BERKELEY -- After delighting hordes of young readers with her intimate, hilarious, best-selling journal series, "Amelia's Notebook," Marissa Moss is spreading the joy beyond her usual followers to educators, artists, lovers of history and uniquely, to her peers.
Creston Books, the children's book publishing venture she is launching in 2013, aims to be a shot in the arm for Moss and her fellow writers. Mergers and acquisitions throughout the publishing industry have decimated creativity and positioned books as marketing vessels: trends she hopes to reverse by throwing open the gate on collaborative partnerships.
"The authors are going to be invested in the press," she told Publishers Weekly in an early April interview with Carolyn Juris. "I want this to feel like a community."
Seven months later, speaking by phone from her Berkeley home, Moss says she's thrilled with the response. A Kickstarter campaign explaining the purpose and particulars of Creston -- all books will be printed on American-made, sustainably-sourced paper and distributed by Publishers Group West -- raised more than $50,000.
"This is one of the most beautiful places in the world," Moss exclaims. "It's culturally and environmentally rich. Writing is isolating, but the children's book community here is huge."
Moss wrote her first book, about an owl having a tea party, when she was 9.
"It was wimpy writing and I sent the original to the publisher -- can you believe it?" she says. "Because of that, I don't have (the original), but if I had it now, I'd be totally mortified, so it's sort of a blessing."
The discipline that drives her into the water every morning (to swim with her master's team at Golden Bear Pool) and plants her in front of a computer to write until noon and revise until dusk is largely the reason for her eventual literary success.
"I would go to New York twice a year and show my portfolio," she says. "People would tell me they love my work, they just needed to find the right project. After a while, being a writer seemed like something old men did, but I always kept writing."
Eventually, now-defunct Tricycle Press, an imprint of (now part of Crown) Ten Speed Press, published "Amelia's Notebook." The series took off and there are currently more than 30 renditions and counting.
"I don't want Amelia to be done yet," Moss says. "I don't want it to just trickle off. Maybe she'll graduate from middle school and go to high school next."
Her new series release, "Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris," joins a 14-year old girl as she searches for her missing mother and grows to understand anti-Semitism through the lens of the real-life, infamous Dreyfus affair of 1894. Tried for treason, Dreyfus became a source of argument and discord that alienated countries, communities, friends and families.
"I wanted to understand (artist) Edgar Degas -- how he broke with his friends over this," Moss says.
She researched for a full year and admits to being "obsessive" about historical accuracy.
"I want teachers to trust these books. But I think history is taught horribly in this country. It's names and dates, which sucks all the life out of it."
Writing compelling historical fiction for young adults follows the same formula as for adult books, she insists. Solid storytelling and real issues, without vampires or gore, are absolutes.
"The Dreyfus affair is about ugly government. Kids know more about justice than adults do. Kids know what's fair, so they can handle this," she says.
The sequel is already on her desk in galley form, waiting for final review.
"I hope to do seven books: the seven wonders of the world and each with a historical moment. This second one is set in Rome. Italy is so heart-stoppingly beautiful, the Pantheon is a marvel ... I can't tell you everything, but it's about (Michelangelo) Caravaggio and censorship of thought," she finishes, in a rush of words.
Tomorrow, after a brisk workout during which solutions will "float to the top of her mind" and be scribbled in a notepad she keeps in her gym bag, Moss will embark on her dual time travel adventures: to 16th century Italy and to the future with Creston Books.