Kaycee Browning knew she had pulled off publishing her first novel last summer when the reviews started rolling in.
For two years, Browning, now 17, had labored over “Ember Flame,” writing and editing her fantasy novel for middle-schoolers before self-publishing it through Amazon.
But seeing the first comments from readers she had never met made her realize it truly had gone out to the entire world.
“I didn’t think it was real until I started getting reviews from people I didn’t know,” she said.
Since then, the book has landed on the shelves at Wake County Public Libraries and been picked up by readers from all over. Browning has done interviews, learned the world of online marketing and, of course, plotted the sequel.
“It’s pretty cool going to the library and seeing your book beat up because that means people are reading it,” she said.
The novel follows the adventures of an orphan named Les who must decide whether to accept her place as Ember Flame, a member of a special group of children who can stand against a tyrannical ruler in a world called Holdinus.
Browning, a homeschooled high school senior, drew inspiration for “Ember Flame” from the biblical Book of Judges. In the book, God chooses flawed people to become leaders – a concept that captivated her.
One day at summer camp, in the deep woods by her cabin, she wondered what would happen if the same idea were applied in a fantasy novel.
A few months later, she had a completed novel.
When she’s writing, Browning said, the plot comes to her as the story moves forward.
“It’s like the story has been sitting in my head, and I forgot about it. And then as I’m writing it, I remember it,” she said.
Though “Ember Flame” is Browning’s first published novel, she has long been a voracious reader and writer.
Tracey Browning, her mother, recalls the day she took a 7-year-old Kaycee along to a doctor’s appointment. She was content to read “Little Women” the whole time, hardly the book of choice for most first-graders.
By the time she was 12, she had churned out a 23,000-word short story about a would-be knight named Jaren as part of a year-long “Lord of the Rings” curriculum.
Tracey Browning remembers reading the story and marveling at how good it was. A short time later, she turned over her daughter’s English studies to another teacher, so that she would have the guidance she needed to develop her talent.
“I wanted to be a mom and be the cheerleader,” she said.
Kaycee Browning went on to write a novel called “Pirate Torch” in eighth grade, then followed it up with “Ember Flame.”
In addition to her school curriculum, she scours the internet for writing resources. Since her earliest writing efforts, she said she has learned much about character development, pacing and voice.
She hopes to continue writing in college next year, perhaps as a creative writing or film studies major. Her experience working with other writers and marketers has given her a window into the adult world, and she’s eager to be on campus learning more.
For would-be writers, whether teenagers or adults, Browning said the only way to finish a novel is to trust the initial idea and then begin, word by word.
“All you have to do is just start writing,” she said.