ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Sara Walsh was on a road trip to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming when she saw the light.

She and her husband were discussing a story they heard some months before about a boy who went missing then mysteriously reappeared a decade later. “My writer mind kicked in,” she said. “I just started thinking about all the places out there people would disappear to.”

The story became the impetus for her first young adult novel, “The Dark Light,” but the tale didn’t really come into focus until she moved to Annapolis from Kansas City three years ago. Her husband, Michael, got a job here.

Walsh was having a hard time coming up with a setting for the story until she saw a highway sign for Crownsville one day. The name clicked and became the town in Nebraska where her story takes place.

After that, the book developed quickly. “It really was one of those lightning bolt stories,” she said.

“The Dark Light” was released in late August by Simon Pulse, a division of Simon & Schuster. The plot revolves around Mia, a girl who is searching for her brother, and a new boy in town, Sol, who has a large tattoo of a bird on his back. Mia discovers Sol is from a parallel universe.

“I couldn’t put it down,” said Jane MacMurray, Walsh’s neighbor. “She pulled me in with some of the first twists and turns. I also got pulled in with some of the characters… I felt like I could picture them in my mind.”

MacMurray threw Walsh a book release party and said she’s anxiously awaiting a sequel. The writer is considering it, but also working on other projects.

Walsh, 39, spent about a year writing “The Dark Light.” It was in production 18 months.

“I was captivated by the voice she created on the page,” Annette Pollert, Walsh’s editor at Simon Pulse. “There are so many things I love about this book.”

Pollert said Walsh gives life to a fantasy world that’s approachable and accessible, while still being engaging. She also enjoyed the characters of Mia and Sol. “There’s nothing like a hot guy with wings,” she said.

Light is right

“Dark Light” is the first book Walsh has had published, but she’s been writing novels for over 15 years.

“When we first saw it on the shelf…at Barnes & Noble, it was surreal,” she said.

A native of England, she worked as a copywriter and a teaching assistant before taking up writing full-time about three years ago.

Despite the fact none of her previous books got picked up by a publisher, Walsh was never discouraged. “Very few people knock out a novel right off the bat they can sell to a publisher,” she said. “I just knew I’d get there. I’m a born optimist.”

“Dark Light” was always intended as a book for teens, although her previous work was aimed at adults. In both genres, she’s made sure to incorporate an element of fantasy.

For someone who grew up a fan of “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” fantasy just comes naturally. “Whenever I come up with a concept for a story… there’s always something fantastical,” she said. “I can’t help myself.”

Fans view this as a big plus.

“What most people recognize about Sara first off is one of her best qualities as a writer — she’s extremely imaginative and great at world-building,” said her agent, Nathaniel Jacks of Inkwell Management in New York.

Walsh said “Dark Light” was the most fun she’s ever had writing, so not surprisingly, she plans to stick to young adult fiction for now. “I think I’ve found my niche,” she said.

Walsh already finished another book, a “creepy supernatural stalker story” and also has a lot of material for a science fiction tale.

She tries to write for five or six hours a day, usually in her quiet home office. In a coffee shop, she said she’d be too distracted by people-watching.

“A novel is a marathon,” she said. “It’s not always easy, but it’s always fun. You wouldn’t want to put yourself through this is if it wasn’t fun.”

Walsh takes weekends off. One of her favorite things to do is head to the beach with her dog, Rosie, an 8-year-old St. Bernard.

But ideas for writing are never too far off. They can’t be if she wants to further her career.

“You’ve worked so hard to get here,” she said. “It’s a dream come true. But the real work starts from now. You’ve gotten your foot in the door, but you want to continue to be published.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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