amazon gave me everything.”

While the experience was exhilarating and stressful from start to finish, Ross said she hated the final weeks of waiting. But even that pressure was worth proud ownership of a finished product.

“Holding my books in my hands was the best part,” she said. “You can't recreate that moment.”

Ross encouraged students to “keep writing and keep reading.”

Book club faculty sponsor Tim Smith, who teaches sophomore and senior English courses, said Ross' success gives students tangible hope in a vast field of study.

“I have several students who want to write, and this is a chance to talk with someone from their community who is successful,” Smith said. “She's teaching them that it's OK to follow your dream, but it's important to have something to fall back on until that dream can be realized.”

Senior Bri Griffin, who wants to become a published fiction writer, is in the process of researching careers and applying to colleges.

“It was enlightening and reassuring to see how someone can have a day job, but still publish a book and be successful,” Bri said. “(Ross') presence was humbling. She's sweet and bubbly — everything I want to be.”

Residents of South Allegheny communities can reconnect with Ross — or meet her for the first time — during a book discussion and signing event on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at South Allegheny Elementary.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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