On a cold and rainy night in downtown Dallas, a young Baylor student found himself lying in the street. He had been mugged and was thinking seriously about the possibility he was about to die — when a small blue dragon crawled out of his front pocket to save him.
Actually, School of Education student Alex Patterson was lying in his own bed, and that was the dream that inspired him to write his first novel Choices. Patterson always had a passion for reading and mythology and began to wonder what it would be like to fight dragons, live like a king and venture into magical realms. Patterson’s first book came out when he was just a freshman at Baylor, having started in fall 2015.
From that dream, Patterson had his first character, Aiden, a dragon meant to help the protagonist of the story, Richard Örlander, find his way while waging war and dealing with temperamental Nordic gods. Set in the Germanic Iron Age around 1000 B.C., Patterson’s novel is all about the choices Örlander makes: good vs. evil, right vs. wrong and war vs. peace.
“Books are alive. The connection between reader and book is evident in our empathy with its characters. I see the characters as living, breathing, figments of my imagination,” Patterson wrote in his blog.
With such a passionate love for books, it wasn’t that hard for Patterson to spend more than 500 hours writing, editing and rewriting Choices during his junior and senior years in high school. As a junior in high school, he won a regional competition for a high-volume word count in a short amount of time — a contest that was part of National Novel Writing Month — so tackling a whole book seemed a natural next step.
Patterson also took inspiration from his Norwegian heritage and found some ideas in Beowulf and Fahrenheit 451. Although Patterson’s main character makes both good and bad choices, he believes readers should form their own ideas of Örlander’s character.
“In the book Fahrenheit 451, we view it as a story about government censorship but he (Ray Bradbury) wanted it to be about media and TV,” Patterson said. “So it is with Choices. The main message is that the ends do not justify the means, but if people come up with a different meaning it’s OK. It’s art. What you get out of it is your own personal experience.”
Choices went on sale on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble in December 2015. But Patterson said the process of getting Choices published was an obstacle. Patterson received a lot of rejection letters and a few acceptance letters. However, those publishers wanted Patterson to change the moral dilemma of the main character.
“Eventually I decided I write for my own amusement and I don’t want to be a writer as a full-time career,” he said.
Patterson eventually self-published Choices but even publishing wasn’t the biggest challenge. Patterson said the idea of not hating what he already had written was a problem. He had read his novel 12-13 times before the story was eventually accepted as publishable. He said he liked his characters, the themes and the plot, but he was scared of making grammatical mistakes.
Although writing is his favorite hobby, Patterson wants to focus in on his career as a teacher. As a University Scholars freshman, Patterson is concentrating in secondary education social studies, creative writing, and religion. Currently tutoring at Waco’s Challenge Academy, he would like to be a religion or history teacher at a small private school after he graduates. Alex wants to teach because of the support he received inside and outside the classroom from his teachers in high school.
One message he hopes to convey to students is this: “If you find something you enjoy, you should do it.”
So can we expect another book from this driven freshman? Patterson said that even though he doesn’t want to be a full-time writer, he is currently 20,000 words deep into a new book about the Alaskan gold mining era, a story that explores Russian and American business conflicts.
“It (Choices) is maybe going to pay for a few cups of coffee at Common Grounds down the line, but I’m not going to retire off of this,” he said. “I’m still going to be a teacher.”
—Story and photo by Kate McGuire