Alumna’s debut novel stems from thesis

Molly Johnson, class of ‘04, began writing her debut novel as her undergraduate thesis. Now, seven years later, the novel has been published.

Johnson described how she struggled through the writing and publication process during an author reading in the Nicholson Library on Nov. 7.

Johnson’s novel, “Sparticus and the Circus of Shadows” is geared toward young adult readers and chronicles the adventures of a young explorer’s quest to rescue his missing mother from a traveling circus.

She said that after writing the original manuscript and graduating from Linfield, she decided to attend Portland State University for a master’s degree in writing.

Johnson used her graduate thesis project to continue revising the same book she began for her undergraduate degree.

After she graduated with her master’s degree, one of her professors recommended that Johnson give herself some time to clear her head before she continued trying to revise and edit the book.

“I was told to give it six months of breathing time,” Johnson said.

Johnson left to teach English in China, bringing the manuscript with her to continue editing after she was settled.

Her writing progress was delayed, however, when the flash drive containing the only version of her manuscript was stolen while she was traveling.

Johnson was forced to write a letter to Portland State, requesting a copy of her thesis. She received a hard copy in the mail and went through the painstaking process of retyping the entire document.

During this time, Johnson said she continually made major changes to the book, trying to fill plot holes and develop characters.

“The book always felt like water,” Johnson said. “It was never static.”

Even after hours of revisions and sending her work off to be considered for publication, Johnson still received multiple rejection letters.

Little did she know, her first major break would come from  a request from a former professor at Portland State.

Johnson said the professor contacted her, asking if a class could use her graduate thesis for an editing and publishing course. Johnson agreed, hoping that she could publish one of the revised versions someday.

Coincidentally, months later, a Portland State alumnus contacted Johnson, telling her that he read her manuscript when he took the revision and editing course. The alumnus had recently opened his own publishing house and wanted to kick off the company by publishing Johnson’s book.

“I think it was at this point that I realized that I needed to be an active player in the production of the story,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t just along for the ride anymore.”

Johnson said her fiance was a key player in the success of her finished book, as he read through the story, pointing out character inconsistencies and plot holes.

She said that now, even after a long editing process, there are still things she would like to change about her book.

“I already marked up a copy of the book with revisions,” Johnson said. “But I have to believe in my work and what it turned out to be.”

Joanna Peterson/
Managing editor
Joanna Peterson can be reached at

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