Like the illustrious vehicle in Karen Romano Young's fresh and funny novel, the framework for The Beetle and Me (Greenwillow) had been around for awhile and just needed some tuning up. While in high school, Young had written and illustrated a picture book called The Blue Volkswagen, starring a boy named Daniel and his father, who traveled to another planet littered with broken down cars that needed fixing. The father-son pair will sound familiar to those who've read The Beetle and Me. The titular VW's color may have changed from blue to purple, the setting may be on this planet, and Daniel and his father may have moved from leading to supporting roles, but the author's love of the vintage Beetle remains constant.

Young had often thought about writing fiction, she says, but "no ideas came." She has kept a journal from the age of nine and has been supporting herself writing nonfiction for 20 years. Her first job after she was graduated from Syracuse University in 1981 was working at one of Scholastic's classroom magazines. Then one day while driving through Vermont, she noticed "an old Beetle hanging out of a barn." As she recalls it, "The car was as decrepit as the barn and seemed to be waiting for a kid to come along and fix it up."

Enter Daisy Pandolfi, the resourceful, independent, mechanically inclined heroine who rescues her purple costar in The Beetle and Me. If the supporting cast seems so real that readers feel they know these people, it may be because the characters of Daisy's car-crazy family are based on Young's own father, mother, aunt and uncle. And what of Billy Hatcher, the auto shop teacher's pet, who "roars past [Daisy] in his black Thunderbird" on page two and becomes Daisy's steadfast friend? Young says that her husband was the inspiration for Billy's character.

The author began writing The Beetle and Me in 1989, but with three children at home and no child care, the manuscript took four years to complete. When Young finally started sending the manuscript out in 1993, it was rejected by half a dozen publishers, some of whom kept it for two years. One house asked for three revisions, and by the time she'd completed the third draft, the editor had left the company. Finally, in August 1997, Greenwillow Books acquired the manuscript. Young says that editors Virginia Duncan and Susan Hirschman had a way of asking questions or stating problems so that she could figure out the solutions on her own: "They have a very nice way of letting the book always be mine."

Young describes writing fiction as a deep and joyful experience, very different from nonfiction writing. "With nonfiction, you have to be in the moment, collecting facts, organizing information, picking up pieces of paper," she says. "Fiction doesn't come from the desktop. Something comes from nowhere when I'm doing something else."

Young may have taken a while to start writing fiction, but she's certainly had a lot of experience reading it. From the time she first started to read, she said, she made the public library in Fairfield, Conn., into a "second home." By age 14, she was volunteering at the library shelving the new additions to the collection. This was in the early 1970s, so she was reading new works by S.E. Hinton, E.L. Konigsberg and Paul Zindel. She is also a fan of Louise Fitzhugh, Cynthia Voigt, Nancy Willard, Daniel Pinkwater and Madeleine L'Engle.

The positive attention she has received for The Beetle and Me has "astonished" her, says Young. "I used to cry in the shower, thinking, 'Is this ever going to be good enough to be published?' And now, to have the book starred [by PW], it's wonderful." Young describes her next book, Video, due out from Greenwillow this October, as being "very different, darker." The novel is told through the points of view of Eric and Janine, two kids who hate each other on sight. Their lives intertwine because of a science project, and when Janine witnesses a crime, Eric is the one who notices the changes in her. A third novel is in the works, tentatively titled Outside In.

And now for the burning question: What kind of car does the author drive? No, Young says she does not own a Volkswagen at the moment, but she recently noticed a vintage Beetle on sale in robin's-egg blue....