Cambrian: Opinion

Cambria native Devik Schreiner combines roles as teacher, author

Sixth-graders in Devik Schreiner's class at Oak Avenue Elementary School in 
Los Altos check out copies of his book, 'Search a Darker Sky: A Cleft Mind' during lunch break Monday, April 13.
Sixth-graders in Devik Schreiner's class at Oak Avenue Elementary School in Los Altos check out copies of his book, 'Search a Darker Sky: A Cleft Mind' during lunch break Monday, April 13.

When you’re a writer, it’s often fun to meet others who share your love of the written word — of telling a good story and connecting with readers. In my short time in Cambria, I’ve run into no shortage of folks who share my love of the craft. In fact, I’m starting to wonder whether there’s some magic in those Monterey pines that inspires residents to put pen to paper (or, as is more often the case these days, fingertips to keyboard).

Devik Schreiner seems to think there is.

“Cambria is a writer’s dream,” says Schreiner, an author who no longer lives here but who still considers it home nonetheless. “I grew up on Lodge Hill. Lots of fog, quiet. Crashing waves. Not a lot to do when you’re a kid. There can be no better background for activating one’s imagination.”

Perhaps that’s why Schreiner keeps coming back, paying visits that prove inspirational not just to himself, but to others as well. Three years ago, Schreiner visited Santa Lucia Middle School as part of a national incentive program called “Battle of the Books,” in which teams of children compete to earn points by answering questions based on various books.

Santa Lucia teacher Colleen Poynter and librarian Suzanne Kennedy chose Schreiner’s book “Search a Darker Sky: A Cleft Mind” as a focal point for the exercise.

This month, he’s returning to Santa Lucia, paying a visit to the classroom Friday, April 17, when he’ll preview the nearly completed prequel to “A Cleft Mind,’’ titled “The Oregon Story.” 

The new book focuses on 12-year-old protagonist Justin Tyme, whose father disappears just as he is on the verge of developing a new material code-named “C-Metal.” Justin not only finds himself working on a mystery that transcends what most boys on the brink of adolescence might experience, but he also faces challenges some young readers will find familiar, such as dealing with his mother’s depression and his stepfather’s emotional abuse.

“The Oregon Story’’ focuses on many of the same characters but is set 30 years before the events in “A Cleft Mind.”  

Many of Schreiner’s readers are about the same age he was when he became interested in reading, and their shared experience helps him connect with his audience.

“I was 11 years old when I truly became fascinated with reading,” he recalls. “That’s the age when you’re old enough to understand ideas at a complex level but young enough to still be amazed by them. In addition, I have been told that my sense of humor stopped developing when I turned 12. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of falling victim to my puns can attest to that.”

How much of Schreiner’s personal experience made it into the novel?

“I tried to keep my personal experiences separate when I wrote my first book, but they leaked in anyway,” he acknowledges. “So I stopped trying so hard.

“As far as characters, I always jot down notes about interesting people I see and meet, in case I need to draw from that pool later on. Fiction based on real people seems to resonate with a reader. Kids seem to have a radar mind for what is believable. Only one character in ‘A Cleft Mind’ actually exists as written. Others are amalgamations of different people.”

When Schreiner visits Santa Lucia, he’ll be in his element: Not only is he an author, he’s also a middle school English and history teacher in San Jose. Although his roles as author and teacher require different skill sets to some extent, they’re complementary, he says.

“I love the social aspect of teaching; impacting kids’ lives, helping them prepare for seventh grade,” he says. “Writing is more of a solitary activity, but I find that being an author works really well within the classroom, because a novel is made up of all the parts of the Common Core curriculum. It’s like a puzzle you can examine, and the pieces are the final product of the skills my students are developing. So, in a way, it’s a good reference tool.”

What does Schreiner enjoy most about writing?

“Listening to kids’ insights about things I have made up, signing books, cracking jokes, making up silly hashtags, answering questions, balancing things on my face and doing other circus tricks.”

Although his family no longer lives in Cambria and he has relocated to the Bay Area, Schreiner says he’d like to move back at some point to the town he calls his “favorite place in the world.”

“Cambria is more than a place,” he says. “There’s an energy surrounding it, a force that makes a person slow down, take deep breaths and appreciate its beauty.”

Maybe that’s why so many writers seem to thrive here. And why even those who leave, like Schreiner, feel a call to return to the pines.