Zach Teal is just 17, but his love for books led him to write one of his own and to volunteer more than 250 hours at the Finksburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library.
"Two hundred and fifty hours is quite unusual for our teen volunteers," said Heather Owings, who was volunteer coordinator at the library and now works at the North Carroll branch.
Zach logged those hours over the course of three years, performing such tasks as making crafts for story times, signing in reading program participants, even wearing a mouse costume for a reading of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie."
The Finksburg teen said he volunteered because "I kind of liked being around the books."
Owings described Zach as "my go-to volunteer," with enthusiasm to spare. "He loves to wear the costumes and interact with the kids," she said. "You could put him with just about any age group."
Two years ago, Zach decided he would write a book. He announced his plans to his father, Michael Teal, who made a deal with his son: If Zach wrote the book, his dad would do what he could to get it published.
"I guess he called my bluff on that one," said Michael Teal, a retired Maryland Capitol Police officer.
Over the course of two summers in 2010 and 2011, Zach wrote a book "The Foreigners: The Arrival," a science-fiction adventure about four teens who are magically transported to a different time and place.
That book, the first in a planned trilogy, was published last October by Old Line Publishing and is now available for sale in both paperback and digital versions through Amazon and the Barnes & Noble website.
"He has written a very nice fantasy book," said Craig Schenning, the owner and principal of Old Line, which he founded in Hampstead six years ago. "It was just a good fantasy book, well-organized, lots of good characters."
Schenning said Old Line publishes about a book a week but receives about 20 manuscripts a week. While local writers are preferred, Zach was not a shoo-in for acceptance by the publishing house. He said Old Line's youngest author is 14 and the oldest are in their 90s. Zach, a junior at Westminster High School, is the publishing firm's second-youngest author.
"My friends always told me I was pretty creative and I should find a way to express myself," said Zach, the eldest of Michael and Barbara Teal's four children.
The four teens in his novel appear at first to be "normal everyday high school kids," said Zach. Then one finds a pendant that sends them to a different world where everybody has unusual powers. The story takes place in Roman times, and the teens are put in a coliseum and forced to fight. As they're fighting, Zach said, "they're slowly figuring out they have their own powers."
The idea came to him "spontaneously," he said, and the characters were created by exaggerating the qualities of people he knows.
"I just did it in intervals," Zach said. "When I got in the mood to write, it seemed to flow a lot better than when I forced myself to write."
When Zach finished the book, his father submitted it to several publishing companies, including Old Line. The manuscript came back with comments and suggestions from the editorial staff at Old Line.
"He actually took everything they said to heart and he went back to the drawing board," said Michael Teal. His son submitted the revised manuscript, and Old Line accepted it.
"That was a really good day," said Zach, who is working now on the second book in the trilogy. In February, he's planning to travel with four other Old Line authors to Roanoke, Va., for the MystiCon sci-fi, horror and fantasy convention.
"It's for people who are into the sci-fi and fantasy type of thing," Zach said. "My book tries to appeal to those readers. I'm thinking it's going to be pretty fun."