Snapping her own picture for the author's portrait on the young adult fantasy novel "Cursed with Power," Lindsey Sablowski didn't notice the way half of her youthful face was brightly illuminated while the other half was deep in shadow.
But Sigmund Freud (or some other notable) believed that there are no accidents, and in this case it certainly seems correct. The photo reflects her book's raging battle between good and evil, darkness and light.
While such dichotomies are characteristic of fantasy literature, this young author has added her own spin: the opposition between the world of the battling Black and White magicians — where a circling cat can transport one to an otherwise invisible realm — and the world of human beings that is ruled by the laws of physics.
Sablowski doesn't just write for young adults; she is one. The 18-year-old, now enrolled in her first semester at Howard Community College, is among the handful of under-20 authors published by commercial Old Line Publishing Company of Hagerstown.
If determination alone is what it takes, the life-long Elkridge resident would have been published much earlier. She's been writing and contacting publishers and agents since the tender age of 12. The effort to get her work into print has gone right along with the effort to produce "something worthy of publication."
And what timing she has: A couple of days after her graduation from Howard High School last spring came the acceptance letter from Old Line.
Even so, "She feels like she has been waiting a long time for this," says mother Sandy Sablowski. "I saw the determination she had, and one Christmas we gave her a book about how to get published."
Her daughter took on the challenge, and didn't stop until she reached her goal.
A fan of both fantasy and historical fiction, mentioning authors Philippa Gregory, Christopher Paolini, Tamora Pierce, Mary Stewart and Michael J. Sullivan as favorites, she is asked what it is that makes her own work unique.
"The story is told firsthand by a Dark magician, Celestria Hale. It has a different perspective, a way of looking at Dark magic, which is usually associated with evil," Sablowski explains. "But it's not just good vs. evil … you decide for yourself" where each character fits in the scheme of things.
After all, "If there's a book you want to read," she says, paraphrasing Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison, "write it yourself."
Sablowski acknowledges no particular mentor. She says she reads non-stop and absorbs all the advice she can get, whether from comments included along with rejection letters, words of wisdom from already-published authors, the online writing discussion group sites Inkpop and Wattpad, and her own friends (which accounts for the book's lengthy sections of acknowledgments).
'Story bubbles up'
Old Line acquisitions editor Shelly Yergensen wrote in her evaluation that Sablowski's love of words and writing was evident.
"The story bubbles up inside her just bursting to get out," she wrote in recommending the manuscript for publication. And later: "She absolutely should be encouraged to continue with her writing – she could develop into a first-class writer."
Yergensen also noted how well Sablowski knew her target audience of teen girls and what they want in a fantasy romance.
But nothing's perfect. Recommended reworking included making sure obscure terms and metaphors were used correctly, that details such as items of food and clothing were historically appropriate, and, since the young author chose to set at least part of her story in an actual place and time, that times it would have taken to get from one village to another be correct — calculations that required a study of 16th-century maps courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Indeed, if Sablowski had to write an essay about how she spent her summer vacation, it would be about improving and self-editing her manuscript.
Next, the text was assigned to copy editor Meredith Donaho.
"The thing that sets 'Cursed with Power' apart is the realism," says Donaho, who describes her role in this case as proofreading and tweaking. "[The book] has some religious aspects, some romance, and her readers can relate to the universal themes of friendship, love, trust and the death of someone close.
"At her age this is a tremendous accomplishment. ["Cursed with Power"] is the first book in a series, and she makes you want to read the next one."
All five books in the planned series are already thought out and organized, outlined and ready to be written. (A Post-It note-covered wall in Sablowski's room bears witness to the process.) Each will be narrated by a different character. Their young author hopes for publication at the rate of one about every six months.
Then readers will learn more about why Black and White magicians are at odds, whether there is any particular significance to the Transylvania setting, and how power is a curse in the first place.
While "a whole team of editors helped put Harry Potter together — that's how it's done," according to Donaho, Sablowski was told that "you are your book's best promoter, and your readers are the second-best." She is acting as her own agent, at least for now.
"I would like it if writing could be my career," she says, while noting the financial perils. "Or teaching writing, or helping others with that interest. And I wouldn't mind being an editor myself."
"Cursed by Power" by Lindsey Sablowski is available online at Barnes and Noble for Nook, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle format, from Old Line Publishing Company's e-commerce catalog, or by order from "brick and mortar" bookstores.
A book signing is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 17 at Greetings and Readings in Hunt Valley. Since her work's September publication, the young author has also had a reading at Mina's Gallery in Hampden and is invited back for an as-yet-unscheduled encore.