W&J Spanish class pens detective novel

Students in Spanish 457.01 pose together in their classroom in Burnett 102.

WASHINGTON, PA (Dec. 4, 2019)—In the case of who wrote an entire novel in their second language over the course of a semester, the culprits are eight Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) students.

Ryan DeMayo, Gabriella Faddool, Alessandro Martin, Seaghan McBride, Maitri Patel, Laurel Sipe, Taylor Smydo, and Adrian Vera spent Fall 2019 studying the Spanish detective novel in Associate Professor of Modern Languages Amparo Alpañés’ Spanish 457.01 course. The students then plotted and wrote their own novel in Spanish, El veneno familiar (The Family’s Poison).

The class’s novel follows Californian journalist Mark Wachakyowskis Jr. as he returns home to Pittsburgh to attend his father’s funeral. During the viewing, Mark Jr. notices that his father’s prized watch is missing and begins to question the nature of his father’s death. He enlists the help of his private investigator friend Tayler Jefferson, and the drama unfolds as they work together to find out what really happened to Mark Sr.

To write their book, the students planned out the plot together in class, then each took on separate chapters before workshopping their individual pieces into one cohesive novel.

“Everyone brought a lot of to the table with their own unique viewpoints,” Ryan said. “A lot more came out of it than we anticipated when we initially started our discussions.

The group agreed that working together allowed them to craft something truly special.

“Individually, we wouldn’t have been able to come up with a story that strong,” Maitri said.

Though putting together a novel presented challenges for the students, each was able to flex their creative muscles and connect with the culture of Spain in a way that deepened their understanding of the country and its people. Dr. Alpañés was proud of the work the students did.

“They did a great job—in terms of creating a coherent story, working together, all of it,” she said. “It reads like one voice throughout the novel.”

The class has enlisted the help of other students to create the cover art for the novel and plans to publish a digital version online at the end of the semester.