Viterbi freshman writes self-published sci-fi novel

Aaron Bergen decided to publish the book after the idea came to him in a dream. He reached out to IYA freshman Kia McCormick for the cover art. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan)

Aaron Bergen was 11 years old when the original idea for his book came to him in a dream: a boy trying to save his father with a time machine. He thought it was an interesting idea, and during a weekly journal assignment in fifth grade, he wrote it down but eventually shelved it. Then, as a sophomore in high school, he found it again and picked up writing right where he left off. 

“I was reading some of it, and I was remembering all the ideas that I had were coming back to me,” said Bergen, a freshman majoring in electrical and computer engineering. “I thought, ‘This is actually a cool idea. What if I tried to keep writing it?’ So I continued writing it.”

Bergen published his debut novel “2049” last month. The 389-page book, which was self-published through Amazon’s service Kindle Direct Publishing, follows a young adult named Thomas, who discovers that his recently deceased father was working on a time machine and rebuilds the time machine to go back in time in an attempt to save his dad.  

In eighth grade, he showed his 50-page draft his middle school teacher, Sandra Woffington, a fiction writer. She was impressed. 

“I was honored because he wanted my opinion,” Woffington said. “I was just blown away instantly with his detailed imagery. He’s very creative. Each character also has a unique voice, and that’s pretty amazing for someone his age to be able to do.”

After that, Woffington’s advised Bergen to just keep writing. She was happy to hear he had published his book.

“When I heard he published, I was just absolutely thrilled,” Woffington said. “One book we read during the course of the couple of years is Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein,’ and the students are always stunned she started writing it at 18. And, you know, it’s not an age that makes a good book — it’s someone who has got passion for writing.”

It wasn’t until Bergen’s junior year of high school, when he reached the 100-page mark, that he was sure he would complete and publish the book. 

“I don’t think I actually started really considering publishing it until junior year,” Bergen said. “Because, at that point, I’d already written about 100 pages. Once I reached that 100-page mark, I was pretty sure I was going to finish the whole thing and then try to get it published.” 

A fan of YouTube tutorials, Bergen considers himself a self-taught writer. He began the writing process by educating himself on how to best combat writer’s block, which he had learned could “demolish your story if you’re not careful.” Later into his high school career, Bergen did most of his writing Friday nights, often working until 2 a.m. He finished most of his book during the second semester of his senior year, following his acceptance into USC. 

“There [were] no distractions,” Bergen said. “It was just like I was in this tunnel of creativity. It’s really cool to be in that creative headspace for so long, as you end up kind of living in those ideas and in that world that you’ve kind of created.”

Bergen asked his high school friend, Haley Rovner, currently a freshman at Lewis & Clark College, to read the in-progress novel and provide feedback while they were still in high school.

“I was really impressed by the style that he used, the story development, [the] characters,” Rovner said. “And it’s just a very creative story of one that I hadn’t really seen another book like before … That was really impressive.”

Bergen then approached Kia McCormick, a freshman in the Iovine and Young Academy, who designed the cover art over winter break. McCormick said they considered four different concept designs with 10 to 15 versions per concept.  

“I haven’t done a book cover before,” McCormick said. “Going through the whole process was a very cool experience, and we had a lot of fun just trying to see how all the things put together and then when the problems arose, how to problem-solve for that.”

Bergen said he was impressed with the final product and enjoys having a physical copy of his book instead of a manuscript printed from his laptop.

“Seeing the paper — going through, flipping it with my thumb — I was like, ‘Wow, I really just wrote a book,’” Bergen said. “As an 18-year-old, that’s really cool. It was a lot of fun, and I’m really glad that I decided to do it.”

Bergen said he does not see himself writing a sequel anytime soon since his classes take priority. However, he said that if there is time in his schedule, he will consider writing another book. He said he would like to write a sequel to “2049,” since he left the book open-ended. 

“Obviously if this book takes off — which it’d be nice if it did — I would be more inclined to write a sequel,” Bergen said. “Because I kind of left it off open-ended, it could have gone to a sequel or could have ended as a stand-alone. I left the door open.”