PERRY — Most 15-year-olds would consider being grounded a punishment akin to torture. However, Perry resident Kelsey Harwood found it to be the perfect opportunity to write a novel.
Harwood, now 17 and a senior at Perry-Lecompton High School, said she didn't take long to come up with the idea for "Still Alive," a book about zombies that “aren’t like what we saw in old horror movies ... but are fast, strong and intelligent.”
“My brother and I used to watch old zombie movies all the time,” she said. “We would go into random buildings and decide whether they would be good or bad places for a zombie apocalypse, so it was something I knew I could write a whole book about.”
The book, which started as 90-some computer pages, took Harwood “three weeks and a lot of Jones soda” to write. However, the road to getting it published was considerably longer.
The journey began with a positive review from Harwood’s mother, Jamie Harwood.
“My mom 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.”
Her next step was going to “big places like Borders in Lawrence to check out the books to get the names of some publishers.”
“I got nine rejections,” Harwood said, explaining the large companies she contacted had no interest in new writers. “They all said I needed an agent or a published book.”
Then when Harwood found an agent, she said it turned out to be a scam.
"The agent wanted money up-front, and my mom, who is a lawyer, wouldn’t let me sign," she said.
Although many writers would have gone the self-publishing route, Harwood said she never considered that option and was determined to find a traditional publisher.
Finally, she submitted the book to Featherweight Press, which specializes in young adult fiction by experienced and beginning adult and young adult writers.
“My mom has a friend who works for the company’s other branch,” Harwood said. “She read it and told them it was a good story and something they should look at.”
Harwood said the company was willing to give her a contract contingent on a few corrections and pre-edits.
“Some of the changes were very minor, and they wanted more details,” she said. “They wanted to know how it happened and why it happened.”
From there, Harwood's novel was routed to a few editors, with each wanting different changes.
“After I got the contract, the editor I was assigned wanted me to take out the biggest death in the book, but I told him I couldn’t do that, so we agreed on a change in the death," she said. "Then he left, and a new editor put the original ending back in.”
The second round of edits took Harwood a couple of months to complete because she had to work them around her school schedule, a part-time job and tennis practice and meets.
In addition to the edits, the book underwent a title change from "Still Alive" to "Among the Living." Later, another editor asked for still more edits before sending the book to the line editor.
By the time the 138-page book was released in mid-August in both e-book and soft-cover editions, it had reverted to its original title, "Still Alive."
“Someone else had published another e-book with the name 'Among the Living,' and it got poor reviews,” she said. “The publisher didn’t want my book associated with it since it was an apocalypse book, too.”
Harwood said a sequel is a possibility.
"If there’s a sequel, it will have different characters," she said.
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 superintendent of Bellevue, Neb., public schools and her mother is a former high school English teacher.
Even before she receives any royalties, Harwood's gotten a few perks. Her brother, Zach, who’s five years older, gave her a zombie survival kit last Christmas.
“It had gummy vitamins, 32 ounces of peroxide, bandages of every size, a 24 pack of water and a machete,” she said.