A Pacific senior speaks on the process of creative writing capstones
In the cold of winter, some choose to find comfort in a good book. A select few find comfort in writing a good book instead of venturing into the cold. One such student, Grace Alexandria, has been working to finish her capstone project; she is writing part of a coming-of-age novel set during the European Witch Trials in France. The Pacific Index caught up with Alexandria to gain some insight into the process of creative capstones.
The Index: What do you do here at Pacific University?
Grace Alexandria: I am a creative writing major and a graphic design major with a minor in editing and publishing. I’m the vice president of the English club, a senior, and I do commissioned graphic design work for the optometry department and other places around campus.
The Index: For those who may not know, what is a capstone project?
GA: It’s like a senior thesis but not a “thesis” thesis. It’s a big project that’s a culmination of all your work at Pacific.
The Index: What is your capstone?
GA: Capstone for me, or for writers, is writing the first few pages of a novel or something like that. But for graphic design work it’s a lot of rebranding someone local or doing some sort of service for the community.
The Index: Why did you choose this major?
GA: Growing up, I liked to read a lot. My brother tried to get me into this book series, and because it was my stinky brother, I said no. But eventually, I read it and started writing my own version of it. There were a lot of hiccups along the way—figuring out different paths. I minored in Graphic Design when I first started, then applied for a scholarship. Then I took Professor Postma’s class in Book Editing & Design and I designed the book cover for that. After that, I took a class with Professor Coats and she told me I should major in graphic design—so now I’m double majoring.
The Index: What has writing your capstone been like?
GA: [Laughs] I technically started writing it my junior year. Honestly, then it was like pulling teeth for me. I don’t know why but I just got really burnt out over the pandemic, and it’s still hanging with me. It’s difficult and scary. It’s a project that’s like “everything” and then I’m done and then I won’t be in the school anymore, and that’s a scary thought. Professor Postma’s been very kind and helpful with the whole project. The biggest thing that weirds me out is that it’s on your own. It’s self guided.
The Index: Does writing energize or drain you?
GA: It depends. I feel like everything is creative—if you’re doing it for work, it’s going to drain you because it’s work. It’s not all passion. I think the biggest part is that I like coming up with ideas. And then I have a hard time organizing it. How does this fit together logically is one of my biggest issues. Sometimes I think shorter-form pieces are more energizing. Doing something new helps. Lately it feels pretty draining. I know what I want to do but I can’t find the right way to put it on the page. Even if I know it’s good and I like the story, I’m just tired.
The Index: What was your favorite part about writing your capstone?
GA: Honestly, my favorite thing is telling people what I’m writing about and seeing people get excited about it. Telling the plot and characters and diving more into it. The act of sharing your capstone is one of the most exciting and fun parts even if it’s a really painful process.
The Index: Would you like to share a blurb of what your capstone is about?
GA: The title is Flaming Calla Lilies. It’s about a girl, Prudence, who is growing up during the tail end of the European Witch Trials in France. She’s the daughter of a preacher and she has two older sisters. She starts having strange dreams and weird events begin happening that aren’t easily explained. Her eldest sister, Abigail, is trying to protect Prudence from their father. There’s a lot of complicated family dynamics. It’s supposed to be a coming-of-age story around the Witch Trials about a girl who doesn’t fit in: with religion, her family, and society.
The Index: Did you have a least favorite part about writing your capstone?
GA: I think my least favorite part is having to go back and fit different pieces into different scenes. I will fully have like five different documents that are all the same thing with very minor differences so I have to figure out which one I am working on and which ones are being pulled from.
The Index: What interested you in writing this novel in particular? Did it just form or were you inspired by something else?
GA: So, in Research Methods I started looking into dreams because I was interested in precognitive dreams. Then I started looking into science and getting bored with it, but I found records of dreams like that and then I looked into religion after that. My path led me to the Salem Witch Trials and sleep paralysis. People who experienced sleep paralysis and they would see a cat on their chest and they would claim it was a witch, so they would use that to condemn people. Dreaming, witches, religion—it all blended together.
The Index: Is writing only for writing majors or do you think others should do it too?
GA: I know plenty of people who are really strong writers who aren’t writing majors or who would be really good writing majors. The last thing an art community should do is gatekeep something like that. Art and writing can help with dealing with life and a lot of people should just do it. Help put words to things even if you don’t share it with the world.
The Index: Is there anything else you wanted to add or say?
GA: Please, for the love of God, do not procrastinate. You will not be happy. And thank your capstone professors. They put up with a lot.
— Ashely Strobel
Grace Alexandria is writing a powerful and complex book. I’m always excited to see what she’s added or revised when I receive updates to her draft. Shout out to Ashley Strobel on this smart interview.