Freshman computer science major Alyssa Lesho thinks life is not all that different from the spy missions she likes to write about.
“You have to figure out what you’re going to do,” she said. “You’ve got this ultimate goal and that’s to be successful, whatever your definition of successful is.”
Lesho accomplished one of her ultimate goals earlier this year when she self-published her first novel, “The Junior Intelligence Agency: Book 1” – the first book in a trilogy she has been writing since she was 14 years old.
The novel introduces readers to 16-year-old Special Agent Alex of the Junior Intelligence Agency, a government agency similar to the CIA that trains orphans to protect the children of diplomats. Alongside her best friend, Skylar, and her spy plane pilot, Blake, Alex embarks on a mission to discover why a wealthy scientist is orchestrating the bombing of submarines.
In order to create a fictional government agency that was both complex and believable, Lesho researched everything from military plane design to the perfect location for a JIA help center.
“A lot of the first book was just thinking about my characters and how they would react to certain things,” Lesho said. “But mostly it was about developing the agency as an organization that gives these kids a life and is something that is so great and so powerful and so inspiring that they are completely loyal to the agency no matter what.”
Lesho was inspired to start writing the JIA series after moving from a small private school to a larger public high school.
“I was meeting all these new people and all these new teachers that kept telling stories,” Lesho said. “I just thought, ‘There just has to be a way I can put all of these things together.’”
Influenced by authors Ayn Rand and John Green as well as various musical artists, Lesho started writing the first drafts of her novel during her freshman year at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Md. She finished the book during her sophomore year and then began two years of extensive editing and rewriting. Lesho’s parents and her creative writing teacher Jeffrey Deitchman reviewed her drafts and shared her book with friends and colleagues.
“Alyssa was just born a writer. That’s what she has to do and what she will do, and all I could do was help her with that,” Deitchman said. “I don’t think any teacher could have even stood in her way, let alone discourage her.”
Lesho’s mother, Kim Lesho, said while she recognized her daughter’s talent and motivation, she was still surprised by her success.
“I could not believe that she took the initiative,” Kim Lesho said. “She found the website, she sent it off to a couple of publishers first, and really was totally motivated to do this herself in the middle of AP classes and everything that a normal high school student goes through.”
Since publishing her book, Lesho said she has received fan mail from readers young and old asking if the Junior Intelligence Agency is real, what happens to the characters next and whether she’s a member of the JIA herself. Lesho said she is planning to participate in a book-signing event at the Olney Library in Maryland and is looking forward to seeing her first book on the shelves of her high school’s media center.
While self-publishing has allowed Lesho to have complete control over her book’s content, cover and price tag, the end product only made a limited profit. However, Lesho said she was never in it for the money.
“My goal was to be an author, officially, and that’s more rewarding than making $2.50 off a paperback,” she said.