Teen author spins a fantasy tale
Meredith Shaw, 14, just published her first fantasy-adventure novel, 'The Swordmaker's Daughter'.
By John Chambless
When she was 12, Meredith Shaw had a vivid dream.
She was in a village with houses made out of trees. From one house poured a waterfall of green sludge. She entered one of the largest trees to find a crowd waiting for her inside. She told a man with a crown about the water, and he said that the village needed a hero. Then he turned into a demon.
Two years later, sitting at the dining-room table with her parents, Shaw discussed how that dream became her first book, "The Swordmaker's Daughter: Book One." The fantasy-adventure tale was published on May 6 by Tate Publishing, and the Cochranville teen is now discovering what it means to be an author.
"She's always been able to use higher-level vocabulary than her developmental level should allow," Meredith's mother, Jennifer, said, laughing. "She started reading simple words when she was 3. She's always loved reading."
Jennifer said she's tried to write children's books, and her husband, Michael, has done some academic writing. Meredith's older brother, Matt, has had some poetry published. But nothing quite prepared them for how quickly "The Swordmaker's Daughter" came to be.
"My favorite series is the 'Eragon' series by Christopher Paolini," Meredith said. "And I love the 'Lord of the Rings' books -- I'm halfway through the second book." A self-described "huge fangirl," Meredith loves video games and the "Lord of the Rings" movies. She isn't old enough to have read any of the more adult "Game of Thrones" books, and said she didn't really like the "Harry Potter" series.
After the dream she had in the seventh grade, Meredith's parents were intrigued and said she should write a story based on it. A few weeks later, she wrote the prologue to what would become the full book.
"I just sit down and write whatever comes to me," she said, trying to explain her process. "It's hard to explain. It just flows out of me, and I don't change too much of it."
She doesn't keep a chart of her characters and their relationships, even though there are plenty of them packed into "The Swordmaker's Daughter." For now, it's all in her head.
The first chapters of the book were written when she was 12, so Meredith did some editing in the two years of writing to update her word choices. She took drafts of chapters to her friends at school -- first at Bethany Christian School, and now at Lancaster Mennonite High School. Her parents and brother also played roles in discussing the story and encouraging her to continue.
On her own, Meredith searched for publishers and decided to submit her prologue and first chapter to Tate Publishing. She didn't mention her age. Two weeks later, they offered her a contract to complete the book.
"I was one of the lucky ones, because the first publishing company that I submitted to responded positively," Meredith said.
The publisher didn't make a lot of changes to the book, she said, aside from suggesting a few grammar fixes.
"One of my favorite comments that was made by her editor is that he kept forgetting that a 14-year-old wrote it," Jennifer said. "He said, 'I have to admit, there's not one boring page in your book. I don't know if you realize how long some authors have to practice their craft before they're able to do that.'"
Meredith submitted the completed manuscript in July 2013, and it appeared in book form this month.
At 243 pages, the story does move like lightning, with the teen heroine, Legna (that's Angel spelled backwards) taking on a quest to defeat the queen of all evil, who is trying to poison the vital water source of the Engjellen people. Legna has been trained to fight and is handy with a bow and sword, and Meredith writes the fighting sequences with a swift and steady style.
"I got the sword fighting inspiration from one of my favorite video games, 'Skyrim,'" she said, laughing. "I'm a big video game nerd. I wish I could learn to really handle a sword. I think that would be a fun sport."
The dialogue is crisp and the descriptions are sparing but effective, sounding like the voice of a much older author. There's no bogging down in unnecessary details, and the fiery nature of Legna comes through very clearly. Some of the place names and other words were researched from Hungarian, Estonian, Bengali and Gaelic.
Meredith shrugged and said, "I kind of wing everything when I write. There's no plot set up at the beginning. I just go with what comes to mind."
"I don't know how she does it," her father said. "Everything flows and makes sense. That's a gift from the Lord."
Tate Publishing specializes in mass-market books with wholesome themes, and the teen fiction market is red-hot right now -- all of which play to the strengths of "The Swordmaker's Daughter." The subtle theme behind Legna's quest to defeat evil can be read as a Christian subtext, but mostly the book is an epic adventure packed with magic, monsters and enough touches of humor to keep the mood light.
With her central character left itching for more adventures, Meredith said, "I've been thinking about the second book. I've been writing and deleting and rewriting. My mom gave me a pretty good idea last week, so I think I know where I'm going. They're going to go and recruit the help of the dragons."
The book is available at bookstores, through Tate publishing, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, and at book signings (July 12 at the Parkesburg Library and July 26 at the Kennett Square Resale Book Shoppe). For updated information, visit www.facebook.com/swordmakersdaughter.