As mind-boggling as it must be to be 20 years old and already have a story published in a national best-seller, Derek Gamba of North Augusta takes it all in stride.
"It's great, but I haven't thought about it very much," he said. "I guess people will ask me about it now that I've returned home from college."
The theater major at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., sat down one night in June last year and wrote a short story about a painful encounter he had with a girl he had a crush on when he was 18. The story, titled The Funeral of My Rose, was included in the anthology Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul III, a collection of stories largely written by teens for teens. The book is 12th on the USA Today best-seller list and atop The New York Times' Advice and Miscellaneous Books best-seller list.
"My mom gave me Chicken Soup II, and I really liked it," Mr. Gamba said. "So I decided to send in a story of my own."
The editors of Chicken Soup III received more than 50,000 stories, and only 101 were included in the anthology.
Mr. Gamba had nearly forgotten about the story when he got a call from the editors, telling him they were interested in including it.
"I was like: `What story?'" he said, laughing.
The Funeral of My Rose tells how then 18-year-old Mr. Gamba bought a rose and bravely drove to the house of the girl of his dreams, "Lauren," described in the story as "a mythological siren disguised in Gap clothing."
By telling her how he felt, Mr. Gamba hoped to get together with Lauren (not her real name), but Derek is crushed as Lauren opts to stay with her boyfriend. The rose is left to wither on the back seat of the car, and the reader is left feeling sorry for Mr. Gamba.
"I get lots of e-mails from people who have read the story," he said. "Some of them ask if I want a girlfriend or (say) that I'm more than welcome to give them a rose."
In real life, however, Mr. Gamba wound up dating Lauren for a year. She asked him out on a date about seven months after the incident described in the story. They don't date anymore, though, and he isn't sure if she has read the story.
"It's going to be interesting to see how she reacts," he said.
The story is not Mr. Gamba's first published work. His mother, Deborah, submitted one of his poems to the 1994 edition of the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans. The poem was written when he was 15.
"This is the first time I've sent something in by myself," he said.
Having just finished his sophomore year at Winthrop, Mr. Gamba is unsure if writing is in his future.
"I'd like to, for sure. I write a lot of poetry, but I'm not the kind of person who likes to share it with the whole world," he said. "I also enjoy acting a lot. That's something I'd love to do in the future."
Who: Derek Gamba
What: Author of one of the stories in the anthology Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul III, $12.95
Family: Parents, Deborah and Mark, and older brothers, Jason and Jeremy
Meet him: Mr. Gamba will attend a youth discussion session to be held at Barnes & Noble Booksellers on Wrightsboro Road at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 15. Teens are invited to talk about their favorite story from the book or to share their own stories.
More information: Call 860-2310
Reach Jon Forsling at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.