Cary teacher wins Amazon prize for young adult novel

astewart@newsobserver.comJuly 15, 2013 

Cheryl Walniuk lives in a time warp. For a living she talks about the past. In the present she lives in Cary and raises two kids. And the kicker: She writes about a girl in the future who travels to the past.

In June, the mother of two won Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award Grand Prize with her Young Adult science fiction book, “Timebound.”

Walniuk, who writes under the pen name Rysa Walker, received a $50,000 advance and a book deal with Amazon Children’s Publishing’s Skyscape imprint. Her submission was selected by readers from a pool of 10,000 entries.

Originally called “Time’s Twisted Arrow,” Walniuk self-published her novel last October. “Timebound” will come out Oct. 22.

Walniuk, a history buff who teaches government and history online at the University of Maryland University College, said she grew bored with online teaching. Dying for a creative outlet, she returned to the fantasy novel she had started several years earlier.

“I submitted it kind of on a whim,” Walniuk said.

“Timebound” is about a teenage girl, Kate, who learns that she can travel through time just like her grandmother, a historian who revisits events in history to study them. Kate’s grandmother works for CHRONOS, or the Chrono-Historical Research and Natural Observation Society, a database that records firsthand accounts of historic events.

Kate goes back to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to prevent a murder that kick starts a chain of sinister events.

“Most historians would really like to have a time machine if they could,” Walniuk said of the inspiration for her book. “There’s always a bit of information that’s not there.”

She also plays with the idea of having the power to change the past in a way that would change the course of history and the temptations that come with it.

“I couldn’t help but wonder if we wouldn’t change things,” she said. “For example, if I could go back to the 1930s deep South, I’d have a hard time not challenging the racial injustice.”

Walniuk is especially interested in women’s political history, much like the grandmother in “Timebound,” and did her dissertation on the women’s suffrage movement.

“Timebound” also serves as a guise for Walniuk’s ulterior motive: to teach kids about how to use primary and secondary sources in research.

After experiencing the frustration of her students having no idea how to perform academic research, Walniuk created a blog paired with her book that encourages students to research history and report for the blog.

“There’s definitely an educators desire underneath,” she said. “I want to show how many excellent primary sources young writers can use.”

She has already received positive reviews for her debut novel. Publisher’s Weekly called the main character Kate “the Katniss Everdeen of time travel.”

Amazon has contracted Walniuk to write two more novels plus two novellas to complete the “CHRONOS” series.

Stewart: 919-829-4568

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