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How I Became a Young Adult Novelist, by Stewart Lewis (guest post)

teen girl reading a novel

I never set out to be a Young Adult author. Still, I am thankful for it, as it’s become my most successful venture in life so far. First I thought I was going to be an actor, but after a stint on a soap opera and a small part in a play that was so bad people were falling asleep in the audience, I knew it wasn’t my thing. So I started writing songs, and put out some records, and got to open for some of my heroes (Ani Difranco gave me a sip of her Latte, Sheryl Crow poured me some wine). All that time, I never wrote anything longer than a song. But I still had a book of short stories by Raymond Carver I always carried with me and, one day on a plane, I wrote my own short story. The people I showed it to loved it, so I decided to get my Masters in writing, as a back up plan in case I didn’t become a full blown rock star – good logic, right? Sure enough, two months after getting my degree, my first adult novel, Rockstarlet was sold. As I was writing my second adult novel, Relative Stranger, I desperately wanted an agent. A finally had the interest of a good one, from a great agency. He helped me with the book, but never signed me. I was crushed, but moved forward and sold the novel myself. But I remembered something the agent told me. He felt that I had really nailed the voice of the teenage girl in the novel. So it came to me after reading about the growth of teen literature in publishing in the Times. I should switch to Young Adult.

The idea for the character of Luna in You Have Seven Messages came from hanging out with the niece of a friend of mine, Emma, who was thirteen at the time. One day when we were all driving in the car, my friend noticed Emma’s cell phone had nail polish on it. She said to her niece, “I did that to my phone too!”

Emma said, “I was eleven, what’s your excuse?”

We all laughed and continued on our journey, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, she is a character in a book. Luna is not a carbon copy of Emma, but she was definitely the spark that ignited the flame.

Over the next year, I wrote You Have Seven Messages in my bed, on the couch, at the kitchen table, on the floor, on planes, by a pool, and mostly in a small cottage on the beach in the middle of winter. It was a lot of work, but I don’t really consider it work. Writing is just something I love to do.

I sent it to the same agent, and he was thrilled. He signed me right away. He wrote this amazing letter about it to send to publishers with the manuscript. It sold pretty quickly, and the next thing you know it was on the “tough stuff” table in Barnes & Noble stores nationwide, next to titles like The Fault In Our Stars and Thirteen Reasons Why. I had to pinch myself. You Have Seven Messages has since been translated into five languages. My next young adult novel, The Secret Ingredient, comes out in May 2013.

People always ask me, “How do you write a book?” The truth is I really don’t know, it’s something that just comes out of me. Sometimes I jokingly say there’s a teenage girl inside of every gay man, but it’s more than that. It’s about making connections. About remembering something an agent said as he rejected you, taking a comment from your friend’s niece and treating it as a small seed. It’s about living life to the fullest, traveling, reading, doing unexpected things, experiencing as much as possible. Being open. As I write, those connections are like a network of electric atoms in my subconscious, coming to life in something a character does, or how a scene unfolds. It sounds esoteric, but it’s the only way I can explain it. Connections.


Stewart Lewis author site:

You Have Seven MessagesThe Fault in Our StarsTh1rteen R3asons WhyWill You Please be Quiet, Please?: StoriesAmerican Short Story Masterpieces

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