By RON NEWBERRY
Diane Geragotelis remembers how magical everything felt.
Her husband couldn’t sit still. He had to stand up and walk around. But Diane Geragotelis wasn’t going anywhere. She stayed firmly planted in her seat in the front row, her eyes locked on their daughter Brittany, her mind flashing back to images of a little girl with big dreams.
Diane watched with loving eyes as her daughter, who was all grown up now, read passages from her first book associated with a major publisher, “What the Spell” at a book launch event in a New York City children’s bookstore three weeks ago.
“I didn’t take my eyes off her,” Diane said. “I’m just staring at her. I’m watching her face. She’s watching all of the people in the audience flipping pages and reading the words with her.”
Brittany had dreamed about this since she was 8 growing up in Oak Harbor. About 75 fans attended the event and listened to her read while holding books they had purchased in hopes of getting them signed.
Her mom sat there, trying to contain her emotions.
“It was just kind of a magical experience to just know this was her dream and she is living it right now in this moment,” Diane said.
Brittany Geragotelis feels like she needs to pinch herself these days.
As a kid on Whidbey Island, she fantasized about being a professional author, writing her first book at 15. Now 33 and living in New York, her aspirations are coming true.
Brittany landed a major publishing deal with Simon & Schuster 13 months ago. The three-book, six-figure deal was launched with the release of “What the Spell” on Jan. 29.
The book is part of a young adult fiction series that is based on the Salem Witch Trials set in modern times. The series centers around high school age witches with magical powers passed down from their Salem ancestors.
“I get to live my dream and wake up everyday and sit at home in my pajamas and write books,” Brittany said. “It is beyond any dreams I’ve ever had. I always wanted to do this.”
Brittany burst onto the young adult fiction scene in a rather unconventional manner.
She wrote a book titled “Life’s a Witch” in 2011 but couldn’t find a publisher. She took a gamble and posted segments of her book on a free publishing website called Wattpad.com, and wound up developing a massive following of eager young readers as her story gained millions of reads. She eventually self-published the book through Amazon’s CreateSpace in December of 2011.
After a series of articles in Publishers Weekly chronicled Brittany’s unconventional methods and rising popularity, traditional publishers began lining up to offer deals.
Eventually, a bidding war took place with Simon & Schuster prevailing.
The deal called for a three-book series, including a revamped version of “Life’s a Witch.” The publisher wanted the series to start with new book, so Brittany was given six weeks to write “What the Spell,” a prequel to “Life’s a Witch.”
“It was challenging,” Brittany said. “It wasn’t impossible.”
The timing of the book deal was uncanny. A week earlier, Brittany lost her job as managing editor of American Cheerleader magazine after the company was sold. She learned of the news after she touched down in Cancun, Mexico, for a vacation. Her phone lit up with messages from co-workers.
She started working for the magazine right after graduating from Washington State University in 2001. She was on the job less than a week when the Sept. 11 attacks hit New York. Brittany, who started at the front desk, remembered interrupting a meeting to tell the company president she had not yet been introduced to that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Brittany had come a long way in 10.5 years, rising in rank to managing editor. But now that was over.
“I had been working for American Cheerleader my entire adult life,” said Brittany, a former cheerleader at Oak Harbor High School, where she graduated in 1997. “It was my identity. I was comfortable with it. I had always wanted to become an author. It was my No. 1 dream. I also knew it was really hard to get to a point where you can write full-time.”
But Brittany was holding out hope. Before she left for Mexico, publishing houses began showing interest in signing a deal. She sent manuscripts of “Life’s a Witch” to seven or eight publishers before her trip. Four days after returning from Cancun, Brittany landed her deal with Simon & Schuster.
“The timing was too weird,” she said. “You have to look up and say, ‘I get it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”
Brittany and her fiance Matthew Gielen, a social media expert, share an apartment in New York’s upper eastside. She applies the discipline she learned as a magazine editor to her book writing, structuring her schedule so that she’ll meet her publisher’s deadlines.
“I’m a big fan of setting a schedule and sticking to it,” she said.
Brittany’s rewrite of “Life’s a Witch” is long done and the book will be released July 9, her mother’s birthday.
This week, Brittany finished the final 20 pages of the book in the series, titled “The Witch is Back.” That book won’t be out until January of 2014.
“The publishing world needs a little more time than self-publishing,” Brittany said. “They need longer lead time for publicity. The business side.”
Brittany is not sitting still. She’s had discussions about bringing the characters and stories she’s created to the big screen. She talks about the importance of trying to reach audiences through different platforms.
“I’m looking at this as I want to have a long career here,” Brittany said. “I’m creating a brand. I want this to be a movie. I write all this stuff as if it’s made for movies or television. I’m thinking longterm.”
The characters she creates and story lines sometimes hit close to home. Some of her own difficult experiences at Oak Harbor High School are depicted in “What the Spell.” The book’s main character, Brooklyn, feels invisible and misunderstood in high school and is trying desperately to be popular. She’s a witch who can’t wait for her 16th birthday when she is supposed to gain magic powers and make her wishes come true.
Brittany said there is a lot of herself in Brooklyn.
“I wouldn’t make the same choices she makes,” Brittany said. “In terms of emotions she felt and the way she felt about her high school, there’s a lot of that in me.”
Brittany said she was bullied a lot in high school even though she was a cheerleader.
“I was not a happy kid when I was in high school.”
Times have changed.
Brittany inspired a legion of followers with “Life’s a Witch,” by creating what she calls a “kick-ass heroine” in lead character and Salem witch descendant, Hadley Bishop. Such characters came about from Brittany’s own “obsession” and inspiration from the television series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
But Brittany twitched her nose at vampires, and focused on witches instead.
“A lot of media outlets are talking about how this is the year of the witch,” Brittany said.
“I’m crossing my fingers and hoping this is true.”