It was a dark and stormy night. A young woman sat at her desk, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The light from her laptop reflected off of her glasses as she frantically typed away at her keyboard, desperate to meet her word goal. Her workshop is counting on her, she reminded herself. And so is her grade point average.
If that’s not a glimpse of my past, then it’s definitely a prophecy about my future.
This semester, I’m taking a “senior writing seminar” course and our big assignment is to plan and complete some type of writing project. For me, I’m plotting out and writing 50,000 words of a novel. In addition to fiction, I know there are also students writing literary non-fiction and graphic novels.
So yeah. Lots of pretty neat stuff is happening in Writing Seminar.
I’m sure you’re thinking by now, “Maggie, what is YOUR project about? We’re all dying to know!” Or maybe you’re not thinking that, which I understand. But if you actually are dying to know about my project, keep reading!
Since my project is still in its beginning stages, I don’t really have a proper elevator pitch or anything, so I’ll do my best to tell you about it concisely.
I’m writing an “alternate history” novel – a cross between historical fiction and sci-fi. It’s set in 1968, and features two young women (a college student and a journalist) as they investigate several U.S. soldiers who have mysteriously disappeared in their home country. As they investigate, they uncover some horrible truths and are forced to figure out who they can really trust.
That’s the gist of it. There’s also some SKETCHY SCIENCE involved, but that didn’t really fit into my fancy blurb up there. I promise, it’s in the novel. At least, I’m planning on it being in there, since it’s included in my outline and serves an important role in the plot. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s hard to say where this project came from. A lot of places, I suppose. I was partly inspired by one of the projects I participated in my high school’s Role-Play Writing club. The story centered on government agents investigating a gang that sold a drug that transformed its users into wolves. That first gave me the idea to incorporate a werewolf-type creature, but ultimately, my other thoughts about gangs and federal investigations were scrapped.
Instead of trained professionals, I decided to write amateur investigators. Valerie – who goes by Val – is a senior math major in college, and prefers the company of numbers and puzzles to human beings. Her younger brother is one of the missing soldiers, and she just wants to see him safely home. Clara is a journalist, so she’s had some experience following a story, but not to this extent. Her boss at the newspaper doesn’t see much potential in this investigation, but she’s determined to prove herself to him.
The other pieces started to come together after that. When I was still stuck on the gangs idea, I considered a setting like the 1920s/30s United States, but that didn’t really hang around for too long. That did put the idea in my head – Hey, historical fiction is pretty fun to read, and I haven’t tried my hand at it before, so why not?
I ended up settling on the Cold War era because I knew I wanted some shady government dealings and conspiracies, and it seemed like the perfect time. Picking an exact year was a little trickier, since I only had a few vague parameters (I wanted it to take place before the Watergate scandal, for example). I was eventually forced by deadlines to pick a specific time, and I settled on March 1968. It’s the spring before a big Presidential election, so I thought that would keep things interesting.
If I’m thinking of inspiration, I’d certainly have to cite two of my favorite historical fiction/alternate history books, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. In addition to giving me the inspiration to create two female leads, Code Name Verity also gave me the idea to incorporate other types of “documents,” like letters and newspaper articles, in my story. As for Leviathan, I like the science “rules” that Westerfeld sets up, and I’ve always thought it would be fun to try my hand at something similar.
One of my roommates, who is also in my workshop group, has told me my story gives her Stranger Things vibes, so I’m sure that has some influence too. I can definitely see it in some ways, like how Clara echoes Nancy Wheeler in the third season of Stranger Things, but that wasn’t intentional on my part.
And that pretty much sums up my senior seminar project. I have until the beginning of December to reach my goal, which should be plenty of time if I don’t do anything stupid. I’m a little over 2/3 finished with my outline with plans to finish it by the end of this week and begin writing. I’m not quite where I’d like to be with that, but I at least have a basic idea of the project’s third act, so I can always fill in those gaps later.
If you’re interested to know more, I’m planning to introduce either Clara or Val (or both, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious) at the end of October with the Language of Worlds linkup, so keep an eye out for that!