A challenge, and subsequent encouragement from a high school principal five years ago opened not a door, but the floodgates of creativity for a young Laurel man.
Five years ago, Charles Siefken was a student at East Marshall High School.
Some classes were such a challenge that he wanted to quit school.
T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY
Wendy Siefken of Laurel is shown holding a copy of “Kai’s Journey 2, New Beginnings” and its predecessor, “Kai’s Journey, the New World Chronicles 1” at the Marshall Town Center Tuesday. Son Charles, also of Laurel, is holding the pair’s latest effort, “Jack Bowman.”
Dyslexia and cross-modality issues made it difficult for him to learn.
"If I read something in a textbook, I had a hard time writing out notes," he said. "But the more I read, the more I wrote, and the condition improved. And for somebody who once hated English, I love writing stories."
East Marshall Principal Rex Kozak saw potential in Charles and challenged him to write and publish a book to receive credit for an English class.
For once, Charlie was interested in a school project, and took the challenge.
Kozak's directive was this: Charles was to incorporate English, math and recent events into the book and keep up with his other classes.
The arrangement also required Charles to submit research and other materials used to develop his fictional effort to Kozak periodically.
Wendy Siefken, Charles' mother, agreed to help her son.
Charles provided the story theme, and did the writing.
Mom followed-up with editing and suggestions.
Soon, the entire Siefken family was contributing time, talent and support.
The task proved to be daunting, despite Charles' passion for writing short stories, all the while receiving positive feedback from Kozak and other East Marshall educators.
Another young author would provide the extra motivation Charles needed to get the job done.
Also confident in Charles' ability to complete the task were Wendy, and Charles Henry, his dad.
Charles credited fellow author Christopher Paolini of the "Eragon" series, then, and now, for motivating him to read more and enter the world of writing.
Charles saw much in common between him and Paolini.
"He (Paolini) was 16 when he started working on the story as a classroom project and graduated," Charles said. "And he published it age 18, going from school to school to promote the book, received encouragement, and was successful."
Charles would finish Kozak's assignment and his first book in four months.
"Kai's Journey, The New World Chronicles Book 1," was the result.
Wendy ultimately served as coach, editor, proofreader, researcher and more.
The Siefkens' first effort was so successful they followed up with "Kai's Journey, The New World Chronicles Book 2".
Recently the mother-son team launched their third book, "Jack Bowman."
So recent, that the two were at the Central Iowa Fair two weeks ago and Linn Creek Art Festival in Marshalltown promoting and selling it along with their other books.
Wendy has added agent and publicist to her job description, while still being mom and a spouse to Charles Henry, a trucker.
"Jack Bowman" is for young adults from ages 10 and up," Wendy said. "There are dragons, werewolves and zombies. The dragons and werewolves are good, and there is no blood, guts, or gore that would offend parents or scare children."
The plot centers around Bowman, a young man who has been on the wrong side of the law too often. He was convicted of his third offense under a "three strikes and out," law, and is now on his way to prison.
The bus carrying the prisoners to the penitentiary has stopped on a bridge, because a horde of zombies have massed on the road ahead.
They attack the bus.
As Bowman is running from the zombies, he notices a little girl trapped in a car, mouthing a scream.
She can't vocalize the scream, nor can she speak. The girl has her own horrors from the past, making sounds and speech impossible.
The girl's father, a victim of the zombie attack, turns on his daughter, sitting in the back seat.
But Bowman pulls her away, and they escape.
"That incident is basically the turning point in his life for the good," Wendy said.
Completing Kozak's project proved to be a turning point in Charles' life.
More than five years have passed since writing and releasing the "Kai 1."
He graduated from high school, and is now enrolled in Marshalltown Community College's auto mechanics program.
He continues to comes up with book themes, researches, and writes when not in class or doing homework.
And another joint project between son and mother is in the works.
Wendy also attends classes at MCC to improve her editing, proofing and other skills needed. For more information, visit www.amazon.com/Wendy-Siefken/e/B0069CYGBW.