‘Spookygirl’ novel wins Marco Island writer a shot at the big time

Jill Baguchinsky, a Marco Island resident, stands next to a whale tail near the Space Needle in Seattle, where she was named the winner of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest in the Young Adult category.

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Jill Baguchinsky, a Marco Island resident, stands next to a whale tail near the Space Needle in Seattle, where she was named the winner of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest in the Young Adult category. Submitted

Marco Island writer Jill Baguchinsky has been trying to get published for 10 years.

“It’s such a hard thing to break into,” the aspiring author said. Now she is poised to publish her first novel, a young adult tale in the paranormal fiction genre.

Baguchinsky’s “Spookygirl” was selected as winner of the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. She competed against thousands of manuscripts for a publishing contract with Penguin Group which includes a $15,000 advance against royalties.

“I was very surprised. I’ve been trying to sell this book for three years, so it’s great to get some positive responses for it,” said Baguchinsky, who beat out two other finalists and was chosen by popular vote of Amazon members. She was announced winner of the Young Adult category at a gala in Seattle on June 13, along with Gregory Hill’s “East of Denver” in the General Fiction category.

A 32-year-old Southwest Florida native, Baguchinsky was hopeful she would win, but she wasn’t sure after “Spookygirl” received mixed reviews from Amazon’s literary critics.

“I hoped, but you never know until they do the final announcement,” she said shortly after returning to Naples this week. “The contract is the really exciting part. It’s something I’ve been working toward for a long time. I’m still letting it all settle in.”

Baguchinsky originally wrote “Spookygirl” as part of National Novel Writing Month, which challenges writers to complete a novel in 30 days.

She’s always been fascinated by the supernatural and grew up reading Stephen King novels. Her writing usually takes a lighter approach, having also been influenced by paranormal comedy like “Ghostbusters” and “Beetlejuice.”

“I tend to write a lot of quirky comedy and dark humor,” she said. “It’s fun to have a balance like that.”

“Spookygirl” was selected as a finalist after excerpts were narrowed down by Amazon editors and full manuscripts were evaluated by editors at Publishers Weekly and Penguin, said contest spokesperson Gabrielle Torello.

The winner was determined by popular vote from Amazon members who read excepts on Kindle (find it at www.amazon.com/abna). Pre-orders of “Spookygirl” are now offered on Amazon for $16.99, with a scheduled release date of Aug. 16, 2012.

Although that may seem a long time to wait, Baguchinsky plans to spend the next year creating a sequel to “Spookygirl.” She envisions a series about her main character, Violet, delving deeper into paranormal investigation and encountering a myriad of supernatural phenomena.

“Spookygirl” opens with Violet sketching a corpse on display in the funeral home her father operates. The two live in an upstairs apartment, along with a “pet” poltergeist named Buster. Far from being unnerved by death, Violet is able to communicate with spirits, just like her mother, who mysteriously died during a paranormal investigation.

Baguchinsky weaves typical teenage anxiety about fitting in at school with Violet’s quest to discover the truth about what happened to her mother.

“In the increasingly crowded paranormal marketplace, this funny and suspenseful novel sets itself apart and heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice,” wrote Amazon expert reviewer Jennifer Besser, who cast her vote for “Spookygirl.” “Baguchinsky’s wry sense of humor and great ear for dialogue, coupled with a knack for building suspense, make this novel work.”

Amazon reviewer Julie Just was more critical: “Violet doesn’t offer much as a heroine; for an isolated girl who still misses her mother, she comes off as surprisingly flippant and self-satisfied much of the time.”

However, Baguchinsky’s ability to intertwine the supernatural with normalcy is part of the book’s charm, wrote Gayle Forman, publisher of G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers: “When Violet takes up her mother’s mantle as a sort of ghost whisperer, trying to find resolution for the conflicts between ghosts and the humans they haunt, the story finds its heart...”

Baguchinsky has lived on Marco Island since she was a baby, attending Lely High School and Florida Gulf Coast University. She has penned several novels in the paranormal, science fiction and teen romance genres. “I can’t imagine not writing,” she said.

Baguchinsky also uses her creativity to craft collectible, plush monsters, which she sells on Etsy.com under the name “mint conspiracy.”

When asked if the character of Violet is based on her own experiences, she said everyone who has read the book identifies with the self-consciousness and stereotypes of high school life.

“I was like Violet in that I didn’t have my own clique or that one spot where you really fit in,” she said. “Everyone has their own personal hell in high school.”

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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