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Minnesota West instructor is now an author

ana anthony/ daily globe Serena Totzke-Johnson is shown with her first book The Haunting of the Gabrielle which, she said, although is written for sixth and seventh graders is great for all ages.

JACKSON -- In an attempt to change her sons' minds about reading, Serena Totzke-Johnson decided she would write a book that they would enjoy, and that led to The Haunting of the Gabrielle.

"Reading is not always (about) homework," said the Minnesota West Community and Technical College EMT coordinator and instructor.

Early last year, she set out to pen her first book loosely based on her fascination with paranormal activity coupled with her passion for history.

The Haunting of the Gabrielle, geared toward sixth and seventh-graders, tells the tale of three siblings who move from southwest Minnesota to the coast of New England, and discover Gabrielle, an 18th century sailing ship. Intrigued, they begin their journey, along with a new friend, to uncover the mystery surrounding Gabrielle.

Her keen interest in paranormal activity sparked the idea to include a ghostly element in the book.

"Paranormal has been something I've been passionate about ever since we were kids," she said as she recalled how she and her siblings always thought their homestead was haunted.

The Haunting of Gabrielle is the first of four in the series which she will continue to author. The young team will venture to Chicago, England and finally, San Francisco -- locations which intrigued Totzke-Johnson because of their history

"Kids are getting history (lessons) and they don't even know they're learning," she said.

While Totzke-Johnson wrote, she molded the characters to reflect her children so they could relate to the book, and at the same time, to perceive reading in new light.

In the span of a year she took to complete the book, Totzke-Johnson received constant feedback from her family.

Her sister, an elementary teacher, suggested she include a glossary to address paranormal and nautical terms.

"This helps them pick up on new things if they're not familiar," she added.

A nurse by profession, Totzke-Johnson took a few writing classes while she was in college and has always considered writing as her hobby. The only challenge she had was not writer's block but trying to carve time out of her busy schedule she said.

The blossoming author is already making strides in the book-writing industry. Totzke-Johnson is hoping to release an adult read, A Family's Journey through Childhood Cancer by the end of the year which is a compilation of family journals when her daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia.

She will also be presenting at the Young Writers' Association Conference at South Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall, Jan. 5.

"I will continue do stories as long as they're enjoying them," she said.

The Haunting of the Gabrielle is available for purchase on or