When Andrea Shettle announced she was going to write a novel, her parents didn't exactly alert the media. "I'm glad to see you're writing," Carolyn Shettle would say, "but you still need to do the dishes." Would any mother have responded differently?

Then Shettle won the Avon Flare Young Adult Competition, perhaps the country's most prominent writing contest for teens. She went home to Chevy Chase to make revisions during spring break, and Mom promptly became a tad more indulgent. "She would try to help me out by doing all the cooking and cleaning," Andrea Shettle, now 20, remembers.

In an age of dismal verbal SAT scores, it's impressive that any teenager can connect enough words to write a salable novel. But Shettle's case is special: The Gallaudet sophomore has been somewhere between severely and profoundly deaf since birth.

"To the best of my knowledge, she is the first prelingually deaf individual to publish a novel," says John Van Cleve, editor in chief of the three-volume "Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness." "I think it is like King Jordan becoming president of Gallaudet. It's another milestone, another recognition that deaf people are capable of achieving important goals in the hearing world."

Not that Shettle had such a symbol in mind with "Flute Song Magic," a fantasy tale about the ability of music to break down social barriers. "I just wrote until it was finished," she says. As for her deafness, she adds that, "It's not the process of sitting down and writing that is the problem. It is the very simple act of learning good enough English to do it.

"A hearing child is continually exposed to language -- to his or her parents speaking, to voices from the radio and television. Even if he or she doesn't understand everything, the language is there to be absorbed, to be processed by the brain. Whereas a deaf child, especially one with hearing parents who don't sign yet, is not going to get that."

In her own case, her disability wasn't identified until age 3; before then, a dozen doctors offered opinions ranging from "nothing wrong" to "brain-damaged." "At the time she was diagnosed she really had no language skills," says Carolyn Shettle, who like her husband Eric is a researcher for the federal government here. "She didn't even know her name."

Gallaudet professor Van Cleve confirms that until recently, "It was simply assumed that a person with a serious hearing loss could not write English well enough to write a novel. Therefore, I don't believe they even tried. On average, deaf students finish high school with reading skills equivalent to a fourth grader."

From the publisher's point of view, Shettle's deafness is incidental. "It was by far the most mature piece of writing we saw of the 300 manuscripts submitted," says Ellen Krieger, editorial director of Avon's Young Readers department. "We were impressed by the sophistication -- how fully realized the setting was."

Unobtrusively, however, the non-hearing world makes one small appearance in "Flute Song Magic": "He had been made to understand that she was deaf, and could barely hear the spoken voice let alone understand it. Yet she had seemed to need nothing more than for him to repeat himself a few times for her to follow him ... She was, her parents explained, watching the movement of his lips."

Says Shettle: "I did that on purpose, because I feel there is a need for books to reflect that deaf people are out there leading ordinary lives. You can bump into them at any time -- they don't always have to be the center of the plot."

"Flute Song Magic," which will be published in November as a paperback original, is set in a society that has a very strict caste structure. "Nobles," observes the young hero, "couldn't buy from anyone from what Mommy and Daddy called the Lower Classes -- it was dirty, and it could get you demoted to a lower class too, so you wouldn't be a Noble anymore." In the course of his adventures, Flutirr gradually learns that even those from the dregs of society have their own kind of nobility.

This is not, Shettle says firmly, an allegory of what it's like to be deaf in the hearing world. At least, not consciously. "Subconsciously, who knows?"

In an interview conducted with the aid of a teletypewriter, she describes her deafness this way: "Well, I can hear the phone ring. I can listen on the phone to see if it's a busy signal or ringing or dial tone. I can even understand a very little bit on the phone if the other person doesn't have an accent and doesn't mumble. But I can't hear or understand a whisper or most alarm clocks."

For five years in high school she took piano lessons, of which she could hear all but the last two octaves on bigger pianos. This generally worked out, she reports, "since there are very few compositions that have any notes at all in that range."

One thing that helped make a difference for her, she feels, is her parents' love of books. "They're always reading in front of me and they read to me {aloud and in sign language} when I was a child." In general, she says, "I got a lot of support from my parents and teachers. No one was saying, 'You can't do this thing.' "

But she rejects any notion that she is special. "People should stop asking why I am so exceptional, why I am different, and start asking why so many thousands of perfectly intelligent deaf people read eight years below average and do math like junior high school kids. Why aren't they living up to their potential?"

Shettle is the fourth person to win the biannual competition, none of whose other winners has gone on to fame or fortune -- but then, they're all still young. The money involved isn't enough to sway anyone's head: $2,500 as an advance against royalties.

"I'm being nice and dull and saving it," says Shettle. In fact, she maintains that she's no different at all. "I still pig out on chocolate chip cookies and drink Diet Coke all the time."

The fifth Avon Flare competition will be accepting manuscripts from Jan. 1, 1991, through Aug. 31. Works generally range between 125 and 200 typewritten pages; eligibility is limited to those no younger than 13 and no older than 18 as of Dec. 31. For more information: Attn. Flare Young Adult Novel Competition, Young Reader's Department, Avon Books, 105 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.