When La Cañada High School senior Elizabeth Gonzalez graduated in June, she was one of hundreds of local teenagers who found themselves suddenly standing on the brink of college, jobs and adulthood.
But Gonzalez, a quiet girl with an unassuming nature that tends toward shyness, has accomplished something most of her peers have not — she published a novel, and did it pretty much on her own.
“Beyond the Dark” tells the story of Danny, a boy whose brush with tragedy separates him from his classmates and leads him on a journey through darkness into light with the help of some otherworldly friends. It was published independently through Amazon in March.
Gonzalez, who regularly writes, draws or makes animated skits for YouTube to keep the creative juices flowing, said the book took her about two years to complete. Somewhere, in between school, reading and babysitting younger brother Alex, 13, and 9-year-old sister Abigail, she found time to sketch the basic plot in longhand, then fill in details and character descriptions while transcribing at the keyboard.
The teen said she was inspired to explore a novel as a means of creating a full-fledged world where things made more sense than the one she saw when she turned on the television.
“There was a lot of upsetting stuff on the news, and I guess this was a way for me to cope with it,” she said. “I just figured if things can’t be right in the real world, maybe it would fix it just a tiny bit to have them be right [in the book].”
Her mom, Jo-Ann — who proudly refers to her daughter as a “self-made” author — said as a child she often made up stories and games that continued for days on end.
“I would buy her toys and she’d never use them,” she said, recollecting the many handmade toys and objects her precocious daughter crafted instead.
So far, Gonzalez’s debut novel has mainly circulated through networks of friends, family members and their co-workers. Recently, “Beyond the Dark” was accepted into Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse’s consignment program, which makes shelf space for local authors.
Gail Mishkin, a manager for the La Cañada independent bookstore, said in an email interview Gonzalez is the third teenage author to have a book accepted into the program so far.
“The main goal of our consignment program is to show support for our local authors, and it is particularly inspiring when a young person has the passion and persistence to see a book to its end,” Mishkin said.
The La Cañada teen said while she’s pleased to have her work available at the town bookstore, she has no grand plans to take the literary world by storm — at least for the foreseeable future. Gonzalez will attend California Lutheran University in the fall, where she’ll likely study computer science and continue her writing. She’s not sure yet if she’ll follow up on “Beyond the Dark” with a second book.
“If I came up with the right idea, I think it could develop into something. But I mostly stick with short stories,” she said.
Her advice to other young writers who might have novels still trapped inside them?