While other English majors might be wondering about life after college, soon-to-be GMU graduate Paul Laudiero, 22, has a book deal under his belt and big dreams.
In February, Laudiero had an idea for a blog: “Shit Rough Drafts,” which fictionally re-creates literary icons’ first attempts at classics.
Laudiero posted his spoof of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” as his first blog entry, using Tumblr as his platform, and “it took off,” he said. “That’s the thing about Tumblr. If you have a lot of funny material it will be seen.”
In February, Laudiero condensed 10 years of writing into a month.
“The Huffington Post did an article on (my) Tumblr a week after I started it,” Laudiero said. Two weeks after that, through a friend of a friend, Laudiero had a book agent, then he won The Great Tumblr Book Search contest, a collaboration between Chronicle Books and Tumblr for which Laudiero received a $200 prize in free Chronicle Books. The contest received 175 book pitches. Laudiero took the money, but gave Chronicle Books his agent’s name. The result: Laudiero landed his first book deal.
“The contest aspect (of his book deal) is unique, but there are a lot of blog-to-book authors. They started taking off in 2007… It goes back to ‘Julie & Julia’ where she was blogging going through Julia Child’s cookbook,” said Kate McKean, an agent with the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. She represents about 50 authors. Paul is the only one still in school, she said.
“(Paul) started early so he’ll have extensively more time to do cool things,” McKean said.
Laudiero, whose book is scheduled to publish next summer, said it will likely include some of the more than 200 new literary spoofs he has created as well as classics from his blog.
Laudiero will end his college career far from where he started freshman year as a business major at the Catholic Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
“Honestly, there was no comedy in the Franciscan school… I didn’t want to go four years without comedy,” he said. During the summer after his freshman year of college, Laudiero enrolled in classes with the Washington Improv Theater.
“I googled ‘improv in D.C.’ and that was the first one that came up,” he said. Another shot of luck, he loved it. “I was driving in to D.C. from Manassas four nights a week. I was in classes twice a week and seeing shows twice a week.”
The Manassas native transferred to George Mason University from his Catholic school so he could continue with the Washington Improv Theater during the school year. During his second semester at Mason, he started his own comedy improvisation group called the Mason Improv Association. Today, the group includes a core of eight members whose majors vary from theater to Spanish, nursing to communications, and of course Laudiero is a creative writing-focused English major.
MIA practices twice a week and performs once a month. All team members also participate in WIT.
Laudiero said his parents were supportive of his decision to switch schools and majors.
“(Switching majors) made sense because when you’re doing improv you’re generating so much original material that eventually you have to write it down,” he said. “People have these ideas of writers, that they are lonely people who should be shut up in a house writing. But there’s no better way to come up with ideas than being in a group.”
GMU Spanish major Stephen Mann, 21, is a member of Mason’s improv group.
“I first saw (the blog) on Facebook. He’d posted about his Tumblr. I commented on how I liked it and he was like, ‘Oh yeah. That’s me,’” Mann said. “He works really hard. He writes daily. He’ll send (members of the group) like five things a day,” such as character monologues or entries for (his blog).”
Mann described Laudiero as being a book nerd, but added, “It’s not just books (on his blog). He’ll write revisions of movie dialogues. He recently did one on ‘Iron Man.’”
Growing up, Laudiero’s mother Linda would not allow her children to watch a lot of television.
“By not a lot I mean none at all,” Laudiero said. “I was reading … the abridged classics for kids like “The Count of Monte Cristo” (by Alexandre Dumas) and then when I grew up, I read the real ones.
“One of my favorites is probably ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (by Jane Austen) and also Lolita (by Vladimir Nabokov). Those are pretty different books.”
But both would become fodder for Laudiero’s Tumblr account.
“He’s not afraid to put what he has out there,” said friend Ben Renne, 21, a Mason senior double-majoring in English and philosophy. “If he thinks a joke is funny, he puts it out there. A lot of people think the first draft should be perfect and it rarely is.”
Renne said Laudiero’s book should generate a definite following among English majors.
“It kind of deconstructs these books by great authors to their lowest common denominator,” said Laudiero, whose blog can be viewed at http://shitroughdrafts.com. “It’s the idea that no great work comes without a s----- first draft. I don’t think there’s any great book that magically comes out.”
Laudiero’s success is in his rare combination of writer’s qualities, said GMU creative writing Professor William Miller, who instructed Laudiero this semester and during a previous creative writing class.
“He has a very fine attention to language, but so do half a dozen others in the room. He has a really sharp imagination, but so do half a dozen others in the room,” Miller said. “It’s that combination…(plus) he has a really good work ethic.”
Miller said Laudiero has not mentioned or announced his book deal to fellow writers, but word has spread student-to-student.
“It’s not common to have an undergraduate who gets a writing contract,” he said. “Occasionally we’ll get a graduate student who gets a book deal… or comes in with a few books… Paul’s book is a very innovative thing. But I think it’s very much of our time in its use of technology…
“I’m going to watch this book and see how it does.”
Fellow Professor Laura E. Scott said, “I see a lot of students who are working on books and many worked on books even before college, but to have a book deal in college is extremely rare.”
Laudiero’s genre is also rare among Mason student authors, she said.
“The culture of the (writer’s) workshop is that there’s a lot on the line and you’re trying to evoke an emotion,” Scott said, adding that students tend to write more serious material in an effort to get the emotional response. “I remember Paul wanting all the criticism. He wants it all laid out there.”
Of the about 500 English majors at Mason, about half are creative-writing focused, Scott said.
Laudiero will graduate May 18 from George Mason University. On May 20, he moves to New York City to begin his new life. On May 21, he starts improv classes.
“I’m going to write and work and be another white, entitled writer in New York,” he joked. “Seriously, we’re all like the same 5’8,” brown hair, brown eyes, tight jeans (type). New York’s full of guys like me… I’ll be starting at the base level again, which is great.”
Last summer, Laudiero visited New York City to intern with The Upright Citizens Brigade, an improvisational comedy and sketch group that most recently included among its members comedian Amy Poehler.
“I want to write for TV,” said Laudiero. “Either ‘Law and Order, SVU’ –(it’s not comedy, but) it’s just awesome—or something on NBC.” He said his favorite shows included “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Law and Order, SVU.”
“Doing improv and comedy is the only thing I’ve done where I felt like ‘this is what I should be doing.’ This is it.”