It’s been nine years since she graduated from high school, but Pembroke native Stacy Padula remembers clearly what it felt like to be a teenager.
“It was such a war zone,” she said of high school. “You’d have somebody say something about you and you’d be like, ‘I don’t even know where they got that.’ […] Between the rumors, the gossip, the fake friendships and the drugs … it was definitely a war zone.”
A 2001 graduate of Silver Lake Regional High School, Padula has good memories, too, and is still best friends with people she went to school with. But she also believes kids may not get an honest picture of what high school is like before they get there.
“I grew up reading a lot of books and it kind of painted a picture in my mind of what high school was going to be like, and then I stepped into it and it wasn’t anything like that,” Padula said. “It’s not Baby-Sitters Club; it’s not Sweet Valley High. I just felt like kids really needed books that were realistic to kind of prepare them.”
Padula hopes to help fill that gap with a series of novels called “Montgomery Lake High.” The first in the series, “The Right Person,” was released this month, published by Connecticut-based Eloquent Books, part of Strategic Publishing Group.
Padula started writing the series when she was in high school and rediscovered the books after college.
“I read through them and I was shocked that at such a young age I knew what half the stuff I wrote about was,” she said. “I decided to edit them and write additional books to kind of connect them, to explain how one got to the other, and added in bits of wisdom I picked up along the way.”
She sent out query letters to about 70 literary agencies, found one interested in representing her and then shopped the book around to publishers.
“I started sending out the letters in January 2009 and got an offer by October 2009 from a publisher. I felt like it was forever, but evidently it can take a lot longer than that. I ended up signing with them in November,” Padula said.
She is currently working on the second book in the series and said in total she has written five — though she doesn’t have plans to stop anytime soon.
“I just want to keep writing. I want to know what happens next, because I don’t know when I sit down what I’m going to write but I know my characters,” she said. “It’s like watching a movie. You can’t wait for the end.”
The first book tells the story of characters Chris Dunkin and Courtney Angeletti (later books center around other characters at the fictional school).
“Chris is realizing he’s kind of gotten in over his head with partying at a young age and it’s really affecting his life. One day, he meets this girl and he’s just drawn to her, he just sees a light about her. Something’s different and he just wants to know what it is,” Padula said. “Courtney, the girl, had been raised as a Christian and she’s very strong in her faith and was able to not get pulled into what Chris and his friends are into. […] She’s dealing with getting pulled into high school and getting to know Chris’ friends and how all of a sudden she’s feeling like she doesn’t fit in and wanting to get accepted.”
Padula said the books do follow a spiritual theme — the author grew up attending St. Thecla Church in Pembroke and now attends New Hope Church in Norwell — but that it isn’t overwhelming.
“There’s a Christian message to it, but not like a rigid, follow-the-law message — more like the law of liberty and love and pursuing a relationship with Christ as opposed to following all these rules thinking that’s going to set you free,” she said.
Padula grew up in Pembroke, moving to Kingston her sophomore year of high school. After graduating from Silver Lake, she attended Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston where she studied architecture and interior design, temporarily putting her writing on hold. After college, Padula worked at an architecture firm for several years but felt something was missing.
“I wanted to be doing something that helped. I wanted to be more involved with people and doing something I felt was useful and utilizing more of my talents and gifts,” she said.
Padula got connected with JBG Tutors, a company that helps kids work on certain subjects and study for tests like the SAT and ACT. She recently was promoted to program director when the company expanded to JBG Educational Group, now doing career counseling and consulting as well as tutoring. She lives in Rockland and works mainly in the Metro West area of Boston, though the business is starting to expand.
“I love my job. I literally wake up every day and I can’t believe I get paid to do this,” Padula said. “It also leaves me time to write.”
Padula’s first book, “Montgomery Lake High #1: The Right Person,” is available now on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Eventually, it will be available in whatever bookstores decide to order it through the distributor, Padula said.
She said she is open to the idea of doing book signings or speaking to kids at school about her books.
“I believe in the message behind the books, so anything that’s going to reach out and help kids find out about it, I’m open to,” she said. “[…] I figure the books will get in the hands of whoever is meant to read them. My hope is that they meet them wherever they’re at, and that it can prepare younger kids for high school or encourage kids who are in high school to kind of rise above it and to hold their ground, not buckle under the pressure.”