UIndy senior to publish debut YA novel

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Francesca Zappia’s Made You Up set for national release May 19

Author Francesca Zappia

Author Francesca Zappia

Hardly talking by age 3, Francesca Zappia was screened for autism.

“The teacher doing the testing said that I was the lowest-functioning child she had ever seen,” says Zappia, apparently just a late bloomer. Now she’s a Dean’s List senior at UIndy, graduating May 2 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, minoring in Mathematics.

If she seems distracted on commencement day, she might be thinking ahead to May 19, when her debut novel, a quirky and thoughtful teen mystery titled Made You Up, will be released nationally in 448-page hardcover by a subsidiary of big-league HarperCollins Publishers. The Greenwillow Books imprint specializes in Young Adult fiction, or YA, the genre popularized by such mega-selling writers as J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins and Indianapolis’ own John Green.

The national marketing push includes print and online advertising, a social media campaign and outreach to librarians and educators. And Zappia, a 22-year-old Franklin Central High School grad, already has deals for translations to be published in Germany, Brazil, Taiwan and several other nations. She will mark the launch date with a 7 p.m. reading and book-signing event at the Barnes & Noble in Greenwood Park Mall.

Already, Zappia and her book have been included in the Huffington Post’s “16 of the Most Anticipated YA Debuts Due Out in the First Half of 2015,” the Barnes & Noble Teen Blog’s “15 Most-Anticipated YA Debuts of 2015” and Pop Crush’s “15 Authors to Watch in 2015.”

This dizzying turn of events is just a milestone in a journey that began at age 8, when Zappia started reading Rowling’s Harry Potter series and realized that writing was a potential vocation. Soon her free time was consumed with writing stories and drawing pictures. By age 10, she was developing characters and themes that appear in her new book. At 15, she began hunting online for an agent.

“I remember when I got my first request for a manuscript,” says the daughter of Steve and Jeanne Zappia of Wanamaker. “I threw the letter at my mother; I was so frazzled and excited.”

She eventually gained the attention of New York-based agent Louise Fury, who agreed to represent her in their very first phone conversation. The manuscript that became Made You Up went through four rounds of editing before Fury began shopping it to publishers in late 2012. Zappia was stunned when she scored a two-book deal with Greenwillow, which happened to be the publisher of a personal favorite, “the book I read 50,000 times in third grade,” Robin McKinley’s Newbery Medal-winning YA fantasy novel The Hero and the Crown.

“I had a good half-hour freak-out about that,” says Zappia, known to friends as “Chessie.”

Made You Up cover - ZappiaMade You Up, which takes its title from a Sylvia Plath poem, is the tale of Alexandra Ridgemont, a smart, plucky teen trying to manage her mental illness and survive senior year in a new high school where strange things happen; and Miles Richter, the arrogant, mysterious valedictorian who may or may not eventually let his guard down and team up with Alex.

The Goodreads book review website (where Made You Up rates more than 4 out of 5 stars) summarizes the story like so: “The ultimate unreliable narrator, a schizophrenic teenage girl unable to tell the difference between reality and delusion, discovers — thanks to her Magic 8-Ball, her little sister, and a boy she thought was imaginary — that sometimes there really is someone out to get you.” Behind the book’s outlandish elements is a witty and sensitive look at adolescence and the human quest for identity and acceptance.

“It’s about accepting that it’s OK to ask for help,” Zappia says. “If you need help, there’s always somebody out there who will help you.”

Though she’s a big fan of other YA writers, she wanted to steer away from the dark, apocalyptic sci-fi and fantasy themes that have fueled the recent top-sellers. For one thing, she made sure her endearingly flawed heroine had a healthy sense of humor.

“They’re always thrillers or psychological horror, or the main character is jaded or just bitter, kind of hostile,” she says. “I didn’t want Alex to be like that.”

Zappia also wanted to craft a thoughtful portrayal of mental illness and its impact on a family. The book is informed by extensive research on paranoid schizophrenia, and the publisher even had a psychiatrist read the manuscript for accuracy.

Although her literary career was well underway when she arrived at UIndy, and she chose a different route for her academic major, Zappia has enjoyed the perspective and support she gained during her UIndy years, noting among others the creative writing and literature courses taught by adjunct faculty member Kitty Flowers.

“If you want to go to a school with smaller classes and professors who are there for you, definitely go to UIndy,” she says. “It’s just very comfortable. It’s very conducive to learning in general.”

Now Chessie Zappia’s undergrad career is coming to close, and yes, she will be keeping her eyes open for more conventional job opportunities upon graduation. On the other hand, well … she’s working on her next novel.

Trying to keep the details under wraps, she says only that it’s another youth fiction venture in a contemporary setting. She hopes the publisher will green-light it for national release. Thus, writing remains a top priority.

“I put on my noise-canceling headphones and just write for hours,” she says. “I was just made to tell stories.”

Release party
Zappia will read and discuss her new book at 7 p.m. May 19 at the Greenwood Park Mall location of Barnes & Noble.

Made You Up is available for pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers. Follow Francesca Zappia on Twitter and Instagram @ChessieZappia. More information at www.francescazappia.com.