By SARAH CHAIN
Daily Record/Sunday News
Jen Barton has been writing — off and on — for her whole life. But it wasn’t until a long car trip with her daughter and daughter’s friends that her novel came to life.
The four girls came up with characters for themselves and the superpowers they wanted to have in a story. Then, they asked Barton to write it.
“It was special that day,” said Barton, a California resident who attended high school in Spring Grove and lived in the area after college.
She wrote the middle-grade fantasy novel, “Fiona Thorn and the Carapacem Spell,” in six or seven months, spurred on by special circumstances: One of the girls who had been on the trip was in remission from cancer.
“I felt kind of compelled to really finish it quickly, because I wanted it to be done for her, and we didn’t know how much time she had,” Barton said. “I was able to print out some copies… before she passed away.”
Three years of revisions passed before Barton self-published the novel through Amazon in early September.
“Ironically, the day I uploaded it was Rehanna’s birthday, the little girl who passed away,” Barton said. “It felt right. I don’t know.”
One major change Barton made was to tell the story from Fiona’s point of view and focus in on her as the protagonist. Originally, all four girls were given equal parts.
“(Fiona) is the one who is loosely based on my daughter,” Barton said. “I wanted her to be fierce and independent and sassy and kind of a pain in the butt.”
The novel follows Fiona as she embarks on a mission to save her best friend, who is accused of cursing a young boy and imprisoned. But she runs into trouble, uncovering a plan to assassinate the king and running into three whiny princesses who join her on her journey. Along the way, Fiona incurs a magical debt that is slowing draining her energy.
Barton’s choice to write a fantasy novel was a no-brainer from the very beginning.
“I’m a huge fan of fantasy,” Barton said. “I love imagining different worlds and all the creatures and the freedom of that.”
It’s a genre that Barton — now 42 — has loved since she began reading Stephen King, her first introduction to horror or fantasy. She keeps notes as she writes, meticulously checking to ensure that elements in her fictional world line up with one another.
“Nothing knocks you out of reading faster than (thinking) ‘Oh, no, that couldn’t happen,’” Barton said.
Her daughter — now 15 — loved the book, but Barton has heard some readers say it’s a little dark for audiences younger than 9 years old.
As she works to promote her novel, Barton’s mind is already on a potential sequel.
“In my mind, it’s a three- to five-book series, and that’s why I left it open at the end the way I did,” Barton said. “If there is interest, I would definitely pursue it, for sure.”
Authors from around the world — including Barton — uploaded a short story between Sept. 12 and Nov. 27, to be judged by reader votes and industry judges.
“It’s really cool because everybody can vote, everyone sees your story,” Barton said. “The hard part is trying to get enough exposure.”
Her short story, titled “Movin’ On Up,” focuses on a feisty older woman living in a poorly run nursing home, seeking to recover a treasure left in her dresser.
Chosen as a “wildcard” nominee, Barton is now competing against 12 other authors for one of the top three spots, from which a panel of judges will crown the winner.
With the contest — decided Dec. 18 — offering a grand prize of $5,000, Barton said she’d use the money to promote “Fiona.”
“The hardest part about self-publishing … is to stand out and not be a needle in a haystack.”
Name: Jen Barton
Lives in: Rocklin, Calif.
Family: Married, one daughter
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom, writer
Hobbies: Food, reading, gardening, yoga
Voting for Barton
Vote for “Movin’ On Up,” Barton’s short story in the America’s Next Author contest, at www.ebookmall.com/americasnextauthor. The “Battle Round,” where 13 nominees are narrowed down to three through reader votes, runs through Dec 11. A jury will then read the top three submissions and announce a winner Dec. 18. [Update: Voting has been extended to 10 a.m. Dec. 13.] [Update: Barton has moved on to the top three, with a winner to be decided Dec. 18. Details here.] [Update: Barton has been announced as a runner up with a prize of $500; America's Next Author is Kate Baggott. Details here.]
If you go
Who says you can’t go home? Barton, whose parents live in Hanover, will host a reading and book signing from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 28 at The Reader’s Café, 125 Broadway, Hanover. Books will be available for purchase; call 717-630-2524 for details.