Thoughts on Theses: Katharine Rudzitis
Issue   |   Tue, 03/03/2015 - 21:43

Katharine Rudzitis ‘15 is writing an original novella for her honors thesis in the English department. Her adviser is Writer-In-Residence and chair of the Creative Writing Center Daniel Hall. Rudzitis is graduating with a triple major in English, math and classics.

Q: What is your thesis about?
A: My thesis is creative writing in the English department about the myths that I’ve always liked growing up. I originally wanted to take the myths and have different short stories, so I would do Pandora, but set in a modern, New York place or Prometheus or something like that. But it came together, and we’re officially calling it a novella, according to my advisor. It traces a mortal character and a bunch of different gods as they go through all kinds of adventures. It will be 106 pages, but it will be cut down to about 75 pages.

Q: What made you decide to choose mythology as a thesis topic?
A: Growing up I loved hearing about the Greek myths. I’ve done classics courses since sixth grade and on, so I got to read a lot of these myths in Greek and Latin, which they were written in, and that was pretty exciting. I decided to do it as a thesis because I wanted to do some kind of capstone project senior year. For the English department, your capstone project is usually your 400-level seminar, but I took that as a junior and I wanted to do something senior year to have something to show for what I’ve done here, and I thought it would be really fun to write something and make it my own. I’d done a fiction writing course before where we did a couple of short stories each, but I wanted to see what would happen if I [worked for] a longer time frame.

Q: How common is it for English majors to do original fiction as their capstone project?
A: From what I’ve heard, it’s about 50/50 split between the critical and creative projects [this year]. It hasn’t usually been like that, but in the past couple of years, there have been a lot of people interested in doing creative projects.

Q: Have there been any back-and-forth conversations with your classics professors about the project?
A: They have all thought it was a fascinating topic because these are the fields that they teach in. One of my classics professors, Craig Russell, has encouraged me throughout the process — he said he might read couple parts of it, which is exciting. I think they’re really excited that someone is taking these ancient stories and putting them into a modern setting.

Q: Who are your literary inspirations?
A: Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman and Lev Grossman. They also are probably the biggest influences on this particular writing project that I’ve been doing.

Q: Can you describe your writing process?
A: Junior year was tough. I was taking my classics seminars, I was taking the last core math classes — it was a rough year, and I wanted to have a little more fun and time to myself to do those things that you only get to do as a senior in college. So I wanted to do all my writing in the fall semester, [and] all the editing and revision in the spring semester. I also had math comps in January, so I knew I couldn’t do a lot of writing over interterm, since I’d be studying for that. So I decided to do my writing in the fall, and that meant for the most part turning in a story almost every week. That was a terrifying thought at first because all you know is, I’m gonna turn in a hundred pages in April. That’s an intimidating thought — how are you supposed to get going with that? So I had a convenient one-hour gap between my 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. classes, and I decided I would write for an hour every day. Didn’t have a length requirement that I set for myself, didn’t have to be good or bad, I just had to do it for an hour every day. And that worked really well. It was hard at first just because I had never done that much writing on such a regular schedule but by the end of the semester I was really enjoying it, and it was nice to stop doing my classwork and switch over to actually writing something that I cared about. So I stuck with that, I got all my stories written in the fall, and now I’m revising and editing.

Q: Was it ever a challenge to give all these mythological creatures a voice and a space that rang true?
A: That was really tough. If you read the Iliad or the Odyssey, you’ll see descriptions like Hera, of the white arms, or Zeus, of the thunderbolts. They have these repeated set-phrases, but every god has one particular attribute that comes up again and again, and if you’re trying to write a story about someone as a character then you can’t always refer to them — Hera can’t always “have white arms” every time you bring her up. So I had to do a lot of thinking about how to present these people. One of the things that helped me was the Lane Fellowship, which is through the archives and special collections in Frost Library. They give you funds and direction and help you do independent research, so I’ve been using that to look at artwork that depicts some of these myths and that’s helped me better characterize my people.

Q: What kind of advice would you give to future thesis writers, particularly in the English department?
A: Be mindful of the other obligations you have senior year. So, for me, I had math comps after interterm. That took a lot of studying. I knew that would take a lot of studying, so I knew I had to fit my thesis writing around that to make sure I could pass one of my other majors, which is pretty important. So, make sure you know your schedule so you can plan out the best way to get your work done and think of how you get your work done.
For me, it was an hour a day ... I made that commitment to work a little bit every day. I know some people that need specific deadlines with 10 pages due at a certain time, so if you need that kind of pressure then you need an advisor who’s willing to give you those deadlines. Knowing the other work that you have to get done and figuring out the best way to plan it out. If you don’t do that, then it might stop being a fun process.