The 28-year-old writer known as Lauren Kate has just published her first two books. The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove (Razorbill), is about a Texas high school queen bee. Fallen (Delacorte), is the first in a four-book series about two star-crossed lovers—one of whom is a fallen angel. She also learned that Disney has optioned the movie rights to Fallen. And she moved into a new house with her new husband—and changed her last name, from Velevis to Morphew. (Her children's book nom de plume will remain Lauren Kate—her first and middle names.) Phew!
She's come a long way since last summer, when she picked up her master's degree in creative writing from the University of California at Davis. (She also holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing, along with French literature, from Emory University.) Kate thinks that people in creative writing programs consider themselves a bit too “highbrow” for what she writes. “Nobody knew how to workshop my smutty teen romances!”
To go to grad school, she left her job as an associate editor at HarperCollins Children's Books. There she worked with editorial director Michael Stearns (now her agent) on Julianna Baggott's N.E. Bode books and Derek Landy's Skulduggery Pleasant. She also worked with editorial director Tara Weikum on Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson books and on Louise Erdrich's The Game of Silence. At auction, she bought David Hernandez's Suckerpunch.
While at HarperCollins, she learned the value of revision, she says. She sold The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove to Lexa Hillyer, a friend she calls a “character-driven” editor, at Razorbill. (She wrote the manuscript with Hillyer in mind and sold it without using an agent.) With Stearns she landed her Fallen deal with Delacorte editor Wendy Loggia. She makes changes with Stearns, a “brilliant editor,” she says. Then she goes to Loggia for the next round. “Many of the revisions have to do with how the arc of the four-book series is going to go,” she says. She also listens to her husband, Jason, a singer/songwriter who is getting his Ph.D. in English literature from UCLA. “He'll sit around and talk to me about the characters like they're friends of ours,” she says.
Kate grew up in Plano, Tex., where her father read Roald Dahl to her and her older brother. Her favorite: Matilda; she also loved Lois Lowry's The Giver. As a teen, she liked Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear. “That's where I got my trashy romance side,” she says.
Each day she sits at her desk, facing Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, and types on her laptop for five or six hours straight. “Once I get into it, I don't like to break the flow,” she says. When she is finished, she heads to the stove, where she spends an hour or two cooking dinner. “That sort of unwinds me,” she says.
For now, Kate is writing the next three Fallen titles: Torment, pubbing in October 2010, then a prequel about the past lives of main characters Luce and Daniel in April 2011, and the conclusion in December 2011. She has just finished Torment and will do revisions next month, after a brief break visiting family in Texas and Arkansas.
After she finishes the Fallen series, she plans to tackle some of her other ideas—kept in a file on her cellphone and in a little red notebook. At some point, she says she would like to try a more “comedic” book.
What's the best part of getting published? “The biggest thrill is that I get to come out from behind my computer,” Kate says. “The biggest payoff is doing a reading at a bookstore and getting to talk to these really excited teen girls afterward.”