The sign she waved at graduation — "Have bachelor's degree. Need job" — didn't help. Neither did the T-shirts she had printed with her resume.
Rachel Barnard, 22, had been valedictorian of her class at Booker High in Sarasota and had received enough scholarships to pay for New College. She had studied psychology and Spanish, worked at a science museum, volunteered at a children's clinic.
None of it mattered. By June, she had applied for 150 jobs, to no avail. She was stuck in her mom's house in Sarasota, with her teenage brother, three dogs and two cats, throwing herself at whatever job she could find.
She was sick of Florida, couldn't stand to spend another summer sweating. The sun-baked streets seemed to mock her: You're still here?
So on a sweltering Sunday, Rachel packed her diploma and her tie-dye T-shirts and flew to Seattle to stay with her dad.
"I can apply for jobs just as easily from out there," she said. Plus, her boyfriend was already in Seattle, looking for work.
"A lot of people my age are basically homeless after college," Rachel said. "They wind up working minimum wage jobs, couch surfing at friends' apartments. I have family. So at least I know I'll never be homeless."
With $2,000, a suitcase full of clothes, no car, and no plan, she moved into her dad's garage.
The Tampa Bay Times followed Rachel as she and other New College grads tried to leverage their diplomas into promising new lives — at a time when more than half of recent grads are unemployed or underemployed.
Confident and well-read, with a wry sense of humor, Rachel was born in Seattle, the middle of three children. Her dad owns a company that designs circuit boards. Her mom is a music teacher. When they divorced, Rachel moved with her mom and siblings to Sarasota.
She chose New College because she wanted to chart her own path of study. She majored in psychology because "one day a librarian gave us a pamphlet that said psychology was the best major to help you find a job."
Through all four years, while taking a full load of classes, Rachel worked 20 hours a week at Filippo's Pizzeria.
"I thought with a degree from New College, people would come to me, wanting me to work for them," Rachel said.
She had pictured herself spending the summer on a Fulbright scholarship in Barcelona, or maybe basking on a Puerto Rican beach, with plenty of time to read and write and think.
But the Fulbright hadn't panned out, and when it came to sunshine, Seattle wasn't exactly San Juan.
As for time to think, well, she had plenty of that.
The novel was her boyfriend's idea. You like to write, he kept telling her. So write!
They were living in her dad's "guest house," a space half the size of her dorm room, 100 square feet with a single bed surrounded by computer monitors, dirty laundry and plastic milk crates. To use the bathroom, they had to walk outside, down a path, and through her dad's kitchen door.
After a month, Rachel and her boyfriend hadn't paid rent. Hadn't looked for jobs. Rachel's dad let them drive his minivan, help themselves to his fridge.
Days were long bike rides, mountain hikes, watching the Cedar River roll past her dad's porch. Nights meant dinner on the deck with her dad, his wife and son. By midnight, Rachel and her boyfriend were wrapped in a comforter, watching Jackie Chan movies on the laptop.
He asked her: If you were going to write a book, what would it be about?
Another world, Rachel said, or this world far in the future. The hero would be a young woman trying to figure something out.
You write it, I'll edit it, said her boyfriend, who had never done either. She had met Patrick Lambert online a year earlier, when he lived in Clearwater. He said he was 25, had lived in Switzerland and gone to Florida State. She called him "Patricio." When Rachel started dating him, he was working at Macy's.
She started writing in the mornings, in bed with the laptop, while her boyfriend was still asleep. When he woke, she would read him her story. He always wanted more metaphors.
By mid June, Rachel had written six chapters of a novel she called The Cube.
It's fantasy-science fiction, like The Hunger Games, and is also aimed at teens. The young hero changes her identity to infiltrate an elite training academy. "The question is," Rachel wrote in a pitch for her book, "what is the academy?"
She couldn't think of a name for her hero so she called her MC — main character. Her psychology degree helped her develop motivations and fears.
Her boyfriend couldn't wait for her to finish. He started uploading chapters to Amazon.com.
If we charge $1 per episode, we get 35 cents, he told Rachel. His goal: To make $100,000. "Imagine the movie rights!"
Or at least enough for them to get their own apartment.
One night on Facebook, Rachel saw a friend had gotten a second job interview. At first, she was jealous. Then she read on.
The interview was at a carwash.
"That is sad," said Rachel. "I feel like all the job talk of New College students is about minimum wage, serving industry jobs. Who is getting those 9 to 5 cubicle working-class jobs?"
Since she and her boyfriend had started working on the book, neither had sent out a resume.
They spent $1,200 on a new computer. Rachel's dad paid her cellphone bill. Her boyfriend uploaded another three chapters of The Cube.
"Absolute page-turner. No end to these episodes as long as the story-tellers keep ticking," he typed in the online promotion.
"There are a couple of gems in this brief chapter," one reviewer wrote. But "there is not enough information to give you an idea of what the story is really about."
By the time Rachel had written eight chapters, 100 people had downloaded them.
Her profit: $35.
On the last day of June, Rachel grabbed her yellow backpack and followed her boyfriend into the bright afternoon. They needed space. She needed to write. So they headed to a nearby library and chose a table beside a window.
"So email me Chapter 9," said her boyfriend. "I have to put up a description for the next episode."
For the next two hours they sat hunched over their computers.
"Hey, is kryptonite impenetrable?" Rachel finally asked.
"What, like Superman?"
"Yeah. I need a tough material, something indestructible."
Her boyfriend said, "Look it up."
When he stepped outside to make a call, Rachel rubbed her eyes and closed her laptop.
The computer was covered with fortunes that she had saved every time they ate Chinese. Now, as she took a break, she ran her fingers over the words she had taped down.
Good luck is the result of good planning.
Life always gets harder near the summit.
You will always have everything that you need.
She wrote all summer, a couple of hours each day.
In September, when her classmates had gone on to graduate school, Rachel was on Chapter 20 — with no end in sight.
"My dad suggests that I should look into a job," she wrote on Facebook.
The house was crowded, the expenses piling up. Bill Barnard loved having his daughter in his home, but the groceries weren't going to buy themselves. He had seen how hard she was working on her novel. Why not put some of that energy toward something that might pay?
"She could patch together some part-time work or something," he said.
So at her dad's urging, Rachel combed Craigslist, the University of Washington website, every job board she could find.
She applied to be a human resource analyst for the CIA in Washington, D.C., an administrative assistant in Malaysia, a medical front desk receptionist in Hawaii, making $15 an hour.
She responded to calls for a public affairs specialist, a preschool teacher, electrical engineer. She answered ads from Boeing, Liquid Logic and Sears.
By October, Rachel had applied for 84 more positions. "I bet if I had gone to an engineering school, I'd have a job by now," she said.
Her boyfriend, who hadn't been looking for work, set up a page on Kickstarter.com, where creative people solicit money for their projects.
"We have completed the writing and editing phase of the novel," he wrote, "and are raising funds to print the novel. … Now we must let the buzz build up so we can obtain the publishing and movie deal."
His fundraising goal was $5,000. By Nov. 1, they had one pledge: for $50.
The garage seemed so much bigger once her boyfriend was gone. When they broke up, he moved to Hawaii. He was too controlling, Rachel said, too demanding.
She's still looking for work, anything, anywhere. She is eager to get her own apartment, a car. "I don't feel like a real citizen yet," she said. "I'm still relying on my parents for everything."
As for her novel, it's kind of like her life: All she needs is the next chapter.
Lane DeGregory can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8825. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.