For most voracious teenage readers, the young adult section at big bookstores might feel like paradise, full of intriguing titles, vibrant covers and seemingly endless plots.
But the aisles of books often left Taylor Bennett disenchanted. The Roseburg home-school student would flip through the pages to find mature or distasteful content that made her uncomfortable, especially considering she grew up reading above her age level.
“That’s one of the reasons I even started writing when I was 13,” said Bennett, who is now 17 and graduates this spring.
Actually, Bennett likes to say she began writing before she could even read, as she would often ask her parents, Kevin Bennett and Terry Roelke, to type up the stories that poured from her imagination as a child.
And Taylor Bennett hasn’t stopped writing since, drawing on a true paradise for inspiration for her largest accomplishment so far — “Porch Swing Girl.” The novel is set in Hawaii, where Bennett and her family often vacationed, and shares a story of faith, friendship and healing.
“I want to make a career writing books that everyone can read and enjoy and that will encourage and inspire people, and will give them a positive message and a good story at the same time,” Bennett said.
A career writing books at 17? Not only did Bennett set her sights over two years ago on a novel that would represent what she calls the “quirky, local Hawaii” — wild chickens in the streets, a laid-back vibe and shopping trips to Foodland — she wanted to be a published author.
This year, that dream became a reality after months of revision work with a freelance editor and shopping her book around to different publishers.
Through the Oregon Christian Writers conference, she connected with a publisher willing to bet on a contemporary Christian YA book. Mountain Brook Ink, in the end, not only offered Bennett a contract for “Porch Swing Girl” but also requested two follow-up books to create a trilogy. “Porch Swing Girl” was released May 1.
Bennett credits her home-schooling mother for nurturing a love of reading, writing and other creative outlets. Bennett is also an accomplished musician, able to play violin, viola, cello, piano and a bit of string bass.
And Mom, who calls home-schooling the “best thing” she’s ever done, couldn’t be prouder.
“She’s brilliant,” Roelke said, “I mean the kid is brilliant.”
The confidence Roelke has in her daughter helped her adjust to Bennett’s plans for after graduation. Roelke had always geared Bennett toward college, but with a publishing contract, two more books to write and employment as a teacher with the Umpqua Valley Youth Orchestra and giving private music lessons, Bennett plans to stay put for the time being.
“She’s under contract and there are deadlines,” Roelke said, “so it would be very hard to have a full college load.”
Plus, writing isn’t what takes up most of Bennett’s time as a new author with a small publisher. Making sure people want to read her books means marketing, marketing and more marketing. Bennett, who never had an interest in social media, now has accounts with just about every platform on the Internet, from Facebook to Pinterest. She also maintains a blog and “tours” related blogs, giving interviews about her story and writing guest posts.
Throughout the process, Bennett said, she’s learned a lot about perseverance. Young people with grand ideas may not always be taken seriously, she said, but it’s important to stick to your goals.
“I really encourage everyone to, if they have a dream, to go out and pursue it with everything they’ve got,” she said.