First Author Serena Kaylor Talks Writing a Neurodivergent Main Character and the Magic of New Experiences

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Serena Kaylor, who earned a star for her debut novel Long story shortshares her journey to publication.

Serena Kaylor
Photo by Jillian Clark

At Serena Kaylor’s Long story short (Wednesday Bks., July 2022) Beatrice, a homeschooled math whiz, dreams of attending Oxford University, but her parents worry their daughter won’t relate to other teenagers. Sent to a summer theater camp that feels well out of her comfort zone, Beatrice finds friends and a chance to shine and meets a cute British boy.

What was your inspiration for this story?
Probably myself. I’m neurodivergent, which was a lot harder when I was younger and not as adaptable as it is now. I remember this girl who felt so out of place, constantly misread social cues, and struggled to find her place in the world, and I wanted to celebrate her. I’ve never seen neurodivergent characters grow up on the page. I would have loved to see a character like that not only succeed but thrive!

How was your journey to publishing Long story short begin?

I’ve always been a voracious reader and grew up in a small one stoplight town in northeastern North Carolina where the highlight of my week was going to the library on Saturday mornings. I consumed whatever I got my hands on and began experimenting with my own writing in high school as a very prolific stack of contemporary works. Pride and Prejudice fan fiction. I had a number of false starts over the next few years and then really got going after grad school. I read every craft book I could get my hands on. I connected with other writers on Twitter and message boards, and wrote. I think I wrote this book about five times before sending it to the request.

What were the easiest and hardest parts of telling this story?
The easiest was Beatrice herself. Her fears, her hopes, her setbacks and how she wanted to both hide from the world and be part of it. She’s not me, but she’s kind of like every neurodivergent person trying to navigate new situations. The most difficult parts were probably the technical aspects of the writing: rhythm, tracing, grammar. It took at least two drafts to realize that the reader probably didn’t want to just wander quietly through my brain.

How did you choose the setting for the theater summer camp?
I’m a big theater kid and did a ton of plays growing up. These experiences have been so liberating for me, and I wanted to share that spirit and community with everyone! I’ve never been to summer camp, but I was looking for a way to get Beatrice to really engage, and this setting made it all come together.

As a newbie author, what surprised you the most about the publishing process?
Probably how involved you are throughout the process. Part of me thought that once I finished the book it was out of my hands, but Wednesday Books made me feel so involved every step of the way. They check cover colors and content, marketing strategies, launch details and a million other details and I’m so grateful for their expertise and can see this come to life from the front lines.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
That differences should be celebrated. That new experiences can be stressful and horrific, but also exhilarating and life-changing. That most people honestly do their best. This Shakespeare can be hilarious and romantic. That the children of the theater are some of the most interesting and welcoming people you will ever meet. This first love has its own kind of magic.

Long story short came out this month, but what’s next?

I’m working on my second book! I can’t share that many details, but know that there will always be strong female leads, angsty romance, humor, reunited families, and maybe even a pink cover if I’m lucky.

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