Almost every night, Mary Weber’s father read to her and her five siblings.
“We went through tons and tons of books,” the Arroyo Grande resident recalled, including fantasy series such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” and
“The Lord of the Rings.” But Weber, 37, never dreamed she’d one day contribute a title of her own.
Weber, who was born and raised in Atascadero, is the author of the young adult fantasy novel “Storm Siren.” The book, published in August by Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson, is the first in a trilogy aimed at readers aged 12 and up.
Set in the kingdom of Faelen, “Storm Siren” centers on Nym, a 17-year-old slave girl with a tragic past. One of the few remaining members of the Elementals, as indicated by her snow-white hair and sea-blue eyes, she has the magical ability to command the elements — summoning a lightning storm with a flick of her deformed left hand.
Nym is purchased on the auction block by noblewoman Adora, adviser to King Sedric. As Adora explains, the girl is to serve as Faelen’s greatest weapon in its increasingly brutal war with neighboring kingdom Bron.
Befriended by cocky Colin and his nononsense sister Breck, Nymmust learn to master her ability under the guidance of her charismatic, mysterious trainer, Eogan, and discover her destiny. Weber’s path from fantasy fan to published author was a wavering one.
“For years, I thought, ‘I’d love to write a book, but I am a terrible writer,’” she said.
Six years ago, just after earning her associate’s degree at Cuesta College, Weber had what she calls “a mom midlife crisis.”
“I went, ‘OK, I know who I am as a mom, as a youth pastor, as a wife,’ “ she recalled. “‘But who am I (as a person)? And what do I want to do besides all these things?’”
Weber started writing, reasoning that “‘Here’s something private to me that brings me joy,’ “ she said. “I just wanted to be creative.”
“It was about two years after that when I thought, ‘Huh, maybe I can get published,’” the author added.
Although she couldn’t find any takers for her first book, a paranormal romance for adults — “I racked up 87 agent rejections on that sweet thing,” she recalled —Weber did connect with a publisher who encouraged her to give young adult fiction a try. He put her in touch with an editor at Thomas Nelson, which in turn inked a deal for a fantasy trilogy.
“I remember being so excited but like, five seconds later, going, ‘Oh, crap. What did I just do? Now I have to write it,’” she recalled with a laugh.
She shaped the “Storm Siren” manuscript with the help of her husband, Peter, and sister, Katy. To authentically capture the voice of ateenage girl, Weber drew on her experiences as the children and youth pastor at Father’s House church in Atascadero, where she works primarily with junior high and high school students, and the mother of two daughters, 12-year-old Avalon and 15-year-old Rilian. (She also has an 8-year-old son, Korbin.)
“Storm Siren” hits upon several familiar themes for that age group — including self-image, societal pressures and the constantly shifting quest for identity.
“So much of our culture is pushing (the message) ‘just be yourself,’” Weber said. “But then at the same time, every magazine and show and everything they look at don’t fully represent anybody being themselves. Everything’s airbrushed.”
Most teens, she added, are desperate to be noticed and eager to feel included.
“One of the (concerns I heard) was ‘We just want to feel respected and valued for who we are, not necessarily based on how we look or if we have the best social skills,’” Weber said. “The girls want so much to fit in (so) they can feel a part of something. Sometimes they almost despise the one thing that makes (them) different.”
Weber argues, however, that those attributes make the teens special.
“We all have something that is totally unique that we can offer the world around us, that can bring life and joy and empower other people,” she said.
She’s earned praise for featuring a diverse, multicultural cast of characters that includes people with special needs.
“That’s not some super-neat intentional thing,” she acknowledged. “It just happens to be the community we live in. We do a really good job of sharing life together and helping each other.”
Weber hopes that “Storm Siren” will help readers who, like her, have struggled with feelings of insecurity and fears of rejection.
“The flip side of that,” she said, “is I now really have a passion for kindness. I have a passion for making other people feel valued.”