WCNR student publishes sci-fi novel for young readers

As New Year’s resolutions go, “This is the year I write a novel” is pretty common. It’s also one not commonly kept.

Unless the new year is 2020 and you’re Diego Tovar, who is graduating in May from the Warner College of Natural Resources.

“My family were all making our resolutions, and I said I wanted to write a book,” Tovar recalled. “My mom said, ‘You should.’ And I’m too competitive not to get it done, so when the pandemic hit, and I was home in Austin taking classes online, I said, ‘Why not?’”

So over two weeks in April, Tovar completed the first draft of The Ascendants, a young-adult dystopian science-fiction adventure. He admits that first effort was pretty rough, but he felt it was an accomplishment to have finished it.

Then Tovar, who was named a 2021 Udall Scholar, decided to take it a step further and actually get his manuscript published. In years past, that would have been an even more aspirational resolution, but the resourceful Ram took advantage of 21st-century technology to break into print.

“I wanted to keep creative control, and not deal with agents who might want it to have ‘a happy ending’ to sell it,” he said. “But I knew it would be a challenge to be engaged in the whole process, from idea to marketing.”

Diego Tovar holds up a copy of his book, The Ascendants
Diego Tovar with his novel, "The Ascendants."

After a family friend gave it a first read, Tovar worked with an editor from the online service Reedsy. Then he submitted it to Amazon, which gave it some polishing before accepting it for publication, in return for a portion of the sales. Tovar also found the artist who designed the cover, Diana Buidoso, through the 99Designs website.

Pieces come together

All the pieces finally came together and the first soft-cover copies of The Ascendants shipped to Tovar in September 2021. It sold about 150 copies, in both Kindle and print editions, on Amazon in the first month, and can also be found in the CSU Bookstore and at The Book People in Austin.

Even though the story is set in a world with an environment ravaged by civil war, it offers readers hope, he said. “The message of The Ascendants is that young people can be change agents in society. You are capable of anything you put your mind to if you believe in yourself.”

Tovar has put his mind to going to grad school to pursue a master’s in global climate policy, but plans to continue writing novels on the side.

“I’d really like to do both, because I am motivated and passionate about both environmental justice and storytelling,” he said.

And, yes, Tovar has a sequel to The Ascendants planned out and plotted. He just needs some time to write it.