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For Boxborough eighth-grader, becoming an author is a metamorphosis

Vanessa Chen with her book, “A Butterfly Universe,” to be released in June.
Vanessa Chen with her book, “A Butterfly Universe,” to be released in June.

Vanessa Chen of Boxborough, an eighth-grader at R.J. Grey Junior High School, decided at a young age that someday she would be an author. But three years ago, she had an epiphany.

“I always thought it was something I would do when I grew up,” she said. “But then I realized that if I don’t get started now, what makes me think I’ll know how to write a book when I’m an adult? Did I think I’d blow out that 18th candle and say ‘I can write now?’ ”

And so Chen, now 14, got started. “I sat down at my computer and made myself write three paragraphs,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘Wow, I have the power to write something someone else could read, the power to create a world!’ ”


Three years later, Chen’s first novel, “A Butterfly Universe,” is scheduled for release by independent publisher Star Moonstone Books in June. And despite the extensive editing and revising the manuscript later underwent, those first three paragraphs remain largely intact, Chen said.

Written for middle-grade readers, “A Butterfly Universe” tells the story of two girls living fairly ordinary lives until an invisible force transforms them into butterflies and transports them to a world where butterflies exercise magical powers and battle evil moths. Soon it becomes clear to the best friends that their mission is to save the butterfly universe.

The idea of making butterflies the main characters appealed to Chen for several reasons, not the least of which was the discovery that her first name means butterfly. The plot took shape after she noticed that a favorite tree in her family’s front yard wasn’t blossoming one spring as abundantly as it typically did, inspiring her to imagine that the reason was an underlying battle involving the insect life that surrounded the tree.


Her commitment to the book was inconsistent in its early days, Chen said. She’d find herself daydreaming about plot twists during class, but it wasn’t until a long car trip with her family that she became consumed with the kind of creative passion that it takes to get a book written. Borrowing her father’s iPad, she wrote ferociously between intervals of carsickness.

“Suddenly my brain was going at supersonic speed, from this idea to that idea,” she recalled. Positive reinforcement from her parents, as well as guidance from a professional editor, helped her get to the final stage of completion.

With schools statewide shuttered, Chen is finding time to work on her next book, which she says will be more character-driven than the first one. She has a general message in mind about appreciating your own talents and assets rather than envying those of other people, but said the plot has yet to take shape.

Meanwhile, Chen has used her extra time at home to sharpen her math skills under the tutelage of her brother, a high school junior, and studying along with him for his AP exam in psychology.

To other kids at home right now who might be contemplating writing a novel of their own, she offered hearty encouragement. “Go for it,” she urged. “Sit down and write whatever you’re thinking. You can delete later if you really don’t like it. Just get started.”

Although “A Butterfly Universe” is not yet in print, all profits from preorders placed through May 31 will go to Emerson Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and other hospitals in Massachusetts for the purchase of critical supplies and equipment.


To preorder the book or learn more about the author, go to www.starmoonstonebooks.com.

Nancy Shohet West can be reached at nancyswest@gmail.com.