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Christine Pakkala’s Nightmare, Prize-Winning Trip

There’s a lot to learn at the Westport Writers’ Workshop. But it’s not all about the words.

Christine Pakkala has taken workshops, and been mentored, at the Sylvan Road center since 2008. Beyond important writing skills, she’s gained confidence. And learned to put herself waaay out there.

She did it so well that her essay — “The Vacation Nightmare That Changed My Life” — won 1st place in the prestigious Ladies’ Home  Journal writing contest. Chosen from thousands of submission, it earned her $3,000 — plus publication in the June issue.

Christine Pakkala (Photo by Kristin Hoebermann)

Christine wrote grippingly about her fear of flying. She finally overcame it in order to spend Christmas in Costa Rica with her husband, attorney and author Cameron Stracher, and their kids (Simon, then 13, and Lulu, 10).

The vacation turned grim when Cam collapsed after a run. The only CAT-scan machine in the country was in San Jose — and the only way to get there was on a tiny plane.

Back in Westport — after a long commercial flight — the couple learned that a major artery was 90 percent blocked. He had survived only because his runner’s heart was so strong.

After a stent and medication, he’s back running. Christine has flown half a dozen times since then. And, of course, she writes.

A former Fulbright Scholar who received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she says, “I’ve had Pulitzer Prize-winning writing teachers. But the best advice came from Jessica Bram and Suzanne Hoover” — 2 of her Westport Writers’ Workshop teachers. “They taught me to first listen to myself, then listen to others.”

Now others are listening to Christine. Last month she taught students how to break into children’s books. She should know: She’s got a multi-book publishing deal.

Christine got interested in writing for kids when Simon was in kindergarten. Her tales incorporated his classmates as characters. She read them aloud, and teachers encouraged her to do more.

She listened. She wrote. She branched out from kindergarten to middle grade fiction, and now to a harrowing but healing account of her terrible trip to Costa Rica.

Which — thanks to confidence gained through the Westport Writers’ Workshop — is a prize-winning essay, shared with Ladies’ Home Journal readers everywhere.

(To read Christine’s essay, click here.)

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