Student author ‘syndrome’
USF graduate student Alicia Thompson gained more than an undergraduate degree when studying psychology at New College.
Her experiences formed the beginnings of her novel, “Psych Major Syndrome,” which targets the college crowd by following the struggles of fictional freshman, Leigh, who is working on her psychology degree while surviving college.
Thompson, who’s studying English, talked with The Oracle about her book and her lifelong love of writing.
The Oracle: How long have you been writing?
Thompson: I started filling up composition books with stories about dogs that could change into humans – called “The Changers,” clever, right? – when I was about five. It was mostly pictures then. I wrote a couple romance novels in high school – no pictures – and then moved into writing young adult fiction. So it’s been something I’ve been doing for a while.
O: Did you always want to be a published author?
T: I actually did from the time I was in kindergarten. My teacher, Ms. Armstrong, had an “author wall” up with a whole display about Roald Dahl, who is still one of my favorite authors. I said, “I want to be up there.”
O: How did you go about getting your novel published?
T: I finished the book when I graduated from New College in 2006 and then I just started researching agents I could send it to … It really pays to do your research when you’re doing this kind of thing, and not just blanket 10 agents you look up in a book without figuring out if they, you know, like the sort of stuff you’re writing.
I wrote an agent with some sample pages.
She passed, at first, but I had actually done my research on her and really, really wanted her, so I asked her to take another look. She did, accepted the manuscript, and a year and a round of revisions later it had sold to Disney Hyperion.
O: Is “Psych Major Syndrome” based on your experiences, or are the characters based off of people you know?
T: It’s definitely based a lot on my experiences as a psychology major at New College. But, you know, as it went through revisions and I reworked the story, it definitely got a lot further into the fictional world I’d created and less from my own personal experiences.
I’d say a lot of the small stuff is immediately recognizable as mine – I can’t seem to remember to buy parking decals for the life of me. I love Dunkin Donuts coffee with extra cream (and) extra sugar and I once mentored a 13-year-old girl in a program just as shockingly inept as the one Leigh participates in.
But, overall, the main characters and conflicts are still mostly fictional.
O: What made you want to write this book?
T: I’d been writing romances for a little while because I enjoy reading romances and I’m a big romantic comedy fan, but it just didn’t feel right.
I was 21 years old and didn’t really want to write about people in their 30s hoping to find a lasting relationship. I’ve also been obsessed with adolescence – John Hughes movies, young adult novels . . . So I started writing this book, and it all seemed so much more natural and more fun than anything else I’d been doing.
O: What do you think sets a story apart in terms of what is publish-worthy and what is just another piece of fiction?
T: I think most of what sets books apart as publish-worthy is good, tight prose – meaning that you aren’t wasting (time on) a lot of words or characters or scenes that aren’t needed.
It should feel effortless for the reader, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be an easy read, just that the reader shouldn’t see how hard it is for you to craft the story … I also think it’s really important that you really love what you’re writing, that you sympathize with your own characters – even the antagonists – and that you let yourself be surprised by what comes next in the story. That’s the kind of intangible quality that readers pick up on when they read a story – whether the story breathes and has life
O: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
T: Mostly just an entertaining story that makes you laugh and care about the characters. And that abstinence-only programs are a joke.
O: What can we look forward to from you in the future?
T: I’m actually working on a middle-grade series about four gymnasts right now. I’m writing it with Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu, who was my total idol growing up, so I’m really psyched about it. It’s kind of a “Stick It” meets “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” type of thing.
O: What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for aspiring young authors?
T: Read and write as much as you can.
For some people, writing comes very easily, and for others, it’s a struggle, but it’s always tough to find the time to sit in front of the computer or typewriter, or papyrus paper or whatever and just write.
If you can tackle that battle and set goals for yourself – three pages a day, 5,000 words a week, whatever – I think that’s huge. After that, I say just keep writing the kind of work you’d want to read yourself, the kind of writing that you’re excited about, and that’s going to be worth braving all the rejections or revisions.
And there will be rejections and then revisions. So it helps to be writing stuff that you’re passionate about, or else it’s easy to get bogged down in that process and want to give up.