When Brooke Fowler was in the seventh grade, her English teacher gave the class an extra-credit assignment: write a short horror story for the upcoming Halloween holiday.
Fowler started the assignment, but never turned it in. Instead, with her teacher's encouragement, she expanded the short story into a full-length horror novel titled "Cursed," which was recently released by Tate Publishing, a Christian-based publishing service that promotes new authors.
Fowler published her book under the pen name Stephenie Queen, paying homage to her favorite author, renowned horror master Stephen King.
"Cursed" is the story of John, a 16-year-old boy who flees his alcoholic and abusive mother. While living on his own, he learns about his mother's bloody past, sets out to right her wrongs and tries to make sense of his own life and the evil that lurks within his family.
"It's a thriller," says Fowler, who is now 17 and a student at North Medford High School. "The idea came to me from a nightmare I had, and I knew I wanted to write about it."
The whip-smart Fowler says she's wanted to be a writer since she was in the fifth grade. "I remember reading a book at school and hating it, thinking it must be the worst job ever to have to sit behind a computer and write for a living. Then somewhere along the way, I realized that if you were writing about something you cared about, then being an author could be the best job ever."
Fowler set an aggressive goal of writing 1,000 to 3,000 words a day. "If I couldn't make my goal, I'd get disappointed in myself and work extra hard the next day. I'm really serious about goals I set, whether for writing or school or anything," she says.
The experience of writing and publishing a book taught Fowler a lot about both the publishing process and her own sense of self. When she finished "Cursed," she sent the book to a freelance editor known as a "story doctor." The editor suggested she remove a scene from the book because it was too graphic for a teen audience.
While Fowler made some suggested changes, she ignored advice that she didn't agree with in terms of the story line. "I actually went back and put more emphasis on that scene. I think it was even better because of that," she says. "This is the book I wanted to write, the way I wanted it to be."
Fowler's advice to anyone of any age who wishes to write is to find a topic or genre that really interests you. "I'd say if you have a special interest or a certain type of book you like, go with that. I had tried to write other novels and I just couldn't get into them. Then I fell in love with Stephen King and I realized that was the style I wanted to write."
It helps to have the steadfast encouragement of family. Fowler's mother reads and copy-edits everything she writes. "We're so proud of her. She never gave up on her dream," says Chelle Fowler.
"We're a family who doesn't like hearing the word 'no,' " says Brooke's father, Mark Fowler. "When someone says that to us, it's a challenge."
Brooke agrees. "I definitely don't like to be told I can't do something. If someone tells me that, then I just work harder. I have a lot of books in me; this is just the beginning."
True to her word, Fowler is already working on another novel, tentatively titled "The Portal." She says this one is a bit more challenging. "It's a lot more difficult for me to write because I have so many characters," she says.
"Cursed" is available from the publisher at TatePublishing.com/bookstore, or through BarnesAndNoble.com or Amazon.com.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at email@example.com.