WAXHAW – If there’s anyone who understands success doesn’t happen overnight, it’s Taylor Hartley.
The 23-year-old Marvin Ridge High School graduate’s recently published novel, “The Penkeepers,” took six years to complete. But hard work has paid off for Hartley, as she’s already selling copies of her book and receiving positive feedback from readers.
Recently published as an Amazon.com Kindle e-book, “The Penkeepers” is a young adult fiction novel that tells the story of Hollie Selix, an 18-year-old girl who discovers she’s the only person on earth with a unique gift – she can make future events happen simply by writing about them. Hollie eventually has to use her gift to fight an evil force determined to dominate and control the world.
“She’s the only person in the world with the power to write down these stories that become historical events,” Hartley said.
The idea for “The Penkeepers” was born in February 2007, though Hartley didn’t begin working on the novel until the following May. Hartley was 16 at the time and taking a creative writing class at Weddington High School from teacher Debbie Every – someone Hartley said inspired her to exercise her writing skills through storytelling.
When Hartley was redistricted to Marvin Ridge High School the following year, she was able to continue taking classes from Every. Hartley decided to send her novel to several publishing companies, but she never heard back and placed the book on the backburner.
Hartley attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying English and creative writing. During her time at the university, Hartley was challenged to work on improving and perfecting her writing skills, and she eventually told her mom she wanted to write a book.
“Mom said, ‘Well, you’ve already written one.’ So I picked up ‘The Penkeepers’ again,” Hartley said.
Hartley credits her mom as the biggest motivator behind publishing the book. Having fought colon cancer since Hartley was in high school, Hartley’s mom’s condition had gotten to the point where the disease was officially
“I really wanted to let her see me become a published author,” Hartley said. “I told her, ‘I really want you to see this in print.’”
After spending time stripping down the story, polishing the dialogue and reworking part of the story to make the characters more realistic, Hartley decided to self-publish through Kindle Direct Publishing. So far, she’s sold 53 copies of “The Penkeepers” via Amazon.com, and the book has maintained a five-star rating on the website.
The most challenging part of writing the novel, Hartley said, was getting through the “filler” scenes that serve as connective tissue to the more important plot points. It also was tough making sure everything she was imagining in her head made it to the page in a way that was clear to the readers and reflected the story she wanted to tell.
Hartley said what was most enjoyable was “getting to hang out with the characters” and having the chance to mold them the way she wanted them to be. For example, Hartley wanted to make sure her protagonist, Hollie, wasn’t a lovesick teenager who had to rely on a boy to exist – she referenced Bella Swan from the “Twilight” series here – or a superhuman, completely heroic character – referring to Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games.”
“My goal is to create a female heroine that’s very real,” Hartley said. “To take this real female character, put her in this fantastic situation and see how she can combat that with all the very real pressures that an 18-year-old girl has on her.”
Hartley also had a chance to “travel” and “explore” the Sahara Desert – where part of her story takes place – in her imagination, as well as embark on a journey of self-discovery, as she says a lot of her own characteristics are exhibited through Hollie.
Reflecting on her experience writing and publishing “The Penkeepers,” Hartley, who hopes to eventually write a sequel to the book, credits her family as having the most positive influence on her decision to keep going and never give up. She added she wants to encourage other aspiring writers to do the same.
“If something inspires you, sit down, jot it down and see what happens,” she said.