Morgan Clayton spent summer 2011 keeping a secret.
Her family, who live in SouthPark, sensed something was up with the 15-year-old. Maybe it's a phase, they thought.
She stayed in her room more than usual and drew a lot of pictures of cats. When a package arrived in the mail in July, however, Morgan could scarcely keep the contents to herself.
She soon showed her mom, Cheryl Clayton, and her younger siblings, Sophie and Ian. It was her first published book: "Susan: A Slightly Naughty Cat," which she and her dad, Tim, had worked on for several months.
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"I was so proud and just overwhelmed at what she accomplished by herself," Cheryl Clayton said. "It wasn't a huge surprise, though, because it had been a long time coming."
Morgan has been interested in drawing and writing since she was very young, Clayton said.
When Morgan had trouble sleeping, she imagined characters. She drew pictures in her journals, often of animals. When she began reading books without illustrations, she often created her own on a separate piece of paper.
She loves books by Beatrix Potter and stories about Pippi Longstocking and Paddington Bear.
"She's always drawn the most adorable creatures," Clayton said; "Cute characters with personalities."
New publishing technology allowed Morgan to realize her dream of becoming an author without the hassle of rejection letters and long publisher deadlines.
"It seemed like it would be hard to get into a publishing company if I was not an adult or (didn't have) publishing experience," Morgan said.
She and Tim Clayton used CreateSpace, owned by Amazon.com, to create "Susan: A Slightly Naughty Cat."
The website helps authors format and lay out manuscripts and illustrations. The technology, called publishing on demand, allows authors to print books as they are ordered. Tim Clayton estimates they spent about $40 before the book was listed for sale, a fraction of the cost of some self-publishing processes.
POD required Tim and Morgan to learn how to scan and format her watercolor illustrations, and Morgan had to do everything from choose a price for the book to designing the cover. They wrote a blurb for the back of the book and a short biography of Morgan.
The book was listed for sale in late 2011.
Cheryl Clayton said it has been a challenge to market the book, as she and Tim don't have backgrounds in business.
Tim is pastor of St. Paul's Anglican Church in Charlotte, and Cheryl home-schools their children. Both have talked up the book on Facebook, and Cheryl said many people she has reconnected with there have bought a copy.
She's also put copies in local doctors office waiting rooms.
One day, Cheryl and Morgan saw a woman reading "Susan" in a waiting room.
"She recognized Morgan," Cheryl said. "We had now shared the book with someone we had no connection with."
The inspiration for the book is Hufflepuff, the Claytons' beloved fluffy, black-and-white cat that Morgan describes as "very lazy and lays around all day."
"I started thinking about what it would be like to have a cat that does things," she said. Morgan wanted to take on a summer project, so she wrote stories about Susan, an orange-and-white cat who gets into mischief.
"Susan: A Slightly Naughty Cat" is available at www. amazon .com .