Before she applied for college, Mikaela Bender was already writing a novel. Now, just weeks after graduating from Florida State University, a digital pilot of the Orlando native’s first book is getting ready to debut on Syfy, a cable network featuring science fiction programming.
Bender, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in Editing, Writing and Media, began writing her first novel, “Expiration Date,” when she was 16 years old and completed it within a year. The sci-fi thriller takes place in a world where the date of one’s death is known by the mysterious “Society.”
While attending Florida State, Bender continued to write, eventually producing a sequel to “Expiration Date” of the same name, followed by a third installment, “Exported.” The three novels now form the “Expiring” series and can be found on Wattpad, an Internet community for readers and writers to publish user-generated stories.
In 2016, Bender’s work was published in the anthology “Once Upon Now,” an exclusive collection of stories from some of the most beloved writers on Wattpad.
Bender wants to pursue a career in publishing, which is one of the reasons she chose to study Editing, Writing and Media at FSU.
The Editing, Writing and Media (EWM) major in the Department of English emphasizes the production, analysis and interpretation of a wide range of historic, contemporary, academic and everyday texts. With coursework ranging from the history of print and illustrated manuscripts to the contemporary production and circulation of digital texts, EWM engages students in the process of enacting theory, knowledge and skills.
Bender credits the major with helping her improve immensely as a writer.
“The EWM program at FSU has definitely expanded my range of writing, not just creatively but also logistically,” Bender said. “I’ve learned how to write for different platforms, such as websites, and how to better consider my audience before writing.”
Bender gleaned inspiration for her original story on Pinterest, the social media application aimed toward the discovery of new ideas.
“I wanted to write a story for Wattpad, something new,” Bender said. “I looked up writing prompts on Pinterest and saw the idea of people having their death date tattooed on their arm. I started typing, and soon I had the first chapter. I posted it on Wattpad around 1 a.m., and when I woke up people had already read it.”
“Expiration Date” quickly became one of the most popular stories on Wattpad and gained a significant following, causing Bender to become part of the “Wattpad Stars,” a group of influential writers on the website.
Bender said Wattpad is a great outlet because of the valuable feedback writers are able to receive from readers on the platform. Eventually, receiving this commentary became a healthy fixation for her.
“It was an addictive feeling,” Bender said. “People were reading my work without me asking them to.”
As one of Wattpad’s most popular stories, Bender’s “Expiration Date” eventually appeared on Tongal’s radar, an online platform similar to Wattpad but for video content creators. Wattpad and Tongal then joined forces with the Syfy network to host a “Story to Screen” digital pilot project contest, the subject of which would be Bender’s “Expiration Date.”
Three filmmakers from Tongal were chosen as contestants and given a budget to create a two-minute trailer for a potential “Expiration Date” series. Trailers needed to introduce the main characters, capture the voice, look and feel of the potential pilot, and position the narrative that would drive the series forward. Fans of “Expiration Date” were invited to Syfy.com to vote for their favorite trailer and determine which filmmaker would be greenlit for a digital pilot.
The trailer produced by Kristen Brancaccio was chosen as the winner. A Los Angeles-based producer, Brancaccio previously was featured as a finalist on season four of HBO’s “Project Greenlight.” She’s been filming the “Expiration Date” series pilot in Los Angeles for the past few months while Bender was finishing school.
The pilot is set to be released this summer and will appear on SyfyWire, Syfy’s online streaming website, at syfy.com.
As Bender awaits the “Expiration Date” debut, she will participate in two summer publishing programs. First, she’ll spend six weeks at New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute, followed by an overseas trip to Columbia’s Publishing Course at Oxford University. She said her time at FSU has prepared her for these exciting opportunities.
“FSU and the EWM program have expanded my versatility as a writer and as a person,” Bender said. “It’s made me more creative, and I’m excited for the future.”