This blog post was originally published on the old Word Foreword March 29th, 2017.
High School, am I right? I had all kinds of projects running all over the place. Only a few of them stayed with me. One in particular was a series that I had developed over a year or so after an assignment from my Creative Writing class. I’ll get to the project in a minute, but first I want to talk about some of the classes I took.
Arguably the most important was Creative Writing, which was led by Mrs. Vaughn - who was one of the most kind teachers I’d ever had and truly helped me foster my talent. She was a preacher’s wife and regularly put on get-togethers at her church for teenagers. I attended one once and appreciated what she was trying to do (create a controlled party in a town of 16,000 people - that’s right, we lived in Footloose), but it wasn’t for me.
This class was a throw away for most of the students who took it, which was fine by me. The class was 50 minutes of writing, three times a week. The fourth day, we would trade projects with someone else and read over their work. The fifth day, we would each read one of our projects out loud. We had to turn in three projects a week, and between the three projects there had to be a total of seven pages.
The projects were mostly free style, but offered bonus points if you followed certain writing prompts facilitated by Mrs. Vaughn. I took advantage of these as often as I could, which was usually only once a week. More about these prompts later.
Weekly, I wrote a “What if?” journal that centered around our school being infested with a zombie plague. The school had weird railways and caves underneath it (in the story), that caused some of the students to split up. It was the first “on-going” project I ever took on, and it was the one I read to the class every week (this also saved several other students from reading theirs, which they thanked me for).
The next two classes were AP (Advanced Placement for those folks who haven’t been in High School for a while) Literature and Mythology. Mythology was a bit more hands on, like a traditional class, and helped me grasp a lot of the symbolism and writing formats. This is where I started really hammering down the Eragon impersonation, because we talked a lot about the Hero’s Cycle and Joseph Campbell in general. My teacher, unknowingly, opened a can of worms by using Star Wars as a comparison.
AP Lit was a similar format to Creative Writing, but instead of writing, it was 50 minutes of reading. We had a list of books we had to read, and turn in a report weekly on one of the books we’d finished. Once a month we would have a quiz on one of the required books.
So these classes, along with some others, like Speech, were really helpful for me and helped set the pace for what I wanted to do. It also provided me with a stable foundation for my future in writing.
One of the writing prompts from Creative Writing happened to be ‘rewrite your favorite story in a different genre’. My mind exploded, and I started writing down as many things as I could think of. The first one was Lord of the Rings as space opera. I fleshed out this galaxy where all the different planets in the galaxy were the different races and nations from Middle Earth and a humble delivery pilot came across something from ages past and had to take it to the other side of the galaxy to destroy it.
That was how the idea came to me. Admittedly, most of that idea had been laid by Tolkien decades ago. I filled half a notebook with ideas and notes and how to change this or tackle that (Gollum was a bounty hunter). Eventually it seemed much too big for me. So instead of writing it, it became a Dungeons & Dragons campaign I ran for my friends.
The second idea was a contemporary Harry Potter, without magic. I filled several notebooks about the details. I set it in a modern American boarding school. The story kept leaning slightly towards science fiction the more I thought about it. Instead of filling the plot holes with magic I used fringe science. Eventually, it became a massive four (or five, never nailed it down) book series about clones and corporate espionage. It was awesome.
In my files I kept calling it The St. Howards Project, meaning to give it a proper name. St. Howards being the name of the school that served as my Hogwarts. When I finished writing the first book, I actually printed some copies and gave them to family and friends (thanks, Amazon). To my surprise, most of my family enjoyed it. Yeah, some of them may have sugar coated what they thought, but years later some of them even reminded me about a particularly scene they enjoyed.
But I didn’t enjoy it.
A tickle in the back of my head reminded me that, at its foundation, this was Harry Potter, and many of the themes echoed that, like “choosing between what’s right and what’s easy”. So I tore it apart. It would be the first iteration of The St. Howards Project that got tossed.