Belleville News-Democrat, Derik Holtmann, Associated Press
WATERLOO, Ill. — When an idea comes to him, Jacob Poettker writes it down, no matter where he is.
And most of his ideas happen to come while he is sitting in class at Waterloo High School, the sophomore said. Sometimes he sat in the treehouse his father built for him in the back yard and wrote on his laptop for hours.
At 15, Jacob is already a published author and working on two more books to turn his book, "Fallen," into a trilogy. His book, which is a young adult science fiction novel that takes readers off-planet and into a war between two species that must learn to get along to save their planet from invaders, was started when Jacob was 13. He wrote 100 pages then decided the book, as written, had no plot, so he deleted the whole thing and started over. It took three years for him to finish writing it.
His first book, which has been published by Tate Publishing and Enterprises, is dedicated to the sixth-grade teacher whose encouragement kept Jacob writing.
"After it was published they surprised me with a signing and when I opened the book and saw the dedication I was shocked," said Jeannie Wittenbrink, the teacher who made a mark on Jacob's life. "I think I even cried."
There was no question about who he would dedicate the book to after the publisher picked it up, Jacob said.
"She was the teacher that probably believed in me the most," Jacob said. "She said that one day she'd see my name in lights."
Wittenbrink had Jacob in language, social studies and study hall when he was in sixth grade. She knew he struggled a lot in school, especially with homework and writing assignments.
"Jacob doesn't fit in that box that we put students in at school," Wittenbrink said. "He doesn't conform. He was definitely that kid that was out of the box but he is a very talented kid and he's very creative. I can't say I was surprised that his book was published. I knew Jacob was going to do something great, I just didn't think it would happen to him so young. It's outstanding and it's extraordinary."
Jacob said he has about five more ideas for books floating around in his head waiting to be written.
"It had to be something that interested you and you never liked writing essays," she said to him, recalling how hard it was to get him to finish his writing assignments in sixth grade.
"I just don't like being told what to write," he responded, smiling.
Not long ago Wittenbrink was laid off as a teacher and didn't think about going back in to teaching. After learning how much impact she had on Jacob, she's decided to go back in to teaching, she said.
"It's a huge thing to me, that I inspired him so much," she said. "It's huge that something I said encouraged him so much."
It was Jacob's friend, Weston Liefer, who convinced Jacob to submit his book to a publisher.
"We thought it was just a hobby, no big deal," said Jacob's father, Dan Poettker. "I'd only read part of it and thought it was pretty good. Then, FedEx arrived with a contract from the publisher. We had no idea he had submitted it."
When Jacob first started writing his book, he didn't know exactly where it was going to go.
"I first came up with the character, Darkblade, the came up with the story around him," Jacob said. "From a character's personality you can discover what kind of trouble that can get in to and go from there."
In addition to writing, Jacob plays trumpet in the high school marching band and the jazz band. He sings, plays drums and guitar and participates in the youth worship band at Hope Christian Church. He is a member of the Waterloo Boy Scout Troop 323 and working toward his Eagle Scout. He is also a brown belt in tae kwon do at Championship Martial Arts in Columbia.
He doesn't know whether he's going to make writing a career yet, but he won't stop writing.
"I might do writing as a side, but I don't really see making a living off writing," he said. "I pretty much have a love for everything but math so the door is wide open."
He and his family have been tracking sales of his book and were surprised to learn it has been selling overseas.
"Apparently it's selling big in Pakistan," Jacob said. "People in Pakistan are interested in and reading my book."
Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, http://www.bnd.com
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