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Body swaps, zombie girlfriends and cover letters: Seniors talk Creative Writing

Vivian Lang / Thresher

By Shreya Challa     2/28/23 11:04pm

Savannah Carren’s senior project starts with murder by peanut butter and jelly knife. The piece, which Carren is currently working on for the English major’s creative writing concentration, is a high concept science fiction screenplay about body swaps, struggles with mental health and the general malaise of life.

Carren started working on her project for the Senior Seminar and Research Workshop during the summer, and her idea for her script solidified in the first three weeks of class.

“Like everybody else’s projects, it’s an ongoing process. It kind of lives with you … so we expect for the projects to be constantly changing as we go through the semester,” Carren, a Jones College senior, said. 

CG Marinelli, a Hanszen College senior, is working on a zombie rom-com screenplay inspired by a plot bunny, a story idea that was stuck in her head, from her friend during her junior year of high school.

“I had so much fun with it, but I got to a point where I was stuck, and I put it away for several years,” Marinelli said. “Then I took a screenwriting class my junior year of college. As I started to learn more about the form, the story grew and changed and became something that I love even more.”

For her senior project, Alejandra Wagnon is working on a collection of short creative nonfiction essays exploring themes of sexuality, imagination and perceived reality. She said that she  didn’t start working on her project until October. 

“I started off my senior project with a different idea of doing a screenplay that was a parody of ‘The Bachelor,’ but I decided to put that on hold,” Wagnon, a Wiess College senior, said. “I discovered that I really liked writing about my own stories and using humor to try and connect with other people.”

Akaya Chambers, a Martel College senior, is writing a full-length play about zombies in an indeterminate future, and said that she chose the form because of her prior experience with playwriting and love for science fiction. Chambers said that she was inspired by researching the history of zombies and her own experience in theatre.

“It’s from Haitian folklore … a type of undead person who becomes a slave after they’ve died. That’s very interesting and unique to Black history specifically … As a Black person in theatre, as a queer person in theatre, it’s easy to see how we often get excluded from these types of art forms and I wanted to create something for myself to see myself and people like me in this art form,” Chambers said.

Carren said that her work is inspired by her own struggles with mental health, as well as her love for sci-fi movies. She said that her favorite part of her piece is the worldbuilding aspect. 

“I can create characters that are really weird and funny, but because of the world that they live in, it’s considered to be normal. We can really push the envelope as much as we want,” Carren said. “It’s the fact that I’m allowed to be as wacky as possible that makes me have the most joy while doing the script.”

While her piece may have some deeper undertones, including commentary on idealized beauty and Karen culture, Marinelli intends for her screenplay to be fun and entertaining. 

“I am someone who appreciates super profound writing, but I am also someone who will voluntarily sit and read garbage on Kindle Unlimited for hours,” Marinelli said. “I feel like a lot of English majors take their work too seriously … That’s just kind of the environment of being in academia.”

Wagnon expressed a similar sentiment, saying that she tries to prioritize having fun while working on her project. 

“Especially in creative nonfiction writing at the college level, I think there’s a lot of stories that revolve around very intense topics and traumas, which isn’t a bad thing at all,” Wagnon said. “But I think that when we are exploring stories of such heaviness, it’s really important to balance them with some sort of humor and levity, so that both the author and the reader can at least take a little bit of joy in the story.”

Wagnon said that one of the challenges she has faced has been not giving too much of herself to the reader and finding stories to tell that she was comfortable telling.

“It is really important to prioritize one’s own physical and mental health by not mining your own emotions for content in a way that harms you. One of the ways I’m working to overcome that is by telling stories in different, covert ways,” Wagnon said. “I wrote one of my essays through the medium of a cover letter, exploring the trauma of the college application process and moving from high school into adulthood. The form of the cover letter lightens the topic.”

Marinelli said that hearing about people enjoying her work is an amazing feeling as a writer. 

“One of my favorite parts about the workshops are when people sit down like, ‘CG, I was reading this in a public place, and they were looking at me like I was fucking crazy, laughing [out] loud to myself!’” Marinelli said. “When I was in high school and middle school, I never let anyone read my stuff … Rice’s English department has really helped me get over that fear and become the kind of person who will just read it aloud.”

Carren said that one of the most important things aspiring writers can be is brave and willing to take risks. 

“People will consider English to be a lesser major … People will tell me that I’m going to work at Starbucks. You actually have to be one hundred percent willing to know that you are a good writer before you start writing,” Carren said. “I’m just so happy to have the opportunity to be able to do this. The more that I write, the more that I discover about myself in my own writing. You have to go into it knowing that it’s okay not to know.”

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