The ‘Trick’ To Writing Contemporary YA - Guest Post by Merrie Defestano

Hey friends! Last month, I had the chance to absorb myself in this INCREDIBLE book called Lost Girls. I picked it up for the cover, and stayed because the story gripped me so tight and didn't let me go until the very end. It's seriously SO GOOD. So of course I wanted Merrie to come talk about how she came to write such an amazing book. Enjoy!


A funny thing happened when I was writing Lost Girls—although, really, it didn’t seem funny at the time. See, I never set out to write a contemporary story. I’ve always liked writing either science fiction or fantasy. It’s so much easier for me to play pretend when I’m making up everything. World building is one of my favorite parts of writing. So, I started writing a new book and I was already about 100 pages into it. To me, by that time it’s a Real Book. Any time before that, I’m just messing around. Things can crash and burn, especially before the 50-page mark.

So, here I was, at that magical 100-page mark, where everything is not only real, it’s shiny. I’m full-on in love with the crazy thing. Losing sleep over it, talking to everyone about my characters as if they’re real people.

I decided this was a good time to let my agent know about this this AMAZING BOOK I was writing. Except, um, she didn’t love the concept.


Because I thought I was writing about superheroes, with a storyline a little bit like X-Men, where every character had their own superpower.

Weird, right? I mean, that’s nothing like Lost Girls.

My agent, who has her own superpower of giving Most Excellent Literary Advice, said the market wasn’t right for a superhero story.

Heavy sigh. Here’s where things weren’t very funny for a few minutes. But, deep down inside, I knew this story was still shiny. It had magic, it just wasn’t the kind of magic you find in a fantasy. So I decided to go back and rewrite my first 100 pages, taking out all that silly fantasy and all those superpowers.

The weird thing?

This book was still shiny and magical.

When I dug down under what I’d now call window dressing, I discovered a kickass story. It was as if I’d been hiding it from myself. I didn’t even know what a strong story or what great characters I had. They’d gotten overwhelmed by the fantastical elements.

I tend to write my books without knowing exactly what’s going to happen next. I’m somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser. So, I didn’t have all the Fight Club elements in place yet. I never set out to write a mash-up of Fight Club and Black Swan. That just sort of happened.

I set out to write a story about a girl who woke up without her memory—Rachel Evans. Rachel and I took a journey together, learning page by page what had happened to her, who her friends really were, and how she’d ended up in that ditch at the beginning of the story.

What I discovered when I stripped away all of the fantasy was that this story had great bones, and it was set up to be a suspense or a thriller or a mystery. This was where the journey became fun, because I’ve always loved a good mystery. Some of my favorite authors are Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Stephen King, and James Patterson. I love a book that makes me stay up reading late at night, because I need to know what happens next.

That was the kind of book I was writing.

And I was thrilled when I finally realized what I’d been doing all along.

Born in the Midwest, magazine editor Merrie Destefano currently lives in Southern California with her husband, two German shepherds, a Siamese cat, and the occasional wandering possum. Her favorite hobbies are reading speculative fiction and watching old Star Trek episodes, and her incurable addiction is writing. She loves to camp in the mountains, walk on the beach, watch old movies, and listen to alternative music—although rarely all at the same time.

by Merrie Defestano
Published: January 3rd 2017
Publisher: Entangled Teen

Yesterday, Rachel went to sleep listening to Taylor Swift, curled up in her grammy’s quilt, worrying about geometry. Today, she woke up in a ditch, bloodied, bruised, and missing a year of her life. 

She doesn’t recognize the person she’s become: she’s popular. She wears nothing but black. 

Black to cover the blood. 

And she can fight. 

Tell no one.

She’s not the only girl to go missing within the last year…but she’s the only girl to come back. She desperately wants to unravel what happened to her, to try and recover the rest of the Lost Girls. 

But the more she discovers, the more her memories return. And as much as her new life scares her, it calls to her. Seductively. The good girl gone bad, sex, drugs, and raves, and something darker…something she still craves—the rush of the fight, the thrill of the win—something she can’t resist, that might still get her killed…

The only rule is: There are no rules.


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  1. I love reading contemporary YA! My favorite authors are Katie McGarry, Kasie West, and Huntley Fitzpatrick, and I recently discovered Mila Gray. :)

  2. I love most anything YA, but dystopian is my favorite (YA, adult, or classic). I have too many favorites, so I'll go with a newer one--Flawed by Cecelia Ahern. But I love them all (1984, The Giver, The Handmaids Tale, and many more recent YA ones). Thanks!

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