Soon after Maya Van Wagenen turned to the pages of an antiquated etiquette book for advice on fitting in at her new school, she achieved that goal — as well as another seemingly impossible dream. Now 15, the teen is a working author who just sold the film rights to DreamWorks.
Maya’s literary journey began when her family moved to a new Texas town for her eighth grade year. Eager to make a name for herself, Maya picked up one 1950s copy of Betty Cornell’s Teen-age Popularity Guide, a personal diary and a fresh pair of white gloves. For the next year, Maya documented her Julie & Julia-esque social experiment.
“I definitely have my work cut out for me. That is if I’m not already beyond help. I am 5’2” with light brown skin that breaks out in acne on a regular basis. I am gawky, slouchy, and just a little bit lumpy. I have non-existent hips and a chest almost as flat as the cover of Betty Cornell’s book. I wear glasses and braces. I do all my clothes shopping at Walmart and second-hand stores. I spend more time on algebra than I do on my hair,” Maya wrote, demonstrating that she had the power of the pen working in her favor.
At the end of her project — which brought her both friends and insight — Maya turned her diary into a manuscript, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek. After a publishing bidding war, Maya sold that and complementary book idea to Dutton Penguin House for a cool $300,000.
“I have always loved to read and dreamed about seeing my books on the shelves of a library and in the hands of other people,” the teen said in a press release.
Julie Strauss-Gabel, the vice-president of Dutton Children’s Books, said the publishing company is equally excited to work with Maya.
“Funny, beautifully observed, and sweetly sincere, Maya’s experiment takes the reader on a journey that tells an important story about friendship and self-confidence that every teen — and adult — needs to read,” Julie said. “Her voice instantly grabbed my attention. Maya is not only a strong teen voice, she is a standout writer of any age.”
Pretty impressive for someone who’s still years away from college applications, right?
Then something even more incredible happened: DreamWorks offered Maya a feature deal, making her the youngest non-actor to sell a story to the studio. According to Deadline, film executives are so excited about the project that they’ve put it on the fast-track to production by hiring Sex and the City writer Amy Harris to work on the script.
Remarkably, all of the attention hasn’t gone to Maya’s head. According to her bio, she now lives in rural Georgia and still shares a room with her younger brother.
Popular is due out on April 15, 2014.