WESTFORD -- When Stephanie Bacon was 10, she wrote her first novel.
"It was 500 pages long on looseleaf paper," she says. "I'd be embarrassed to read it now."
Maybe nobody read that book, but people are reading -- and loving -- Bacon's first published piece of fiction -- the novel "Painting Lola."
Bacon, a 2009 graduate of Nashoba Valley Technical High School, wrote "Painting Lola" over the summer, and it was published on Oct. 5. And though she's only 22, Bacon has been working on getting published for some time.
"I got lots of rejections," says Bacon, who grew up in Ayer and now lives in Nashua, N.H. "I sent a lot of stuff to magazines, and no one wanted them. I just kept sending them."
Those early stories were "kind of sci-fi/fantasy type of stories," which caught the eye of Nathaniel Parkinson, author of the fantasy novel, "Bishop and the Pixies, Book One: The Hunt Begins." Parkinson is a friend of Bacon's aunt. He read Bacon's stories and liked them. He encouraged her to write a novel.
The result is "Painting Lola," which is not a fantasy.
As Bacon says, "It's about a girl with a rare skin condition. She's at the bottom of her life. She has nowhere to go. But she gets an offer to model for a famous painter who hasn't been able to paint for years. The experience brings them closer and forces them to face the demons they've been subconsciously hiding for years.
Bacon said the writing process was exhausting because she felt like she had to write scenes when they came to her -- regardless of the hour.
"I got no sleep," she says. "I'd wake up in the middle of the night with a scene in my head, and I had to get it out. That went on for a long time until I finished writing the scene. In fact, I finished the book at 3 in the morning."
Amazon published the novel, and the reviews have been promising.
"Stephanie Bacon is a gem!" writes one reviewer on amazon.com. "A very promising new novel from this young talent. She has a wonderful imagination for characters."
Another review reads: "Ever since I received this book in the mail, I couldn't put it down. ... From the moment you open the book, it draws you in."
At Nashoba Tech, Bacon was an honor-roll student in the design & visual communications program, where she was an accomplished artist.
She admits she was a shy teenager and says she was urged to pursue her writing abilities by her senior English teacher, Bruce Sullivan.
"He used to embarrass me by putting my writing or my artwork on the wall of the class," she said.
Sullivan said he was impressed with Bacon's artistic abilities, but floored by her writing skills.
"She would always go beyond what everyone else would do," he says. "But she didn't want any recognition. She was painfully shy. I could see she had an amazing talent, but she didn't believe in herself.
"I felt like my only job was to encourage her," Sullivan adds. "She just needed to believe in herself more. And it ultimately happened. I'm so proud of her."
And Bacon's not planning on "Painting Lola" being a one-shot deal.
"I've already started the next one," she says.
Bacon recently returned to Nashoba Tech to donate a copy of "Painting Lola" to the school's library.
"It's targeted at young adults and teens," she says. "People do go through everything that appears in this book far more frequently than people like to admit -- being knocked down and not being able to go any lower and picking yourself up."
Her advice to students is "to keep your options open."
"If you love to do something," she adds, "sometime in your life you're going to go back to it. I did not write this book to make any money that I might get out of it. I just had to get my thoughts out."
"Painting Lola" is available at amazon.com for $8.99 in paperback or $2.99 for Nook or Kindle.