Art & Culture

Hollister teen self-publishes first book

James Owen Welch blends sci-fi and fantasy in ‘Steven Black and the Tales from Beyond: The Orb of Possibility.’
Photo courtesy of Aronn Lira.
Photo courtesy of Aronn Lira.

Two years ago, James Owen Welch was assigned to write a short story. That story is now in book form, making the Hollister 15 year-old a self-published author.

“Steven Black and the Tales from Beyond: The Orb of Possibility,” by J.O. Welch debuted on Aug. 4. It’s available as an e-book or paperback through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Described by its author as a blend of science fiction and fantasy, it follows the heroics of the 26-year-old protagonist as he searches for an enemy within the ranks of the Watchers, a collection of alien, human, and elf-like characters who use their ability to open portals and chronicle events across multiple universes in hopes of creating a better future.

A Watcher himself, Steven Black volunteers for the mission in exchange for a chance to have his memory restored by the Orb of Possibility.

Welch explained that his title character and the story’s plot line were inspired by both the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series.

“It’s the embodiment of the hero’s journey,” he said of his first book.

While in eighth grade, Welch and his classmates embarked on a short story unit facilitated by their then-homeschool tutor Carrie Coman. After reading several short stories and learning about character development, setting, plot, conflict and theme, Welch was assigned to write a story.

Over the years, he had assembled bits and pieces of Steven Black and his futuristic world, often sharing story ideas with his younger brother Josh as the two got ready for bed.

The short story assignment provided Welch the opportunity to breathe life into the character that kept his sibling up at night.

“James had an idea and took off with it, exceeding the assignment’s expectations,” said Coman, adding that Welch’s commitment and hard work motivated his peers, too.

After completing eighth grade, Welch spent the next year fine-tuning and revising, seeking out published authors and others to help him along the way.

Pat Schleeter was among those Welch reached out to. 

As Welch’s martial arts instructor for the past two years, Schleeter—who has also taught English at San Benito Benito High School for the past three decades—read over sections and provided feedback to the author.

According to Schleeter, Welch’s disciplined approach to writing mirrors his approach to weapons training, resulting in a well-rounded student of letters and martial arts.

My first instructor used to always talk about ‘sound mind in a sound body,’” Schleeter said. “I like the balance that James has in his life right now between his writing and academics, and his physical activities like Farang Hapkido.”

After completing his manuscript, Welch sought funding for self-publication, sending letters to each of his four grandparents asking for a $50 donation in exchange for a signed copy of his book. Each gladly wrote their grandson a check.

Other family members who contributed to Welch’s first book included his uncle Aronn Lira, who designed the cover art, and his little sister Serenity, who inspired the character Níta Conifer.

In the book’s acknowledgements section, Welch heaps praise on his parents for their unconditional love and support throughout the writing and publication process.

“My parents deserve a huge thanks as well, for always being there, giving me advice and suggestions, and supporting and encouraging me throughout this journey,” he wrote.

“I was in awe,” said Frankie Welch after reading her son’s published story, adding that she was “ready just to give him a pat on the back.” 

She said her son had demonstrated his gift for storytelling over the years.

Ryan Welch said that the family takes “tremendous pride” in his son’s first published book and believes it sends a powerful message to his other children: “If you put your mind to something and work hard you can accomplish anything.”

Like other writers, Welch confronted writer’s block, waded through revisions, and hurried to meet deadlines. But he counts his “will to do so” in making a dream into reality.

As for his future, Welch said that “Steven Black and the Tales from Beyond: The Orb of Possibility,” is the “first of many books” he plans to write.


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Frank Pérez

I’m a lifelong resident of San Benito County. I reside in Hollister with my wife, Brenda. For over two decades, I've been a faculty member at San Benito High School, where I teach world history, Mexican-American history, and Ethnic Studies. I've been reporting for BenitoLink since 2015. My passion is delving deeper into the nuances of the local, historical record, while including lesser-known stories of our past. My hope is that county residents will have a greater appreciation for the diversity and complexity of San Benito County, realizing that its uniqueness depends upon our responsibility as its stewards.