Canyon Alumni Authors

Siraj Bajwa, Writer

Constructing a novel is a colossal undertaking, one that takes hours upon hours of writing and editing and thinking and so much more. Personally, I’ve found it to be one of the most difficult goals I’ve ever pursued, which is why discovering that three Canyon alumni have written entire books while being high school students at our school, as well as gone on to publish their work, was simultaneously shocking and inspiring. How did they pull off such a seemingly impossible task? Sonia Yeretzian, Tristan Lee, and Ananya Devarajan tell us themselves.

Sonia Yeretzian graduated from Canyon in 2019 and attends University of California, Irvine, where they study Pharmaceutical Sciences. They say, “I am a student who aspires to pursue a job in the medical field, but that still did not stop me from having a magnified interest in writing and fantasy fiction.” Their writing journey started at “around nine years old”. “As a kid, my family moved from place to place a lot, and I did not really get a chance to form a circle of friends, and often found myself just imagining stories in my head and drawing characters. I grew very fond of one character I had imagined, being the main protagonist of my book, and spent the next seven years imagining a story about a multi-dimensional traveler, ending up using that same character as the protagonist, sprinkling the story with exposition, land building, and other background characters and obstacles.”

Our second author, Tristan Lee, was also part of Canyon’s 2019 graduating class. “While I was at Canyon I was part of the Mock Trial team and Yearbook, both of which I still remember very fondly. I’m currently a junior at Loyola Marymount University. I am double majoring in accounting and marketing and in my free time I love to write (obviously) and archery, both recurve and crossbow.” Tristan’s writing journey was stimulated by “a feeling of deep dissatisfaction with the superhero genre”. “I’m a huge comic book fan, and at first I was thrilled that there was a new superhero movie every other month. Then after a while I started to realize that a lot of these movies were, how do you say? Really bad. This is what inspired me to create a superhero universe of my own. Once I had my idea, I started off on my first draft, which
was terrible, and barely had the same concept as my final published work. I went through 19 drafts of The Invincibles before I settled on the final version.”

Ananya Devarajan, you guessed it, graduated from Canyon in 2019 (I have no idea what the English teachers’ methods of instruction were for this class but clearly they were effective!). She is a third-year undergraduate student at University of California, Irvine, majoring in Neurobiology with a minor in English. “When I’m not studying for midterms on an infinite loop (the Quarter System in a nutshell) or writing my novels, I can be found drinking a vanilla latte at an Orange County coffee shop and playing board games with my friends and family.” Ananya’s writing journey was not a slow one, and it happened to be significantly impacted by her writing online. “I wrote my first novel on Wattpad when I was in my junior year of high school. Before I graduated, I was awarded the English Laureate by the English Department at Canyon and my first novel also went on to win a few online awards, but this period of my life was very much dedicated to me understanding my writing style and my voice on a deeper level.”

All three of these authors wrote their books while facing the exams, extracurriculars, and overall challenges that came with being a high school student, differing while also resembling each other in how they wrote while in school. Sonia Yeretzian said, “I started writing most of the final version of the story during my junior and senior years of high school. I remember my routine would be to write at least one chapter a week, opening my laptop to work on it as soon as I finished studying for my SATs, tests, and doing my homework. By senior year, I was part of an after school hospital internship, and so the rush to the facility as soon as the bell rang and working until seven at night did affect my ability to write during the evenings. This is when I started to find time writing in between classes, as well as in the mornings and weekends. Writing was always a calming experience for me, as I love using my words to “paint a picture” of sorts, and so it was in no way a burden to me.” Similarly, Tristan Lee did not find his student author experience to be especially arduous. “I want to preface this section by saying that my experience as a student author is not universal, and that the parts of this journey that were easy for me might not be easy for others. So, personally, being a student author wasn’t that different from being anyone else. I went to class, did my best to get good grades, but in my downtime instead of doing whatever you do for fun, I liked to write. I think I benefited a lot from writing as a hobby rather than as a career; I didn’t have to worry about meeting hard deadlines (other than the ones I set for myself) and it never felt like I had to put words on a page, I wrote whenever I wanted to write… completing a book during school wasn’t hard, I finished around one every year once I really got the ball rolling.” For Ananya, the experience was rather difficult. “There have been times when I’ve had to choose between studying for an organic chemistry final or hitting a deadline for my agent! And of course, you still have to make time for yourself and the people you care too. I’ve found that the best way for me to stay on track is to be kind to myself. For example, I do not write or study every single day, and I’ve found that alternating between the two in terms of spending my time has been so helpful in making sure that I never get burnt out with either. I also make sure to prioritize my friends and family since they bring me the peace I need to succeed in my classes and in my writing. And if that means missing a day of work so I can have brunch with my sister or go out with my friends on a Saturday night, then I’m okay with that!”

