HUNTSVILLE Believe, beware and remain.
These are the three cardinal rules in which citizens of Astro City must obey. They are also the titles of the books in Sam Houston State University sophomore Lisa Alfonso’s Rules Trilogy.
When Believe, Alfonso’s first published novel, was released last October, it was the culmination of a love for writing that began in elementary school with a second grade paper. Alfonso’s class was asked to create a short story about Thanksgiving, and while the assignment only called for a couple of pages, by the end she had written more than 100.
“It all just escalated from there,” the 19-year-old English major said.
Growing up the oldest of three in Montgomery, Alfonso spent majority of her days keeping to herself and writing fictional stories. She said her grandfather and past teachers helped to open her mind in ways she did not believe possible and inspired her to take her writing to the next step.
“I had the same teacher for third through fifth grade, and she told me, on the last day of school, to never stop writing,” Alfonso said. “That had such a powerful effect on me; I didn’t stop.”
By the time she was 16, Alfonso completed her first book, a paranormal romance about a boy who falls in love with a girl suffering from schizophrenia. The book, however, was never published, because it was too personal for Alfonso.
“It was written to teach a lesson to people, as opposed to tell a story,” said Alfonso. “It’s about coming to terms with things that you can't change, like death and how other people react.”
Writing quickly became an outlet for Alfonso that allowed for her to reflect and understand events unfolding in the world around her. Influenced by J.K Rowling, John Green and the recent Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Alfonso created the alternate world of Astro City by reflecting on modern-day society and events.
“With everything going on in America these days, the things we know and don’t know, I think that it can be seen as that way,” Alfonso said.
Both Collin’s Hunger Games trilogy and Alfonso’s Rules trilogy share the same general theme of overcoming the ruling government, but differ in their plot lines and viewpoints; whereas the Hunger Games trilogy emphasizes survival among an oppressive government, the Rules trilogy focuses more on escaping and running from the government.
“(It’s about) Staying true to who you are, not being easily swayed by the media or government and not being so naïve,” said Alfonso.
She started writing the first book in the series, Believe, during her senior year of high school and completed it during her second semester at SHSU.
The story is narrated through the eyes of 17-year-old Caspa, who wakes up in Astro City after being captured outside of the city walls to find that her memory has been swiped by the government, known as the Counsel. Citizens of the dystopian city are not allowed to believe in anything the government does not tell them; the Counsel controls every aspect of their lives from how they think, to the food they eat to the jobs they have.
But the young protagonist starts to recall her memories through dreams and soon realizes that the city isn't all what it appears to be. With the help of her two friends, Cal and Rum, Caspa tries to escape the grip of the Counsel.
After finishing Believe, Alfonso began posting her chapters online at the popular site fictionpress.com and received immediate feedbackfrom readers.
“The readers were very helpful. They helped and encouraged me to continue on with writing,” Alfonso said. “It was their support which inspired me to get it published.”
After searching for publishers for months with no success, she was ready to give up when she received an email from Powerful Films and Books publishing which was interested in her book.
Alfonso said she was in complete disbelief after receiving the message while driving to the beach with her best friend, but the publisher soon began prepping the novel by adding chapter titles, designing the cover and formatting it for the Kindle.
During that process, Alfonso remained active in improving her book; instead of viewing the project as complete, she saw it as an evolving idea and constantly edited, taking out and putting in parts, to better fit her vision of where she wanted to take the story as it progressed.
“It’s like an adventure to me,” Alfonso said. “I don't know where I’m going to end up, what I’m going to leave in or take out.”
After three long months the book was ready for print, and the final product was one that wasquite different than what Alfonso had originally planned.
“It came out a lot darker than I had intended,” she said, but added that while she had intended for the plot to be less oppressive, it still remained true to the same central core.
The themes of discovering yourself, being aware of what is going on around you, being aware of yourself, and, most of all, that you can be whoever you want, no matter what anyone else might say still resound in the finished product.
The reaction to Alfonso’s first book has been overwhelmingly positive.
Of 41 customer reviews on Amazon.com, Believe averages a rating of four-and-a-half stars out of five. Reviewers call it “memorable,” “simply amazing,” “absolutely riveting,” and compare it to the Hunger Games and Divergent series.
“An excellent and exciting first book by a promising young author,” one reviewer said. “The characters are interesting and have the depth necessary for the reader to connect with them. The plot is unique and exciting and will keep you up late into the night reading. I can't wait for the sequel!”
“The story’s ending made my jaw drop. I never expected it. It is very disturbing and sticks with me,” another reviewer said. “This is why I loved it.…I finished it about five months ago and still it bothers me.”
When the young writer isn’t working on the much-requested sequel, Beware, you can find her sitting outside of the Evans Building,strumming the guitar or playing around with her “half-alien” dog, Navi.
She has many plans for her future, each one incorporating her love of literature from the completion of the Rules trilogy, to writing a book about pirates, book editing and becoming a publishing agent.
“I just want to have something to do with books, really,” Alfonso said.