Homer City teen pens apocalyptic novel featuring zombies

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 4:48 p.m.

Mya Zemlock, 14, can often be found with a book in her hand. But when she's not reading a book, she's writing one.

A lover of the written word at a very young age, Zemlock, an eighth-grader at Homer-Center High School, expects her first self-published novel to be released early next year.

“Heartless” is about a 15-year-old heroine named Alex who lives in an apocalyptic world full of danger — in the form of zombies.

Alex and the friends she meets — including protective Nate, her love interest — get into a bit of trouble along the way.

“And not only are there zombies, but they have to deal with people who are out to harm them because they did something unknowingly,” Zemlock said.

She couldn't say much about the plot without giving too much away, but she noted it touches quite a few genres.

“There's action, there's romance, there's so much you can look forward to,” Zemlock said. “And there's a bit of sci-fi as it tells you how it all happened.”

“Heartless” is the first in what Zemlock has planned as a trilogy of books for young adult readers.

The book was influenced by her own tastes in reading.

“I read almost everything, but mostly what fills up my bookshelves are zombies, dystopian fiction, apocalyptic worlds,” she said.

As a volunteer at the local Homer-Center Library since June, Zemlock can read her fill without spending a dime.

Among her favorites are “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Pittsburgh native Stephen Chbosky, J.D. Salinger's coming-of-age classic “The Catcher in the Rye,” and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.

She's also a big fan of young adult author Rick Riordan and loves the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The daughter of Lisa and Ronald Traister, Homer City, and Ken Zemlock, Penn Run, has received much support and encouragement from her parents. Her mother was one of the first people to read the book, followed by her, friend Emma Nippes.

“They both really liked it. My mom's words were, ‘This is amazing. You have to do something with it,'” recalled Zemlock.

A student in good academic standing, Zemlock was the recipient of a Wildcat Recognition Award in October, which was presented to her at a recent Homer-Center School Board meeting.

The principal of each of the school district's two buildings presents a student with the award each month, recognizing those who “capture the spirit of what we think we'd want from our students — those with character, who put forth the efffort academically and who are leaders — in essence what we want a Homer-Center student to be,” said Jody Rainey, high school principal.

“Mya definitely encompasses that. Overall, she's a great kid — engaging, very friendly.”

Zemlock also received support from the school librarian, Sarah DeVivo, who said the young author could often be found in the library with a book in hand.

“Mya is an avid reader,” DeVivo said. “Her enthusiasm for reading all genres, combined and incorporated with her excellent verbal and communication skills, provide the fundamental elements for storytelling.”

DeVivo had the opportunity to read Zemlock's draft of the novel before it was sent off for publication, and she was impressed by the depth of the story and its characters.

“‘Heartless' is a compelling as well as an emotional story,” DeVivo said. “Mya knows her characters, from where they came and where they are to go within the story. It is obvious she enjoys writing stories because she can dream and place herself into her own setting, events and her characters.”

Garnering such a positive response to her story, Zemlock began researching different self-publishing companies. Eventually she chose to hand over her manuscript to FriesenPress, which she felt would offer her the most help in getting started as a first-time novelist.

Based in Canada, FriesenPress will help Zemlock get onto booksellers' websites and will aid in editing the book, layout of the cover and marketing.

“They will help me put it all together so I can learn how to do it myself,” she said.

The book was recently sent into the layout phase, and she expects to receive a proof in the next six weeks or so. Once any final changes are made, it will go into production.

Indiana artist Craig Peterson drew the front cover for Zemlock.

“He's done book covers before,” she said. “I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, but I gave him some information on the book so he could picture it, too.”

She was very happy with the end result — a pair of bright-green eyes, belonging to the main character, Alex, give the impression she's looking out at the reader.

“I wanted to make it look like she was in danger,” Zemlock said.

Coming up with a title can often be the hardest part of writing a book, but Zemlock said “Heartless” came to her pretty easily.

“I just started writing and when I thought about Alex's character and how she changed — she has to be ruthless, but she has to protect others, too.”

The majority of “Heartless” was written on her computer at home and during free periods at school.

She started by writing short stories on Wattpad, an online community of writers.

“I've always been interested in literature,” Zemlock said. “Reading a lot gives me a lot of chances to experience types of genres.

“When I started writing, they were little stories that I didn't really share until my friends started saying, ‘These are really good, you should share these.'”

Zemlock began writing the synopsis for “Heartless” in January, “And I just didn't stop writing,” she said. “I wrote for probably hours at a time, three or four hours a day.”

At that pace, she had the book finished in July.

She has a website for the book in the works that will include links to the various booksellers from which her book can be ordered. She said the book will be available to order in hardback, paperback or as a digital e-book. Prices haven't yet been set, she said.

She said she also hopes to have the book available for sale at local stores.

She had hoped for a Christmas release, but said “Heartless” likely won't be available before mid-January.

“I just want to see people reading my book and enjoying it,” she said. “And for other teenage authors who want to write, I want to encourage them and inspire them to do the best they can.”

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or gdelfavero@tribweb.com.

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