My summer break at eleven years old was for lazy days spent in my room, pouring through book after book. While other kids ran around in the sun, I traveled to far off places and went on daring adventures, saving the town, or the kingdom, or the world. Unlike real life, reading books I was a magician, a princess, a mermaid, Miss America… I could be anything. And every few weeks, when the stories ran out, there was an even more magical place waiting for me: the public library. I went in empty handed and emerged with a stack of books as long as my tiny arms, filled with everything I grabbed off the shelves on our weekly visits to the library, and a few bonus ones thrown into the pile by a kindly librarian. One of those extra books was called The Kingdom Keepers, and while I liked the dozens of other books I brought home, Kingdom Keepers was the only book I fell in love with from the first page. Seven teens in the Disney parks after dark, fighting the Disney villains who’ve come to life and are trying to take over the parks? For a Disney nerd like me, it was everything I could dream of.
I devoured the first Kingdom Keepers book, and over the next few years I devoured the second, third, and fourth books too. I read each one over and over again until I could finally be at the bookstore first thing the morning the next book came out, impatiently waiting for the booksellers to open the boxes of shiny new copies. In a world of middle and then high school chaos, confusion, pressure, and loneliness, the Kingdom Keepers books became my sanctuary. No matter what was going on in the real world, I had seven best friends tucked away in the pages of these books, and so I read them over and over and over again.
In fact, I read them so many times that I began to notice inconsistencies in the story, hidden in the details. Characters walking through a door twice, room locations changing, etc., things that didn’t quite add up. Even more, there were little details in the Disney parks, like dining rooms with the wrong names or an audio-animatronic’s hairstyle that wasn’t right. Things that no one would notice or know were wrong unless they’d read the books dozens of times, and unless they spent their free time reading Disney blogs and history books. But I noticed.
So, I did what any fangirl would do; I came up with a crazy idea. Throughout my entire summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school I post-it noted every inconsistency in the series. And when Ridley Pearson, the author of the Kingdom Keepers series came to Kepler’s Books, my local bookstore, I took my books to be signed, post-its and all. And when Ridley asked me what the sea of pink and blue tabs sticking out the sides of his books was about, I told him they were inconsistencies.
In the plot twist of all plot twists, my favorite author’s reply wasn’t ‘Wow, rude’ but instead “Wow, I’ve been looking for someone to find these for me. I just got the fifth book back from the copy editor, could you read it for me and find all of these before it gets published?”
My eyes went almost as big as the ‘surprise’ emoji, and I managed to squeak out “I’d love to!” (And later I looked up what a ‘copy editor’ was).
I got the next book in my email inbox that night, the shiny new manuscript, the one that wouldn’t be published for another eight months, the one that everyone else in the fandom was just dying to read, and now I got to. If elation, shock, and excitement could kill you, I would’ve dropped dead right there.
That night, in a matter of hours, I went from average high school student to continuity editor, and then a researcher, brainstormer, events and social media assistant on a New York Times bestselling series. I ended up a manager for the Kingdom Keepers Insider website (kingdomkeepersinsider.com) and co-authored The Syndrome, a novella in the series. Ridley even wrote me into the 7th book as a character. I became a fictional character in my favorite book series! Suddenly, all my nerdiness and wasted time reading Kingdom Keepers and learning every detail about Disney was important.
More than that, for the first time in my life, something mattered. My work mattered. My opinion mattered. People actually wanted to hear my monologues about how the first audio-animatronics were invented for the Enchanted Tiki attraction after Walt Disney bought a mechanical bird on a trip to New Orleans, and that originally it was meant to be a dinner show, which is why to this day it’s the only attraction with a restroom. Knowing that the Disney Gallery is in the building that housed the Bank of America on opening day and the original vault is still there wasn’t a useless fact anymore, it was helping make my favorite books better. For the first time in my life, I realized I had a voice.
It changed everything for me. I became a writer, and went on to major in creative writing in college. I went from being a painfully shy kid to being comfortable talking to an assembly of school kids and chatting up thousands of people at book signings. I studied abroad in Buenos Aires and Shanghai. I interned at Shanghai Disney Imagineering. I found my way into a full-time job, at a tech company, of all places. Kingdom Keepers even gave me the confidence to start competing in the Miss America system four years later. Everything I have in my life now is because just one person (who happened to be the author of my favorite book series) showed me that I have a voice.
That’s why my platform, Guiding Girls to Write Their Own Path, is so important. Creative writing mentorship changed my life, and in working with organizations like WriteGirl, I’ve seen it change other girls’ lives too. WriteGirl pairs girls from underserved communities with mentors in creative writing fields, to help them not only learn to write well, but more importantly to find their voice. Serving as a mentor with WriteGirl, I’ve seen mentees go from shy kids to empowered women, ready to take on the world, go to college, and change their communities for the better. If women are going to change the world, we have to learn to speak up first. We have to find our voice.
But we don’t have to do it alone. We can pull each other up. Remind each other that we all have a voice. That we all have a story, and that story’s worth sharing.
After all, our voices are louder together.
Follow my year on Instagram at @missredwoodcity and @misssanmateocounty, and read more of my story at brooke.muschott.com