Overcoming adversity and paying it forwardby Russell Alston
For someone who didn’t learn how to read until the fourth grade, Coastal Carolina University graduate student Lauran Santaniello has certainly made up for lost time.
Santaniello recently completed the final draft of her third book, the last installment of her “Death of Innocence” trilogy. The final novel, titled “Death of Beauty,” culminates a seven-year effort beginning when Santaniello was a junior in high school. Her first book, “Death of Innocence,” was published during her sophomore year at Ramapo College of New Jersey, where Santaniello earned a bachelor’s degree in literature with a concentration on secondary education and minor in Italian, all with honors.
She enrolled at CCU during the spring of 2013 in the Educational Leadership master’s degree program.
Writing her first novel took up most of Santaniello’s time before arriving at CCU. The trilogy’s first book, “Death of Ignorance,” began as a class short story assignment. After turning in the assignment, Santaniello says she would often wonder “how the characters would develop” so she decided to expand the story into a book. Writing took place during the quietest times in her house.
“I have a big Italian family,” she says. “I’d write from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., and no one would bother me. Then I’d sleep from 3 to 7 a.m., wake up and go to classes at 8 a.m. That was my life for three years.”
“Death of Ignorance” centers on 19-year-old Alex Sharrock, the lead singer of a popular rock group. Sharrock leads a hedonistic lifestyle in New York City, marked by drug use and demons that haunt him literally and figuratively.
“It’s definitely a modern fantasy,” she says.
Themes that Santaniello explores in her novels include discovery, rediscovery and redemption, with a touch of the mythological. The tone of the novels can be a bit gloomy, however.
“People read the book, and take a look at me, and they’re like ‘but you’re so happy and cheerful,’” she says. “I really want to scare people and make them constantly fear for my characters. No one is ever safe.”
Santaniello doesn’t believe a sunny personality should prevent her from writing a gut-wrenching story. For her, there’s something wrong if her characters aren’t suffering.
“There have been times when I’m writing, and before a really dark scene, I have to work myself up to write it,” she says. “It’s a very dark series. I make them earn their happy endings, if they get them.”
Reaching this moment in her life wasn’t easy for Santaniello.
“Growing up, I had a lot of difficulty reading and writing,” she says. “I had to go to a reading specialist. It was pretty hard in school. I was 9 when I first started reading.”
In the fourth grade, Santaniello was diagnosed with dyslexia. She recalls being teased by classmates who knew of her impediment. Once paired with a reading specialist, Santaniello “advanced really quickly,” joining various English honor societies in the process.
“Once I was able to master it, reading became my passion,” she says.
Paying it forward and having an opportunity to help other kids with reading problems are reasons Santaniello decided to pursue a master’s degree in educational leadership with a focus on literacy. During the fall semester, she was paired with a 13-year-old student from Black Water Middle School who’s having difficulties reading.
“Basically, I had to assess her,” she says. “I had to find out her strengths and weaknesses and write a case study report. I’ll be working with her in the spring, too, applying what I learned from the [assessment] test and tutoring her.”
Before Santaniello decided to attend CCU, she made an unofficial visit to campus and bumped into someone who would make her choice of graduate schools bit easier.
“So I’m wandering the halls, checking it out, and who should I bump into but Dr. Jadallah.”
According to Santaniello, Ed Jadallah, dean of the Spadoni College of Education, personally showed her around Kearns Hall while extolling the virtues of attending CCU. It would be a year before she would make a decision.
“He kept in touch with me,” she says. “What really convinced me was talking with him, meeting with him and talking with several professors.”
Adjusting to life in the South has been easy for Santaniello. She says there has been one thing, however, that has taken some getting used to.
“Down here, everyone looks you in the eyes and says, ‘hello, how ya doing?’” she says. “Or [they] stop you in the middle of the street and ask you how your day is going. If this was New York, I’d be a little more wary. People are just genuinely nice here.”
Santaniello didn’t make the move from New Jersey alone. Boyfriend Jason Bergrin left his job as a firefighter in New York to move with her. The couple cares for their “nearly toothless” rabbit named Alistair Snow. The high school sweethearts enjoy exploring Myrtle Beach and taking day trips during free time.
More free time is spent in the kitchen. Santaniello says her passion for cooking, something she and Bergin have in common, is a part of her family history.
“My father’s family owned a bakery in New Jersey, so baking was a big part of growing up,” she says. “Big breads, pies, cookies and any kind of pasta you can think of.”
Santaniello’s future is high beam bright. Ideas for her next novel are forming in her mind. After exploring mythology, she says her next book may have a touch of the medieval. Her passion for Arthurian literature is a likely source, as well as Victorian novels. Her favorite novel is “Wuthering Heights.”
Nothing is planned, but Santaniello won’t totally rule out a future in tinsel town, saying she’d love for her novels to be optioned for the big screen. A future in education is definite, however. Santaniello says being in the college setting of CCU has her leaning toward a career in higher education.
“I think what I’d like to do is go for my doctorate and actually become a professor,” she says. “So, fingers crossed.”