Webster alumna publishes viral novel


Once former journalist and Webster Alumna Michelle Oyola logs on to Wattpad as Shelly X. Leonn, she writes paranormal fiction about traumatized teenagers exploring the abandoned corners of St. Louis.

Leonn’s most successful story amassed over 200,000 reads on the writing sharing platform Wattpad.  Leonn planned this as the first of a trilogy called the “Broken” series. 

 “On a whim, I put it up on Wattpad and it went viral,” Leonn said. 

Leonn’s “Broken” series follows Penelope, a student reporter who struggles to find her identity after a childhood of tragedy. Penelope chases a story about a gang of urban explorer teens who call themselves “The Broken.”

Michelle Oyola explains the plot to her new novel “The Ghost and the Wolf”. Photo by Madyson Dixon.

“In the first book, there is this element of them being pretty self-centered. They are calling themselves ‘The Broken’ and traveling into these illegal locations,” Leonn said. “They throw around some philosophy, but it all blows up in their faces.”

Leonn worked at The Missourian newspaper in Washington, Mo. While on staff, she said she took stories about local paranormal investigators, which inspired other characters.

In Leonn’s novel, Penelope crosses paths with a paranormal investigator who is also interested in the activities of The Broken. Soon, they both get tangled in the drama of the gang and watch it slowly collapse from within. 

While working at The Missourian, Leonn wanted other teens to be able to express themselves through writing. She said she ran a page where teens could take workshops and get their stories printed.

“I realized that I’m in the wrong profession. I actually love teaching,” Leonn said. “And so that’s when I applied for Teach for America and I’ve been in education ever since.”

Leonn now works at the Grand Center Arts Academy by Powell Hall. She said she teaches middle school language arts, and worked in charter schools her entire educational career. “The Broken” are based on some of her students, she said. 

“I’ve always gravitated to the kids who feel like they’re on the fringes,” Leonn said. “These are the kids who’ve been pushed out, marginalized, left on the side, and they come together to compete against each other to catalog these abandoned buildings.”

Leonn said her story was also a way to process some of her experiences. She said anxiety and childhood trauma were two strong factors what she wrote. She developed a habit of writing large amounts everyday after getting her doctorate in education from Missouri Baptist University. 

Leonn’s story was found by the Metamorphosis literary agency and she is represented by Stephanie Hanson. 

Hanson said the work had stood out against the many submissions they get every day.

“The writing was so creative I had dreams about different scenes in her book,” Hanson said. “I thought this is really something.”

Hanson said she was originally attracted to the large numbers of readers that her story had attracted and checked all the boxes for a good young adult novel. Hanson got the novel to be published by Owl Hollow Press. 

Leonn said she is happy that she has received recognition in her writing. However, she tries not pressure herself into turning her casual writing into hard work. 

“I try not to worry about the numbers because I lose the creative spark,” Leonn said. “That’s not why I’m doing this. I’m desperately holding onto it being fun still.”

Novel Neighbor and Subterranean books will sell Leonn’s young adult novel “The Ghost and the Wolf” Sept. 24. The book is currently available on Amazon for


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