Charlotte Todd, a 17-year-old student at East Ridge High School, is going through a difficult time. Her mother and father are divorcing, and her only way to cope is by sneaking out at night to lie in the middle of the street staring at the stars. To make matters worse, she and her best friend, Moody, are social outcasts -- him, because he's an albino; her, because of a mental breakdown she suffered as a child after being told her imaginary friend, Benjamin, wasn't real. But recent events suggest Benjamin isn't as imaginary as everyone supposed, and he has returned burdened with a fierce passion and a dark secret.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
• Name: Drew Lorenzo.
• Pen name: Poppy Jackson.
• Age: 16.
• School: 11th-grader at Center for Creative Arts.
• Website: www.poppyjackson.com.
• Favorite author: John Green.
• Favorite band: Breaking Benjamin.
• Saturday: 1-3 p.m. at Northwest Georgia Bank -- North Shore, 319 Manufacturers Road.
• Oct. 20: 2-4 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Hamilton Place mall, 2100 Hamilton Place Boulevard.
BUY THE BOOK
Copies of "Imaginary" are available through a variety of online retailers, including as an ebook via Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com ($8) as well as in paperback ($12) from Lulu.com and Write2Grow.com.
Years after she wrote a story about a girl discovering that her imaginary friend was real, Drew Lorenzo is experiencing a case of life imitating art. At 16, the Center for Creative Arts junior has achieved something most aspiring authors dream of but never see come to fruition: She has been published.
Her debut novel, "Imaginary," was released earlier this month by New Orleans-based publishing house Write2Grow as part of a three-book deal, the first the firm has signed with an author of any age. The novel is the first entry in a trilogy about a young girl's relationship with a mysterious stranger who reappears in her life years after everyone convinced her he was a figment of her imagination.
Before her first book signing Saturday at Northwest Georgia Bank's North Shore branch, Drew answered questions about the experience of working with an editor, her kinship with her characters and her plans for the rest of the series.
Q: When did your first come up with the idea for "Imaginary?"
A: I start a lot of things and never finish them. Many pieces of the stories I would write came together and just formed a book somehow. It was a page here and a page there of things I'd written. I was 13 at the time. It took from August to September 2009 to write the first draft, but many of the stories it came from were written that summer.
Q: When did you realize "Imaginary" was a book, not another short story?
A: I don't think I made that distinction back then. I just knew that I finished something for once, and I figured I could expand on it. It was the longest thing I'd written; it still is. [Laughs.]
Q: What was the editing process like for you?
A: Mostly, it's hard for me to know someone is reading something I've written and telling me something should be changed. It makes me very self-conscious, very antsy.
Q: How many times did you revise the novel before it was printed?
A: In the double digits. I revised it a lot before anybody else had any say. I don't really think I put a number on it. I would just go back and think of something that was good that I should do or change and do that.
Q: How different was the final version from your first draft?
A: In the first draft, I had a lot more perspective from the other characters that I took out because I felt like [that information] could be revealed later in the story. I felt like changing perspectives too much in the first story would set a precedent, and I hadn't done it in the second book.
Q: You and Charlotte are both short teenagers attending school in Chattanooga. Are there any other characteristics you share with her?
A: Because she's written by me, she's a lot like me, I suppose, because it's things I would do in a situation. It's by default, I guess. [For example] she will go have a verbal fight with someone because she's angry. She seeks it out because she wants to work it out, but it doesn't work. That happens to me so often.
Q: The novel opens with Charlotte lying in the middle of her cul-de-sac looking at the stars. Have you done that?
A: I did, actually. I did that before I wrote the book and also during the process, just to see [what it was like] and to get in the zone. [Laughs.] Looking back now, it seems like a cheesy concept, maybe because I've written it so many times.
Q: Did you have an imaginary friend growing up?
A: I don't think I did, but I'm pretty sure my aunt told me that I had one named "Frank," which is reminiscent of [the film] "Donnie Darko." I'm not sure how I feel about that. I hope it wasn't the same kind of Frank. [Laughs.] That's one of my favorite movies.
Q: Charlotte's imaginary friend is named Benjamin. Where did that name come from?
A: Because I like this band named Breaking Benjamin. I like the name; it's a very nice name, because it's the lead singer's name. [Laughs.]
Q: If "Imaginary" were to be made into a movie, would you want a Breaking Benjamin song on the soundtrack?
A: Yes. "Evil Angel," because one of the lines in it is: "I'm a believer / Nothing could be worse / All these imaginary friends." It's actually a quote at the beginning of the book.
Q: Do you have people in your life who are like Charlotte's friend Moody or like Benjamin?
A: Yeah, I do. I guess Moody is a compilation of all my guy friends and a little bit of my friend Mystic as well -- all the best parts. Benjamin is more or less just like Moody.
Q: If, like Charlotte, you had to choose between a person like Benjamin or Moody, who would you choose?
A: It would definitely be Benjamin ... always. I hope I to meet a Benjamin someday.
Q: The majority of the novel takes place in Chattanooga. Why not set it somewhere more exotic?
A: Because I knew where everything was here, and it was very easy to write. If I set it in a place like Connecticut, I [wouldn't] know exactly how far away the grocery store is from my house or the school is from my house, and I would have to make that up. It was nice, at 13, to have it in the town I was living in. It was a convenience thing, more or less.
Q: After the book was printed earlier this month, what was it like to hold it in your hands?
A: It was kind of exciting. I did a photo shoot in early August where it was a really, really rough draft of the book, and it was cool. I was excited because it felt real, I guess, like it was actually happening when I saw it.
Q: Are you happy with the finished product?
A: I'm very happy with it. I feel like it's the best I could have done. There always something you wish you could go back and change, but I'm very happy with the completed product.
Q: How far along are you in the process of writing the rest of the trilogy?
A: I've already finished the second book. I finished that a year ago. I'm still working on the third one. I've barely started. [Laughs.] The plot is the hard part. I can get the little bitty pieces that will fit together, but as far as the huge plot of what I want to happen, it's not clicking as much, probably I don't have as much time because of school. I'm working on it, though.
Contact Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @Phillips CTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...