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F&M Student Author Balances Academics and Writing

Everything about Kelseyleigh Reber '16 is literary. Her bedroom is also her library. Her young mastiff is named Gatsby. And this summer, she released her first novel, "If I Fall," a paranormal fantasy set in Edwardian England.

"Ever since I could read I've been writing and making up stories," said Reber, who this fall is starting her sophomore year at Franklin & Marshall College.

"If I Fall" is the first in a trilogy called "The Circle & Cross" series, about the power struggle between good and evil supernatural forces. She initially self-published "If I Fall" in 2011, before Aperture Press, an independent publisher in Reading, Pa., picked up the title.

"Kelseyleigh has put a clever new spin on the young adult fantasy fiction genre," said Sharon Wells Wagner, Aperture's vice president. "She is very much like her female protagonist. Both women are smart, capable and clever."

  • Kelseyleigh Reber
  • The first steps of a rising author. Kelseyleigh Reber '16 is well into her second novel, and this fall the biological foundations of behavior major will tutor at F&M's Writing Center. (Photo by Eric Forberger)

The opening chapter of "If I Fall" sets the dramatic tone of the story: "Frothy waves claw at the shore, reaching for the unattainable, reaching for me . . . Ferocious wind and powerless sand dance a waltz around my ankles, stinging my legs."

Reber is about two-thirds finished with the second novel in the series, but trying to maintain her academics and write has its challenges.

"I think it's all about prioritizing," she said, noting that on some Saturday nights, "I just enjoy staying home and banging out a chapter."

While she may be a 19-year-old novelist, her intention is to major in biological foundations of behavior.

"I want to do animal behavior and marine biology, and writing on the side," Reber said one July afternoon after finishing work at F&M's biology facility. "That's the plan."

Reber finished "If I Fall" just before starting her senior year at Wilson High School near Reading, hometown to another novelist, John Updike, whose work she is familiar with but hasn't read. Her favorite authors write in a different genre.

"J.K. Rowling was my biggest inspiration by far," she said of the author of the Harry Potter series. "I was absolutely amazed."

She also likes young adult writers Cassandra Clare of "The Mortal Instruments" series and Suzanne Collins of "The Hunger Games." Among authors of literary classics, she enjoys F. Scott Fitzgerald and his "The Great Gatsby."

Writing, Reber said, comes natural. Her mother, an avid reader, encouraged her and her two brothers to read and write, she said.

"She would always take us to the library when we were younger," Reber said. "I sort of fell in love with it from the get-go, though. I didn't need too much of a push."

  • if i fall cover front kelseyleigh reber

Her family has always been supportive of her writing. Her father always reads her works. "He suffered through many terribly written stories before I started to actually get good," she said.

Reber chose F&M because of the College's strong biology department and writing program, which allows her to pursue her two passions.

"The [Philadelphia Alumni] Writers House was a huge influence," Reber said of the College's literary performance space. This fall she will tutor at the Writing Center.

Reber said she approaches her novels with an outline of a general idea, then allows the characters to inhabit the pages, taking her on a journey.

"I'm not someone who will plan out every detail of the plot," she said. "It definitely takes its own path once I get started on it."

While writing may come naturally to her, Reber said her success requires discipline, frequent writing and constant reading.

"I think that's how you learn to write," she said. "Just staying at it and doing lots of reading."