published Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

First novel in Chattanooga teen's three-book series out in August

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    Drew Lorenzo, who will be a junior in the writing program at the Center for Creative Arts, just signed a three-book publishing deal.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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DREW LORENZO

School: Rising 11th-grader at Center for Creative Arts (writing major).

Sibling: Sister, Eryn, 11.

Favorite author: John Green.

Favorite books: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Favorite band: Breaking Benjamin.

When she was 8, Charlotte Todd had a breakdown after being told she was too old to have an imaginary friend. Her story became the stuff of legend, and the ridicule made her a social pariah all the way through high school, where her only friend is an equally outcast albino named Moody Johnston.

But as Charlotte, now 17, soon discovers, imaginary friends aren't always what -- or who -- they appear to be.

So begins "Imaginary," an upcoming novel by Drew Lorenzo, a 16-year-old author and student at Center for Creative Arts. Her book will be published in August under the pseudonym Poppy Jackson by New Orleans-based W2G Publishing.

Petite, with white streaks in her dark hair -- a fading remnant of once-purple highlights -- Drew is unfazed at passing a milestone many writers strive unsuccessfully toward for years.

"Personally, I don't think [being published] is going to make much of a difference. Everything will be basically the same ... except that I'll have a book," she said, grinning.

"I have very close friends, and I don't think they'll treat me differently."

Her mother, Caroline Lorenzo, thinks otherwise.

Based on the exuberant response "Imaginary" received from the editorial team at W2G, Lorenzo said her daughter is likely to receive a healthy amount of attention when the book is released.

"Her writing is just unbelievable for a teenager," Lorenzo said. "The people who read it were supposed to be unbiased, and in one case, we had a 40-year-old man who read it and said, 'I was hooked after 10 pages.'"

Growing up, Lorenzo said, Drew was rarely seen without a book in her hand, but her daughter's skill at writing fiction was off her radar for years.

Proofreading a few well-crafted school papers was one thing, but it wasn't until Drew, then 13, handed Lorenzo the first draft of "Imaginary" that she said she realized her daughter's potential.

"I was completely amazed," she said. "I couldn't believe anyone 13 could sit down and write so much detail about characters who didn't exist in a surrounding that was well-detailed. It was remarkable to me."

While many teens balk at tackling papers longer than a couple of pages, Drew said she revels in the opportunity novel writing affords her to build detailed worlds.

"I love being able to make a life that is more exciting than my own, being able to control it," she said, laughing. "I have a bit of a god complex, I suppose."

Over the course of just over 300 pages, "Imaginary" explores what might happen if a teenager living in Chattanooga were to be reunited with her beloved childhood imaginary friend. The novel is a romantic fantasy that Drew said falls closer to "Twilight" than "The Hunger Games" on the spectrum of young-adult fiction.

W2G CEO Gary Dauphin said "Imaginary" could very well place Drew alongside "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer and "The Hunger Games" author Suzanne Collins on the list of teen-fiction success stories.

"The maturity of the writing style and the skill level for such a young author is really intensely good," Dauphin said. "It had to be, because being a new author in today's environment is brutally impossible, from a business standpoint."

Dauphin said he initially was reluctant to consider publishing Drew's work. After dividing up the first draft Drew submitted among his staff, however, his opinion literally changed overnight.

"I had the luxury of reading the first and last chapter," he said. "After that evening, I was hooked and knew I wanted to move forward with this writer."

His staff returned similarly glowing praise of the book's all-important middle chapters, and so Dauphin approved something unheard of at W2G. He offered Drew a deal, not only for "Imaginary," but also two sequels -- "Rapture" and "Ethereal" -- sight unseen.

It's risky, he said, but he remains confident the public will have the same reaction to Charlotte's story as he did.

"[In some books,] you feel like an outsider looking in, whereas with Poppy's writing, you feel like you're in the room, in the scene, in the book, and you can relate to everything that's going on," Dauphin said.

"I think she's an amazing author, and no matter how this series does for her, she has a long and wonderful career ahead of her."

For her part, Drew is continuing to work on her books, undaunted by the fame others are sure is about to envelop her. She has finished the second book in the series and is working on the second sequel.

Drew said she never set out to change anyone's life with her series. Sometimes, she said, books should just be a great escape.

"I don't know if there's a life lesson or some big, powerful thing readers should take away from it," she said. "I just want them to enjoy it. If even one person does, I did my job."

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 17 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, email staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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