Butch Adams
Lisa Mangum

Words have always been important to author Lisa Mangum. It was a focus in her house as a child and that focus grew into a passion as she matured into adulthood.

"I started reading at a really young age," Mangum said in a phone interview. "My mom was a writer and an editor, and so I grew up sort of following her example."

For the past 10 years, Mangum has worked in Deseret Book's publishing department as an editor. During that time she'd do a little writing on the side, but nothing she thought about publishing.

"For a lot of years I was happy just sort of writing in secret," she said. "It was only these last couple of years that I thought I had something good enough that I could publish it."

By the time Mangum was ready to submit a manuscript, she had a fairly good understanding of the ins and outs of how to go about getting something published. But that didn't completely prepare her for the transition from editor to author.

"It's been creatively liberating to think about words in a different way," Mangum said. "At work I have to think about them (words) and correct them and fix them. At home when I put my author hat on, it's a lot more freeing. I can play a lot more. I don't have to think about mistakes as much because I know we'll fix them in editing later."

The product of Mangum's transition is her debut novel, "Hourglass Door," the first book in a young adult trilogy, which hits stores Wednesday.

At the center of Mangum's book is Abby, a typical teenager with a seemingly perfect life. When a mysterious foreign exchange student named Dante moves to town, Abby's life is thrown out of order. Time begins to bend in strange ways and soon Abby finds herself in the middle of a mystery that spans five centuries.

Mangum didn't set out to write "Hourglass Door," but when the idea came to her while driving to a writer's conference, she knew that's what she had to compose.

"I wasn't originally thinking about it too much," Mangum said. "I was working on an adult fantasy series. But right around Thanksgiving Point, Dante and Abby just jumped in my car and said 'tell our story.' And by the time I got to Provo, I had it all outlined and the character arcs and some scenes already sketched out in my head."

And though Mangum had been working on a book for adults, she says the teen scene is where she wants to be. The genre seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, and Mangum is thrilled to be where the action is.

"In young adult fiction it feels like the stakes are always higher because the characters feel so intensely about what's going on," Mangum said. "You know 17-, 18-, 19-year-olds still feel like the whole world is open and there are so many possibilities and what's happening to them right now is the most important thing that happens.

"I think readers can relate to that whatever their age is, because when you're looking at the world through your own eyes, of course what's happening to you is in fact the very most important thing that can be happening. That intensity is one of the things that draws readers in and helps them connect to the characters in young adult fiction."

Another thing that is sure to capture readers' attention is the fantastical elements Mangum weaves into her tale. She says the moral themes found in fantasy are what keep readers coming back for more.

"Fantasy often deals in no uncertain terms with what's good and bad, what's right and wrong," she said. "True core fantasy deals with characters who are going through the quest to be the hero and to change the world and to stick to their morals and their principles and their values.

"Those sorts of themes are universal, and I think they're very attractive to parents and to kids and families that are looking for the message of the importance of loyalty, the importance of friendship, the importance of standing up for what you know is right even when things get tough."

Beyond the fantastical elements, though, Mangum says love, not fantasy, is at the heart of "Hourglass Door."

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"I think it was key for me," she said. "I wanted to tell a love story, building it around a passage from Dante's 'Divine Comedy.' At the very end of 'The Paradiso' there's a beautiful little section of that poem that I had always loved and thought 'if I'm going to write a love story, I'm going to write it about this.' "

Whether readers call "Hourglass" a romance or a fantasy, Mangum can't help but be excited about her experience so far as a published author.

"The writing process was just a roller coaster and it was so much fun, and I can just hardly wait to strap myself back in. … Maybe it's just the first blush of my first book and I don't know any better, but I don't know that I would change anything."

E-mail: jharrison@desnews.com