December 28, 2015
Audrey Greathouse ’15 earned her bachelor’s in English language & literature, graduating magna cum laude a full year earlier than most of her high school graduating class. While she initially began college at a traditional campus, she soon found herself disenchanted and transferred to an online degree program at SNHU.
“With open arms and a brilliantly simple application process, they welcomed me to a program that challenged me to think for myself, and think a lot,” said Greathouse. Over her three years with SNHU online, she said, “I worked with the most ideologically tolerant and intellectually diverse collection of students I’ve ever known.”
We recently caught up with Greathouse to learn more about her journey as a writer, her experience earning an online degree with SNHU and her recent success in creative writing.
Definitely! I used to get in trouble in grade school because I never finished my stories in time to be turned in. I wrote my first fantasy book when I was 12, and that's when I realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life. In high school, I found the NaNoWriMo program, and since then I've drafted 15 books in an attempt to hone my craft and launch a career as a novelist.
The online aspect factored in deeply to my decision to go to SNHU. Physical schools didn't interest or work for me, and the geographical freedom gave me the lifestyle I wanted to lead.
I rarely spent three consecutive months under the same roof while I earned my degree. I wrote “The Neverland Wars” while hopping between beds, couches and states. I'm confident the life experiences I had in that time will fuel my writing for years to come.
I was in the English language and literature program. I studied the language closely and intently read as many great writers as I could, all while writing furiously on my own time.
I wanted an education. I wanted to be a better-read and deeper-thinking individual. I figured that any growth I had as a reader would translate to growth as a writer.
I earned my degree in three years' time, so it also gave me a little bit of authority. When people met someone like me who was 21 and already graduated with a 70-page honors thesis, I think it forced them to take me a little more seriously – especially since I still looked 16!
In all seriousness, though, I aimed to grow my understanding of literature in order to feed my talent as a writer, and I think SNHU gave me the resources to do just that.
I feel like I gained an appreciation for the interplay between philosophy and literature. I learned a lot about how style evolves both culturally and individually, and how quickly a style or form goes from revolutionary genius to outdated and unrepresentative – and yet still remains relevant to the current zeitgeist.
I think everything that we intake influences our art, no matter how remote or antiquated, and having that blend of classic literature only broadens my understanding of what is possible in creative writing. It was great. I would work all day studying and analyzing literature, and then I would spend my evening pounding out as much writing as I could, experimenting with everything I wanted to.
SNHU professors assigned a lot of good books in the creative writing electives I took. William Zinsser's “On Writing Well” remains one of the best books I own on writing, even though he never talks in any depth about fiction.
The opportunity I had as an editor on the Manatee, SNHU's student-run literary journal, was also great. That taught me a lot about reading through pieces and quickly pinpointing what worked and what didn't. I think that also improved people's impression of me. I wasn't just some aspiring writer kid; I'd actually done editorial work on a literary journal before.
Well, now that she's written a New York Times bestseller, I guess Amanda Palmer counts as an author! She has a lot of wild ideas about connecting with people and using art as a means of forming community. I think that the 21st century is really changing paradigms everywhere, and we need to be thinking outside of the box for how we want to share our art and try to make a living off of it.
Her husband, Neil Gaiman, also happens to be my favorite writer, and his “just sit down and write something” mentality is very straightforward and encouraging. He writes everything from picture books to comics to novels. He's got a wide creative range, and his writing attracts an offbeat, eclectic crowd. I'm a big fan of artists like Gaiman and Palmer, who manage to establish and connect with a sort of cult following for their work.
I feel like the biggest challenge for me is always killing my darlings. You'd think I'd etched my novel in stone, the way I dread content editing. I actually get really emotional when I'm cutting, and so I have to put every little line in a file somewhere else. Doing that helps me with the process, that way I at least know those little moments and excerpts aren't gone forever.
I tend to get ideas watching, of all things, music videos, and then incubate scenes and characters in my head.
With “The Neverland Wars,” the overarching conflicts came to me immediately: What if parents waged war against Neverland in an attempt to bring their children home and repurpose the magic for their own grown-up agendas? And what if a teenage girl accidentally ended up in Neverland, whose side would she be on?
Little thoughts and ideas trickled into my head to flesh this out over the course of years. Really, once I've settled on a character name, it becomes very easy for me to start collecting details about them and feeling confident in how they would react to plot events and drive the story forward.
Long. When I was 17, I self-published one of my books and printed a couple hundred copies to sell to friends and others who were interested. That was a really rewarding experience and kept me inspired during the following five years of writing, rewriting and querying.
I sent out literally hundreds of letters for three books, but it wasn't until I wrote “The Neverland Wars” and took it to the San Francisco Writers Conference that I started getting some traction.
Ultimately, I heard about the #Pit2Pub event on Twitter and used that hashtag to give my elevator pitch to small publishers that were looking for new books. I got a request for my manuscript, and a few weeks later, after talking about my career plans and goals, Clean Teen Publishing offered to sign me. It was fantastic. After five years, it felt unreal.
Social media, of course! My publisher is doing a lot to promote my book, but so much of marketing does fall on authors these days. I'm finally getting the knack of Twitter and Tumblr.
I'm also really exploring the book blogger community. There are a lot of amazing individuals who just read and review books. They have no credentials or affiliations, but people listen to them because they're thoughtful and interesting. Following them and getting a sense for how they pick their books is helping me get in touch with readers.
Plus, social media is so transparent; it's really easy to see what other big-name authors and large publishers are doing to promote their books. From there, it's just a question of how I can implement similar marketing strategies.
How to write! When I first started querying, my work was not good enough to be publishable. Aside from that, though, I really wish I'd understood the importance of Twitter. Gathering a following aside, it is a fantastic place to get in touch with agents, editors and publishers and really tap into what's happening in the industry.
I wouldn't have my book deal if I hadn't been on top of #Pit2Pub and known the importance of that hashtag. Social media is huge, and it levels the playing field a bit. You can tweet to anyone, and sometimes it pays to be trying to reach out to people you think are out of your league.
"The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera would be my first pick. I love that novel and all of Kundera's philosophically musing work. I think I would have to take my anthology of Edna Saint Vincent Millay's poetry, too, and Neil Gaiman's "Sandman," which I guess is technically a series of comics, not a book, but I love it to death. It's littered with literary allusions and references to the classics, so every time I go back through it, I discover something else hidden in the story.
I would tell them to also consider looking at an English literature and language degree. If you are self-motivated enough to write on your own time, without projects or assignments to prompt you — and face it, that's how it's going to be once you get outside of academia — it is really beneficial to have a hard grounding in the classics.
I had a lot of fun in my creative writing electives, but I feel like the real beneficial stuff happened because I was critically looking at writing done by the greatest masters of the English language.
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