The Compound was not the first young adult book Stephanie Bodeen wrote. In fact it was her 10th. But although she had published picture books before, she had yet to sell a YA novel. In fact, Bodeen had pretty much decided to quit trying after her agent returned a box of manuscripts to her, telling her they were unsaleable. But then she made another decision. “I decided I'm either a writer or I'm not a writer, so I signed up for National Novel Writing Month and on November 1, I started a young adult novel,” she recalls.

Of course, coming up with an original idea is not all that easy, even for a published author with an MFA. “People like to do edgy stuff in YA and everything's been done, anorexia and meth addiction,” she says. “It's like, well, where haven't we gone?” Cannibalism came to mind after seeing a television program in which a dinosaur fed a favorite offspring the bodies of its less fortunate brothers and sisters. The idea for The Compound (Feiwel and Friends)—the grisly story of a family trying to survive underground after an alleged nuclear attack—began to gel.

She credits her agent and editor for helping her fill out her story. Scott Mendel of Mendel Media—whom Bodeen originally met through a Web site for Peace Corps writers—encouraged her to do a complete overhaul of the book, throwing out everything but the idea and most of the characters. Later, Feiwel and Friends editor Liz Szabla provided plenty of hands-on help. “I don't work well with the big picture,” Bodeen says, “so I think if I had just gotten this big letter about what was wrong with the book and what needed to be done, I would have just been paralyzed. But Liz would go through and comment on every page, and ask questions that would just get my mind going so I could go deeper.” The revision process was tough—and time-consuming—but worth it, says Bodeen. “I was amazed at how much better it got.”

For Bodeen, the payoff goes beyond the thrill of publication. The Compound has been nominated as an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and a teacher recently told her that her students—even the non-bookworms—were devouring the book. “That to me is what it's all about,” she says—“to get somebody who doesn't like to read to realize they can enjoy a book.”

Beyond school visits, speaking at conferences and teaching Gotham Writers' Workshops, Bodeen is hard at work on her writing. Next up is The Gardener, which is also a thriller, but “maybe a little more sci-fi” than The Compound. The book will likely come out in fall 2009 or spring 2010. And will she be returning to the cliffhanger she left at the end of The Compound? “There is talk of it,” she says, adding that her young readers always tell her they are sure the maniacal father is still alive. “We'll see what happens.”