'Soup' tastes like sweet success

A recent graduate of Mitchell High has a story published in the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Published June 19, 2006

At 18, Kaylee Stark is coming into her own - and then some.

The recent graduate of Mitchell High has stacked up her share of awards: first place in the district Storytelling Contest (two years in a row); second in the district Tropicana Speech Contest (first place on the school level every year since middle school) and Writer of the Year when she was a student at Gulfside Elementary.

There also was that PETA essay contest she won. "Even though I still eat meat," she said, with a giggle. "Isn't that terrible?"

In her senior year, Stark was voted homecoming princess and "Most Artistic," was co-editor of the award-winning Stampede yearbook, graduated cum laude and was accepted to the University of South Florida.

Oh yeah, and since February she's dropped 50 pounds by following a strict diet and spending time on the treadmill watching The Price is Right.

But of her latest accomplishment, Stark said, "This is big - REALLY big."

That would be published writer.

The poem, You to Blame, that Stark wrote about breaking up - or rather, "being dumped" - is featured in the latest Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul series that arrived in bookstores June 6. The Chicken Soup series, launched in 1990 by motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, features an assortment of short inspirational stories and poems by different authors. Titles for mothers, grandparents, volunteers, prisoners, preteens and even baseball fans have been released, and they often make the New York Times bestseller list.

The poem, Stark said, wasn't based on personal experience. At the time she wrote it , in fact, she was smack in the middle of a steady four-year relationship. The couple broke up just before graduation, Stark said. "So I guess the poem's more relevant now."

But having it published sure goes a long way to easing the heartbreak.

"It is awesome," Stark said, when asked how it felt to see her byline. "I ran to the mall and said, 'I'm famous - you want to see me in Chicken Soup?!' My friend and I were screaming in Waldenbooks."

It is a sweet taste of success, but one that follows hard work and loving support from her family: mom and stepdad Joy and Kevin O'Donnell, little sister Skylar, and her "Nanny," Ann Sefovic, who has a suitcase filled with everything her granddaughter has ever written.

"She's a wonderful kid," said Joy O'Donnell. "She's always been a writer, always really into that. I'm just so excited, so proud of her. She's just awesome."

And persistent.

Stark said she submitted about 50 entries to the Chicken Soup series, with three getting by the first round. "I love writing - speeches, stories, poems," Stark said. "In elementary school, I used to write poems about things like school lunch and stupid stuff. I think I entered every writing contest we had in the history of Mitchell High. That's when I knew I had to join the yearbook. It was the one place I could actually have my writing published."

Until, of course, Chicken Soup.

Stark promises to keep at it . "I'm hoping this is just the beginning," she said.

For now, she'll continue enjoying the summer. That includes spending the $200 she got from Chicken Soup, driving around in her brand new yellow 2006 Cobalt LT, getting a tattoo her mom says she'll regret, going to concerts like Panic! at the Disco, working at Eastern Research and playing with her pet ball python and her 2-year-old sister and "best friend," Skylar.

"And now that I'm single," Stark said with a grin, "I'm hanging out with the boys."