East Falls author Elisa Ludwig

by Lou Mancinelli

For the past dozen years, East Falls-based author Elisa Ludwig built her resume as a freelance writer and has striven to publish her creative work. She recently accomplished her goal and will read from Pretty Crooked (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins), her debut young adult novel, the first in a three-book series about protagonist Willa Fox, a 15-year-old take-from-the-rich and give-to-the-poor high school girl, and sign books June 23 at Musehouse on Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill.

The book follows Willa, the first member of her family to be sent to an elite prep school in Paradise Valley in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. Her new friends at Valley Prep, the popular girls known as the Glitterati, are rich, but rude and mean.

“It’s only when [Willa] falls in with them she realizes they are actually bullies,” said Ludwig, a former assistant arts and entertainment editor at Philadelphia Weekly (PW), who has written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia City Paper, Publishers Weekly, the University of Pennsylvania, Signature Publications and more. The hardback edition of the book was released this March.

After she discovers that the Glitterati get their kicks by teasing others, Willa seeks out the assistance of a classmate to help her learn to pick pockets and break into lockers. She takes what she steals from the privileged girls and makes care packages, composed of money, sunglasses, jewelry and even a laptop, and sends the packages to the scholarship girls – called busted by the Glitterati because they are bussed-in to school – who are ostracized for being from the less wealthy urban part of town.

Keeping in form with the young adult genre, a boy, a trust-funder, is added to the mix, and Willa’s priorities and perspectives are challenged. As the story develops, the police arrive among the cast and Willa discovers she’ll experience consequences for her actions.

Ludwig created the plot for Pretty Crooked in collaboration with her editor at HarperCollins. Her editor developed an interest in Ludwig after her agent sent the editor June of Rock, a novel about a young girl who goes to rock and roll camp.

Ludwig wrote that novel in creative collaboration with her agent from The Writer’s House in New York City after a novel Ludwig wrote stirred the agent’s interest. The agent thought Ludwig’s original piece would be a struggle to sell but realized the young writer’s talent. The two worked to create June of Rock. A similar relationship between Ludwig and her editor at HarperCollins birthed Pretty Crooked.

“As a writer you’re always dreaming of having a good editor to work with,” Ludwig said.

Two years ago, as the two brainstormed ideas for the book, media outlets were branding Colton Harris-Moore the “Barefoot Bandit.” Moor evaded authorities’ worldwide pursuits for two years by such tactics as stealing planes and boats. Out of this story, the idea of a benevolent rebel-type teenaged figure developed. Ludwig began writing in September 2010 and turned the draft in four months later in January.

Raised in Plymouth Meeting, Ludwig, 37, graduated from Germantown Academy in 1992 before studying English literature at Vassar College (’96). She worked for a short time at TLA Video in Chestnut Hill and traveled around Europe and the Mediterranean before earning her master’s degree in creative writing from Temple University in 1999.

After Temple, she started as a copy editor at PW and worked her way to an editorship. In 2002, she shifted to the world of freelance and began to reach out to editors and expand her portfolio. Her pieces appeared often in the Inquirer’s Food section in 2009 and 2010. When she received news that Pretty Crooked would be published, she was able to dedicate more time to her creative work.

“This was like the new piece of the puzzle for me,” she said.

In the past, her time for creative writing was shared more with her freelance work, but she added, “Now this was really my job.” She writes at home on a desktop, but often revises her work at Chestnut Hill Coffee on a laptop.

That creative work, like her career, has been a path that changed directions as its course revealed itself over time. Ludwig first wrote a novel, a piece of literary fiction, for her undergraduate thesis at Vassar but later altered her literary path and began to write young adult fiction at the suggestion of her agent.

As she moved further from literary fiction, she began to utilize the tenets of structure she focused less on in her earlier pursuits in fiction.

“I learned to write out of love for characters and language,” Ludwig said. “I realized I was somewhat weaker with structure.”

While she’s now writing in a different genre, the craft of the pursuit of good writing remains the same. Ludwig’s just as focused on the basics of learning to write strong dialogue as she was as a literary fiction writer and journalist.

Now, though, she’s writing in a different voice for a different audience – a real different audience. Her audience is a generation of teenaged youths bombarded with unprecedented access to entertainment options. One can skip the weekly trip to the library and hop on Google, or the Nook (on which Pretty Crooked is available), or Hulu or Netflix to watch the latest episode of any teenage television drama or on a cell phone.

“If you don’t hook them in with a fast moving story, they’re just gonna put the book down,” said Ludwig about young readers. She said readers come to books for the same reason they’ve always come to books. Books are a place where one can exist for a short time in a new world with new characters that seem as real as the people one encounters in life.

Ludwig eventually self-published June of Rock after she learned a publisher accepted Pretty Crooked. She said she’s something of a traditionalist in terms of publishing and wanted to prove she could publish through an established publishing house. Since she accomplished that goal, she figured that, perhaps, readers would enjoy the tale of the girls-only rock music camp with a punk attitude.

As for book two in the series with Willa Fox, Ludwig has already finished Pretty Fly. It’s scheduled to be released next March.

Pretty Crooked is available at Amazon.com and various bookstores. For more information visit www.elisaludwig.com.