Trying to write a book as a student has been a constant struggle for me, as I often feel overwhelmed by school work and cannot find time for actually putting my ideas to paper, and oftentimes I feel a creative drought. I asked for advice, and these authors delivered. Sonia Yeretzian offered, “For anyone aspiring to write and publish their own stories, I would really recommend keeping a notebook or document with lists of locations, characters, and events, and then to outline how the story flows, and letting your creativity add details with those outlined structural references as you write the actual book. I also highly recommend having a circle of people that enjoy reading and/or writing to help you edit or give opinions of the story you wrote, just to see the general feedback of how appealing or engaging the story is.” Next, Tristan Lee said, “I’d advise aspiring authors to get over themselves. Asking someone else to read something you wrote with the intention of having them pick it apart can be daunting, but ultimately it won’t be as embarrassing as you may think. Finishing a book is an accomplishment in and of itself, so even if your editor gives you your draft back in tatters, you’re still knocking it out of the park. Now I don’t mean to be cliché, but I think the most important thing to remember is to never give up. Some days you might get ten pages done, some days you might finish one. And sometimes you’ll have writer’s block or just not be in the mood and only get a sentence down. But you could write a single word every day and still have a book done eventually. The only way you’ll never finish is if you give up.” Adding on to that, Ananya’s advice to young writers is, “…keep writing. Keep writing even when your friends look at you funny for chasing after a career that doesn’t quite seem real. Keep writing even when adults treat your passion as a cute hobby, and refuse to give you the respect that you deserve solely because of your age. Keep writing even when you want to give up, when you feel like nothing is turning out the way you want it to and you’re not sure if it ever will. Odds are, the more you write and the more you take up the space you deserve, the more you force the world to pay attention to your talent.”

All three authors have successfully pursued a form of publishing, with Sonia and Tristan going the route of self-publishing on Amazon, where authors get to maintain all of the rights to their work, and Ananyan choosing traditional publishing with Macmillan Publishers. For Tristan, writing is a hobby, not a career, so having access to all of the resources that come with a big publishing company was not a priority for him, while getting to keep the rights to his story and characters was. Contrasting that is Ananya pursuing traditional publishing with one of the big publishing houses. “… I knew I wanted to see my novels in Barnes & Noble one day, and I knew that I wanted to make writing my career—at least, one of my careers!”

I am personally inclined towards traditional publishing, which I find to be severely daunting, but Ananya outlined what the process looked like for her, providing step-by-step guidelines for me and anyone else who might be interested in seeing their books in stores. “To begin the publishing process, you need a completed manuscript that has been revised until it’s something you’re proud of. You will then enter a stage of your writing journey called QUERYING, which is when you submit your manuscript plus a query—a sales pitch about your manuscript—to literary agents for consideration. Once you sign with a literary agent, you will work together to revise your manuscript again before going on SUBMISSION. This process is a lot like querying, except you’re sending your manuscripts to editors at publishing houses. Once you pass SECOND READS and ACQUISITIONS, a set of meetings where publishing industry professionals determine how much profit they’d earn from selling your book (versus others) in the traditional market, you will receive a book deal! In two years, your novel will be on the shelves.”

Finally, these authors present their past, current, and future projects. Sonia says, “My book, Rising Within Hell, is a fantasy-fiction book that follows the life of a determined noble from a kingdom lying at the lowest depths of Hell, where demons are so far from mortals that they live peacefully in their own separate realms. Her story includes lots of exploration, drama, challenges, and near-death experiences as she fights to rise above those who had ever tried to oppress her in her path to find who she really is. In the next few years, I plan on getting my second book published; a continuation of the plot from the first story, with new conflicts and new characters that come from the world of Rising Within Hell. I am currently wrapping up the development and will be starting to write the actual story very soon!” Tristan says, “My books are alt-history superhero novels set in the near future, so think the Avengers or the Justice League in a world not completely unlike our own, but with significant advances in technology and a history rich with superhumans…I have three books available right now on Amazon. The fourth book in The Invincibles saga is on the way, just waiting on my cover artist to nail the final look of the book. The Invincibles is going to end after its sixth entry, which I’m working on right now (book 5 is also finished, but I’m not going to even think about publishing it until 4 is well on its way).” Ananya explains her books, “KISMAT CONNECTION is a Young Adult Romance novel that follows a girl whose family legacy dictates that she will marry her first boyfriend, so she ropes her best friend into a fake dating experiment to prove the existence of her free will—not knowing that he is already in love with her. It would appeal to audiences who loved Sandhya Menon’s WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and the hit early 2000’s rom-com HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN TEN DAYS… available in stores worldwide by Summer 2023, and its sequel will be published in Summer 2024. I am also a featured contributor in the STUDY BREAK anthology, which will release from Macmillan Publishers in March 2023. You can check out my Twitter or Instagram underneath the handle @ananyad12 for more news and updates!”