Teacher debuts coming-of-age novel

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© Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
Rio Mesa High School English teacher John Erickson will sign copies of his debut novel, “A Sea Not Full,” at Mrs. Fig’s Bookworm in Camarillo on May 28. © Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers

John Erickson didn’t have to look far for inspiration for his young adult novel. As an English teacher at Rio Mesa High School, Erickson turned to his students to find the theme of his newly published book, which explores the optimism of teens who overcome personal obstacles to succeed.

“It’s about taking matters into your own hands to try to make things better. It’s what teenagers believe themselves,” said the 51-year-old author.

Erickson conveys that conviction in his recently published novel, “A Sea Not Full.”

Written in 2005, the 250-page book centers on the intertwining stories of two teenagers, Nate and Nora. The novel was published last year by Georgia-based Lighthouse Christian Publishing.

The story was inspired in the wake of a real-life tragedy. Erickson, a longtime surfer and sailor, read in the newspaper one morning that a friend of his had died while surfing. Erickson attended the funeral and was moved when his friend’s children spoke about their father.

The novel begins with 16-yearold Nate surfing at Ventura Point with his father. When Nate’s dad dies in the surf, Nate’s life is challenged in ways he never expected. The teen boy finds support in a surfer named Nora, who also lost a parent.

The coming-of-age tale follows the two teenagers as they struggle in their relationships with their parents and their faith in God. The teens sail to Santa Cruz Island and discover the mystery behind the death of Nora’s mother.

“It’s a story of forbidden love because they can’t be together,” Erickson said. “But like teenagers do, they take matters into their own hands, and they find a way to be together.”

The story is told from the perspectives of Nate and Nora. Erickson said he originally wrote from Nate’s point of view but liked both characters so much that he incorporated Nora’s narrative as well.

“I have to let the readers see through her eyes about what she’s going through,” he said.

Erickson said he drew inspiration from his students to create genuine characters with real-life problems.

The story’s conflict arises from Nate’s and Nora’s family relationships.

Nora’s father doesn’t communicate with her and Nate’s mother doesn’t understand him.

Erickson said he sees his students struggling with parental issues every day as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood.

“I like teaching (teenagers),” Erickson said. “I have a great time talking to them every day and learning about their lives and what they’re up to and what their dreams are.”

The characters became so real that it wasn’t long before they started to take on a life of their own and steer the story’s direction, Erickson said.

“I would put my fingers on the keyboard and write from where I left off the day before,” he said. “The characters started doing their own thing, and I thought, ‘Where is this chapter going to end?’”

Erickson said the novel has elements of adventure and romance.

“Fiction writing is for entertainment,” Erickson said. “I want (the reader) to be laughing or crying or feeling they live in that place.”

Erickson recently finished writing his second novel, tentatively called “Blue Tattoo,” and is in the process of finding a publisher. The book tells the story of a teenage Holocaust survivor living and surfing in post-war San Diego.

“I’m encouraged when I talk to teenagers because there’s a lot of confidence in them,” Erickson said. “There’s some folks who are really taking care of business and are going to succeed in life. I think we’ve got a real capable group of teens in Ventura County.”

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