To practice what you preach, a cliché that rings true. In Kelly Owen’s case, to practice what you teach sparked what would become a five year literary journey.
With 20 years of higher education experience already under her belt and two and a half earned degrees, the College’s very own English professor has put her skills to the test by publishing her debut novel, The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones. Unlike any before, this “New Adult” novel explores the uncharted territory of freshman college life in its rawest and purest form. From sex to biology and drinking, Owen’s narrative illustrates the dynamic course and experience that is college.
The novel delves into the life of protagonist Cadence Cooper, who finds herself facing more than what is to be expected of her first year at Charlestowne College. With threats of expulsion from a professor knocking at her door, encounters with a pestering roommate, hookups and tentative class schedules, Cadence must strive to endure the challenges that surround the world of the college experience. Nearly defeated and ready to end her hopes of higher education, Cadence finds solace in romance and lands the job of student photographer. Learning lessons from class and the city, she discovers issues of rape, suicide and scandal.
A Georgetown, S.C. native, Owen attended the University of South Carolina, earning a bachelor’s degree in English and collected her master’s at the Graduate School of the College of Charleston, before the fate of writing a novel crossed her path.
Room 319, March 6, 2009, was not just an ordinary day on the job, for it was in her very own classroom where Owen experienced her life altering revelation. The day’s lecture focused on an in-class writing assignment in which Owen instructed students to skip lines as they went about their work. As a reminder, one student in particular wrote SKIP LINES on the back of her hand before proceeding with her task. Owen stated that as she stared at those two words, she heard a small voice in her head of what the student might be thinking.
“Who the hell does she think she is asking us to remember to ‘skip lines’? Is that really important? As if by instinct, I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and after a short time, one entire side was filled with lines chronicling a series about college. For some reason, the pen in my hand was red and the ideas appeared as if they had been shed in my own blood. Hours later, the story was racing out of my mind, down my arm, and to the hand that kept track of a narrative gone wild. When I got home, I opened a long-unused leather journal and wrote what will become one of the most memorable scenes in the series.”
572 pages later, on March 14, 2013, the story was complete.
While the fictional college of Charlestowne takes place in the historic city of Charleston, Owen clarified that her created institution is not to represent The College of Charleston. Using her personal education experience and the involvement of teaching higher education, Owen drew from these experiences to develop the backdrop for her story. And despite the familiar places and scenery of Charleston, characters within the novel are not actual students that attend the College of Charleston, but rather lasting personalities and essences of students she came in contact with. Within the novel, readers discover that characters are minimally and vaguely described. From this, Owen challenged, “What does the typical college student look like?” Because college is a diverse affair and experience, there is no set physical description or predetermined fate of what a college student may face on their journey. Owen’s strategic aspect makes her narrative that more captivating and appealing to all students in the system of higher learning.
Upon its July release date, The College Chronicles was warmly welcomed by faculty and staff at the College of Charleston. Along with photos, scences from the book and videos, thecollegechronicles.com displays a growing fanbase spreading their inquiry and love for the novel through Facebook, Instagram and the hashtag #whatsyourcourse. Additional features include music written and sung by her “rockstars” or students of Owen whom she taught. Readers can also explore a set of questions based on the book to guide along with readings.
Owen expressed that she has received much support from family members, coworkers and students, making the new experience of becoming a self published author easier. And although nothing but good news and success has generated from the novel, Owen confesses that the hardest part of this journey has not been penning down her words, but actually spreading it and selling it.
With the help of her husband, Matt Owen, the daunting hurdle of publishing was accomplished with the formation of their own company Boxer Publishing, LLC. This feat allowed Owen creative freedom on not only the physical attributes of the novel, but where and how it is distributed. From Amazon to iTunes and even local bookstores, The College Chronicles’ pages are being flipped, discussed and mentioned literally and digitally in places as far as the UK.
The Future of The College Chronicles
As an English professor to freshmen students, it was asked if Owen would ever share her novel and incorporate her work into class curriculum. Owen replied “I would never force my students to read my work. I would rather them discover it on their own.” That being said, Owen admitted that it would be great and aspires to see other educators use her story within a classroom setting. Now that the first stage of the series is already out, and with three more novels to complete, each documenting a year in her characters’ college lives, readers can anticipate the second part of Cadence’s journey hitting shelves soon. On where she expects the series to go in the future, Owen mentioned that while the ending of the series is already written, “as a writer [she] knows where its going, but sometimes characters make twists and turns that you don’t expect.”
Mirroring that of her characters, Owen’s embark on this new and thrilling journey is life changing not only for her, but for readers, reiterating the fact that life is a college, but what course you take is in your hands.
This article first appeared in the October 2014 issue of The Yard.