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hours in darkened theaters, watching rehearsals. She considered a
theater career for herself (and fictionalized her experience at theater
camp in Dramarama) but says she was a lousy actress. “I feel things
hard but digging up those emotions when in front of a film crew
or an audience is tougher than it is to write about them,” she says.
“I was a so-called ‘sensitive child,’ and I still can’t watch the news
on TV. It wrecks me for days. But it’s a useful quality as a writer
since what I’m always trying to do is get emotion on the page.”
Cady shares this deep sensitivity—and perhaps, too, a knack
for drama—so that when in the opening pages of Liars, she
watches as her father puts a suitcase in his car, leaving her mother—and Cady—for another woman, she describes it this way:
Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was stand-
ing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart
rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed
rhythmically from my open wound,
It tasted like salt and failure.
In response, Cady’s mother, steeped in the merits of Yankee
stoicism, tells her: “Get a hold of yourself.”
Lockhart imagined herself an author as early as third grade, when
she penned a “seminal picture book featuring an orange sleeping
bag,” followed by novel-length imitations of Joan Aiken’s The
Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking.
She got her father to type her Pippi story into book format and
make 50 photocopies. A friend of his silkscreened a drawing Lockhart had made for the cover. She gave copies to everyone she knew.
“Painters learn by imitating famous painters all the time,”
says Lockhart. “I’m not sure why it’s consid-
ered a bad thing to try to imitate the voice
of a beloved writer. I think it’s a very valid
way to teach yourself how to write.”
She spent her last two years of high
school in Seattle, attending the Lakeside
School, a private academy that counts the
writer Po Bronson, former Washington
state governor Booth Gardner, and Micro-
soft’s founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen
among its alumni. She attended Lakeside
and later Vassar College on scholarship.
“A lot of what I write comes out of the
experience of being a person with one foot
in and one foot out of that world of Amer-
ican privilege,” she says. “I’m interested in
the way that social institutions—those
privileged worlds of boarding school or
prep school—influence the people who come out of them.”
At Vassar, Lockhart worked in the college’s lab preschool,
preparing her for work after graduation as an assistant teacher
in a Montessori school, but also giving her a chance to study the
audience for the picture books she’d later write. Before she wrote
books herself, she worked as a reviewer, and wrote essays for
magazines. Her first published book was a middle-grade novel
she co-wrote, via e-mail, with her father, The Secret Life of Billie’s
Uncle Myron (Holt, 1996). “It was a really quirky story, sort of
like a middle-grade Douglas Adams adventure,” says Donna
Bray, who acquired and edited the novel when she was at Holt.
“I think it was way ahead of its time.”
The two stayed in touch. Bray read Lockhart’s essay collec-
tion, Tongue First (Holt, 1998), and invited her to lunch. “I
thought she could write teen books because she had such a great
handle on the teen years,” Bray recalls. “We brainstormed a
couple of ideas and out of that lunch came Dramarama.”
The same formula—Bray’s idea, Lockhart’s execution—
produced The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
“Emily is so good at taking an idea and running with it,” Bray
says. “You give her a spark, and she creates a bonfire.”
Lockhart had also written one novel for adults, Mister Poste-
rior and the Genius Child (Berkley, 2002), which Barnes and
Noble chose as a Discover Great New Writers pick, but she felt
her career didn’t have a lot of traction. “I had a writing life but
I didn’t have much momentum because I had been writing in
different categories,” she says. When her agent, Elizabeth Ka-
plan, got her a two-book deal with Delacorte for her novels
starring Ruby Oliver— The Boyfriend List (Delacorte, 2005) and
its sequel, The Boy Book (2006)—Lockhart decided to forge a
separate YA identity. “I had never had a two-book deal before.
My name at that point meant nothing and I wanted these books
to have a shot,” she says. E. Lockhart is not a pseudonym but a
slight truncation of her full name, Emily Lockhart Jenkins.
(Though her father’s last name is Jenkin, Lockhart says her
mother was advised by a numerologist to add
an “s” to their last name. “It was the ’70s,”
The Ruby Oliver books were a hit—
Delacorte published four in all, and now wants to
build on that success with Liars. Horo-witz
has signed Lockhart up for two more stand-alone novels.
Could there be a happy ending for the girl
in love with fairy tales? For one thing, those
beloved illustrated books that belonged to
her mother now reside in Brooklyn, where
Lockhart makes her home with her family.
For another, her career definitely has the
traction she was seeking.
“Emily wrote a great book and we challenged
her to work even harder on it in revision,”
Horowitz says. “She totally delivered.” ■