Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writing A Novel: Remembering College Life And Psycho Roommates

One of the best parts about writing a novel that's set in college is that I get to recall my own college experience which began -- gulp -- 20 years ago. Overall, I had a blast at school and am still close with almost all of my college pals (one friend is now my sister-in-law!). However, my freshman year sucked. It was so terrible, in fact, that I considered transferring out of schools. I'm really glad that I stuck things out and stayed because I would've missed out on meeting some wonderful people, not to mention my husband.

My freshman roommate was not one of these people. She wasn't a bad person at all; she could actually be very sweet at times, but she was extremely immature and inconsiderate. She'd graduated from high school early so she began college at 16; though she was three months younger than I was, she was already a junior by the time I began. She didn't want to bother moving and had been in the same room for three years, so when I moved in, she viewed me as merely being a guest. In her mind, this was her room and she was going to do whatever she wanted.

In general, she was a decent, clean kid. She rarely drank, never did drugs, didn't smoke and was pretty religious, so she didn't date. I never had to worry about coming home to find a sock on my door (the universal signal to get lost because your roomie is gettin' busy). But she was loud. Extremely loud. At all hours of the night.

She had a very specific method for studying, which I guess worked for her because she had a 4.0 GPA. Basically, she'd do an all-nighter right before an exam and cram all the information into her brain at the very last minute. This was a problem for me, though, because she insisted on studying in our room with the lights and radio on. Our dorm had a very nice study basement just for this purpose, but no, she didn't like the basement; she liked her bed. So the nights that she stayed up meant I had to stay up, too.

She was annoying even when she wasn't studying. Sometimes she left the radio on all night because it helped her sleep. The good news is, she liked R.E.M. The bad news is, she especially this novelty song (I forget who sang it) called "Fuck You." When she was in the mood for that, I got to listen to a CD playing "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck over," over and over again. Sometimes she'd bring friends over at weird hours, like 3 a.m., and then be upset with me for being asleep. FYI, we lived in a suite so we were fortunate enough to have a private common area for the six of us, which she could've used. But again, this was HER room and she wanted it RIGHT THEN. Sometimes she'd just sort of huff and close the door leaving me be, but other times she'd march right in and flip on the light as if I weren't there. I wanted to kill her. My sleep was so fragmented during the first semester that I ended up getting sick. I actually had to show her a note from the school medical center saying that I needed to have a steadier sleep schedule.

Now you're probably wondering why I didn't do something about her, like go to our R.A., sit her down for a talk or even call her parents. The answer's simple: I was a big, ole wuss. I've never been very confrontational, anyway, but I was even less so at 18. I was an only child who'd never dealt with siblings or roommates (whereas my roomie had five brothers and sisters), was extremely shy and honestly, I'm not sure that I was really ready for college. It was such an overwhelming experience for me and really was a baptism by fire sort of situation. That said, I didn't know how to approach and deal with her. Since she'd lived in our dorm for three years, she knew everyone and kind of ruled the building. I feared that if I dared to tell her off, I'd be persona non grata. And so, I stayed mostly silent.

Anyway, I wanted to present a realistic view of a college freshman's life in my book and having a psycho or inconsiderate roommate is a common ordeal. Only my narrator, Sadie, deals with her roomie (who is way more psycho than mine ever was) in a much different way than I did. One of the great things about writing is that you get to "relive" certain life experiences and give them a different outcome. I certainly wish I'd been more like Sadie because I could've had a better freshman year.

When I think about college, I rarely think about my first year or even my classes. I mainly remember the good times I had, the nights that friends and I stayed up talking over pizza, the parties, the lifelong relationships that I forged. It's these things that shaped me as a person and I'm trying to show this in my book, as well.

I may be 39 in a few days, but writing my latest novel makes me feel as if I'm taking a trip back in time -- and is keeping me young at heart.

Please read and review my first novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

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