A picture is worth a thousand words, but for author Stephanie Hornsby, the true thrill comes from painting a picture with a few thousand words or so. Whether crafting tales of swashbuckling pirates or helping someone tell their own life story, Hornsby lives to write.
Hornsby cut her teeth in fiction books with her ongoing “Pirate” collection. The series follows young Peter Barons who, after becoming orphaned due to the country’s harsh monarchy rule, becomes captain of the pirate ship known as the Black Dragon and takes on the name Smith. The Black Dragon becomes a symbol of hope for the people of Kirkston in this seafaring Robin Hood-esque tale, but things take an interesting turn when the group of young vigilante pirates befriend the country’s first female heir, Princess Kathleen.
Hornsby found the joy of writing early in life.
“I started writing stories when I was in elementary school, so I’ve always been a bit of a writer,” she said.
In third or fourth grade, she started working on a series of short stories for her brother, and she soon found her passion on the high seas the summer after fourth grade.
“My mom took us on a pirate-themed tour boat that went around Panama City called the Sea Dragon, and I was watching all these kids run around on the ship having so much fun, and I was having so much fun,” she remembered. “I just thought to myself I should write a story about pirates but make them children, and that’s where the series spun off.”
She began writing short stories that would become the first five books in the series. In high school, she started gathering them into book form, publishing book one “Pirate: The Unkindly Gentleman,” right before graduating from Whitewater High School.
Putting her work out into the world was a nerve-wracking experience. She didn’t want to share her books, but her father made her.
The experience was exhilarating but came with its hiccups, like in choosing her pen name.
“When I first published, when I was 17, it was Stephanie Lauren,” she said. “Well there’s an author out there, Stephanie Laurens, who writes erotica. Her readers were buying my children’s books and getting very mad, oh my goodness. I didn’t realize I was misleading people.”
She now writes under the pen name, S.C. Lauren, incorporating the initial of the first character she ever killed off.
Connecting with her readers makes the hours of labor worthwhile. She found her first big fan in a high school classmate.
“She bought (my first book) from me that morning, and we had class together seventh period. She comes up to me and said, ‘I finished it,’” Hornsby remembered. “She loved it. Those people make it worth it.”
Her favorite encounter came when she was working at the Olde Courthouse Tavern while in college.
“I was waiting tables, and this little kid, he was maybe 10, kept staring at me. It was freaking me out. He was narrowing his eyes, watching me,” she recalled.
Suddenly, it clicked where he knew Stephanie from.
“He said, ‘I know you. You’re the lady on the back of my book!’”
He kept her business card as the only thing inside his little velcro wallet.
“He bought my book two years before at a book signing I had done locally,” she said. “It was his favorite book, and his mom said he reads it all the time.”
Hornsby was inspired to sharpen up her style over the course of the series, based on JK Rowling’s Harry Potter works.
“The first book is very young, and the content is more immature. The later you get in it, it gets a little darker and a little more complicated,” she said, noting that her own first book is about on a third-grade reading level. “The goal is book six to be at a college-reading level. Each book grows with the reader. They change in content, maturity, and vocabulary, but it’s still the same characters you can grow up with as readers.”
Soon, her stories will be heading for dry land. She plans to wrap up the Pirates series with one or two more books, then she intends to pivot to something entirely new. It could be about zombies, or maybe something sci-fi. Her brother is rooting for her to double back and work on Dreamcatcher, the very first set of short stories she wrote back in elementary school.
Whatever direction she takes, it will be bittersweet.
“I have so many ideas. I have been the pirate lady since I was 11 years old. I’m coming up on the 10-year anniversary of the publication of my first book, so anything but pirates would be great,” she joked. “It’s weird because it’s like I’m closing a big chapter of my life because this has literally been more than half my life up to now.”
Hornsby doesn’t just write for herself. She also helps others put their passion projects down on the page.
Sometimes she works with publishers where multiple writers are hired to work under one author’s name, and in other cases she works one-on-one with independent authors. Oftentimes those are personal memoirs.
She considers it an honor to help someone tell their story.
“It’s a unique challenge because everyone is different. It’s very personal,” she said. “I get to know my clients.”
With one project, she helped a mother tell the story of losing a child to cancer. They connected and are still friends.
“I feel like we did her daughter justice through that story.”
Ghostwriting helps fill in the spaces between her personal writing and allows her to sustain herself as a full-time writer.
Simply becoming a full-time writer required a leap of faith for Hornsby. She bounced around several unfulfilling jobs, and she was interviewing with a familiar friend for a position selling insurance when he gave her a wakeup call.
“He called me out in the interview. He asked me if I wanted to sell insurance, and I said no,” she remembered. “He said, ‘Why would I hire you if you’re miserable where you’re at, and you’re coming here to do the same thing?’”
He pointed her to an in-depth career aptitude program that reaffirmed she should be a writer for a living, and he connected her with her first ghostwriting client.
Hornsby also had the support of her husband and decided it was time to jump in feet first.
“It was very scary. There were so many reasons not to do it,” she said. “My husband said you love doing this, and if you do this full-time, you’re going to do well with it.”
Now she gets to pursue her passion and work at home while taking care of their young son.
“Actually doing something you love is amazing.”
Whether it is writing or another interest, she says you just have to do what you love. And if you want to dip your toe into writing but find it hard to get focused, she recommends living by the two-minute rule.
“Two minutes doesn’t scare anybody about anything. The rule is you have to write for two minutes every day, that’s all you have to schedule. And never when I sit down to do my two minutes do I only write for two minutes,” she said. “I wind up sitting down and writing for two hours sometimes when I finally sit down and force those two minutes out of me.
“It’s not intimidating, but the rule is you have to write for those two minutes, though. You can’t sit there and stare at your computer screen and pretend you’re writing and look at Facebook. You have to do actual writing, and once you get past those two minutes, it flows.”
The key in becoming a better writer is simply writing and doing it a lot.
“It’s not like riding a bike. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it, and the easier it’ll become if you write every day and don’t let a day go by where you can’t write at least a little bit,” she said.
She recommends researching the genre you want to write and find out what’s popular, but keep it personal.
“Come up with your own style and write what you enjoy,” she said. “Write the book you want to read.”
To reach her about her books or ghost writing opportunities, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find “S.C. Lauren” on Facebook.