BYU alumna’s book about burn survivor debuts

Stewart signs a copy of “Scars Like Wings.” The line was full of excited people who had already read the book in the two days it had been published. (Rachel Halversen)

BYU alumna Erin Stewart released her book “Scars Like Wings,” a story inspired by burn victims and their struggles and triumphs. Her novel debuted Tuesday, Oct. 1, to U.S. markets and will be published in additional languages in 18 other countries, including Germany, Spain, Israel and Romania.

The book “Scars Like Wings” is about a girl named Ava, a burn survivor who lost everything and feels like she will never have friends again. Her life is changed as she meets Piper, a fellow burn survivor who helps Ava overcome her struggles.

Although the book is fiction, it was inspired by burn survivor Marius Woodward.

The first time Stewart met Woodward, she expected to meet a victim. Both his parents had died and he had burns all over his face and hands. She said she thought he would be sad and broken. Instead, he was just a normal 8-year-old who liked doing card tricks and riding dune buggies. Most of all, she said, he was brave.

“That stuck with me because the idea of how do you be so strong in the face of something so horrific and so traumatizing,” Stewart said.

Marius Woodward, left, and Erin Stewart, right, display Stewart’s debut book “Scars Like Wings” which was inspired by Woodward. (Erin Stewart)

When Woodward got older and Stewart decided to write this book, she asked him how he was able to be so strong at such a young age.

“His answer was really impactful for me and his answer was simple, he said, ‘Every time I wanted to give up and I didn’t want to keep going, someone was there.’ He said it was the girls from BYU or his adoptive parents, or a nurse or a friend. Every time he was close to just saying ‘forget it, I can’t survive this,’ someone showed up in his life and helped him go a few steps further and survive,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s book takes what she’s learned from Woodward and focuses on helping others through their struggles.

“Your story is part of mine now,” Stewart said as she shared a passage from her book at her book launch Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Provo City Library. She told her supporters about Woodward and his impact on her life.

Woodward was unable to attend Stewart’s book launch, but Stewart shared a video of his experience.

“He’s hoping it will bring more awareness to burn survivors and generate more tolerance for people with differences,” Lynne Woodward, Woodward’s adoptive mom, said at Stewart’s book launch.

Stewart’s book takes the reader through the life of a burn survivor, but she said the more she got to know Woodward, she discovered the true theme of her book — how people heal others.

“It’s about how we all need each other and how we need to be there for each other to help us all survive whatever it is we’re going through,” Stewart said.

How does one recover from hard things? Stewart said she found the answer to be other people.

“The amount of love we let into our lives and give out in our lives will really determine what our lives become,” she said.

As a journalism major at BYU, Stewart learned to always look for stories in the things around her and to do the research that goes into creating a story.

“She works hard. Really hard,” BYU English professor Carol Williams said.

Williams is also a writer and Stewart said she has been a huge support. Williams sponsors a writing conference that helped Stewart start novel writing.

Stewart spoke at her book launch about her inspiration and the process she took writing the book, as well as thanking and remembering all the people that made its completion possible.

“I think it’s wonderful to see how many people came out to support her,” Jaime Theler, a friend and fellow writer, said.

Stewart’s fans, supporters and neighbors wore pink wigs, like the cover of the “Scars Like Wings,” in support. (Rachel Halversen)

Stewart’s family has been supportive throughout the process of getting this book published.

“She’s been writing since she was the smallest child,” Stewart’s mother, Paige Johnson, said. “She has a creative mind.”

Stewart graduated in journalism from BYU and earned a master’s in journalism at Northwestern University. She worked at Deseret News and taught journalism at BYU’s Salt Lake Center and BYU-Idaho Online.

“She is not afraid to tackle subjects that are hard,” Crystal Liechty, an author and former journalist, said. “Her research journalism skills helped her with this research.”

Part of Stewart’s work on the novel involving meeting a lot with burn survivors and hospitals so she could better understand the experience of having scars from severe burns.

This doesn’t mean that only those who have gone through this trial will connect with the book.

“This book is for everyone, burned or not, who has ever searched for a light in the darkness,” Stephanie Nielson, a burn survivor and Utah blogger, said about the book.

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