When Middletown High School wrestler John Grasis set out to complete a seventh-grade language arts writing assignment, he never dreamed his story would be so scary, and so successful, that it would soon morph into a popular book that has wowed critics and is earning him a little extra cash.
Kirkus Indie, a division of the highly regarded publishing industry that focuses on the burgeoning self-publishing phenomenon whose reviews influence bookstore buyers, librarians, publishers and film executives, called the 14-year-old high school freshman's "The Zombie Notebooks," "irresistible ... an excellent offbeat start to a gory new series."
"This book started off as a Woodrow Wilson Middle School English scary story project and grew from there," Grasis said. "I got inspired to continue when my teacher gave me a perfect score on the writing portion of it. It took about a year and a half to completely finish writing it."
The plot centers around teenage brothers Luke and Cody who find themselves in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, desperately trying to find their mother. Joined by Luke's best friend and his sister, these four young people take a courageous journey that
His mother, Kris Duffy, who has loved reading and writing since she was a child and has penned articles for Yahoo contributor, is co-author of the self-published book. Turns out, Grasis and his mother had enough material that three more Zombie books are in the works.
When Woodrow Wilson seventh-grade English teacher Mr. Proulx assigned students a scary story project, Grasis said, he was watching "The Walking Dead" and in a zombie state of mind.
"I thought — oh, zombies — so I wrote a story based on me and my older brother. Some parts of the story are true, my brother is a pain (but also cool) and we both wrestle. The setting is based on Middletown (see if you can recognize the street). I love scary stuff but I also like to be funny, so the book has a lot of humor."
The humor derives from Grasis' and Duffy's sardonic writing style, such as this excerpt: “Even from this distance I could tell the [zombies] had a variety of bite marks, ripped skin, and blood all over them. That can’t be sanitary.”
Turns out, coming up with imaginative characters and a compelling plot wasn't even the most difficult part of creating this series.
"The hardest part was revision, because you do not want your book to be out in the world and realize that there is a mistake in it," Grasis said. "I must have looked over this story about a hundred times."
And although he may suffer the woes of any author, Grasis still finds time to let off steam just like a typical teenager. "In my free time, I like to write, scuba dive, wrestle and play outside."
Perhaps his biggest fan is his mother. "When John came and asked me if I would help him write his novel, I had no idea the journey we would embark on. I am so glad my son invited me along," Duffy said.
Up next is "The Zombie Notebooks: Cody's Story," slated to be published in February and "The Zombie Notebooks: Zombie Attack," the series prequel that introduces police officers trying to rescue their own families and as many civilians as possible, which mother and son hope to complete by September.