Is This What It Feels Like To Grow Up?

Tomorrow morning my speech coach wants me to give a presentation to his interpersonal communication class about my senior thesis novel, because they’re talking about the role of technology in modern relationships and that’s basically the entire premise of my thesis. This is terrifying to me on a couple of levels, because I’m not even a senior yet and I’m only 11,000 words into the project so far, but it is also very exciting because it means that it’s real.

I don’t exactly know what to talk about yet so I thought I’d post a blog about it to work out what I want to say sooner rather than later. That way, in the two-ish hours tomorrow I’ll have between Boxercast and the presentation I can do my day’s NaNo progress (13,000 words, here I come!) and also my poetry homework because apparently real life still exists during NaNoWriMo. Anyways.

For my thesis novel I am writing a 21st century epistolary novel, which is a novel written via unconventional story telling devices, or as Wikipedia puts it, “written through a series of documents”. After some digging into Wikipedia’s list of contemporary epistolary novels, it has come to my attention that no one, as far as I can tell, has ever used blogs a storytelling advice, and that’s where I come in.

“Hailey” in 2010

The Secret Life of Jane is an epistolary novel following high school senior Hailey “Jane” Harper during her final semester in public school, told through her public blog, her “secret” blog where she uses only code names to refer to the people in her life, Facebook, text message, instant messaging, and emails.

This book would not exist without the internet and technology as a whole. First, the physical formatting of it would not exist because I couldn’t write a series of fictional blog posts and call it a story if blogs weren’t real things. Second, the experiences from my real life that spawned much of this novel would not have occurred as they did, if at all. And third, two major supporting characters would not exist without the internet, as that is how Hailey initially meets them.

“Hailey” in 2012

People have been arguing since the invention of the telegraph how technology will ruin interpersonal communication, but I have to respectfully disagree on every single level. Just because a format of communication is different doesn’t mean it’s inherently evil or less valuable than any other form of communication. Face-to-face communication is not the only honest form of conversation, and in some cases it can be the least honest of all. Think about videoblogger Josh Sundquist, who has been an amputee since childhood. Because most early YouTubers just sat in front of their computers and talked, for a long time none of his subscribers even knew about his disability, and it allowed him to join a community where his physical attributes were never even considered. Or take me. I have been shy and awkward since birth, and have never made friends easily. I started blogging at age 12 and it completely changed my life. I’ve made friends from all over the country and the world via the internet, friends who I would have never met otherwise. The internet gave me a medium in which initiating conversation was as easy as sending a “hi” in their direction. I could reply at my own speed, could make sure I had my thoughts down exactly as I wanted them before sending them off, and most of all, I could meet people outside my own tiny hometown with interests and aspirations the same as my own.

The internet gave me a community, and I wanted to give back to that community by writing this novel. Too often, older people grumble that “kids these days” don’t know how to communicate anymore, but I think what’s actually happening is just the opposite. I think that we’re talking more than we ever have, simply because we have no excuse not to. We are constantly surrounded by ways to talk to people, be it through your cell phone you never leave home without or the seven pound laptop that fits easily in your backpack, or the desktop computers that are free to use in almost every library across the world. How cool is it that I can use a device that fits in the palm of my hand and weighs less than a pound to message a friend of mine who is studying abroad in Europe for the semester? How incredible is it that I make weekly videos with six people from four different countries just because we all share common nerdy interests and happened to be on the right forum website at the right time?

In my novel, Hailey is having a really crappy last semester of high school. Her parents announced their divorce the week after she finished going to therapy for and the day before her 18th birthday. But to make matters worse, she’s also got about five months left of speech and debate, for which she seems to be the only one doing any work, and her ex is trying to weasel his way back into her life. A writer, the only way Hailey can deal with all of these different stressors is to blog her heart out, but unfortunately, all the stressors know about her main blog, HailstoneHarper.com. So she gets a second blog, one that no one knows about, and goes only by her middle name “Jane” and refers to the people in her life by the first letter of their names or invented nicknames. Through the interplay of these two very different blogs written by the same turmoiled teenager, Hailey realizes that maybe there really is a world outside her tiny Colorado hometown, and in it, a place just for her.

Here is why I decided to write this book for my thesis:

1. Because my favorite book of all time, Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger, is an epistolary novel set during WW2, and it gives me a great place to start my research section of my thesis.

2. Because it is a challenge.

3. Because I want to truly integrate the epistolary novel into the 21st century.

4. Because there are too many YA books that talk down to teenagers, and I want to give kids like me at that age something to read that doesn’t portray them as silly or thoughtless.

5. Because I am sick of adults and even other people my age lamenting the loss of face-to-face communication as if it is the only legitimate way to foster new relationships.

6. Because this is a story and a format that I am truly passionate about.

I am 3,000 words ahead of the scheduled word count in order to make it to 50,000 words by the end of November, so here’s to hoping I keep up that progress. Wish me luck tomorrow and with the rest of my insane month!

Also just as a life update I’ve been at Maggies now for 2 1/2 hours and I’ll probably be here for another hour yet, so yeah. If no one hears from my by 6pm, I’m probably dead. Cause of death: spontaneous combustion brought on by extreme friction from too much typing. I bequeath what is left of my laptop and charred body to science.

2 thoughts on “Is This What It Feels Like To Grow Up?

  1. Though I only follow your blog sporadically, your blog opened my eyes to the power of the internet as a medium to communicate. I imagine that your thesis project will be just as eyeopening to how that experience unfolds for the blogger. I look forward to your completed work and would love to read someday, if you publish it or otherwise make it available to others.

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