Katharine McGee ’10’s first novel, The Thousandth Floor, debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times young adult best-seller list after its publication in August, and while McGee’s success is evident, her route was, as she says, “a roundabout path to being an author.”
The novel begins at its end: An anonymous character falls off of a thousand-story building in a futuristic New York City, and what follows is a story that begins three months before that moment. The setting is in the future, but McGee resists the description “dystopian,” as she has noticed that futuristic young adult fiction tends to provide a dismal and pessimistic outlook on the future.
“I was a little bit troubled about what this implies about us as a society,” she says. “Why hadn’t anyone written a more hopeful, more realistic take on the future?”
Her vision of the future stems not from a dystopian imagination, but from her own experience. After graduating from Princeton in 2010 with an English degree, McGee spent a year working for Harper Collins doing editorial work and three years at Alloy Entertainment editing famous book series such as Pretty Little Liars and The Hundred. She learned a lot, she says, but was not satisfied with editing as a career.
“I wasn’t really in love with the work I was doing,” she says. “I was hoping to do something more creative.”
And while the logical step is to jump straight into writing her own novels, McGee chose a more unconventional path: She decided to go to business school at Stanford — “the scariest decision ever.” In California, the blooming technology industry and the constant development of new devices, from self-driving cars to virtual reality masks, helped to inspire her novel.
“There’s a lot of learning I took away that wasn’t obvious,” she says. “Being out there in Silicon Valley left its fingerprints all over my book.”
In 2014, at the beginning of her time at Stanford, McGee really began work on the novel, writing on the weekends and even during class. Her time at Stanford’s business school not only inspired her work, but also allowed her to finally begin doing the work she loved.
“I had always wanted to write,” she said. “It was going to business school that gave me the courage to write.”
After her first success, McGee is currently working on the second book in the trilogy.