“When I was a student, I knew I wanted to tell stories for a living, but I wasn’t exactly sure how that would pan out,” said USC alumna Heather Demetrios. Demetrios would have never guessed that People magazine’s cover of “Kate Gosselin + 8” would inspire her debut novel, Something Real, which hits shelves today.
“I looked at these kids and I thought, ‘What will it be like for them when they’re teenagers?’” Demetrios said. “Those kids can look forward to a life where everyone knows about their parents’ horrible divorce and where they can basically download their childhood.”
Something Real follows the story of 17-year-old Bonnie, who is thrust back into the limelight when Baker’s Dozen, the reality show about her family, is renewed. Demetrios’ novel has already won the 2012 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award.
A Los Angeles native, Demetrios attended high school in Fresno, Calif., before studying theatre at USC. Now writing from Brooklyn, NY, Demetrios still draws on California and the entertainment culture of Los Angeles as an influence.
Demetrios’ favorite book that she has written so far, A Geography of Us, will arrives in bookstores in the winter of 2015. The novel centers around art school-bound Skyler, who meets Josh, a man dreaming of becoming a marine, but is unable to after being injured in Afghanistan.
Though her works explore diverse genres, the subject matter all fits within her theme of “teens that are trying to break out of some kind of hostile situation,” Demetrios said.
Demetrios started writing seriously when she was teaching in South Korea, but she recalls reading the Harry Potter series and dismissing it. She said she didn’t get the appeal of young adult literature — that is, until she tried writing.
“It’s like I fell in love with reading all over again,” Demetrios said.
Her biggest inspiration is still reading, though she also makes music playlists and collages for all her books to switch it up between long keyboard typing sessions.
Demetrios suggests that aspiring YA writers read all genres, but especially YA literature. Some of her favorite authors are E. Lockhart, John Green and Laini Taylor. Demetrios also said she reads an abundance of poetry for inspiration.
Demetrios looks for inspiration from her research. While writing Something Real, Demetrios watched Cinema Verite, an HBO film about the production of the United States’ earliest examples of reality television, and read the autobiography of the mother in said television show, Pat Loud.
Even though Demetrios said she had fun writing Something Real she also notes that writing for YA is fraught with the same challenges as adult literature, and that there’s a sense of loyalty she has to her readers.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to teen readers, because that’s who’s being aggressively marketed to for my books,” Demetrios said. “So I’m very aware … if someone in my book has sex, I have to mention a condom, or birth control, or something like that.”
Despite the recent commercialization of the young adult demographic — with books such as The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter and the upcoming Divergent series made into blockbuster franchises — Demetrios said she advises aspiring writers not to chase trends or “write what’s on the bookshelf.”
Young adult literature, however, is a genre that is getting darker language-wise as well as being more honest about teen sex.
“College-age students are right in the YA sweet spot,” Demetrios said.
“Everybody’s reading [YA] — even my mother-in-law reads YA,” Demetrios said. “I love the idea that for some of my audience, reading my book could actually change their life. When you’re a young person … books inspire your career choices and your lifestyle choices … a book could actually change your life. Whereas when you’re older, it can, but you start to get a lot more settled into your identity … It’s a great responsibility and a great opportunity.”
Something Real is available as of Tuesday in stores and online.