In May 2020, Newman students, alumni, faculty and staff started a collaborative short story project on Campus Ministry’s online forum, The Virtual Red Couch. The short story was written by nine individuals, each assigned his or her own chapter, and can now be read in a hardcover book format titled “Into the Inkwell.”
The Virtual Red Couch was started by Campus Ministry during the pandemic and included weekly challenges, prayers, poems, podcasts and opinions for both reflection and entertainment.
The collaborative writing project was engineered and spearheaded by Father Adam Grelinger, Newman University chaplain and director of campus ministry, who had done a similar project with family and friends.
For the Newman story, Grelinger wrote the middle chapter, while Emily Simon, assistant director of Campus Ministry, kicked off “Into the Inkwell” with its first chapter.
Simon figured a good go-to theme would be a middle-grade adventure. She describes the synopsis of the plot as three siblings who find and explore a fantasy world hidden above their favorite bookstore. As others contributed succeeding chapters to the story, Simon was in awe at how it evolved.
“I just loved how all those pieces came back together,” Simon says. “It’s not any way how I imagined it when I originally wrote it, but I guess the exciting part about writing a short story with a whole bunch of people is you don’t know how it will come together, but I thought it ended really well and tied up really well.”
Simon believes that “Into the Inkwell” would delight any reader.
“I think because we had different people from different areas of life and different interests and passions contributing, I really think there is something that will appeal to everyone in this book,” she says. “And I’m not just saying that because I am biased; I think everybody loves good, lighthearted adventure stories.”
Grelinger reflects that while it was challenging to play off of what the preceding author had written, the story is all the more interesting because of it.
“Accepting what people have given you and developing it in your own way is a neat thing because you’re kind of stuck with what people gave you, but that’s actually a really good thing,” he says. “Then hopefully you can take care of it and do it justice and help it to take the next step.”
Since Grelinger had the final product made into a bound book, anyone who wants to read it can reach out to him for a hard copy or visit Campus Ministry, where it’s on display. People can also read it online on The Virtual Red Couch’s website.
“One of the things we thought about was how cool it would be to put something on the shelf, so when people ask you, what did you do during the lockdown? What did you do during the quarantine? you could pull something off a shelf and say, we did this,” Grelinger says. “You could say, ‘I watched TV shows’ or ‘I did a hundred pushups,’ but those things kind of pass away, but here’s this physical thing that I can remember we created together and put it out into the world. I was really excited to have it bound to be this reminder that COVID didn’t stop us from being together in some way or being creative.”
Simon agrees that being part of the collaborative short story was a great way to burn off some creative energy during the pandemic.
“Looking back on the pandemic, I’m so happy to be able to have something I produced during that time and that it wasn’t all just this chaotic, somewhat depressing experience. I think we brought some people together, and that was good. We played with our imagination and put that to creative use.”
Murphy Obershaw, a May 2021 English graduate, enthusiastically contributed to “Into the Inkwell” and feels it was a great way to hone her writing skills.
“It can be hard taking your ideas and crafting them into an entire novel, so having a project like this where you are collaborating with others and only have to write a short chapter was a good, fun, low-stakes writing experience,” she says. “I’m glad that we had a mix of Campus Ministry people, English department people, alumni and staff help write this. This project reached more than just the people who normally participate in Campus Ministry and gave those who normally do a new challenge.”
Matthew Clark, an English major, also wrote a chapter and says he joined the project because he’s always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other writers.
“Narrative fiction has always been a passion of mine, and being able to compose a piece alongside my friends was an absolute delight,” he says.
He started his chapter by reading and meditating on the preceding chapters, brainstorming different directions for the story to continue in, and was careful to give the next writer plenty of room to bring the story to an organic conclusion.
“I think the best thing about this kind of project is being able to share the weight of writing a story,” Clark says. “Creating even a longer short story or a brief novella can be quite the daunting task, but when you break it down into chapter assignments, each to be composed by one of several co-authors, it immediately feels more feasible. I had a lovely time weaving in some fantastical imagery and bringing in a somewhat climactic moment.”