‘When A Soul Walks’: alum turns senior thesis into debut novel

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Photo: Courtesy of Lauren Ditullio.

“When a Soul Walks” by Lauren Ditullio ’22.

By Avieana Rivera, Correspondent

Amidst the emerging pandemic, an Emerson alum found solace, inspiration, and peace in writing a senior thesis that has now become her debut fiction novel. 

Lauren Ditullio ‘22, a creative writing graduate, wrote “When A Soul Walks,” a novel that dives into the infinite question of what really happens when we die. 

The story follows Edward Long, a successful neurosurgeon who dies of a brian tumor. After his death, Edward is placed into purgatory and given opportunities to try and right the wrongs of his lifetime, dying all over again with each failed attempt. Through his journey, Edward comes face to face with his past. As he travels through worlds with distorted memories, he endures “tests,” by reliving and re-encountering people and moments from his life in efforts to see if he would make the same mistakes.

“When A Soul Walks” was born in Ditullio’s junior year dorm room as the world shut down around her, a result of the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ditullio was preparing to study abroad at the Kasteel Well campus when the pandemic hit. When her travel plans were canceled, she continued fiction courses, like The Short Short Story, taught by Alyssa Greene via Zoom, whilst confined to her Boston dorm. 

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“It was definitely one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken at Emerson because I discovered my love for storytelling,” Ditullio said. 

“When a Soul Walks” started out as a short story for a class assignment—a simple story on any topic that was short and to the point. 

“The goal was to create a strong sense of emotion with a small amount of words,” said Ditullio. 

Ditullio proudly shared her short story with loved ones, leaving them wanting more and more. From there, the 500-word-story grew.  

“I showed it to my mom, and she just said to me, ‘this isn’t done,’” Ditullio said. 

She kept writing, spending time in-between class assignments to go to “boot camp,” a weekly Zoom call for writers to sit down together and write in silence. This practice, which Ditullio refers to as “accountability writing,” helped evolve her short story into a manuscript.  

Eventually, the manuscript evolved into  her senior thesis through workshopping classes and constructive criticism from her thesis professor, William Orem.

“It was so helpful to be able to have someone look at your work and say, ‘this doesn’t make any sense,’” Ditullio said. “The constructive criticism goes a long way.” 

After graduating , Ditullio went on to publish her first novel two years after the beginning drafts. It was then that  she was partnered with fellow alum Jessica Drake-Thomas ‘14, another creative writing graduate, as her editor. Thomas, a freelance editor and horror-novel superfan, was instantly taken aback by Ditullio’s manuscript. 

“I’ve truly never read anything like it,” Thomas said. “[‘When A Soul Walks’] has elements of several genres. I would say it’s horror-adjacent, with dark sci-fi fantasy and horror mixed in.”  

“Just the way she talked about it made me want to take on the project,” Thomas said. “Hearing about her inspirations behind it and the originality of it was so interesting to me.”

As a new author, Ditullio admits this release was an emotional journey. By making the decision to list the book for only $0.99, she introduces herself into the sci-fi community, while  giving readers an opportunity to be introduced to her storytelling. “When A Soul Walks” is currently available on Amazon, Kindle and paperback. 

“My goal in publishing this book wasn’t for profit,” Ditullio said. “I wanted this book to provide [readers] a sense of hope, and I wanted for me to be able to get comfortable with my work being out there… I would give out copies for free if I could.”