By his own admission, 14-year-old Kody James Connick is not much of a student.
But this past winter, while home sick, he watched an Animal Planet documentary on dogfighting and Michael Vick. Kody discovered a fire within.
A fire that compelled the Mickle Middle School eighth-grader to start writing about dogs, dogfighting and being a wayward kid.
"The words just poured out," Kody said.
"The first day, I had 20 pages."
He showed his work to friend and author Tom Frye ("Scratchin' on the Eight Ball"), who encouraged him to keep writing.
The result is "Wild Hearts," a newly published paperback book that tells the story of a dogfighting pit bull and a juvenile delinquent who change each other's lives. The book is written in first person from the perspective of King, a fighting pit bull, and Charlie, a teenage boy who breaks into a house to steal valuables and ends up stealing the homeowner's pit bull puppy.
The story is not autobiographical, but it draws on some of Kody's life experiences. He knows people involved in dogfighting. He knows dogs who have been rescued from the blood sport. And like Charlie, the book's main human character, Kody has had his share of troubles.
"Last year I was selling drugs," Kody said. "Now I'm selling books."
It's a big change for a kid who has long felt "invisible."
He says he can relate to what pit bulls must feel.
"People stare at me like I'm different. People stare at pit bulls like all pit bulls are mean.
"I thought by writing this book I could change people's perspectives on dogs - pit bulls," he said.
What he's learning is that "Wild Hearts" is also changing people's perspective of him.
"I'm not the best in school," Kody said. "I get into trouble a lot. And I fall asleep in math class."
So when he mentioned to his teachers that he had an appointment to sell his new book, they were skeptical. There were meant-to-be- funny but harsh comments about his ability to stay awake long enough to write a book and about his ability to read, let alone write a book.
Kody shrugs it off.
He's passionate about dog-fighting, and his book is one way to help put an end to it.
Math, science, social studies, English - those he's not so passionate about.
So he gave a copy of "Wild Hearts" to his teacher.
"She read it and got teared up and said she couldn't read anymore," Kody said.
And that was just the first chapter.
Another teacher bought three copies of the book and is helping as a proofreader.
He's already sold out the first printing and is almost sold out of the second. A third printing is planned.
He's donated several copies of "Wild Hearts" to the libraries and dog rescue groups. He even mailed a copy to Cesar Millan - "The Dog Whisperer" - but has yet to receive a response.
He participates in book signings on weekends.
And he's toying around with ideas for another book.
"I think it would be fun to be writer," he said. "I like the idea of being alive after you're dead. A book is something to hang on to and remember you by."
Reach Erin Andersen at 402-473-7217 or email@example.com.
Chapter One is available here: http://www.tomfrye.org/books/wild-hearts/