Not many of us can say that by the time we were 17 years old, we had two publishing contracts.
Mary Victoria Johnson can.
Originally from Cambridgeshire, England, Mary and her family now reside in Chilliwack. A bookworm since she was three, Mary started coming up with original short stories by age 12.
“I thought I was writing books,” Mary laughed, at home in her kitchen. “But I was using ridiculously large fonts.”
Shortly thereafter, those fonts grew smaller and the page count grew longer.
By age fourteen, Mary had finished her first novel Boundary. At 297 pages, this was no short story.
The historical-fantasy fiction follows the lives of 15 year old Penny and her five friends, who have been kept inside an eerie estate for their entire lives with no contact to the outside world.
“The book sort of asks why they are there, why is it so closed off…” Mary alluded.
Her parents Sally and Jamie always knew that Mary enjoyed spending her free time typing away, but it wasn’t until she approached them with a contract from U.K. publisher Lodestone Books that they realized she had been writing an honest-to-goodness novel.
Nor did they know that she had even greater ambitions in the works.
Without the help of an agent, Mary learned how to approach the complicated publication process on her own. She narrowed down a list of young adult publishers, crafted professional novel proposals, and sent them out with accompanying query letters.
“You look at all the great writers like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling… they all got rejected,” Mary said with a wisdom beyond her years. “It’s just part of the process.”
But it’s a process that paid off in just six months for this budding author.
“When writing Boundary, I had a set ending in mind,” Mary explained. “But that ending wouldn’t have been conclusive.”
Boundary is actually the first book in Mary’s Other Horizons trilogy. The contract that Mary received for Boundary has conditional options for the following two books Barrier and Borderline, depending upon the success of the first.
Early reviewers include Mary’s sister Annabel, who was allowed to read the chapters as they were written, and her parents, who read the paperback proofs when they arrived in November.
As their daughter’s novel is aimed at young teens, Sally and Jamie were pleasantly surprised by its depth and versatility.
“It’s not just a ‘bad guys and good guys’ type of story,” Jamie pointed out. “The characters are a lot more complex than you’d expect.”
“It keeps you on your toes,” said Sally. And it left them both bursting with questions.
As Mary has matured as a writer she’s become rather critical of her debut novel. While working on the successive books, she’s maintaining a difficult balance between ripening her writing style, and upholding the authentic youthful voice that her readers will expect.
Like any young successor, she faces the other difficult balancing act of allocating time towards schoolwork and writing.
It was particularly difficult to focus on homework on Nov. 25, when Mary watched her name rise hour by hour on Amazon’s Best Seller’s list, cracking the top 20.
Although the quick rise to fame was a temporary effect of all of the pre-orders being processed on that day, she made sure to capture the moment with a screenshot.
Incredibly, Mary will soon relive that exciting process for her new novel, The Ashes and the Sparks. Separate from the Other Horizons trilogy, Mary recently accepted a publication contract for this novel from American publisher Fire & Ice.
Although the publication process was smoother the second time around, it was actually more nerve-racking.
“The first [contract] was almost like beginner’s luck,” Jamie explained. But for Mary, the second attempt was a true test of ‘Can I write books?’
Evidently, Mary Victoria Johnson can.
As she promotes Boundary, which was officially released on Dec. 11, she proofreads The Ashes and the Sparks, which is set to release in Spring 2016. At the same time, she’s refining her skills in concurrent UFV studies, participating in local speaking engagements, and continuing to write and edit the Other Horizons trilogy.
And she never tires of it.
“The stories take on a life of their own,” she said. “Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like the ideas come from your head, but it’s like someone is telling you the story.”
At an age when a teen is expected to make a lot of difficult decisions, Mary is certainly fortunate to have such a pronounced passion.
Like that of her protagonist, Mary’s story is just beginning to unfold. And it’s already a page-turner.