Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing has acquired U.S. and audio rights to The Blessed, a trilogy by Tonya Hurley, author of ghostgirl and its two sequels. Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, negotiated the deal with Andy McNichol of William Morris Endeavor. The trilogy—a contemporary, supernatural romance that is a reimagining of the martyrdom legends of three saints—will be edited by executive editor Zareen Jaffery; the inaugural novel will be published in July 2012.

Hurley says that her inspiration for the trilogy grew out of her fascination with martyr stories. To create The Blessed, she drew from the legends of St. Lucy, St. Cecelia, and St. Agnes, who were martyred at a relatively young age. “The legends of these martyrs are among the first real YA stories that we have, and I thought it would be interesting to reimagine them in a modern, romantic context,” she says. “These are infamous tales that are so gruesome and so profoundly beautiful at the same time—and so empowering.”

The author views The Blessed, which centers on three teenage girls in Brooklyn who must determine who is good and who is evil in the battle for love and for their own souls, as a “natural next step” for her as a writer. “The story deals with some of the themes in ghostgirl, but it is grittier, more grown up, and probably more Quentin Tarantino-esque—which I’m very excited about.”

With impressive credits in non-print media—she has created, written, and produced two TV series, wrote and directed several independent films, and developed video and board games—Hurley was pleased when ghostgirl was optioned this week by Chernin Entertainment/20th Century Fox. “It certainly is gratifying,” she says. “We’ll see what happens, but I’m hoping to be able to work on it and continue the story in a different medium. For me, it’s all about storytelling and any way you can tell a story interests me.” Ironically, Hurley initially wrote the first ghostgirl novel as a filmscript, which first appeared on the Internet before she decided to reshape it into a novel.

Chanda explains that S&S acquired The Blessed, which was headed to auction, with a preemptive bid—and a speedy one. “I think this might be the fastest we’ve ever moved on anything,” he says. “We received the proposal and bought the book on the evening of that same day. It was like lightning. We all loved it and decided to go for it.”

The publisher, who expects that the first printing of the debut installment of The Blessedwill be in the 100,000 to 200,000-copy zone (“and that’s conservative”), was struck by the inventiveness of Hurley’s vision for The Blessed. “From the first sentence of Tonya’s proposal, this felt different and exciting,” Chanda says. “The story has a religious bent, and these are figures readers may have heard about, but it is told in a very different way. We publish a lot of high-end commercial fiction, but this trilogy doesn’t compete with anything else on our list. It’s very exciting to find something so entirely new.”