Pitt student spends 7 years writing novel

By Larissa Gula

For most girls, the end of a relationship means calling up the girlfriends to watch a movie or… For most girls, the end of a relationship means calling up the girlfriends to watch a movie or two — ice cream optional but recommended. But not for Kell.  Instead, she develops fantastic powers and is recruited for a battle in space.

Kell is the creation of Pitt student Azia Squire, and the main character in her upcoming fantasy novel, “Liquid: The Unit.” The idea for Kell, her powers and her battle has been seven years in the making. But the upcoming publication of “Liquid: The Unit” isn’t the first for Squire.

Another piece, titled “Affect-Effect” was published in 2008. Squire noted that her writing style has evolved and improved vastly since then.

“I plan to keep publishing, and this was just the first,” Squire said in reference to “Liquid: The Unit,” which she considers her first true novel because she’s taken more critical direction with the writing in this work than she did with “Affect-Effect.”

Squire is a junior studying English writing, philosophy and anthropology. The 20-year-old Atlanta native chose to study at Pitt because of the prestige of its philosophy department and the full scholarship she earned as a Gates Millennium Scholar.

Though Squire had developed and revised the story of Kell by the time she arrived at college, she only had “vague ideas, images and scenes” in her mind for the story when she began writing seven years ago. It took time to flesh out the story and specific details, including what Kell’s power would be: the ability to turn her body into a mercurial substance that burns through almost any material.

“I wrote the original idea when I was 13,” said Squire, who submitted the short story version of her latest work to a writing contest at Stockbridge Middle School. “I … came back to it later after I won the contest. I looked at it and began writing a couple more drafts.”

Her reinvented version expanded on the idea Squire originally created with a new story and new characters. The story is based heavily in her imagination rather than in research. But despite Kell being a strange character in a fantasy story, Squire described her as a universal person.

“When you read the story, she’s whoever you want her to be,” Squire said. “She’s your eyes into the story, and I would hope that she would be a role model for anyone. It’s not for any specific demographic. It deals with themes and issues that any person can relate to.”

Such themes include the idea of creating and understanding identity as well as growing up and maturing — which Kell is forced to do pretty quickly.

“It’s about how the people and the experiences that you have lay a hand in shaping you as a person,” Squire said. “It’s also about being swept up in things that you can’t control. And yes, I’ve had experiences like this, but I think we all have. Identity and loss of control are things that everyone can relate to.”

The editing process sped up when co-workers at her 2010 internship with a publishing company in Ireland offered feedback on the manuscripts. Back at home, friends and family had also scanned manuscripts in the past and offered feedback.

Strangers helped out, too. Squire met and accidentally switched flash drives with Jessica Rohan, who has a doctorate in linguistic anthropology.The two began talking at a Starbucks in Pennsylvania when Rohan complimented Squire on her Vespa. They sat together and accidently swapped flashdrives upon parting.  Rohan returned the files with notes, leading to a back-and-forth process between the new friends.

“On a scale of Stephenie Meyer to Stephen King, she’s an F. Scott Fitzgerald,” Rohan said in an e-mail. “I like the sense of raw urgency coupled with the sleek, modern sensibility. Her writing is well-dressed, which is a quality that few modern writers possess.”

Squire assisted in her book’s publishing process, learning about interior book design and creating the layout of the paperback edition that will be published and available on Amazon and at Borders in February, although no exact release date has been set.

Squire continues to prepare for the ongoing publishing and marketing process with manager and publicist Latonia Hodo in Atlanta, who is assisting with setting up book signings and school readings. The book is “original,” Hodo said, explaining that the novel fits some classifications for the fantasy and science fiction genres but also reaches beyond them.

“There’s a lot happening in it,” Hodo said in an e-mail. “It’s rapid, but it doesn’t rush through the more subtle emotional moments that connect you to the characters; neither does it rush through the descriptions. [Azia’s] writing really does its work to help you build this universe in your mind.”

With the book finally approaching release, Rohan looks forward to seeing its impact.

“I envision it taking the genre in a new direction and really challenging preconceived conceptions of the genre’s parameters, which until now have been rather limiting,” she said.

Squire intends to go into the publishing business as an editor, acknowledging the changes in the industry that created challenges when she was writing. The workload became intense as she tried to prove that she could not only write her book, but could also sell it.

“You have to be able to adapt a lot now” she said. “It’s kind of scary, but it’s kind of cool. It’s like the music industry. The medium is changing, and you adapt with it.

“People are not really going into bookstores and buying physical books anymore, things are on devices, things are on the internet,” Squire said, explaining the importance of “making your book available in the formats [and] promoting on the Internet.”

—Editor’s Note: Squire is a staff writer for The Pitt News.

—Editor’s Note: The headline was changed on Feb. 2 to clarify that Squire spent seven years writing the novel.