Julianne Zedalis has been teaching forensic science to teens throughout her career. Now that knowledge and experience is about to be published, and both young adult and adult readers are in for a mysterious treat!
It’s no secret that Ms. Zedalis is a fan of students, science and mystery novels, and you can soon enjoy the delightful combination of all these things in her upcoming book, “CS High,” a STEM-based, Young Adult (YA) murder mystery set at the fictional Pinehurst Academy. She says, “It’s been more than a labor of love and more than a decade in the writing.” Based on her experiences as a forensic science teacher not only at Bishop’s, but also at Albuquerque Academy, the story is what her publisher, Cedar Fort, under their Sweetwater imprint, describes as “clean teen” literature.
At Bishop’s, Julie teaches honors biology, AP biology, and three sections of a popular forensic science elective course titled “Bugs, Bullets & Blood: Forensic Science.” It’s such a popular class, lucky students are often admitted via lottery. For students in her class and readers of her book, “It’s science in action – solving mysteries. There are mini textbook lessons in the story,” says Julie. Readers can “live in the footsteps of the characters,” and just like her real-life students, discover how motive, means and opportunity drive the story and the lab work.
In class – even during a pandemic – “the lab experience is huge,” she notes. For remote learning, she found virtual labs that emulated the in-person lab experience, such as making homemade “blood,” with students staging a mock crime scene, as they might have done in room 110 in the Michael and Marlene Teitelman Science Center on campus. “Kids had to create a fake scene at home and film it. Some kids got their parents involved in the project. We managed to make it work!” she exclaims.
Julie has been teaching forensic science since before the well-known CBS network franchise series “CSI” hit the airwaves, first at Albuquerque Academy and at Bishop’s since 1998. So it just seems natural that she could weave an engaging story that students and adults could enjoy.
The main characters are three students who have nothing in common except they’re taking the same forensic science class and are “obsessed with the CSI shows.” They come upon a crime scene, and by the end of the book, “they’re a team. Each has their own backstory.” The characters are an amalgam of students she’s taught over the course of her career. Her “modern-day Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys” story employs some humor and irreverence to take readers through the techniques of forensics – learning science as they go.
And there are some goodies for teachers, too: she included “a lot of supplemental materials for teachers to use with the book” as they and their students read it together. Because her peers, like Julie, “are always looking for resources to keep things interesting.” One supplement at the end of the book appears as one of the main character’s handwritten “glossary of forensic science terms.”
The long journey from “could I write one of these” beloved mystery novels to the book landing on bookstore brick-and-mortar and virtual shelves on August 10, 2021 was an off-and-on process. It started with a night class she enrolled in at UC San Diego called “Writing the Mystery Novel” taught by Carolyn Wheat.
Julie recalls, “In 2008, I won a ribbon as best new author at the San Diego Writer’s Workshop and got an agent. Then the recession hit, and suddenly no one was publishing.” Instead, she got involved in working for the AP College Board which took up a significant amount of free time, and she set the manuscript aside for about six years.
Through San Diego Sisters-in-Crime, a read-and-critique group of local mystery writers, Julie was paired with another YA author. Despite some painfully honest critiques, a la “Julie, that sentence will never work,” and rejection from publishers along the way, the novel was never far from her heart. Once the pandemic hit, her daughter Kelly ’02 encouraged her to update the manuscript to include current technology and social media. On that front, she credits her students for giving her advice on how to incorporate them realistically into scenes.
She also shares how much support she’s had along the way from current and former colleagues, including the blurb on the book jacket from former teacher and cross-country coach Mary Fran Park and former basketball coach and athletic director Tom Tarantino, who helped her “get some of the scenes right.” She also mentions helpful conversations with English teacher Adam Davis, who recently saw his own multi-year journey to publication become reality.
“I was ready to self-publish when I found Cedar Fort,” she admits. But perhaps the most empowering experience she had in the process was connecting with UK illustrator Tom McGrath. She asserts, “He really captured the personalities of the three main characters when he designed the cover. It was the best money I ever spent, and the greatest moment I had in this process.”
What does she hope her YA readers will take away from the book? “I hope it inspires them to look at science as very engaging even if it’s hard. Science never lies, evidence doesn’t lie.” She hopes they’ll take her point that science is fun, and to be inspired to learn new things. “It’s fictional entertainment, but it is a murder mystery, so I hope it sparks their natural curiosity.”
Come August, “CS High” will be available at places like Barnes & Noble, Target and Amazon, and is now available for pre-order here
. A web page and Facebook page are in the works. Although Julie states, “I was never here to be the next JK Rowling,” she does intend to write a sequel. Perhaps one of these days, we’ll see her sitting in one of those big red chairs in the science center lobby outside room 110, signing copies of her book(s)!