LAND O'LAKES — High School freshman Leigh Kenyon grins with anticipation the moment she steps through the doors of the library at Land O'Lakes High.
"I can't help myself!" said the Dade City resident. "I read so many books."
She has also written a couple.
The Land O'Lakes High School Library features the Young Adult title The Zebra Riders, a book Leigh wrote and published while attending Centennial Middle School.
"I started the book in the fifth grade, finished it in the sixth and published it in the seventh," said Leigh, an International Baccalaureate student at Land O'Lakes.
The Zebra Riders, a 174-page adventure story about a girl who trains zebras for cross country and show jumping, has a 5-star rating on Amazon. In May, Leigh showcased the title at a book signing at Barnes and Noble at The Shops at Wiregrass.
Now she has completed work on her second book, a Young Adult fantasy horror work titled The Essence of Fear.
"I think I started writing as soon as I learned the alphabet," she says with a chuckle. "I've always loved to write. Writing gives me a chance to control and build my own worlds. I could bend the laws of nature."
It was a challenge from father Steve Kenyon that finally inspired Leigh to publish her own book.
"I was working on so many stories and I wanted to get my work out there," she said. "My dad said that if I could finish a story, we could self-publish it."
Inspired by her love for adventure stories and strong heroines in literature, Leigh chose The Zebra Riders to become her first published book. She designed the cover herself. Her father, meanwhile, sent the book out for professional editing and researched options for independent publishing. He chose Amazon Digital Services and CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, which published The Zebra Riders in 2012.
Leigh is among a growing group of young local authors writing and publishing their own books. Port Richey's Chelsea DeVries published her first novel Dream Girl, while a junior at Gulf High School. She has since published a sequel, Jessica's Choice; both books are available through Amazon and Outskirts Press. And USF student Jessica Dorsey was a Land O'Lakes High student when she wrote and published her book Hell on Earth (and Other Supernatural Events), published and sold through Amazon.
"Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP, for digital books) and CreateSpace (for print books) allow authors of any age to publish their books in just a few simple steps, for free," said Laura Liebeck of Grand Communications, and a PR representative for Amazon's CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing.
Liebeck sites 9-year-old Florida resident Makenzie Lawrey, author of the charity children's book Mighty Mito Superhero, among Amazon CreateSpace/Kindle's most successful young authors. Novelist Stephanie Morrill, administrator of the Go Teen Writers website and Facebook group, says that of the 620 teen authors involved nationwide in Go Teen Writers, about 25 have self-published books.
Leigh plans to submit both The Zebra Riders and The Essence of Fear for consideration to traditional publishers. Eventually she would like to become a novelist who — much like her literary inspirations Stephen King and J.K. Rowling — specializes in the genres of horror, fantasy and adventure.
In the eyes of Karen Ward, vice principal of Centennial Middle School, she will succeed.
"Leigh is an incredible, talented young lady," she said. "She's an incredible inspiration to other students. She'll be famous one day."