SHJH teacher puts stories, long on her mind, into print


That Sweet Home Junior High School teacher Dana Simonson is now a published author isn’t really a surprise.

The literary muse has been with her for a long time, she says.

Writing as Dana Kirk, Simonson, who grew up in Sweet Home, recently published her first two books: “Where I Belong,” a children’s book, on Nov. 3, and “The Sea Dragon’s Lair” on April 7.

The latter tells a story that has been on her mind since she was a young teen, she said. The book, written at about the fifth-grade level, is an adventure story about Danny, who “did well as a fisherman and even better as a thief. Now, as a sailor, Danny is on a quest to find the connection between the dagger that has always been there and the past no one is willing to talk about.”

“There are pirates,” Simonson said. “There are big adventures.”

It doesn’t actually have a dragon in it, though, she said. The Sea Dragon is a pirate and a ship.

Both books are available through as paperbacks and for the Kindle. “Where I Belong” is also available through Barnes and Noble. “Sea Dragon” also is for sale at Periwinkle Provisions in Sweet Home and Two Dam Bagels in Brownsville.

Simonson said she had written several children’s books with illustrations and notes, but hadn’t published any until she decided to publish “Sea Dragon.” Along the way, she decided she wanted to “test drive” Amazon’s self-publishing program and put together “Where I Belong.”

“It’s been really exciting,” said Simonson, who spent much of her childhood in Sweet Home and has taught at the junior high for seven years. “I actually started writing the story when I went to Sweet Home Junior High.”

She tried to work on it in high school but didn’t get far with it, she said. She started writing it again about 2½ years ago.

Simonson has dedicated “Sea Dragon” to Sweet Home Junior High students past and present for their help developing the story.

“They listened to my story all the time,” she said. Over the past couple of years, she has read passages from the book to her students, and the whole thing started in junior high when she began telling her friends the story.

The story came from a dream, Simonson said. “When I was in the eighth grade, I had a dream that a pirate was chasing me.”

It wasn’t the chasing that bothered her, she said of the dream. “It bugged me because he knew my name.”

She told a friend, Misty Tenbusch, about the dream, Simonson said, and the two created and role-played a story around the dream over the next year.

Tenbusch did not want to be involved in the writing process, Simonson said, but Simonson credits her in the book’s acknowledgments.

It was another friend who prompted her to start writing the story again, Simonson said.

“It’s a story that I’ve needed to write for a very long time,” she said. She tried a half dozen ways to write it, changing the narrator’s voice and her approach before settling in.

The story is in the first person, and details about the narrator emerge slowly as the narrator tells the story. The story starts with the line, “I didn’t know who I was.”

The reader quickly learns the protagonist is an orphan, a thief and now a sailor.

Simonson said she has enjoyed hearing reader speculation about the narrator early on in the book. Reader opinions about the narrator’s basic characteristics are split.

“There is more story past this,” Simonson said. She plans a sequel: “The Sea Dragon’s Revenge.”

“I enjoy writing, period,” she said. “The whole thing is a lot of fun. I absolutely love my job, but sometimes, at the end of the day, I need a moment when I’m not thinking about behavior plans.”

She can dive into this familiar world, a place she has visited since the eighth grade.

“I dabble in a lot of creative projects,” Simonson said. She rotates among drawing, sewing, painting, making chain mail, wood burning and more. One of her favorite activities is drawing characters from the “Sea Dragon.”

Simonson attended schools in Sweet Home from kindergarten through the ninth grade, she said. Then she moved to South Carolina with her family. She attended college at Lander University in South Carolina, earning a bachelor’s degree in special education. She will finish her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Western Governors University in June.

She has worked in the Sweet Home School District for nine years, including a year at Holley Elementary as a resource room teacher, a year at Sweet Home High School in basic life skills and seven years at Sweet Home Junior High where she continues to work in basic life skills.

She has two children, Chris, 7, and Lexi, 5.

To learn more, visit the page for the book at or The book is available to borrow for members of Amazon Prime.