What if fairy godmothers were hip and sexy instead of pudgy, sweet old ladies? This is the question that inspired Ryan Graudin’s YA fantasy novel Luminance Hour (HarperTeen, Winter 2014). “Writing about the real world feels so humdrum,” Graudin says.

Don’t let it end. You know those books that make you slow down as you get close to the end because you don’t want the story to end? That’s how Graudin felt about Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (later turned into the movie starring Anne Hathaway). “I realized it didn’t have to end, and as soon as I finished the book, I started a story of my own.” Back then, she was a 14-year-old home-schooler with a lot of extra time on her hands. “I’d finish my work early and since we didn’t have a TV, I would spend most afternoons reading and writing.”

An extraordinary education. By 10th grade Graudin was ready to return to public school, and Rene Miles at the School of the Arts helped to transform this budding novelist into a young woman with an impressive 250-page senior thesis. S.C. Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth was teaching poetry at SOA at the time and helped Graudin develop her lyrical voice. Author Bret Lott was also involved in mentoring this writer, though he says she didn’t need much help. “Ryan was one of those students — there aren’t very many — who comes in the door ready to go. More often than not, all I could do with her work was to stand back and let her go. Her writing was strong and vivid, and my job as a teacher was more to keep my hands off the work and encourage her. The biggest compliment I give a student is to say, ‘Don’t get a big head,’ meaning you indeed have something to get a big head over. I remember saying that a lot to Ryan.”

Modern, sexy fairies. That idea about a sexy fairy godmother became Luminance Hour, a fantasy novel that Graudin wrote while she was living in Korea with her husband. Emrys is a powerful and fierce fairy who has been assigned to guard Prince Richard, a member of the British family. “He is more like Prince Harry and is floating through life until he has to grow up fast.” Ancient powers are trying to kill off the royal family, and Emrys’ job is to protect them. During this assignment, this modern fairy godmother discovers that maybe there is more to life than power.

Destination inspiration. Graudin draws a lot of inspiration from backpacking around new places. “Traveling is a huge one for me. I love experiencing different cultures. The food, the architecture, and the clothes. So many of my world travels have enriched my writing. They help stretch the possibilities of my stories. Also, when you’re a backpacker, you meet so many different kinds of people from all paths of life. It helps me realize the variety and texture of humanity and imbue that in my characters.”

Book tube. Graudin loves reading, TV shows (Firefly and Lost are some favorites), and just hearing other people’s stories. “Inspiration can come anytime, anywhere. Once I was out in the wilderness of Ethiopia and an entire novel plot just rushed through my head. There I was, stuck without a pen. I was panicking, trying to remember it all until we got back to our camp, where I had a pen and notebook. Fortunately no necessary plot inspiration was lost in the journey.”