My Journey as a Novelist

Posted March 15, 2017 by
Tags: The Arts Young Alumni The Liberal Arts Entrepreneurship

Q: What inspired you to write and publish your first novel, The Weather Man

A: I started working on The Weather Man while at Wheaton College. It was in Dr. Roy Joseph's Writing for Media class that I discovered how much I loved writing. 

The class, first of all, was one I thought I couldn't even take because of a scheduling conflict. But Roy saw my passion for a creative portfolio class like this, and allowed me to take the class by meeting with him regularly in his office. 

A professor had never done something so kind for me. But I can guarantee you, he didn't let me skimp out on the work. For my big assignment, I wanted to write a short story. He challenged me to write a novella. He said it had to be 100 pages. I had one quarter to do this. I thought it was impossible. But he had made me promise I would at least "Try." 

In trying, I discovered just how much I loved writing stories, and wound up turning in a “short story” at 130 pages. Roy loved it, and encouraged me to turn it into a full book. It was essentially a collection of short stories from my own life, exaggerated in the vein of Big Fish, and tied together thematically. I called it Reckless Orange. With his encouragement along the way, I finished it the summer before senior year at 250 pages total. 

Overall, it was not a book to publish. Let's be real—it was my first book—written by a 20-year-old with an extremely limited worldview. But I learned so much, and grew so much, and developed a voice in writing. I sent the book off to a random list of literary agents I had found online, and one of them really took a liking to my writing style. Her name is Lacy Lynch. Though she didn't think she could do much with my first book, I had already started writing my first real novel, The Weather Man. After I had finished the first 100 pages or so, she signed me. I was so excited, but so naive to how long the journey would be from there. 

I rewrote The Weather Man six times. And five years later—poof, it's been published by a small publisher for emerging writers, Amazon White Glove. The video above is one I made for my Kickstarter, when I needed $10,000 bucks to finish the book. I made the video with my Wheaton friend Jon Seneff ’15, who is filmmaker out here in L.A. My Kickstarter ended up raising $19,000, with 1,000 books pre-sold. Other Wheaties contributed in big ways too. Abigail Mitchell ’12 designed the cover, Chentell Stiritz Shannon ’13 (Convivial Production) crafted handmade mugs to be sold, and friends from Wheaton supported me. 

And still, the book, and me, are just getting started. I've got a long way to go. And thinking back to Roy—since he sadly passed away a couple years ago—I hope the book honors his legacy.  

What do you do when you’re not writing and promoting your novel? 

Right after college I moved to Los Angeles to attend a screenwriting program called "Act One." After a year of that, I kept writing, and started working odd jobs, like being a production assistant on film sets, or driving for Uber. And after about a year or two or that I had built up my copywriting enough to start getting more serious advertising gigs. That's what I do now, other than the book. I write advertisements for start-ups and ad agencies around L.A. Some have been really fun companies that I'm proud to have gotten to work with. Most recently I've signed on as a creative director at a social app startup, so that's exciting. But nothing tops publishing The Weather Man for me, no matter how the book performs. It feels good to know I put everything I possibly could into it, and that it's out there for people to read. 

What has been one challenge within your current job(s) that you have overcome? 

Freelance writing work is great and pays when you have enough of it, but it's hard to maintain. You must constantly prove yourself over and over, do tons of free work, lots of last minute quick turnaround stuff, and slowly build up a wide client base. 

How did Wheaton’s liberal arts curriculum prepare you for the career/vocation you are pursuing today? 

Liberal arts gave me the freedom to explore what I really loved while still in college. Wheaton’s small classes and flexible professors who know and care about their students helped, too. When I entered college I had no idea what I wanted to do, and even though I loved storytelling, I didn't take writing seriously yet. I didn't know I could. I think it's ridiculous to expect an 18-year-old to know what he or she wants to do, or can do. We need that time in college to explore, rather than get locked into a certain track right away. Communication professors like Dr. Roy Joseph and Dr. Read Schuchardt gave me immense freedom to explore creative writing and creative thinking within the assignments given. Read let me start a t-shirt company for an assignment in his Iconography class, and he took time, even after I graduated, to give me pointers on writing The Weather Man. So anyway—classes were not rigid. I was allowed to push things in the direction of my passions, even encouraged to do so, and that was invaluable. English professors like Dr. Brett Foster and Dr. Roger Lundin encouraged me to write freely. They taught me the power of storytelling, and their passion for it had a profound effect on me. 

What advice or encouraging words do you have to share with current or prospective Wheaton students today? 

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." -Steinbeck. 

Try things. If you aren't making any mistakes, you aren't trying enough things, and you probably aren't learning much of anything. If you're not changing, you're not growing.

Sam Hayes ’12 graduated from Wheaton with a degree in communication (media studies) and a minor in English. Photo captions (from top): A video created by Sam and Jon Seneff ’15 to support a Kickstarter for The Weather Man; Sam doing “guerrilla marketing” for The Weather Man by putting up realistic government signs warning of the weather that Adam's emotions create—stories about the campaign have been featured in the Chicago Tribune, LAist, and LA Magazine. Sam says, “More guerrilla marketing to come shortly.” See one sentence excerpts of The Weather Man and one-minute passage reading videos on Sam’s Instagram channel, @storiesbysam. 

To connect with alumni in various careers and vocations nationwide, join Wheaton in Network, a Vocation and Alumni Engagement program that allows alumni and parents to make themselves available to advise or mentor Wheaton students and recent grads. Students and alumni are able to contact advisers or mentors to learn from their experiences.