News - 04/17/2014

MiraCosta College Writing Instructor Releases Self-Published Novel


As the faculty director of MiraCosta College’s Writing Center, Denise Stephenson deals with scores of students who have trouble with their prose, everything from essays to research papers.
Wanting to remember what it was like to be overwhelmed by an assignment, Stephenson set off to write a 400-page novel. The result is Isolation, which details a dystopian future where a deadly bacterial outbreak has moved authorities to prohibit people from touching their faces and then each other. It is a future where generations have gone without the comfort of human touch.
Stephenson self-published book, financed largely through a Kickstarter campaign, is available now.
The impetus of the story came from the swine flu epidemic in fall 2009, when hand sanitizers and bacterial-killing soap were promoted endlessly to help fight off infection. “The fear was rampant,” Stephenson said in an interview published by Treehouse Arts, a website where a range of artists discuss their endeavors. “Various national and international health organizations mounted campaigns to reduce the spread of virus by teaching us to cough and sneeze into our elbows rather than our hands. They also produced signs about the importance of hand washing. Simultaneously, access to hand sanitizers became ubiquitous in many public places, like grocery stores.”
Stephenson wrote most of her book during a sabbatical during spring 2012. 

“As the Writing Center director, my project was to write 100 pages of fiction,” she said. “I had never written fiction longer than seven pages, and the purpose was to emulate what a student faces when they have to write a 3-, 5- or 10-page paper that can be overwhelming for them. I wanted to remember what it was like to face a writing assignment that overwhelming.”
The Writing Center director spent three months in Kapa’a, Hawaii, writing the first 300 pages of Isolation, weaving together stories about the struggles face by her characters from around the country. She finished her draft upon returning to the mainland. A synopsis on her Facebook page describes the story like this:
“Agri-biz has failed to deal with the problems that come from bacteria-laden crops and from meat doused with antibiotics. Community after community falls victim. In Alaska, a virulent form of MRSA attacks a small island village and in West Virginia, an unknown bacteria decimates the hollers. In Kauai, terrorists may have laced a rainstorm with E. Coli, or perhaps the ocean is just teeming with it. Bacteria-laden food should lead to caution, but that doesn’t happen until the government steps in and bans people from touching their faces, then bans them from touching each other and finally, moves everyone indoors, quarantined in the homeland in an effort to prevent genocide.”
But writing the novel was only half the battle. Stephenson would hold at least one public reading every week at libraries, house parties, even Cal State Channel Islands, to help drive awareness of her effort and encourage people to donate to her Kickstarter campaign.

“It’s been way more work than I ever imagined,” Stephenson said. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the publishing industry, Kickstarter, and marketing.”

The decision to self-publish, she said, was made at the suggestion of students at her readings who “made me realize that the paradigm of publishing is shifting.” The book is available in paperback and two electronic versions and is sold online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Stephenson isn’t sure when her next novel will come. Or if there will be a next novel. Her immediate goals are more modest. “Right now my goal is to get the book published and find an audience for it,” she said.
Meanwhile, she wonders how futuristic her novel may, in fact, be. Referring to drug-resistant ‘super bugs,’ Stephenson says, “We are on the verge of being in the post-antibiotic age. This book is very timely.”

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