Jake Ziemba, a red-haired, glasses-wearing, 27-year-old novelist, has been writing fiction for the majority of his life. It’s a passion of his that he is determined to follow through with, even as he struggles with two diseases—overcoming one, while battling with another.
A graduate of Herndon High School, he wrote for his school paper and took creative writing classes. During a year-and-a-half stint at Northern Virginia Community College he focused on creative writing, also attending a George Mason University fiction seminar on the weekends. He transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University, and while there he won the Undergraduate Fiction Award in spring 2011 for his story “The Proving Grounds.”
The diverse Herndon neighborhood where he resided influenced Ziemba’s second novel, “7th City,” which is due out in October. The book explores how people from various cultures struggle to work together in an urban environment. An indigenous aborigine tribe is absorbed into a global modern civilization, and three main characters struggle with acclimating to their new environment. The story takes place on a great land mass, back when all seven continents were pieced together, to form Pangea. The antagonist is the ancient technological city that consumes indigenous tribes, and the heroes of the story are in the last tribe that is about to be consumed.
This August, Ziemba has released the graphic novel “MT. OLYPHANT” with Christine Skelly, a fellow artist who illustrated the work. The story follows a mythology scholar who has a nervous breakdown and ends up waking in a mental hospital. The doctors give him shock-therapy and every few hours he sees the patients and staff members as figures from Greek mythology; the doctors appear as the twelve Olympian Gods. (The first issue is free on mtolyphant.com and there are eight issues total.)
Ziemba’s first novel is “The Yukon Glory,” a post-apocalyptic vampire tale, which was published in Sink/Swim Press by James Moffitt. While Ziemba was writing “The Yukon Glory,” at 17 years old he was diagnosed with PNH (paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria), a bone marrow failure disorder. PNH affects one out of 1.3 million people; the average life expectancy is six to eight years.
“When I was diagnosed, I was terminally ill and housebound for one year, that’s when I wrote most of “The Yukon Glory.” I had an experimental stem cell transplant at National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. My PNH has been cured for 7 years, but I developed Graft-versus-host disease, (a common complication that occurs from an allogeneic tissue transplant) which I still struggle with.” For every book that was sold of “The Yukon Glory” Ziemba contributed a dollar to the PNH Research and Support Foundation.
A humble and generous individual, he is definitely a novelist to keep an eye on. And for now, he writes, word by word, sentence by sentence, the ink spilling on the pages, his imagination at work for all to see.