Kate Russell started writing a book when she was just a teenager growing up in Clifton, using her own sexual experiences with older men as inspiration for what she thought would be a memoir. This week, she sold the novel that evolved from those early writings to Harper Collins’ William Morrow, for what “Entertainment Weekly” said was a seven-figure price, and earned praise from Maine’s most prominent writer.

According to her Instagram account, she also sold “My Dark Vanessa,” her debut novel about a teenager’s affair with her English teacher, to over 20 publishers worldwide and signed the contract two days ago. Her contract is for a two-book deal, according to her Twitter account.

“I loved Kate’s writing, which was sharp and crystal clear,” said Stephen King, who owns the radio stations where Russell’s father, Bobby Russell, worked for many years. “And I loved Vanessa – she simply jumps off the page. Her contrasting drives, to be loved and to grow into her own person, are extremely well drawn. And too rarely have we seen this facet of the abuse question, where the girl in question believes – perhaps because she needs to – that she was in control of the situation.”

Russell did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did Harper Collins. “We will be holding all additional press until we get closer to publication,” Harper Collins’ publicist Kelly Rudolph said in an email.

But Russell was ebullient on Twitter, writing Wednesday: “I started writing this novel when I was 16 and never stopped, produced endless drafts from BFA to MFA to PhD until finishing at age 34. Can’t believe this is what will become of the book I started writing as a teenage girl in an attempt to understand the world & my place in it.”

Russell’s British publisher, which won a bidding war to publish the book in the United Kingdom with a “significant” six-figure offer, described the book to English online publication the Bookseller as an “era-defining novel.”

“It is both horrifyingly disturbing and utterly riveting,” Anna Kelly of Harper Collins imprint 4th Estate told the Bookseller. “I expect everyone to be talking about it in 2020,” when it is released.

Russell told the publication that she was “thrilled, humbled, overwhelmed” and that she had worked on it for more than half her life. “I always hoped Vanessa would resonate with others, but the response so far has been beyond anything I could’ve imagined.”

According to her Facebook page, Russell lives in Lawrence, Kansas, and studied at the University of Maine Farmington and Indiana University, where she was a former associate instructor. She also has a doctorate in creative writing from the University of Kansas.

“Entertainment Weekly” said Russell has been “living below the poverty line.” On Twitter, Russell said she published “nothing this past year! or the year before!”

Russell told “EW” that she read “Lolita” at 14, was struck by literary criticism of the novel that described Humbert Humbert as transforming Dolores, the girl at the center of the novel, from “rough glass to sparkling crystal” and “really internalized that message, becoming sexually involved with older men at 15, 16, 17.”

The #MeToo movement caused her to make changes to the book, according to “Entertainment Weekly,” in part because she felt “alienated from #MeToo as a whole – despite it being directly connected to my novel, my life’s work – and I used that sense of alienation to fine-tune Vanessa’s character and shape the novel’s central conflict.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MaryPols


Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.