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South Salt Lake Journal

Cottonwood student president who has a passion for writing publishes thriller

Jul 20, 2021 10:40AM ● By Julie Slama

Cottonwood High student body president Anna Hexem holds the novel she completed after four years of writing. (Photo courtesy of Nanette Hexem)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Sometimes students may lose focus, glaze over and let their minds take them elsewhere while a teacher lectures. 

Cottonwood student body president Anna Hexem admits that is what happened to her while in her eighth-grade Bonneville Junior High math class taught by Brenda Bartunek.

“I got a B; math just is not my subject,” she said. 

But while her mind wondered, she was being productive as she began writing a murder-mystery.

“That’s literally when I started writing it. I’ve just been working on it continually since then. Last year, I designed my own cover and I uploaded it to Amazon and got it published myself. It’s been a goal that I’ve had for the past couple years,” Hexem said saying that it dates back to her sixth-grade year when she learned how to write creatively from her Spring Lake teacher, Jay Graft.

Her goal was to complete “The Innocence” under pen name Anna Caroline, before her junior year ended, which she did.  

The teaser of her book says: “Shayne (Luscome) thinks Ruben (James) killed his daughter. Ruben claims he didn't. Shayne gives Ruben 10 days to prove his innocence or he kills Ruben in revenge. The time limit is secret. Ruben doesn't know about it.”

This is followed by a direct quote from Ruben, “He blames me for Thalia's (Jefferson) death. He's coming after me.”

Hexem said the bottom line is, “He thinks his friend killed her, but he doesn’t have any solid proof. My main character gives his friend 10 days to prove he didn’t kill her or he’s going to kill him in revenge for killing his kid” and since he’s involved in “a lot of not so good things,” he can’t go to the police.

While many writers pen about their own experiences, Hexem did not.

“The first half of my book was just kind of improv. Then, I realized I couldn’t improvise a whole novel. I made a plan and I finished it,” she said.

She did, however, use some names that were familiar to her such as the main character although she “twisted his name a little bit.” 

“His first name was inspired by this kid I didn’t like in elementary. It’s been through a lot of editing, but Shayne was a bad character at first, then I rewrote it and made him the main character and I just kind of stuck with his name,” she said, adding that the real classmate she blocked on social media so he has been unaware that a book character is named after him.

A friend since eighth grade came up with the name for the daughter in the book and she acknowledged her in the book.

“I have my friends be my beta readers and they gave me feedback. I’ve done my own everything from the cover design to the actual writing to editing. It’s all been myself,” she said, adding that her aunts only read it after it was published and her mother currently is reading it. “I’ve spent countless hours on this. Writing is my passion. I really love the way English words work and you can put them together and do your own thing.”

The book is dedicated to Jennifer Thomas, a friend who she has grown up with and who also enjoys writing; she has “always been super supportive.”

Hexem, who also enjoys art and serves on the school’s art council, digitally created the cover on her iPad.

“It’s a black background with a red stripe and in a part of the book, Shayne wears a red stripe across a black shirt that he wears as a reminder of Thalia, so I thought it would make a really good cover as it’s a little foreshadowing to the rest of the book,” she said.

Hexem’s book is available on Amazon and her English teacher, Lauren Merkley, bought a couple copies and informed her students. Hexem, who is a self-proclaimed “huge reader—I will read anything and everything I can get my hands on” hopes to be able to share her published work with others at libraries once COVID-19 restrictions lift, but in the meantime, she already has begun work on her second book, which will not be a sequel

“The thing about me is I get bored easily, like I can’t handle doing one thing for the rest of my life,” she said. “So, I can’t just stick to one genre. I have this little challenge for myself, and I’ve picked out eight different genres. I’m going to write a book in each of those to see which one I like best.”