Before Corey Ann Haydu was a writer, she was an actress, author’s assistant, playwright, and intern at a literary agency. It was at the agency, where her then-boss gave her copies of The Hunger Games, Little Brother, and Savvy, that her future as a YA author was cemented. Haydu she fell in love with the stories and, as she puts it, “I just gobbled it up. I had no idea how diverse YA literature is, or that there are authors like Laurie Halse Anderson and Patricia McCormick doing really edgy stuff. I got more and more excited about what was happening in YA. After I read those books I knew what I wanted to write.”

Haydu was a voracious reader from an early age, heavily influenced by books like The Bell Jar and Girl, Interrupted. As a teen, she struggled with anxiety, though she hid it well. When it came time to write what became her debut novel, OCD Love Story (Simon Pulse, July), her familiarity with anxiety played a hand in deciding her plot and premise. “I was fascinated by what I learned about OCD. The feelings it evokes are so similar to anxiety, even if the behaviors are different. It’s not perfect and it’s not easy, but I knew an OCD love story could be really beautiful.”

Haydu finds inspiration in the imperfect parts of life, the uneasy and real moments people often fight to conceal. “Everyone’s best self is great,” she says, “but I am way more interested in the bad feelings we have.” Haydu tapped into her own anxiety to connect with her story’s protagonist, Bea. While she doesn’t have much in common with Bea on the OCD side—she doesn’t suffer from checking compulsions or have a proclivity to stalk strangers and obsess over their safety—Haydu is familiar with Bea’s driving phobia, and hasn’t driven a car in a decade. “I took my fear and played with it. I re-sculpted it and re-imagined it as something different,” she says.

The story she was able to sculpt quickly generated strong buzz and glowing reviews. “It’s so surreal,” says Haydu on the positive reader and critic response. “OCD Love Story wasn’t a huge book, so I didn’t anticipate getting such a strong critical response. You put so much work into writing a book, and to get recognition for it is shocking and exciting.”

Five years ago Haydu wrote her first book, an adult novel she calls a “total disaster but a lot of fun” before penning her second book while pursuing graduate studies at the New School. Her query for that second book caught the interest of literary agent Victoria Marini. “I met Victoria at the end of my first year of grad school, and she was interested in a book that wasn’t really cooking,” says Haydu. “She asked if I had something else, and luckily I had been continuing to write during the whole query process, and had 100 pages of OCD. They were crazy first pages, but she read them and said yes, this is it—this is the book. I finished writing it and we sold it the second year of grad school.”

While the publishing process proved more complex than Haydu initially assumed, particularly the number of people who are involved, one of the most rewarding aspects has been working with her agent and editor. Marini sold OCD Love Story to Anica Rissi, and both agent and author knew she was the right editor from the beginning. “It’s really a sort of magical relationship,” Haydu says. “I trust her with anything I show her. She presents the problem in the story and I figure how to solve them.”

Up next, Haydu plans to help others strengthen their writing when she teaches a Mediabistro class in January on young adult novel writing. Her next novel, Life by Committee (HarperCollins/Tegen), will be out in summer 2014, and is about a girl who joins an online society where she trades secrets for assignments. As Haydu says, “Writing for children is where I am meant to be.”