Though she just recently penned her first novel, Lucy Rose: Here's the Thing About Me (Delacorte), Katy Kelly is hardly a newcomer to writing. Remarking lightly that she's been a writer "for a million years," she notes that she has been a reporter for People and a feature writer for the Life section of USA Today, and is currently a senior editor at US News & World Report. And she comes from a family of writers: her mother, Marguerite Kelly, is the author of The Mother's Almanac and a syndicated column on family issues, and her father, Tom, wrote for the Washington Daily News.

She didn't have far to look for material to create her tale about Lucy Rose, a decidedly funny, feisty youngster. "I lifted a lot of Lucy Rose's life directly from my own, and then, of course, stirred it around," she explains. Like her young heroine, who has just moved to Washington, D.C., with her mother, Kelly grew up on Capitol Hill. Lucy Rose's grandmother writes an advice column, echoing Kelly's own mother's occupation ("She basically writes newspaper columns telling people how to get their kids to shape up," she says).

And Kelly's own children—two daughters, now 20 and 16—provided fuel for her plot as well. "There are definitely some things in the novel that came from my own family life," she says, "but there is a lot that isn't true in there, too." One humorous scenario in Lucy Rose describes a mad scramble to find the girl's class guinea pig after it escapes in her grandparents' spacious home, an incident reminiscent of Kelly's own family's search for their lost pet gerbil when it disappeared behind a wall.

The switch from reporting to writing fiction posed no problems for the author, who observes, "It was almost as though I was channeling Lucy Rose. This writing came more easily than anything I've ever done in my life, which makes me feel awfully lucky." Kelly also describes as "incredibly lucky" the rather serendipitous way her book landed at Delacorte, in the editorial hands of Beverly Horowitz, whom she praises as "the greatest editor in America. She knows so much about writing children's books and she kept me from making rookie mistakes." Kelly connected with Horowitz through a friend, Craig Wilson, a columnist for USA Today who has published with Random House. "I call him Lucy Rose's godfather," she notes.

Kids captivated by this outspoken, red-haired protagonist will be happy to learn that she is returning in a second novel, Lucy Rose: Big on Plans, due from Delacorte in June—and that Kelly has started working on a third caper. She tends to devote evenings to her novel writing. "My husband is art director for Nightline," she explains. "So I have a pocket of time at night. When my younger daughter goes off to do her homework, I go off and do mine. But it's not work for me, since I have so much fun with Lucy Rose. And writing each book is a very different experience. I learn something new with every go."