While Kelly Coleman was enrolled in the master’s program at the University of Pittsburgh, one of her instructors mentored her in young adult literature.
The experience, she said, gave her a taste for the better examples of the genre, which stand out in marked contrast to books students in the high school English class she teaches often recommend.
"When I read some of my students’ suggestions, it makes me realize the big discrepancy between good, well-written and stereotypic young adult literature," said Ms. Coleman, 28, of Greenfield.
Tired of reading about one-dimensional, damsel-in-distress characters, she decided to write a young adult book of her own with "rounded, full and dynamic characters."
On July 25, Lodestone Books released her debut novel, "Holding On and Letting Go," a 200-page book that deals with a teenage girl’s experiences after the loss of her 10-year-old brother to cancer.
Prior to writing the book, Ms. Coleman said she’d experienced depression in her own life due, not to the loss of a loved one, but to a health issue.
"I knew depression was a real issue but never knew what it felt like until it hit," she said. "Fortunately, I was very lucky to have had a strong support system of friends and family. I ended up going to several counselors until I found one that I really liked, one I talked to about issues like depression that impacted my novel’s main character."
Emerson, the teen in the novel, moved with her parents, both of whom are doctors, to France to help forget their loss. Two years later, as a 16-year-old, she returned home to live in the family house with her older brother. Now a junior in high school, she has picked up the threads of her life. But she discovers that she, her home and her school are not the same.
Emerson has both good and bad qualities," Ms. Coleman said. "While she’s not perfect, she’s strong and smart. By the end of the narrative, she comes to terms with the fact that she can’t go back to being the same person she was before her brother’s death."
Ms. Coleman started to write the book in October 2012 and finished it just before Christmas that year.
She said she didn’t try to find a publisher initially because she was preoccupied with teaching, getting married and moving into a new home. Her husband, Zach Pozun, is a physical chemistry researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.
When the time came to seek a publisher, she sent out one submission each day. Fifteen queries later, she got a positive response from Lodestone, a smaller United Kingdom publishing house. In pre-sales alone, the author said, several hundred copies have sold, and she’s also gotten some early critical reviews from national bloggers.
"After reading the book, I thought Kelly did an excellent job, covers a lot of teen issues and has a very creative use of metaphors," her professor, Tim Oldakowski, said. "The book is well-crafted, emotional and has some very believable characters.’’
A second book, one the author said was incredibly easy to write, follows Emerson into her senior year in high school but is told through the perspective of two other characters from the first book.
"Having multiple perspectives creates fuller characters because the reader sees how different characters view the same situation," she said.
A third book in the series is about two-thirds finished, and the narrative is told through the perspective of five characters, which is making the writing go a lot slower.
"In the third book, the characters are older and the book gets edgier," she said.
One motivational force behind Ms. Coleman’s desire to write her books is that it’s important for her that teens read about realistic characters rather than stereotypes.
"In my teaching career, I’ve had the pleasure of having students who’ve gone on to Ivy League universities, prepared for the Olympics and gone on to national dance competitions," she said. "The idea that teens are lazy and just want to party just doesn’t apply to most of them."
Ms. Coleman will be signing her book at 1 p.m. Sept. 13 at The University Store, 4400 Fifth Ave. in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.