Teen author enjoys success of 'Popular' book - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Teen author enjoys success of 'Popular' book

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Maya Van Wagenen drew inspiration and humor from a 1950's book on adolesence, lived out parts of it and turned the experience into a best seller of her own.

At age 13, she kept a journal as she read Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide. She drew some fashion tips from its suggestions, but she also adopted its themes toward friendships, interests and being herself through a perilous period of life.

"My father bought the book at a thrift store years before I was born," she said. "Then we found it cleaning up, and my mother thought I should read it."

She didn't immediately warm to the idea.

"At first I thought this was a terrible idea, because I'd always struggled socially and I didn't think there was anything that could help me improve my social status. And I figured following the advise, which would be outdated, would only make things worse," she added.

When she finished the book and the journal she wrote from it, she let family members read it. Her uncle sent it to a writer friend and that friend sent it to his agent. That agent contacted her to show interest. From there, she signed a two-book deal with Penguin. 

Her debut book, "Popular" has made several best seller lists. She's been on a promotion tour to New York and London.

"The best part has been meeting the wonderful people that I've had the opportunity to meet and to interact with readers," she said.

For the high school student, the challenge remains the balance between writing (and editing and promoting) and the ordinary aspects of high school life - especially final exams.

"A lot of my friends couldn't care less," she said with a laugh. "Which is refreshing a lot of times and, at the same time, incredibly supportive."

She's currently exploring topics for her second book, which she said will be a novel, and awaiting word on a screenplay from 'Popular' ( Dreamworks Studios already has the option for any movive). Occassionally, the whole thing still surprises her.

"It was just something to help me get through this difficult experiment. It was just a way for me to report what I learned. Seeing that other people related to it was very impressive."

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