By Scott Meeker
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Ellie Ann Soderstrom slides a copy of her novel, "The Silver Sickle," across the table. The title page has been inscribed with the name she writes under, Ellie Ann, and just two words: "Grip fast."
What does it mean?
"What does it mean to you?" she asks in return.
The phrase, taken from a Scottish family crest, can take on a number of meanings, she says. But perhaps the most pertinent to Soderstrom's story is one of perseverance, of hard work and then holding tight to enjoy the ride.
There are days when the act of writing -- of filling up a blank screen with a story directly from her imagination -- is a difficult task.
"But on other days, it feels like you're flying," says Soderstrom.
The 27-year-old writer, who moved to Joplin with her husband and family last year, has been flying high of late when it comes to the written word.
Released in paperback last week, Soderstrom's "The Silver Sickle" is a sci-fi novel with a Persian setting. It's the story of a girl trapped in a harem who must take down an extraterrestrial regime.
"It's like the Book of Esther meets 'District 9,' with robots thrown in there," she says.
Although she's always been an avid reader, she says she didn't start writing until just four years ago.
"It was started by a bet with my best friend," says Soderstrom. "She challenged me to run a half marathon together, and I challenged her to write a novel together."
Soderstrom trained and completed her half marathon, and in November of that year she wrote her first novel. Three more followed, though she says they'll remain on her computer's hard drive and never see the light of day.
"It took a lot of practice before I learned to write a story well," she says.
A freelance editing job with indie publishing house StoneHouse Ink eventually led to an invitation to co-author a new thriller series with writer Aaron Patterson.
Their first book, "Breaking Steele," was released last fall, and the second, "Twisting Steele," will be published later this year. Soderstrom describes the series as "Dexter" meets "Law & Order."
"It's about an assistant district attorney who, when the verdict doesn't go the right way, will finish the job," she says.
Her co-writing experience allowed her to pitch "The Silver Sickle," which the publisher released as an e-book and in paperback.
She also serves as a producer for Noble Beast, a company that creates enhanced digital books. The company's first book was "Steampunk Holmes: The Legacy of the Nautilus."
It's an original Holmes story, but told in the Arthur Conan Doyle style and incorporating elements of the steampunk genre.
"We take original or backlisted fiction and enhance it with illustrations, animation, sound effects and anything that makes the story immersive," she says. "There are illustrations, character and object profiles and interactive maps, but it all comes second to the text. The reader can just read the text without being bothered with anything else, or choose the media they want to include."
Soderstrom says she's currently at work on a "gritty fairy tale" that will get the enhanced treatment.
In addition to her work with Stonehouse Ink and Noble Beast, she also writes for Motionworks Entertainment, which creates interactive comic books.
'I can't stop'
Soderstrom says she spends four hours a day focusing on her writing -- two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon.
She credits her family with being extremely supportive of her endeavors.
"My husband (Michael) has loved what I've done so far ... he's been a huge support," she says. "I like to include my kids in what I'm doing. I tell them stories every day, the overall story of what I'm working on, and they get really excited for me. They inspire me so much. They keep me young and give me good ideas."
Among her biggest influences are C.S. Lewis ("He's preachy, but never sacrificed his story for it"), Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" series ("It's totally a fairy tale, but told in a very modern way") and Markus Zusack's novel "The Book Thief."
It was the latter, she says, that was her biggest inspiration.
"It inspired me to write," says Soderstrom. "It told a story that made me think, 'I want to make people feel the way I felt when I read this book.'"
Having just finished working on co-writing "Melting Steele," another upcoming entry in the Sarah Steele series, she has another original novel that she's already at work on. She describes it as a "post-apocalyptic fairy tale," set in a village where the gender roles have been reversed.
"I love fantasy and sci-fi," she says. "I don't think I could write a realistic tale if I tried. It has to take place in a world that I make up."
While she doesn't classify herself as a Christian writer, Soderstrom says her faith has played a strong role in how her writing has developed over the past few years.
"Jesus taught me who I am, and I feel a lot of spiritual purpose behind my writing," she says. "If I didn't have that, I'd probably give it up.
"A lot of writers talk about, 'I just need to write.' I wasn't like that. But now that I'm writing, I am. I can't stop."
Ellie Ann Soderstrom will hold a book signing for "The Silver Sickle" during Third Thursday activities on Aug. 15 at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company, 502 S. Joplin Ave. For more information about her writing, visit http://ellieann.net.