How an Elk Grove teen became a published author

When she was in third or fourth grade, Jordan Mendez read the first "Harry Potter" and "Chronicles of Narnia" books and decided she didn't like them.

So she grabbed her mother's laptop and started writing her first story.

"I wanted to make a story that followed what I wanted to happen in books," Jordan explained. "That's kind of where it started because I didn't like things that happened in the books I was reading, so I wanted to change it."

Now 17 years old and a graduate of Elk Grove High School, Jordan is a self-published author. Her book "Playing with Fire" is available in the Amazon ebook store. She wrote "Playing With Fire" for nearly four years and worked on the published version of the story for two years.

Jordan began focusing on her writing in fifth grade and middle school to manage her Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD,) her mother Tekoa Mendez said. Jordan was first diagnosed with ADHD as a little girl.

"She couldn't keep thoughts in her head, couldn't keep her hands to herself," Mendez said. "And it really alienated her for quite a bit."

As she got older, Jordan had a hard time socially adapting to other children and managing her personality due to her ADHD. Mendez said she and Jordan talked about what would be the best way for her to adapt.

"That's when she really turned to writing a lot, was when she had a hard time at school and a hard time connecting and fitting in," Mendez explained.

Through middle school, Jordan wrote short stories and kept journals. But she never finished or expanded on her works. Then she created a new character: Scarlet, a 14-year-old orphan who could control fire as the protagonist in "Playing With Fire."

"I was like, 'OK, I have this character that I really like, lets see what I can do with this,'"" Jordan said. "As it went along, I developed the plot more. It was more around the character that I tried to build the story, rather than build characters for a story."

Jordan said after a lot of trial and error -- and losing all progress on the book three different times because her computer crashed – "Playing With Fire" eventually developed into the book that was published. The story follows Scarlet and four other orphans, whom she considers her brothers, as they survive on the streets by supporting each other. A villain uses Scarlet's past and powers against the ones she loves and tries to destroy their lives.

Jordan finally finished the book before the start of her senior year.

"At first I thought, 'I really want to publish, this sounds really fun.' But then I saw how long of a process it would be and I got kind of discouraged," Jordan said. "But people around me gave me an encouraging push to go for it. So then, I decided that I should go through with it because this is what I like doing."

That began another long and arduous process. Jordan, with help from her mom, sent out letters to publishers and agents across the country. The response: rejection letters.

"Most of the time, new writers will get rejected. And [sending out letters] took up quite a bit of time," Jordan said. "And it took a lot of perseverance because I got rejected a lot."

"So [Jordan] is getting really frustrated and I would say, 'You know, really don't worry about the rejections,'" Mendez said. "We talked about people who were rejected their whole lives, and all they needed was one 'yes' to get where they are now."

Jordan sent out preliminary copies of "Playing With Fire" to her friends too and they really liked the book.

"She just got a good positive feedback, and it really helped her to believe in herself," Mendez said. "And it kind of helped her to follow through and be confident."

One agent said "Playing With Fire" was still in need of editing. So Mendez found an editor in the Sacramento area willing to work with her daughter. Chapter by chapter, Jordan and the editor worked through the story, making events more consistent and refining her writing skills.

After the editing process, Jordan and Mendez reached out to even more publishers and agents. The response: more rejection letters.

"Well, to get out of that kind of rut I guess, I just looked behind me and saw how much I had already had accomplished," Jordan said. "And that kind of kept me thinking that this was only a temporary wall, so I can get past it if I really tried."

So Jordan took publishing into her own hands, making things end the way she wanted them to, like she does with her stories.

"I decided that it will be best to [self publish] through Kindle Direct Publishing," Jordan explained. "Because [the book] was already ready … I thought it would be better for me to try to focus more on school rather than focus on trying to get a publisher first."

After some reformatting and help from her little brother with the book cover, "Playing With Fire" was finally published in late November 2013.

"I think that's been a very big character-building thing for her -- just going through the process of believing in herself," Mendez said.

"She's just a determined person too. This has really taught her something great about the power of determination," Mendez added.

Jordan doesn't see "Playing With Fire" as her last book. She is headed to UC Riverside in the fall to study creative writing and work on a sequel. She hopes her next book will be even better.


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