Author explores changing perceptions in debut novel.
Stacey Potter has been writing stories since she was a child. “In my 20s, I tried to submit articles to magazines, thinking that would land me a writing career, and then I’d have time to write the great American novel. That didn’t pan out,” she says.
Potter’s career led her to mostly technical and business writing. “Eventually, I started missing creative writing and the idea for The Project kept surfacing, but it wasn’t until I discovered National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2005 that I got over my fear of failure to write a novel, and that’s when The Project was born.” she says. NaNoWriMo, a nonprofit organization, holds an annual contest where participants compete with themselves to write 50,000 words, equal to a short novel, from start to finish from November 1–30.
The Project (December 2020), which Potter describes as “nostalgic, heartwarming and relatable,” opens with college sophomore Sabella Pierce as she embarks on a psych class assignment—volunteering as a companion for an 83-year-old nursing-home resident, May. Sabella’s initial apprehension is quelled as her fascination with May and her life begins to grow.
The book takes a look at altering people’s initial judgements of one another. “A lot like myself, Sabella, had a narrow view of older adults in the beginning based on limited experiences with them,” Potter says. “I wanted to show that, through a positive experience with more elderly people, her negative judgement dissipated.” Another plotline explores the topic, as well. “Overall, I wanted to show that if we take the time to get to know people, we will discover that we have more in common than we originally thought,” she says.
Writers often write about “what they know,” as did Potter. “I say I write from the point of view of two truths and a lie, since the foundation of all my novels is my life experiences and challenges that I had to overcome,” she says. “The Project is based on a volunteer project I did in college, and then embellished and fictionalized [it] to make it interesting.”
Who was the inspiration for Sabella? “Sabella is probably most similar to me …,” Potter says. “… She’s mostly an amalgam of traits from women I met in college, those who grew up with money, were relationship focused and very dramatic. Although in our early 20s, we were probably all dramatic.”
Potter has written four other novels during NaNoWriMo over the years. “I’m editing a story I wrote over a decade ago about a woman in her late 20s who is recently divorced … The story follows her journey as she starts over—new job, new colleagues, dating again—all while battling severe anxiety.”