Although Jenna Duncan, a graduating senior at the University of St. Thomas, doesn’t have a “real” job lined up just yet, she nonetheless will be very busy this summer with a career pursuit worth writing about.
The political science and international studies major plans to promote and complete the final edits on her first novel, Hurricane, a young adult paranormal romance. The book will be published by Salem, N.H.-based Divertir Publishing this August on the six-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane is set in Duncan’s hometown, New Orleans, La., during the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. “Katrina was a major part of (my family’s) lives, so I wanted to write about New Orleans,” she said.
The novel follows 17-year-old Adriana “Ana” Alexander, who is kidnapped by Hayden and Luke Boudreax, two popular and good-looking classmates from her high school, during hurricane season. Duncan writes on her website, “New Orleans is a place filled with dark secrets, and Hayden and Luke are no exception. As Ana is evacuated across the South, she encounters severe weather, deadly competition and two unlikely suitors.”
Duncan, a lifelong and dedicated reader and writer of stories and poetry, wrote one of her first short stories, “The Scratcher Cats,” when she was in fourth grade.
Her natural passion for literary pursuits never waned throughout her childhood. She noted that before college she mainly was interested in reading the classics, citing William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. It wasn’t until college that she became interested in and started reading young adult literature. “Those are the books that inspired me. I just took it a step further by writing my own young adult novel,” she said.
To describe her book writing as taking it “a step further,” however, undercuts Duncan’s discipline, making it sound more like a leisure interest rather than the enterprising project it really was.
Completing Hurricane in just six months, Duncan wrote mostly during the summer and other university breaks during her junior and senior years. “When I start to write I get really into the stories so it’s hard for me to get back into my story and then learn about politics,” she said, adding, “If I was really caught up in the characters, I’d write during the semester, but for the most part, I had to wait until the semester was finished or until I had a break because during the school year, you’re constantly reading and writing.”
Duncan also worked part-time at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and would write during lulls. Or she would arise at 5 a.m. before work to pour out words onto her laptop. “All the ideas flow out in the morning,” she said.
It's a good thing Duncan has such a dedicated work ethic. Shortly after finishing Hurricane, she discovered that her work had just begun. "I had heard all the horror stories about submitting to publishers and waiting," she said. Her mentor in the Student Alumni Mentor program put her in contact with a publishing company, but even with the connection, she never heard back. She then sifted alphabetically through a copy of Writer's Market, an annually updated manual that lists book, journal and magazine publishers, taking matters into her own hands.
"I didn't have any expectations," Duncan remembers. But soon after submitting, Divertir's publisher contacted her, expressing strong interest in her novel. "I know the realities of the publishing world and how hard it is to get published. ... I got really lucky," she said.
Throughout her novel writing, Duncan received creative guidance and support from members of the St. Thomas community, including Dr. Pamela Nice, who she said "was a tremendous help not only during my writing process but in giving advice on how to deal with the publishing world." She’s also thankful that she hasn’t yet had to struggle through writer’s block and that she “can write pretty much anywhere.”
Her post-graduation plans? “Just to concentrate on writing and see where it takes me, and perhaps pursue something with my degree.”
Duncan welcomes those interested in her novel or writing process to e-mail her.