Perry teen authors book while being ‘grounded’
Story and photo by Carolyn Kaberline
“These zombies aren’t like what we saw in old horror movies. They are fast, strong, and intelligent. The worst part is they’re not the undead – they’re still living, breathing people. The first outbreak was in Ohio, but no one knows how or why it happened. All we know is that it happened and we have to do whatever it takes to stay alive. So here I am, in a van with my brother, going to a place that we’re not even sure exists. Who knows if we’ll make it there? Who knows if we’ll even make it to tomorrow? All I know is my name is Cassie Sullivan and I’m still alive.”
So reads the book cover for the soon-to-be-published novel by 17-year-old Kelsey Harwood of Perry.
Harwood, a junior at Perry-Lecompton High School, wrote the novel two years ago when she was 15 and “really, really grounded.” She decided to spend the time writing a book.
Harwood said she came up with the idea pretty quickly “because my brother and I used to watch zombie movies all the time. We would go into random buildings and decide whether they would be good or bad places for a zombie apocalypse.”
The book of “90 some computer pages” took Harwood only “three weeks and a lot of Jones soda” to write.
“My mom read it and said it was something she would have bought even if it wasn’t by me,” Harwood said. “She’s always been honest with me and suggested I try to get it published, especially when I told her that’s what I wanted to do for a career.”
Harwood then began going to “big places like Borders to check out the books and get the names of some publishers.”
However, her first attempts at submitting her novel for publication were a long way from successful.
“I got nine rejections,” she said. “The publishers all said I needed an agent or a published book.” While Harwood said she did get one agent, it turned out to be a scam.
“My mom is a lawyer and she wouldn’t let me sign,” Harwood said. “The agent wanted money up front to send it anywhere.”
Finally, Featherweight Press became interested in the novel.
“My mom has a friend who wrote for the company’s other branch,” Harwood explained. “She [the friend] told them it was something they should look at. They told me that before they could give me a contract, there were some changes that were needed.”
Harwood said that while some proposed changes, such as how and why the invasion happened and needing additional details—were minor; one involving the death of one of the characters was unacceptable.
“After I got the contract, the editor I was assigned wanted me to take out the biggest death in the entire book,” Harwood explained. “I told him I couldn’t do that, so we agreed on a change in the death.”
The edits took Harwood a couple of months to complete since she needed to work them in around her school schedule, a part-time job, and PLHS tennis. In addition to the edits, the book’s title was changed from “Still Alive” to “Among the Living.” And while the editor is still looking at those edits, her book is scheduled for publication sometime this year.
“It will be published online to start with, but it may become a hardback book depending on the sales,” Harwood said, adding that she will receive royalties from books purchased. Now approximately 130 pages in length, the book has so far been read by only a handful of people, including her cousin. “I had my cousin read it because I wanted a younger perspective.”
The book, which takes place in the present time and begins in Hazelhurst, Ga., a town she found on Google maps, is set in different places across the country although Harwood says it stays more in the South.
“It doesn’t go into specific details on the towns since I only had pictures to look at,” she notes.
Harwood also says the book contains three main characters and five others “who are in for a small amount of time. It’s a young adult book, but anyone could read it.”
While she’s been asked if a sequel is in the works, she says that’s a possibility, but “if there’s a sequel, it will have different characters.”
So what does the future hold for Harwood?
“I want to write books, but I’m thinking of being a teacher too,” she said. Her father, Frank Harwood, is a teacher and her mother, Jamie, is a former teacher. “I don’t want to write books and if it doesn’t work out, have nothing to land on.”
Currently she has been asked to speak to a career class in an Overland Park high school where she’ll talk about how she wrote the book. So what advice will she give to others wanting to write a book?
“You’re going to get rejected, but that’s part of it,” she said. “You have to have a thick skin, but it’s definitely worth it, if you stick with it.”
And even before she receives any royalties, she’s getting a few perks. Her brother, Zach, who’s five years older, gave her a zombie survival kit for Christmas last year.
“It had gummy vitamins, 32 ounces of peroxide, bandages of every size, a 24-pack of water and a machete.”
It appears she’ll be prepared if that zombie apocalypse ever really arrives.
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