Zeb Berryman has some demons he’d like to share.
The 18-year-old scribe is an aficionado of the “dark side” in his literary circle, a dozen Whitehorse high school students known as Rocket Fuel.
“The darkness and violence is what makes it beautiful,” says Zeb, referring to one of his current anime reads.
Zeb’s comment elicits a few nods from his fellow science fiction enthusiasts sitting around the table in the FH Collins library.
These young adults have an encyclopedic knowledge of the fantasy genre, and can discuss the intricacies of alchemists, monsters, gods and goblins at length.
“It’s like literature discussion about a whole bunch of books you never get to hear literature discussions about,” says Jerome Stueart, a science fiction writer who started Rocket Fuel two years ago.
But more impressively, it’s their own literary creations they’re the most familiar with.
Ask any one of these students about their works, and it won’t be long before another interjects.
Franz Krabel, 12, tends to kill off his characters a lot, says Santana Berryman, Zeb’s 14-year-old sister.
Santana, for her part, has an obsession with the afterlife, says Stueart.
These writers know each other inside out.
“(Rocket Fuel) gives you a chance, in a workshop setting, to hear your work being talked about by someone else in the same kind of style we’re talking about these other (traditional) works,” said Stueart.
“I think it feels like, ‘Wow, people are taking this seriously.’”
The teens hold workshops, perform creative writing exercises and generally prod each along with their work.
There’s around a dozen members, says Stueart. Renyka and Kalyna Riis-Phillips, 14 and 18 respectively, and Kylie Budzinski, 15, are also attending today’s meeting.
“I’ve got more motivation to try and finish things as opposed to leaving them to rot,” said Krabel, who’s one of the youngest in the group.
Many of Rocket Fuel’s members are writing novels, said Santana.
“I tend to plan a lot,” said Santana. “I don’t edit, I plan—even all the little details.”
She’s written 25 pages of her novel, Fire and Brimstone.
“It’s about a mentally ill teenage girl named Eve,” she said. “Her and her evil psychologist have to stop hell from freezing over – so it’s very, very fun.”
“I got the idea from a dialogue exercise where we had to take some dialogue and then switch it around. So first I had a therapy appointment between Eve and her therapist, and then I thought, ‘How could I make this different. Maybe I’ll put it in hell.’”
Rocket Fuel’s members decide together what they’d like to focus on during their workshops. Next term, they’ll be working on villains.
“They’ve got the good characters down, but the villains are difficult to do and make believable,” said Stueart.
“Heroes are good too, but I’d say villains are a little more off the wall, a little less common,” said Santana.
It’s more interesting to add something good in a villain’s personality, so they don’t become too unreal.
“Villains tend to be more popular nowadays,” said Zeb. “I think it’s because quite often the heroes’ only real motive is to protect the populace and help a bunch of people. But the villain is generally motivated by something personal.”
“Villains are ambitious,” said Santana.
The villain can also be an oversimplified crutch when figuring out a plot line, said Hal Schultz, 13.
“I find that it’s a bit too easy to create a villain, and that becomes the driving force behind a book, so I try to avoid it when I can,” said Schultz.
Stueart decided to create Rocket Fuel after moving here in 2007. A science fiction writer himself, his work has been played across Canada on CBC Radio and published in science fiction anthologies.
“I always wanted to have something like this in high school and there was never any opportunity for writers at the schools I went to,” he said.
On December 4, the students read some of their works at Frank Slim’s Building in Shipyards Park for guests. Around two dozen people attended the readings.
“We go off and on trying to create a northern science fiction or a northern fantasy,” said Stueart. “But, for the most part, they just do whatever comes out of their heads right now.”
Rocket Fuel’s members use plenty of science fiction archetypes; misunderstood geniuses, noble heroes and dark forces lingering in the background.
But they all seem to have a predilection for inventing their own worlds too.
Demon puberty figures prominently in one of Santana’s creations.
“They have to go through it in a day and they grow horns,” said Stueart. “There’s a nice section in that that could almost be its own high school novel about growing up in demon high school.”
“A kid could come home from puberty after two days and have anything,” said Santana.
One of Krabel’s works began as a classroom exercise about a letter between Santa Claus and the Reaper.
“It could have as much abuse as you wanted as long as there wasn’t any swearing in it,” said Krabel.
“I constructed my story around the idea that the Reaper’s a nice person who just collects souls because he wants to, and Santa Claus is an evil psycho who attacks people.”
“It was the first time I thought of having a character who was not completely good, who is not an anti-hero, but somewhere in between,” said Krabel.
Rocket Fuel has become so popular they’ve decided to start another get together at Porter Creek Secondary School next year.
While being put in a cone of silence and having your work criticized aloud can be frustrating, the writers agree that criticism has been one of the most helpful aspects of Rocket Fuel.
Their writing has improved since they started working collectively and sharing ideas.
“My first story was very strongly a message story,” said Zeb.
He’s since found that he’s doesn’t like infusing morality in his tales.
“I’ve been trying to back away from messages a little bit and try to keep the characters from having perfect moralities,” he said.
“So now I have at least one thing in each villain that is something I sympathized with.”
“And my heroes have at least one thing I don’t agree with.”
Rocket Fuel meets every Wednesday between 3:30 and 5 p.m. in the F.H. Collins library. Contact Jerome Stueart at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Contact James Munson at