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USF psych professor applies research to fiction


Many USF researchers have their work published to share with colleagues. However, one of these published professors decided to apply her work to a more entertaining medium: fiction.

Jamie Lynn Goldenberg, an associate psychology professor, earned her doctorate in social psychology and her post-doctorate in terror management. After having written an extensive collection of journal publications and presentations, she recently published her debut fiction novel, “Finding Jolie.”

The novel applies Goldenberg’s field of research to a story aimed at younger students.

The Oracle spoke with her about the novel itself and making the jump to fiction. 

The Oracle: What is a brief introduction to the storyline of your novel?

Jamie Lynn Goldenberg: It’s a fiction story about a 16 year-old high school girl named Jolie growing up in

suburban New Jersey who deals with issues of existential anxiety. She tries handling her fears by running away from them and experimenting with a lot of risky behavior like sex and drugs. She hits bottom when she finds out something about her family’s history, and she runs away from home.

Before she runs away she calls her high school algebra teacher and shakes up his world. His life is not the same after the call and he goes after her. The story is mostly about Jolie, but the story is also seen from the teacher’s point of view as a way to give more insight into Jolie.

O:What message do you want your audience to gain from the book?

JLG:It’s written for college students, like 17 and up. It is definitely not preachy, but there is definitely a significant message. The book is about life and being a young woman. It touches on our culture and getting sucked into the materialistic lifestyle. It also touches on this deeper level of life that also draws us in. You’ll see a lot of different glimpses that cause Jolie’s behavior. She sees some things more explicitly than some people do. I don’t want to give anything away, but I guess the message kind of circulates around that.

O:You have done a lot of research in the terror management theory and the human body and sexuality. Do these concepts correspond with the ideas in the novel?

JLGYes, they do. I spent so much time writing and doing research, so that was kind of my goal of this project. You can approach the book as a terror management novel, but you also do not have to. Those who read it without background knowledge on the subject would not get that out of it. The book definitely won’t give you some great insight, but if you are familiar with the theories you can analyze the book from that perspective.

O: What was your main motivation behind writing a fiction novel and how did your research play a role in deciding to write this story?

JLGIt’s the ideas that interest me. Social psychology is a vehicle to study these ideas and write about them, and I also wanted to tap into a different and broader audience. I love fiction and writing. It’s nice to write more freely and not be constrained by data, but the concepts in the book are not any less true.

O: Did you draw certain aspects of the story from your own life experiences?

JLGI definitely used some things, so I would be more informed. I did write about certain places that I lived, but the book is definitely fiction. I loved the idea of writing fiction, but the story wasn’t planned. It sort of almost wrote itself. I love reading. What I wrote would have been what I would’ve wanted to read, and even what I want to read now. It speaks to me, and that’s why I wrote it.

O: How long did it take you to complete the novel?

JLGI completed the first draft in about seven months, and then I spent an additional year editing it.

O: Those with Ph.Ds usually go toward a nonfiction track. Why did you choose fiction?

JLGI was thinking about writing a nonfiction book with a colleague, and they’re not mutually exclusive. I love stories as a vehicle. I had thought about it, but I did not have any idea that I could do it. I was really pleasantly surprised by the whole process.

O: Do you plan to write any more fiction?

JLGI hope so. I have a start to something, and I love the beginning. It would be more focused on objectification as a theme because my research has moved more into that direction.

O:Do you have any advice for college students or anyone interested in writing?

JLG:I think you just have to do it. What works for me is early morning, and I know that doesn’t work for everyone. It’s before I get caught up in all my daily stuff. I sometimes get up at like 5:30 with my coffee and just see what comes out. You have to give the time, and a lot of the time it didn’t work for me to think about it before. It helped sometimes, but I didn’t know what I was going to write until I sat down and started writing.