Boynton Beach native Shayne Leighton, 22, was one of 25 children’s and young adult authors participating in the third annual April is for Authors Children and Young Adult Authors Festival Saturday at Palm Beach Gardens High School.
However, it was just six years ago that Leighton, a student at Dreyfoos School of the Arts at the time, sent the first three chapters of her initial book, “The Vampire’s Daughter,” to Cynthia Leitich Smith, New York Times bestselling author of the “Tantalize” series.
“Not many authors of Cynthia’s caliber would take the time to reply to a 16-year-old, but she edited my manuscript and has continued to encourage me,” said Leighton, whose second book, “The Vampire’s Reflection,” is due out in July. “That’s why I wanted to give back to young, aspiring authors. I’m sure they saw my age in the program and wanted to hear about my process, since I’m not much older than them.”
Leighton got involved with the festival last year when she was contacted by event co-chairwoman Sue Slone, who was Leighton’s principal at Crystal Lakes Elementary School in Boynton Beach.
“It is exciting to have known Shayne as a little girl and to watch her develop into a young woman,” Slone said. “Her basic personality traits serve her so well. She has been tenacious in pursuing her career and achieved success so quickly. The younger kids can look at her and say, ‘I can do it, too.’”
Co-chairwoman Helen Zientek was pleased with the turnout Saturday, as the attendance has grown from 300 people the first year to 750 last year to about 900 this year.
“We’re getting a little bigger every year,” Zientek said. “Young adult author Neal Shusterman challenged me to do this after I retired as library media specialist for Bak School of the Arts. It takes a lot of work, but it’s all worth it to encourage kids to become lifelong readers.”
Zientek, who said the festival could not come off without the support of the Palm Beach Gardens High community, said that James Patterson is already booked as the keynote speaker for next year’s event (April 12, 2014).
Other participating authors at this year’s festival included 12 Sunshine State Young Reader Award nominees, whose books were featured this past year in schools and bookstores, such as Mary Amato, Clay Carmichael, P.W. Catanese, Sharon Draper, Alex Flinn, Enrique Flores-Galbis, Lisa Graff, Nan Marino, Ginny Rorby, Danette Vigilante, Jacqueline West and Sherri Winston.
Other local authors who participated included Dominic and Yvonne Addario (Jupiter), Marianne Berkes (Hobe Sound), Donna Gephart (Jupiter), Mary Monroe (Lake Worth), Michael Patrick O’Neill (Palm Beach Gardens), Harvey Oyer III (Boynton Beach) and Serena Schreiber (Jupiter).