At just 18 years old, Palo Alto native Anna Caltabiano has two internationally acclaimed novels, a burgeoning reader base and over 113,000 followers on Twitter. A winner of Palo Alto Weekly's Short Story Contest in 2006, Caltabiano wrote her first novel, "All That Is Red," at age 14. Her second book, "The Seventh Miss Hatfield," which was published in the U.K. last summer, came out in the United States through HarperCollins on Tuesday, Aug. 11.
Having penned many short stories since childhood, Caltabiano always wanted to write a novel. But the idea didn't become a reality until the summer before high school, she explained to the Weekly. That summer, she did not want to go to camp, so she promised her father she would write a novel instead.
"I ended up just sitting every day at the dining room table and starting little by little," she said. "The first draft (took) a month, but it was a month of nothing else: sitting down and writing it morning till night."
In "All That Is Red," the young author tells the story of a girl who deals with non-suicidal self-injury -- a phenomenon often seen among teenagers in the form of cutting. Caltabiano first encountered the term while searching mental health issues on Wikipedia.
"The whole thing about cutting ... just baffled me," she said. "It was a really shocking, strange, eye-opening thing. No one really talks about it. I think it's one of those things we really have to start talking about."
After conducting a great amount of research on the topic, Caltabiano decided to write a story about why individuals engage in self-harm. Her goal was to show her peers who might be tackling these kinds of problems that it is okay to struggle and that there is a way out.
The novel received overwhelmingly positive reviews from readers, Caltabiano noted. One of the reviews that fascinated the young author came from a woman who said she "wished that she had a book like that when she was growing up to know that she wasn't alone," Caltabiano said.
"It was kind of a magical moment," the author said. "It's all worth it if someone found something in the book -- whether I (meant to) put it there or not -- that made her think that she was not alone."
After receiving such wide acclaim from readers, Caltabiano decided to write a trilogy. "The Seventh Miss Hatfield" is the first book in the series. The second, "The Time of the Clockmaker," is due out later this month in the U.K. and in December in the U.S.
An action-packed romance story, the trilogy revolves around 15-year-old Cynthia who finds herself in a complicated situation when she discovers an ability to travel in time. With a secret to protect and a chance at finding true love, Cynthia needs to choose between the present and past, love and pain, and life and death.
At the end of this summer, Caltabiano is going off to Brown University in Rhode Island to attend an 8-year medical program. She is determined to continue with her writing, and aims to merge her literary passion with a professional career in medicine, which she believes will better inform her pen.
"Writing is about people, and I think medicine is about people, so what better way to write about people than if you get to see all sorts of different people around you all the time?" Caltabiano said. "I'll definitely keep writing... (because) I feel like writing is my way of digesting the world around me ... my cathartic way of making sense of it all, seeing how things fit together and connect."
A self-identified "quirky" writer, Caltabiano said she has some strange writing habits, including a devout attachment to pink heart-shaped post-it notes, blue pens and her favorite writing software, Scrivener. Her main advice for young writers like herself is to make a habit of writing every day and not merely waiting for inspiration to come.
"It's been 18 years, and (inspiration) still hasn't come," she said. "Maybe it'll come in the next 18, but I try to just sit down and get inspiration out of me. (Like) eating three meals a day, you can make writing a habitual thing," she added. "Make the goal to sit down every day, whether it's for five minutes or a few hours, to write down a page -- or maybe a word or 30 pages. As long as you make yourself sit down and try to write, you'll move forward."
According to Caltabiano, the key to composing high quality prose is to create real characters.
"I think writing should be the world as it is rather than the world as it should be," she said. "You're not trying to write a perfect world; you're trying to write real people. Even if it's a dystopian fantasy set on Mars, it should have ... real characters."
Although she often writes about troubling aspects of adolescence, Caltabiano considers herself a typical, happy teenager who enjoys hanging out with her friends, playing tennis and practicing the guitar in her free time.
"Sometimes when people read my books, they go, 'Wow, this is really dark. Are you okay?'" Caltabiano said. "I feel like happy people can write sad books and it's okay to feel the range of emotions. In general, I count myself as a happy person."
Having just finished the draft for the trilogy's last book, Caltabiano is currently working on a new novel themed around her home: the Silicon Valley. It will be "based on the people I know, the place I know and the area I know, just because I think ... we live in an interesting place in an interesting time," she said.
Caltabiano said she is excited to experience her first snow on the East Coast this coming winter and to begin her journey into adulthood. She also hopes to use her new experiences as inspiration for her fiction writing.
"The thing I love about fiction is that you really get to step inside someone's shoes," she said. "I feel like it's the only way that we get to 'live' other lives. We can build empathy for other people ... and I feel like in that way, it makes us better people."
Sevde Kaldiroglu is an editorial intern at Palo Alto Weekly.