Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Potomac native pens novel for the teen in all of us

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Dana Maxson⁄The Gazette
Julie Kraut (left) collaborated online with Shallon Lester to write a young adult chick lit novel.
If you’re a boy-crazy, MySpacing, wide-eyed, fashion-obsessed teenage girl, or if you just wish you were, there’s a new book out for you.

Potomac native and first-time novelist Julie Kraut has co-authored ‘‘Hot Mess: Summer in the City,” a young adult chick lit novel that was inspired by her own real-life experiences.

A fast-paced story, ‘‘Hot Mess” is rife with pop culture references that will challenge the knowledge of even the most in-the-know teenagers.

Kraut, who moved to New York City in 2004 to pursue a career in publishing, says she wanted to write about a girl in the work place, and decided to make her main character a high-school student because she has always enjoyed young adult fiction.

‘‘Hot Mess” tells the story of Emma, a high school girl desperate to escape a summer of lifeguarding with her ex-boyfriend. With her parents’ encouragement, she takes off with her best friend for a summer internship in New York City.

While Emma expects glamorous workdays and a non-stop tour of night life hot spots, she soon realizes that being more adult is not all it’s cracked up to be.

The daily grind is tough, Emma’s best friend is off on a boy binge and a white lie Emma has told her crush backfires in a big way. Suddenly, the character’s dream summer becomes the very definition of a ‘‘hot mess,” hipster lingo for ‘‘complete disaster.”

Kraut, a 2000 graduate of Winston Churchill High School, says that when she transitioned to corporate professional life, she found the workplace to be very different from what she had anticipated.

‘‘The Xerox machine is your worst enemy,” and ‘‘suddenly the CEO is a celebrity to you,” she says. In the cubicle lifestyle, you have to deal with challenges like ‘‘the politics of who leaves what in the refrigerator.”

Being a young professional is an experience worthy of writing about, Kraut explains.

‘‘I found so much of it kind of funny.”

Kraut, now a marketing manager for a division of Random House, says she wanted to focus on fiction for young adults because youth is a very exciting time in life where ‘‘opportunities are wide open.”

‘‘Honestly, I still relate to the 17- and 18-year-old inside of me a lot,” Kraut says.

Kraut co-wrote the book with Shallon Lester, whom she met online while both were writing for the Web site Working with Lester was seamless, Kraut says.

The two would pass the manuscript back and forth, each editing the other’s previous work and then adding on a chapter or two of their own new writing.

Kraut says there were really no creative differences.

‘‘There was one minor disagreement over a semicolon,” she jokes.

Having two voices and two different senses of humor adds to the work, Kraut says.

Kraut’s second book, ‘‘Slept Away,” a story about a popular Manhattanite who goes to a rustic sleep away camp, is a solo writing venture and is slated for release in summer 2009.

Kraut majored in English at the University of Pennsylvania, but says she didn’t realize how much she enjoyed creative writing and specifically humor writing until her senior year.

Kraut is an avid reader. She enjoys work by chick lit author Jennifer Weiner and is rereading some of Judy Blume’s books. She also likes humor writer Laurie Notaro.

‘‘For me, humor is a big part of who I am,” says Kraut.

She hopes the book helps teenage readers learn to use humor in their own lives as a way to cope with growing up.

‘‘Being a teenager is rough and awkward, and if you’re not laughing at yourself, then you’re crying, right?”

To purchase ‘‘Hot Mess: Summer in the City,” visit your local bookstore or go to⁄teens.