Author and alum Pyszka returns to Bethel Park High SchoolPublished May 2, 2014 at 2:56 pm (Updated May 2, 2014 at 2:56 pm)
Courtesy Bethel Park School District
Author and Bethel Park High School alumni Sara Pyszka spoke to students at her alma mater about the writing process and living with cerebral palsy.
There is very little in life that stops Sara Pyszka.
At the age of 28, Sara has graduated from college and is a published author. The 2005 graduate of Bethel Park High School, now a resident of Wexford and the daughter of Cindy and Bob Pyszka of Bethel Park, travels regularly lecturing aspiring writers about the writing process, personal experiences and how to self-publish a novel. Her first work, “Dancing Daisies,” is available on Amazon.com, and she’s sold more than 400 copies of the 345-page book, one of which is in the Bethel Park High School library.
But Sara is anything but a typical writer. Yes, she admits to having writer’s block and becoming frustrated with rejection notices from literary agents and publishing houses. However, nothing stops her desire to create fascinating characters and plots.
An introduction on her website reflects her keen personality: “I’m Sara Pyszka. I’m an author, public speaker, daughter, sister, lyricist, friend, pain in the ass, along with being a person with a disability.”
Her sense of humor is sharp and her laugh is infectious.
“Let’s get this disability stuff out of the way,” she wrote on her website. “I have cerebral palsy. When I was coming into this world, I was without oxygen for about three minutes. Those three minutes drastically changed my life forever.”
The only thing that separates Sara from other 28-year-olds is her inability to speak and her total dependence on an electric wheelchair. Other than that, she is one of the most independent people around.
On April 25, Sara operated her wheelchair through the doors of Bethel Park High School. Unable to use or control her legs or hands, Sara maneuvers the wheelchair using switches near her head and one knee.
Sara graduated from Bethel Park High School when there was a sprawling, outdoor campus. The new, handicapped accessible building is easier to negotiate.
Once a student, Sara is now a teacher and inspirational guide to those whose goal is to write. Her return to Bethel Park High School was to speak to the creative writing class led by her once-teacher, Cortney Falce. When asked what her favorite class was in high school, her response was, “creative writing, of course.”
Writing for Sara is a joy, but it is also a time-consuming process, as her brain works about five times faster than her eyes can type. Where other authors pound out words on the computer, blocking and deleting unwanted sentences with their fingers, Sara must painstakingly move her eyes to each letter or phrase on her DynaVox computer attached to her wheelchair. To “type” the wanted word, Sara moves her head slightly to the right and taps a large button on her wheelchair when her eyes lock on a letter or pre-programmed word or phrase. The word is then typed on a screen and a pre-programmed voice speaks the words Sara selected.
Writing a simple sentence is not that simple.
She has been using communication devices like the DynaVox since she was 5 years old. Through her abilities, Sara programmed in the National Anthem and was the first person with a communication device to sing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cleveland Indians. And, in 2004, she, through the device, recited the Pledge of Allegiance at the Republican Convention.
On sharing a few “fun facts” about herself, Sara said “I am a huge dork,” who is a fanatic about pasta, like macaroni and cheese.
“Dancing Daisies” took Sara about nine years to write, re-write, and re-write again. After a frustrating stint searching for a literary agent, Sara decided self-publishing was the way to go. Reviews on Amazon gave her book four and a half stars out of a possible five. Although a fictionalized autobiography, “Dancing Daisies” is described as a coming-of-age drama as the main character, Brynn, who also has cerebral palsy, travels in a power wheelchair and uses a computer to communicate as she attends summer camp.
Addressing the Bethel Park creative writing students, Sara said summer camp was also a big part of her young life. Yet, transcribing the novel was not easy.
“My first draft sucked,” Sara told the students. “I started my second and third drafts, and nine years later, I had a book.”
To reach a successful conclusion when writing, Sara suggested “edit, edit, edit and revise, revise and revise.”
The 20 or so students in grades nine to 12 in the creative writing class were completely silent as they waited for Sara to type with her eyes the response to their questions. The only sound was the soft click as Sara’s head tapped the button on her wheelchair. When asked the most difficult part of publishing a novel, Sara responded with one word – marketing.
After graduating from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, with a degree in rehabilitation services, Sara decided to make writing her career. She prefers young adult fiction with favorite authors being Jodi Piddcult, Gayle Foreman, Jessica Park, Colleen Hoover, Jay Asher and Ann Brashares. She loved “Perks of a Wallflower” set in Upper St. Clair and written by Upper St. Clair High School graduate Stephen Chbosky.
Using the main character of Brynn – whose name Sara admitted came from a television program – she hopes to continue the theme for three or four books.
“I eventually want to venture into the new adult genre,” she responded.
Independence has always been a large part of Sara’s life, and she plans on keeping it that way. When she was a student in the district’s Independence Middle School, current district superintendent, Nancy Aloi Rose, was principal. Sara holds a special part in Rose’s heart and she took time out from her busy schedule April 25 to attend Sara’s presentation for the class.
“She always had a spirit of independence. When she was at Independence Middle School, an award was given out each year in her honor, and she was the first recipient,” Rose said as Sara and she exchanged a big smile.