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Adventures spark creative writing, possible career in fiction

Junior Jake Alden may not be the conventional teenage charmer, but experience shows he knows how to give a girl a lasting memory — even if it’s not necessarily in the best way.

Last year, on vacation, preoccupied by a member of the opposite sex, he fell into a hole. But it wasn’t any ordinary hole.

“I was a tad bit distracted,” Alden said, “so I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was walking, and I walked into an opened up septic tank and fell in.”

With that, standing knee-deep in human waste and at the mercy of said girl, his chance for a romantic pursuit was dashed.

“Fortunately, there wasn’t too much by-product in the tank at the time, but there was still enough that it kind of splashed upward onto me,” he said. “The person, she lives in Phoenix, Ariz. … The last time she ever probably remembers me is getting people to help me out of the septic tank.”

Arizona seems to be an adventure-filled place for Alden; on a separate visit to the same state, he broke a federal law. It wasn’t in a standard way, though. And there wasn’t anything standard about the enforcers who caught him.

The crime took place in Sun City West, a drive of roughly 45 minutes away from central Phoenix. The community, according to Sun City West, boasts it is “Arizona’s Finest Golf Retirement Community.” But for a visitor, the identical accommodations made the community more like Arizona’s Finest Maze, a realization that struck Alden during a run.

So the teenager, lost in a retirement community — where residence is actually denied to those under 19 — began to “peek in a few mailboxes” out of desperation, trying to find any clues that might lead him back to his grandparents’ house.

He was caught by “some of the Sun City Posse, who are the local police force, a group of men 60 years and older who ride around in golf carts and enforce the law,”  Alden said. “And I was given several severe reprimands for tampering with federal mail and was told to remove myself from the premises.”

Running has gotten Alden, or, as he introduces himself, “John Jacob William Alden, to be full,” in other precarious situations. He said there’s “a lot of competition” for the craziest thing he’s ever done, but one of them involved crouching in a box too narrow to sit in but too short to stand in for three hours.

“For the cross-country Christmas party white elephant gifts, I gave myself away,” Alden said. “So I sat in a box for three hours during the entirety of the party and missed out completely.”

Alden said he’s defined by his “very, very poor planning and common sense” characteristics that easily ensnare remarkable memories. But these occurrences aren’t enough to keep Alden entertained — he writes about these adventures in his spare time, too, in the form of fiction novels. But his experiences are as much inspirational as the people he surrounds himself with. His characters are usually based on his friends, he said, but few of them are aware of this.

“They have no idea. And I’m not necessarily planning on telling them,” Alden said. “It’s not necessarily just people who are close to me, but people whose mannerisms and attitudes will kind of fit the character’s role.”

Realistic cultures are as important to Alden’s writing as his characters. Alden said he was “mildly racist” before taking Advanced Placement World History and Honors English with teachers David Graham and Matthew Webel last year. Their emphasis on stripping cultural stereotypes transformed Alden’s perspective of other societies and religions.

“The way that I write has been changed a lot by them,” Alden said. “Graham and Webel had a pretty big impact since I deal a lot with fictional cultures and civilizations that are kind of extensions of the cultures and civilizations existing in our current world.”

His writing, which he classifies as “similar to fantasy,” focuses on political conflict in fictional future nations. One of his novels features a nation based on both British and Chinese history. Graham said he has enjoyed the stories Alden has brought in for him.

“Jake was a pretty talented writer before he ever came to our class,” Graham said. “As far as just the way that he tries to create meaningful characters and stories, I think he does a great job. I think he’s more sophisticated as a writer now.”

Alden’s writing also impressed Webel, who was eager to read “anything else he decided to write” based on just a draft of one of his stories. Webel said the “scope of the world he was creating” and the depth of his characters were compelling. He said Alden further grew as a writer by moving away from overused themes.

“I encouraged Jake to venture into uncharted territory with his writing,” Webel said. “Jake seemed eager to break free from stereotypical plot structures and produce original elements in his stories.”

Alden said he would like to try to get his novels published. But first, he has to get them written, a difficult task to fit in alongside school and cross-country. He aspires to become an author, but acknowledges it’s not entirely realistic.

“I want to write fiction, but at the same time, that’s not an easy way to make money by any stretch of the imagination,” Alden said. “One thing I’ve kind of considered doing is […] going into the journalistic field to make money while writing fiction on the side. Or, also, I’ve considered going into teaching or filmmaking. But right now, I really have no plan whatsoever.”

But Alden doesn’t seem too worried about his lack of thorough forecasting for the future. After all, his best adventures have been marked by what he calls “very, very poor planning.”

By Nomin Jagdagdorj 

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