Someone had to write books, so why not me? Kat Zhang has grown that tiny realization from her childhood into a passion for writing and a book deal — and she’s still in college.
“I used to go online and read stories people posted,” said Zhang. “It felt closer to me than books, which can be distant. It showed me that these were real people, and I realized I could do that too.”
What’s Left of Me, Zhang’s first novel, is the first book in The Hybrid Chronicles, a young-adult trilogy being published by HarperCollins. Zhang’s debut novel comes out on Tuesday, kicking off a busy two weeks of promotional events and signings for the senior English major.
A self-proclaimed lover of reading, Zhang began writing when she was 12 years old. After writing her first novel early in high school as a part of National Novel Writing Month, a work she did not heavily pursue in terms of publishing, Zhang began writing her second novel during her senior year.
“I started querying, but it wasn’t as good as I wanted,” Zhang said of her first effort as an author. “I immediately started writing another [novel] after that. I wanted it to be better than my first one.”
She finished What’s Left of Me in the spring of her freshman year at Vanderbilt. After querying, a process that involved sending introductory letters with short plot summaries attached to agents, she signed with agent Emmanuelle Morgen of Stonesong Literary Agency, who put her in contact with HarperCollins. The entire trilogy sold when Zhang was only 19 years old and a sophomore at Vanderbilt.
“It was kind of hard to find time, but in college, you’re supposed to pull all-nighters,”
she said. “It’s something I enjoy doing so much. On one hand, it’s a job. You have to do it. You can’t say you won’t show up. It’s a cross between a responsibility and loving doing it.”
What’s Left of Me describes an alternate universe where humans are born with two souls, one of which usually fades away and disappears as a child grows up. For the children for which this doesn’t happen, called “hybrids,” the second souls become trapped in their bodies, repressed by the primary soul. The novel follows the struggle of one recessive soul, Eva, to hide and live in secret within the body of her dominant soul, with the child constantly at risk of being locked up by the government if she were to be discovered as a hybrid.
The inspiration for the plot came to Zhang from a narrative device commonly used in television shows and movies.
“You know when you’re watching TV and you hear the voice-overs that characters do?” Zhang said. “I thought to myself: ‘What if that voice was another person?’ That’s where the idea came along. The rest of the story just naturally built around that.”
Ahead of the release of her novel, a book trailer by MainStay Productions premiered on the website of Entertainment Weekly last week. The clip, which is just over a minute long, promotes the release of her book in the style of a theatrical trailer. MainStay Productions first caught Zhang’s attention with the video shorts they produced and released for The Hunger Games trilogy.
“When Harper Collins wanted to do a trailer, I asked them to get in contact with Mainstay Pro,” Zhang said. “I think it’d be really cool for a movie adaptation of the books eventually.”
Zhang expects to release the second novel of the trilogy in the fall of 2013. She just finished her first round of revisions and is excited for the eventual release of the next two books, but for now her thoughts are focused on Tuesday’s release.
It’s really exciting that people I don’t know will get to read it, it’s being sold in about 10 foreign countries,” she said. “It’s exciting to think it will get published in languages I don’t even speak and that people all over that I don’t know will be reading it. I really hope that when people read it they will connect with the story.”