Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Ok, get ready to feel inferior. When an eighth grader named Maya Van Wagenen found herself struggling to fit in with her new classmates, she followed the seemingly outdated wisdom from a 1950s advice book for help. Not only did Maya crack the code to becoming popular by using ancient tips from Betty Cornell’s Glamour Guide For Teens, she kept a diary. That journal is the basis for a six-figure two book deal with Penguin Group. And now, at the ripe age of 15, Van Wagenen has become the youngest non-actor to ever make a feature deal at DreamWorks.

The studio has optioned Popular: One Geek’s Quest For The Impossible, as well as that Betty Cornell book. They’ve set Amy B. Harris to script it into a coming of age feature. Harris certainly knows that terrain; she transitioned from Sex And The City scribe to showrunner of the popular spinoff The Carrie Diaries. Mad Chance Productions’ Andrew Lazar will produce with Kristie Macosko Krieger.

This is heady stuff for Van Wagenen, who is now 15, but book publishers went wild for her story of struggle, and how she found social footing by following such advice as: always wearing white gloves, using pearls as a fashion accessory; and never forgetting that a girdle can be a girl’s best friend. The most important lessons conveyed were timeless ones like being open and honest, and kind. She found that each social clique was distrustful of the others, and that all of the kids bore similar insecurities. She was able to find common ground and feel for the first time like she belonged.

Writers House lit agent Dan Lazar ran an auction that got several publishers bidding, with Penguin Group emerging victorious in a two-book deal in the $300,000 range. The first title will be published by Dutton Children’s Books in April. Then, Lazar engaged Paradigm’s Lucy Stille to take the manuscript out to Hollywood. Sparking to the book was Andrew Lazar, who’s currently producing the David Koepp-directed Johnny Depp-starrer Mortdecai and follows with the Clint Eastwood-directed adaptation of the Jason Dean Hall-scripted American Sniper with Bradley Cooper. Also championing it at DreamWorks was Macosko Krieger, who has the ear of someone important over there.

She is the longtime assistant of Steven Spielberg, and here gets her first shot as a full producer on a major project after having been associate and co-producer on some of Spielberg’s directorial efforts. Krieger continues to work closely with her mentor; after all, she has been his assistant since 1997. That is all very touching, until you realize Krieger has held that role for longer than Van Wagenen has been alive.

Some take their time getting to the top in Hollywood. Others want to get it out of the way before they really get into the harder classes at high school.