Temple alumnus Kalee Marshall won a creative writing scholarship in 2011 for his short story, “Roses of the Angel,” which he has since transformed into a young adult mystery novel that addresses bullying.
“Roses of the Angel” took Marshall less than a year to write, but was only recently published on June 10, just after he graduated from Temple, because Marshall struggled to find a literary agent and publisher.
“I did take the initiative to try to get a literary agent for two years,” Marshall said. “Then I decided not to go forward, because I just kept getting rejected.”
But then Marshall began exploring the alternative route of self-publishing.
“I said [to myself] ‘I’m going to find a way to fund [my book] and then publish it myself, [and] if no literary agents takes me seriously, then I’ll market it,’” Marshall said.
Marshall first submitted his short story for the Anne and Andrew Abel Creative Writing Scholarship to help pay for his tuition at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), where he was studying business administration.
When Marshall won, he paid off $1,000 of his tuition. But even with the contest over, Marshall didn’t stopped writing. And nine months later, just after beginning his first semester at Temple as an accounting major, Marshall finished his book.
Marshall sought out an editor on his own, enlisting the help of Barbara Heaney Kenyon, head of B-Heaney Editing Services.
“I like to think that the suggestions that I gave [Marshall] helped to make [“Roses of the Angel”] better,” Kenyon said. “But I thought he had a really strong novel to begin with.”
Kenyon said that publishers often reject strong manuscripts if they don’t come from a graduate of a fine arts writing program.
“There’s a joke among non-published writers… ‘you have to have an agent in order for a publisher to look at you, but you have to be published before an agent will look at your work,’” Kenyon said.
Marshall self-published “Roses of the Angel” through Lulu.com, where the book is now available in paperback and e-book, as well as everywhere from Amazon.com to Barnes and Noble stores for $15.
The book itself costs $13.50 to produce and distribute however, leaving Marshall with minimal profit. Fortunately Marshall’s main concern isn’t profits, he said.
“I really wrote this book to send a message about bullying,” Marshall said.
As the victim of a bullying situation during middle school, which resulted in homeschooling for the duration of high school, Marshall hopes to help those in similar situations through his novel.
In the story, Genevieve “Eve” Williams, a Philadelphia teen, searches for the secret admirer who saved her from an attempted robbery on Halloween night. Simultaneously, Eve’s friends individually grapple with issues surrounding peer pressure and bullying, such as resisting drug use and dealing with cyberbullies.
“[These] are issues that [students face] on a daily basis,” Kenyon said. “And if they can read characters that they can relate to, they can be more receptive to new ways of handling things.”
Marshall’s former English professor Eileen Abrams from CCP said the characters of “Roses of the Angel” are relatable for teens as well.
“One thing I think is really wonderful about [“Roses of the Angel”] is the characters … seem authentic,” Abrams said. “They’re city kids and they get into some of the problems city kids get into, but it’s not gritty.”
The urban setting and anti-bullying subplot of “Roses of the Angel” have attracted the attention of The School District of Philadelphia. The book is currently being considered for use in Philadelphia public high schools.
Abrams is also considering the use of “Roses of the Angel” for her classes.
“I definitely want to introduce it to my students,” Abrams said. “Whether it’s through a set of formal assignments or just ‘here’s a book about young people and urban life that might interest you.’”