With so many parents and teachers skittish about what their kids are reading, watching or fantasizing about, the experience of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes seems like an oasis of sanity. Atwater-Rhodes is a 14-year-old novelist whose first book, an atmospheric and elegantly written vampire fantasy called "In the Forests of the Night," has just been published by Delacorte. "I read and enjoy just about anything I can get my hands on," Atwater-Rhodes told Salon Books on the phone from her hometown of Concord, Mass., where her book is set. Atwater-Rhodes' parents encouraged her to read what she wanted as long as she was reading. Christopher Pike's "The Last Vampire" was one of the books that captured her fancy, and she started writing her own stories in the third grade.
When she was finishing "In the Forests of the Night," Atwater-Rhodes went to her local bookstore and bought everything she could find on how to get published. She ran into another bit of luck when a friend was bragging about her writing to an English teacher who also happened to be a literary agent. He asked to see "In the Forests of the Night." Impressed, he shopped the manuscript around and found a taker at Random House. "It's such a well-realized fantasy world that she's created," says Lauri Hornik, senior editor at Random House. "She has been writing about this one society for several years and has a number of manuscripts on her shelf. It's remarkable for any author to have such a well-realized and believable other world that they've created, but she wrote these before she was a teenager. We wouldn't have published the book just because of her age. It delivers in terms of characterization and plotting and setting."
Hornik is now editing Atwater-Rhodes' second novel, due next summer. Like the writers she most enjoys, Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton, Atwater-Rhodes writes vampire novels that follow the fates of many connected characters. "The family tree," she says, "already consists of about 260 characters." Her next book concerns a young writer who makes a brief appearance in "In the Forests of the Night" and Aubrey, the darkly charismatic vampire responsible for turning Risika, the heroine of "Forests," into one of the undead. Atwater-Rhodes' articulate seriousness about her writing leaves no doubt that she's found what she wants to do.