Catonsville High senior Claire Doll knew she had a passion for writing before she was in first grade.
“I can even remember, like kindergarten, I just loved writing stories and drawing pictures along with it,” said Doll, who will graduate on June 18 in a virtual ceremony.
That creative writing bug continued through Catonsville Elementary when school librarian Rebekah Kaufman gave students an “Author Award” if they wrote a book or drew pictures.
“That really inspired me to keep writing because it just felt so rewarding,” Doll said.
She culminated her high school writing career with an honor even more rewarding, when her short story “Flooded” was published June 1 in Otherwise Engaged A Literature and Arts Journal, Volume 5, Summer 2020, Quarantine Edition.
Otherwise Engaged is a biannual publication featuring work by artists, writers and photographers worldwide.
Her story was based on the aftermath of the catastrophic Ellicott City flood of 2018.
Doll started the story in January.
“I was working on a first draft and my creative writing teacher made some comments, and she actually said it lacked emotion,” Doll said. “So I decided to do a complete edit, and after that she said it was great.”
That creative writing teacher, Marie Thrailkill, laughed at the recollection, but knew Doll would come back with a better version.
“I am nothing if I’m not blunt and I will tell them exactly what I think and they know that, they can count on that," Thrailkill said. “I try to meet my writers where they are and I help them to grow, but Claire didn’t need a lot of growth. She probably got more critical feedback just because I knew she had it in her.”
When Doll got the news that the story was going to be published she was working at Objects Found in Catonsville.
“I was so happy," she said. "I was really shocked at first; I remembered submitting to the magazine but I immediately texted Miss Thrailkill. I told her the good news, I texted my mom and then when I got home I was so overjoyed about it.”
Thrailkill was equally thrilled to hear the news.
“She has been talented for years and I’ve seen her grow so much because I’ve taught her four years in a row, and she’s quite an excellent writer,” she said. “I have a few students that stand out, and she really stands out.”
Thrailkill allows her students to resubmit a piece as many times as necessary for a higher grade or more critiquing, and Doll took advantage of those mulligans.
“It got to a point where I didn’t even have any suggestions. Her pieces were just so good," Thrailkil said.
What made “Flooded” so good was that she had some real-life observations to interject since she lived so close to Ellicott City.
“The story is partly true because I did witness how the flood impacted the community,” Doll said. “I remember driving around Ellicott City and seeing the damage that was done to it and like I mentioned in my story, there were things in the river — clothes and books and everything — that were just floating there and it was just so sad, it was devastating.”
She also used her imagination.
“A moment in the story is when I describe a broken violin that I found in the river,” she said. “I described that with really vivid details even though that had never happened. I never actually saw that, but I tried to use my imagination and use how the flood would have represented the whole community being ruined.”
Marzia Dessi, publisher of the Otherwise Engaged journal, said that Doll’s short story “appealed on multiple levels."
"It appeals to the senses and because it makes excellent use of circular narrations and repetition and fits the larger emotional flow which the journal attempts to achieve,” she said.
Doll is also a clarinetist and plays in the Catonsville High Steel Drum Band, and while several spring concerts were canceled because schools were closed, it gave her more time to work on her short story.
But, it created another obstacle because she was in her second year as editor-in-chief of the Ellipsis, the school’s literary magazine.
“She did most of the work at home because the pandemic forced the schools to close on March 13th and our literary magazine was just in the rough stages,” said Thrailkill, the magazine’s adviser.
“For the Ellipsis, we had to go to software to make it,” Doll said. “It was only on my computer, so that was a lot of pressure because I usually rely on other people to help me put it together.”
Thrailkill, who has taught at Catonsville for 19 years and been the Ellipsis adviser for 13, noted the Ellipsis won the Gold Medalist award the past two years from the Columbia (University) Scholastic Press Association in its annual Critique.
This year’s Ellipsis was submitted digitally for the first time ever at the school, and Thrailkill was excited to pick up the printed version of the magazine on June 8.
“We are hoping for another gold,” the teacher said. “Claire takes it very seriously; she always takes the feedback very seriously and so we’ve got our fingers crossed.”
Doll plans to attend Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg in the fall and major in elementary education, with a minor in creative writing.
Thrailkill is certainly going to miss her prized student.
“She takes AP classes, she is very conscientious, she gets stellar grades and she just cares so much, but she is such a kind and good-hearted soul,” Thrailkill said. “She’s got such a sweet spirit and she gets along well with everybody, and the kids genuinely love her.”