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York College writing class leads to senior writing her first horror novel

Elena Rapp stands at window with a

Elena Rapp has been writing stories since she started grade school, and she’s been spinning yarns – some of them tall tales – at least since then. “I was a little storyteller, where it was me lying to my parents and trying to get away with it,” admits the York College of Pennsylvania senior majoring in Literary and Textual Studies and Professional Writing. “It taught me how to lie to people better. I think that’s what storytelling is.”

She compares that deviation from reality to the suspension of belief by an audience watching a play. The Broomall, Delaware County, native is set to graduate in December, but the project she started two years ago in a Textual Writing course goes on: She is penning a horror novel that she hopes to deliver to a publisher early next year and sell on Amazon.

The 2017 Halloween season inspired her choice of genre. “I really wanted to do a horror story the first part of the semester, right around October,” she says. “I asked the professor if it was OK to do it in two parts, and that turned into creating an entire novel.”

The story focuses on a series of murders in a quiet German town during the early industrial period, against a backdrop of sleepy farms, gas street lamps, and steam trains. As a constable investigates the crimes, he encounters a supernatural threat. Elena has partially completed a second draft, finding that half a college education after starting the book, she expresses herself differently than she did as a sophomore. 

A favorite genre

Elena was an early writer. “I first got the real writing kick around first grade, when we did comic books,” she says. “From then on I would grab a notebook and start writing stores.” From the onset, her work veered toward science fiction. “In one drafting around fifth grade, a person winds up getting sucked into his computer game,” she says of a story that she didn’t finish. But, she never stopped writing journals as well as short stories that mixed horror and science fiction.

The novel, with a working title of The Beast of Brandenburg, is her first full manuscript under her pen name Eren Rapp. Each day, she tries to write at least 200 words. On weekends, writing can become an all-day project.

Elena loves the horror genre because it pits mortals against an overwhelming force. “I was always really fascinated by how the human mind works and what ways you can break it,” she explains. “So, when I took a psychology course, it really engaged me in doing psychological horror where you present someone with something he can’t comprehend.”

Among her influences are Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror film The Thing, as well as the video game Dead Space.

A rounded curriculum

Essays have dominated Elena’s writing in her college courses, and the classes have helped her polish her work. “The vast majority of my writing has been argumentative essays, which I am good at,” she says.

Among her literary courses were two classes that focused on writing and reading comics as literature. A Literary Publishing course, which she took as she began her book, she found especially useful. She serves as editor-in-chief of The York Review, a student-run literary magazine that features art, prose, and poetry.

Elena can see herself as a high school or college English teacher after graduation. “I have some strong opinions about the five-paragraph essay,” she says, which students often have to compose on standardized tests. “No one really teaches kids how to make thesis statements.”

But she also can envision working as a publicist, which she says would build on her enjoyment of editing The York Review. She would keep writing – “not full Stephen King” – but maybe a mix of horror and science fiction.

Finding her niche

Even Elena’s choice of York College had a literary bent to it, as she viewed her campus tour during high school through a novelist’s eyes. “The environment, the sweeping trees, the fountain, just the essence of the environment itself, the age of the buildings. It was very like a romance-novel sensation,” she says.

But, as with her own novel, which she now reads from a different perspective than during the initial draft, “I didn’t notice that positivity at first, and I dismissed it,” she says. After visiting other colleges, however, that first impression of York College “popped up.” “York College is the only place that offered me a merit-based scholarship,” she says, “and those two things combined made it feel that this is the place I’m supposed to be.”

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