Lizabeth Zindel grew up in a literary family that included father Paul Zindel, a former high school chemistry teacher who became a Pulitzer Prize—winning playwright and young adult author.

Lizabeth was not even born when her father's first play, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, opened off-Broadway in 1970. Shortly thereafter he was launched, with the help of Charlotte Zolotow, on a career of writing for young adults. He also began a family, marrying the novelist Bonnie Hildebrand in 1973. For his daughter, now 30 years old, writing came naturally, she says. On her Web site there is a picture of her penning her own work at age five.

Zindel grew up in New York City, attending the Dalton School. Ultimately, she majored in English and theater at Wesleyan. Now she has published her first novel: Girl of the Moment (Viking), about Lily, who is hired as an intern for a talented—but highly demanding—young actress, Sabrina Snow.

Zindel says writing makes her feel close to her father, who died in 2003. He taught her how to find characters. “He would always be talking to strangers,” she says. “He saw stories in everything, even what may seem like a banal situation, he would zone in on the drama. I think I inherited that from him.”

After college, Zindel moved to Los Angeles, where she worked a series of assistant jobs at such companies as Creative Artists Agency and Maverick Records, which is how the idea of her novel was born. At one job, she remembers being excited when she was given a BlackBerry, which she quickly realized was actually a short leash. “I definitely found myself having to give up my own life,” she says. Even a subplot involving Lily's relationship with a depressed fan who writes to Sabrina was inspired by Zindel's own experience reading fan mail.

Hollywood also taught Zindel how to pitch. Suspecting that agents were not going to read a letter, she blasted a brief e-mail to 30 agents. She then overnighted her pages to the agents who expressed interest and got a message from Stephanie Lehmann at the Elaine Koster Literary Agency the next day, saying she wanted to represent her. Lehmann soon sold it to Viking in a three-book deal.

Zindel has learned that when it comes to writing, it's better to listen to only a few opinions. One of those belongs to her editor at Viking, Joy Peskin. “I have so much trust for my editor,” she says. For her part, Peskin says she recognized something unique about Zindel's work from her very first read. “She shows great literary promise, but she can also write a fast-paced story that's fun to read.”

An excerpt from Girl of the Moment will run in CosmoGIRL! and ICM is representing the film rights. For Zindel, though, the biggest thrills are more personal: she loves hearing from teens during school and library visits about the ways they've connected with her book. Plus, “there's that first moment when you actually get to walk into the bookstore and you see it on the shelf,” she says.

Currently, Zindel is working on her second novel, The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies, which will be published next summer. She says she is enjoying writing fulltime from her Manhattan home; her frequent walks through Central Park help her pick up details like interesting body language and snatches of dialogue. “It is spectacular—it is almost peaceful—to know that you're doing finally exactly what you want to be doing with your life.”