20 May 2019

I can’t believe one year ago, my graduate school journey came to a close. Up until that point, I was used to grinding away at page counts, struggling through readings, and spent evenings walking through the Village where nightlife mingled with students toting backpacks under the light-polluted skies of New York City.

Up until that point, I worked so hard on a project that was uniquely my own. There were no tests or final exams. No, there were only hundreds of pages to scan, proof, and perfect until I made it to May 20th—the day where my achievements were first recognized.

Last year, I shuffled into my seat at the Beacon Theater in the Upper West Side. Students stood and scanned the crowd for classmates and parents, making their way to watch the ceremony. We were all packed tightly in the orchestra seats with their parents, loved ones, partners, siblings, and cousins all cheered on the graduates when it was their chance to take the stage.

The ornate decor of the hall glistened under the spotlights, while a sea of violet gowns and hats sat patiently beneath the stage because finally, it was our turn to be hooded. I left that stage with my white and black sash tugging on my neck while I sat back down at my seat, and finally, those two years were officially over.

There was a lot that I learned from my Master’s Program, one being that it doesn’t always get you the job that you may be searching for, well may just mine didn’t pave the clearest pathway. I remember during my first year when I was an intern for Barnes and Noble Corporate. Halfway through the program, Len Riggio, executive chairman of book store chain Barnes & Noble, invited us to the executive suite on the top floor for lunch and a brief Q&A session. I sat next to his grandson, a fellow intern, who he picked on quite frequently, as we ate grilled salmon, Rizzotto salad, sauteed broccolini, and fresh-baked cookies.

Regrettably, there weren’t many business questions that crossed my mind. I wasn’t in this internship to learn how to start my own bookstore or coin the term superstore none the less, but as the Q&A came to a close, he pulled out his roster and took one last glimpse over the names. “Hannah Conwell?” I looked up in his direction as I saw all other interns turn my way, “I see you are getting a Masters in Humanities and Social Thought…What does that mean? What do you want to do?”

I felt the nerves bubbling up in my throat as he continued with, “it’s kinda like Anthropology, what more can you do with Humanities degree except teaching?” What was I going to do with this degree? 

I talked with some school colleagues and, we all had this insecurity. If we weren’t immediately going into a Ph.D. program, then what would we end up finding? Would anyone know what it was that we studied? I had a dialogue with all of my graduate school careers. “Humanities and Social though, basically put, is that I have free reign over classes at NYU, but I need to be determined enough to work my way into the classes that lead that serves as research for my thesis.” What was my thesis? Well, I analyzed literature for mental health writings and used the epistolary form as an argument as the best way to educate readers on the grieving process. From there, by exploring crime novels through an epistolary lens, my project aims to investigate the intersectionality between the two genres and their character development. My project will entail a research portion in addition to a creative project. The research is where I will dive into psychological thrillers which discuss the tumultuous crimes committed by young adults through the narration of their parents.”

All of this research was became the background for my novel––which is among the proudest project I have completed thus far in my life. I still am working on editing the manuscript and still working on getting it to a place that makes me happy. At the one year marked, I wished I would be ready to share with agents, but given the time of today, I’ve wanted to hold back on pushing too hard.

Which brings me to the point, in this year, what have I learned since graduation?  It’s HARD to get a job in something you love. Careers in New York align closer with who you know when you apply, and what you can bring to the table. My Master’s allowed me more avenues, but also limited the jobs I looked at. Working in publishing meant having a Master’s made no difference in the job I was getting, I was going to start from the bottom. Sometimes that makes me sad. That I put myself further in debt for what?

But then I remember, without this program, I wouldn’t have been in New York. I wouldn’t have found myself in the Publishing world and would be somewhere else. I wouldn’t be working with the editors of some of my favorite novels, or on the frontline of what’s to come in the book industry. If I hadn’t moved to New York, I wouldn’t have had this fresh start with some of the best new friends I have ever met. I wouldn’t have the romance I have, and I would be somewhere else in this world entirely. I don’t know what that other life would have been like, but I know I am happy where I am one year since graduation!

I Wrote a Novel

For my Master’s thesis, I undertook 280+ pages of pure emotion that bleed throughout my first completed fiction piece. I only needed to write a 20-page academic paper to get my degree, but my advisor encouraged me to write a novel because it is what I want to do in life. It was hard, but I did it

Entering February, I only had a 1/4 of my book done and I needed it completed before the end of March. In April, I found myself trying to edit my book, but there was so much more I neede to accomplish, including actually writing that 20-page academic paper.

Although the novel isn’t where I wish I would be, I would love to share my site, some samples of my book, and where you can find it as I start the process of publishing my work. I look forward to blogging more about my process and the steps that are to come in the

Book Synopsis

Elizabeth Calhoun fantasizes about her child’s future, while her daughter, Annabelle, fights for her life after a devastating accident. The traumatizing sight of her daughter in pain spurs Elizabeth to gather her thoughts into letters for Annabelle to read. For two years, Elizabeth fills the letters with stories and advice while imagining a world where her daughter opens them after turning eighteen.

What remains on the page is a mother looking back on vulnerable teenage years, misguided decisions, and serendipitous first loves, all while reexamining who she is as a person. The letters tether the mother and daughter together through a collection of memories that Elizabeth uses to uncover who she is through the words of wisdom she aims to pass along to her daughter.

To face the harrowing details of love, anger, grief, and relationships, Elizabeth must come to terms with her daughter’s altered life journey and meet her darkest temptations. Through the process of Elizabeth’s passage through madness, depression, and pain, this evolving stack of letters collect on her desk and become a refuge that both heals and terrifies a mother.

About the Novel

I conceived the idea of Open When, my first self published novel, while reflecting ways I have tried to help my friends and family through trying times. During my time spent writing, I traveled to Leavenworth, Washinton to experience life in such a unique city. From there the idea of having letter writing tether two lives together inspired the epistolary form of the letters. The entirety of the novel is narrated by Elizabeth, the mother, as she encounters advice that her daughter may need in the future while still maintaining the form we have all come to know within letter writing. The novel had its first reading on May 10th, 2019 during “XE Thesis Symposium” where I presented on the Explorations of Form.

Enchantment Park, Leavenworth, Washington when I was on-site for research 

Sample of the Book

Purchasing a Copy

Within the immediate future, I will revisit the manuscript, initially prepared for my graduate thesis, and prep it for literary agents to manifest it across bookshelves in the future as a way to inspire more to understand life’s most difficult times. In the meantime, Open When is available for purchase on Lulu Publishing.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.