Twenty-first-century publishing pundits may fret that their business is heading the way of the passenger pigeon, but the Young Adult market is booming. Witness the triumphant parade of megafauna from bookstore to multiplex: Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and this summer's sensations, Divergent and The Fault In Our Stars. YA is big business, and teen girls officially rock.
This isn't new news to Jennifer Castle and Phoebe North, both New Paltz mothers of daughters and writers of cool teenage girls. Castle's award-winning YA debut, The Beginning of After (HarperTeen, 2011), features a girl who survives the unthinkable: the death of her whole family in a car crash. You Look Different in Real Life (HarperTeen, 2013) follows five teens who were tapped in kindergarten for an ongoing documentary series. Justine, the breakout star of Five at Six and Five at Eleven, is now staring down the barrel of Five at Sixteen; her hometown, "Mountain Ridge," with its tower-topped cliffs, apple orchards, and state college, may remind local readers of someplace they know.
That's a little less likely with North's debut, Starglass (Simon & Schuster, 2013). Terra Fineberg's home is the Asherah, a generation starship in its fifth century of travel toward the distant planet its refugees hope to colonize. In its just-published sequel, Starbreak, Terra's an integral part of the first landing party on Zehava, which turns out to be inhabited by intelligent, mobile plant lifeforms—including the (literal) boy of her dreams.
Both authors suggest meeting at Mudd Puddle Coffee Roasters and Café in New Paltz, a place close to their hearts. "This is where we first met," Castle says as they bring their iced drinks onto the porch. "We sat at—"
"That table." North points, completing her sentence. They both laugh, and Castle says, "We're going to sound like this couple that's been together forever."
Not quite, but they're clearly good friends. Like high school BFFs, their outfits sort of match: dark T-shirts and turquoise nail polish. North wears cute-nerd glasses; a silver necklace rests on an intricate sea-themed tattoo.
They met—at that table—just after North and her husband moved to New Paltz. Spotting "writer for HarperTeen" on Castle's Facebook profile when both RSVP'd for a local event, North invited her new YA neighbor for coffee.
"It felt really weird," she admits now, but Castle was thrilled. She was also a relative newbie in New Paltz, having spent 20 years in LA before moving east with her husband and two daughters. "When you move to a new place, it takes awhile to feel at home in the community, to find your people," she tells North. "So for you to just gift yourself to me like that, that was great."
Their writing careers were on similar tracks. Castle had recently launched The Beginning of After, and North's Starglass was about to come out. "I'd already done some author events, but Phoebe, being younger, was way more tuned into blogging and social media," says Castle, who confesses to opening a Twitter account two days before her galleys came out. North had been blogging ("online journaling, we used to call it") since she was 18. "So I learned through her," Castle says. "There's an unbelievable community of YA authors online."
Neither author started out writing for teens. North has an MFA in poetry from the University of Florida, where, she says, "I wrote all these poems about childhood or aliens. My teachers kept saying, 'Can't you take the aliens out of your poems?'" Florida also has a strong program in Children's Literature, where North took electives and read lots of YA classics. "I always loved A Wrinkle in Time. And I reread A Swiftly Tilting Planet every year," she says; Madeleine L'Engel's book is a favorite of Castle's as well.
After graduating, North wrote several "trunk novels—you know, the ones you keep in your trunk" before starting the Starglass duology. She finished a draft of the first book, wrote a synopsis of the second, and landed a two-book deal.
Castle wrote short stories in high school and earned a BA in creative writing at Brown. "I was going to go for a fiction MFA, get into academia, and write happily in that womb for the rest of my life," she says, grinning. But, lured by screenwriting, she moved to LA instead, having already worked backstage at "Every Day," a syndicated talk show her mother produced. "I'd have Geraldine Ferraro in the morning and a stripper in the afternoon, or Jack Hanna with white tiger cubs. That was my day."