First-year student’s new sci-fi novel, written pre-COVID-19, imagines life in an epidemicby Amy Wolf Oct. 12, 2020, 6:00 AM
Vanderbilt first-year student Morgan Butts was raised with a belief that having the “it” factor means far more than a popularity contest. For Butts, “it” stands for “independent thought.” The biomedical engineering major used this idea as a launching point for her newly published science fiction novel, Raeth Thower and the Four Princes.
“Essentially, if you have the ‘it’ factor, you have a mindset to work beyond any obstacle, any challenge,” said the Charlotte, North Carolina, native. “When all other thoughts are telling you this is too hard or you don’t have what it takes, your independent thought helps you dig deeper.”
Art imitates life
It was that attitude that helped propel Butts to finish her manuscript in high school and work to gain a publisher. But she never could have predicted art imitating life in one of the core themes of the story.
In the book, the main character is searching for a mysterious ability known as the “it factor” as she and hundreds of other young people are quarantined in a special camp-like setting to stay protected from an epidemic that has sickened and killed scores of people.
“I definitely got a weird sense of déjà vu when I moved on campus,” she said. “And I wrote this way before anything happened with COVID.”
Butts said she has always been drawn to science fiction because of its ability to combine her interests in storytelling and science. She’s already working on the second of what she hopes to be a series of novels—though she admits it’s sometimes a struggle to make time for writing along with her biomedical engineering-focused classes.
Whether in writing her novel, taking challenging classes toward her goal of attending medical school, or just adjusting to life in college during this unusual time, Butts says she’s been working to overcome obstacles.
“I think writing the book has made me really reflective on the process it takes to grow, and I’m trying to be more appreciative of struggles,” she said. “But now that I’m kind of getting past some of those bigger challenges, I feel like this season at Vanderbilt is going to be more than good—it’s going to be excellent.”