You Should Know … Alyssa Schwartz

Photo by Hannah Monicken

If you’re looking for a new young adult guilty pleasure, then meet Alyssa Schwartz, who just published (with her writing partner, Jessica Koosed Etting) “The Lost Causes” — think “The Breakfast Club” meets “The X-Files” — earlier this month.

WJW caught up with the 37-year-old Virginia Beach native and Bethesda transplant last week after her book launch to talk about the young adult genre, the D.C. prep school scene and how Rosh Hashanah made her career.

How did you get started writing?
When I graduated from [University of Southern California], my best friend and I were living together and were really overwhelmed. It kind of felt like we were freshmen in life. And we decided we wanted to write about how we felt we were kind of thrown to the wolves all of a sudden. So, we wrote a TV show about it and we sold it to Fox [It was not made into a pilot.] and from there we just continued writing TV shows and movies.

Then, when I was moving to the East Coast, we were thinking about what to do next and both of us had dreamed of writing books. I couldn’t really do screenwriting so much out in D.C., so we wrote an ebook series. We loved writing it. And with this one, we sold it and got Kate Egan as the editor, who edited the “Hunger Games” books, and she’s amazing. So, we went a circuitous path from screenwriting to this.

And why the young adult genre?
There’s two big reasons. One is the fan base is so rabid and so inspiring. I just remember being that age and figuring out who you are and if you’re able to connect to a character as an inner monologue just like what you’re thinking, that’s so
powerful.

The second thing is everything is so important when you’re that age. And so when you’re writing a character that age and they’re not jaded with perspective, it’s just really fun. You get to go really emotional. Just everything you feel is so much deeper.

Yeah, absolutely. Although I feel like some people don’t take young adult fiction as seriously as other genres.
Right, yes. I think at first that bothered me more than it does now because I’d say, “Guys, I have a book coming out!” and then people would hear YA and be like, “Ohhh.” But then you connect with someone who read it and just the people who have tweeted at us, or Instagrammed us, or posted these reviews on YA blogs, then it’s like I’d rather be doing that. I’d rather be connecting with people like that. So, I try to ignore the haters. I mean, everybody secretly loves YA anyway.

I know your first series was about prep schools. Was any of that autobiographical?
That is actually really ironic because we started writing that before I moved to D.C. and it’s about a school in D.C. A huge group of our friends in L.A. went to [Georgetown Day School], or Sidwell [Friends School], or St. Albans [School]. So, a lot of the stories are just taken directly from people we know. There’s a story about partying on the lawn of an embassy. The cops roll up, but they can’t step foot on the lawn because of diplomatic immunity, so the kids are just smoking weed, drinking and taunting the cops. And there are a lot of stories like that.

It’s cool to think about what a fishbowl it is. You’ve got the son of the [National Security Agency] director with, like, I think David Gregory’s kids go to Sidwell. It’s just so interesting. And how do the parents react? Like when you’re at a basketball game sitting next to a person who just said horrible things about you on “Meet the Press” and both cheering on your kid?

So, when you were in LA did you do anything people would recognize?
I think we sold eight pilots. It’s the weirdest thing. With pilots, they buy it before you write it. You go in a room and pitch it to all the network executives. Pilot season is just a really crazy time. Everyone is going in and pitching and they buy whatever ideas they like and you write a script. And out of however many, they choose, you know, eight to make and then like three to put on the air.

You can make a great living as a writer and you will have seen nothing. Which was hard for my Jewish mother, I will tell you that.

Speaking of, has your Jewish background played into any of your work?
No, but the first time my writing partner and I really had a conversation was because we both had to stay after class to tell our teacher we weren’t going to be there for Rosh Hashanah. And I had never really spoken to her and she knew I was from out of town, though, and invited me over to her house, which was amazing.

Wow, so that’s how you guys met?
Yeah, that’s how we really bonded. And that’s obviously had the biggest effect on my work. She’s my best friend. n

Have a suggestion for a You Should Know profile? Candidates must be ages 21-40. Tell us what makes that person so interesting: hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

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