posted by hannah methvin
october 9th, 2012
TM: How old are you, what’s your major and what year are you?
AL: “I am seventeen years old, I’m a computer science major, and I’m a freshman.”
What got you interested in writing?
“So, when I was in middle school, I had a friend who said he wanted to write a story, and I thought that seemed really interesting. It sort of became a competition to see who could write the better story, and I think mine won.”
Well, obviously, if it got published!
“No, this wasn’t that one! [The Junior Intelligence Agency] I did in high school. It was just something I enjoyed doing. I was in a creative writing class and a journalism class my freshman year and I thought that was something that I felt like I wanted to do and I really pursued it for a long time…”
How old were you when you started The Junior Intelligence Agency trilogy?
“I started writing the book when I just turned fourteen so a lot of it has been rewritten as I’ve gotten better. I’ve taken writing classes at Columbia and as I got better I decided that I wanted to make it better so I went back and rewrote whole chapters…I developed the story and realized I needed to make it a whole series to give it the best that I could give it.”
I think a lot of people would say that getting anything published is always difficult. I know you decided to go with self-publishing. What’s the process you followed to get your book published?
“The full process is on my tumblr. I have tips for self-publishing and how to do it without pulling your hair out. It was a long process but it’s not as long as finding an agent and getting it edited…I really just wanted to get it published, I wanted to get it done with. I was having a rough senior year and I just decided, you know, this is just something that I have to do. So I went online and I did a little bit of research…it was just something I felt like I really had to do…I’m a very independent person and I liked having control over the whole process…I didn’t want to make it really expensive, I wanted it to be $1.99…I finally settled on two different publishers: Lulu and Smashwords…you have control over it. The formatting is really specific and that’s the worst part of it, getting it formatted and getting it past the waiting period, which I didn’t know about when I started…you submit it to distributors…and then you wait like two or three weeks. I remember the day that I got back from a vacation out of the country I looked at it and I was like “oh my gosh, it’s up! Finally!” That was really exciting. “
Do you relate at all to the main character Alex?
“Well, you know, my parents read it as seeing me as Alex and I didn’t want people to do that. People who I know really well, they can make distinctions between me and the main character, but the problem is when you get to the point when you can really become the character when you’re writing them. You become a little bit distant from yourself. You’re better able to write as their character and react to some thing that’s happening in the plot from their point of view, and I got better at that as the books went on, but at the beginning of the first book, Alex was definitely very much me, she reacted to things the way I would. My friends were like ‘you totally say this all the time.’ So, I realized at the beginning, I didn’t want Alex to be me; Alex has had completely different experiences than I have so I thought, ‘okay, we need to rethink character development a little bit here,’ and I really get into that in the second book…which I just finished, actually last week.”
Yes! I believe I read that on your tumblr recently. How was writing the second book different than the first?
“… In the first book, I had to set up the background of the characters. I had to set up the agency, I had to give them a reason for being with the agency and I had to set up the whole director mission. In the second book, I got to play with them a little bit more; I got to play with reactions. Reactions to things are big because huge things get thrown at [the characters] constantly and how they react to that is a big part of who they are. I got to give them all background stories, I got to bring them together and give them pasts, just to explain some of the reasons why they do things.”
You’re obviously very passionate about your book…What got you interested in Computer Science? It seems so completely different than creative writing.
“At first I thought, yeah, they’re completely different things, and I was always made fun of in my house because I was never allowed in the kitchen because I can’t cook to save my life and I was never allowed to work with technology because my dad was always really afraid that I would break something because I didn’t have the greatest track record. I had a best friend in high school who knew he was going to be a computer science major and he really got me into it; if I was having a crisis with my computer and my dad was on a business trip, he would come over…when you’ve got 84 pages of a book on your hard drive, you freak out when something’s wrong. So I decided I really wanted to be able to do that on my own. I took a summer class at Cornell [in computer science]…and I said, ‘Can I sit down for six hours at a time and code?’ And I can…it’s sort of like writing, you’re coding, you’ve got your own way of doing something. My code tends to be much different that the people in my class. My code seems to be much wordier but I also tend to be a lot less redundant.”
This is your first semester at Maryland, how do you like it so far?
“I love it. I came here not expecting to love it because it wasn’t my first choice. I live in Queen Anne’s it’s really nice. I’m in Digital Cultures and Creativity Honors and it’s a really great community…I really wanted to go to a small private school and I feel like I didn’t really know enough when I was looking at colleges to know that that isn’t really what I wanted. I like having resources…you get used to it and then you really start to love it.”
Where is your favorite place to hang out or study on campus?
“The lounges in my dorm are awesome, and the people who live there are awesome, and there are great labs in the basement…all my friends are in Queen Anne’s and it’s a really great place to hang out.”
Are you in any clubs on campus?
“I have gone to some Terpski meetings, I’ve gone to some trail club meetings because I love hiking and camping. And I just completed my training for the equestrian club.”
Do you have any crazy stories about your first few weeks here?
“I got put in a triple, which is interesting, because I keep to myself a lot. But I’ve had great experiences with my roommates and that’s really nice. And also I’ve run into a lot of my friends from high school. I live really close by so everyone came here. It’s not something I was expecting to have happen at college but it’s actually really nice.”
What’s the one thing that surprised you most about UMD, or college in general?
“I guess I just didn’t expect for my dorm to be as close of a community as it is. Everyone goes on about how it’s great that Maryland has such a big campus and there’s so many people, but really I hang out with the same group of people all the time and it’s like the smallest knit community…it’s great.”
Words of advice for our readers?
“For people who want to get published, you should go to my tumblr And read tips about self publishing! In general, I actually have a quote from my first interview in high school. ‘Anyone can be a writer, but it’s persistence that separates the authors.’ Don’t give up on what you’re doing because you never know where it’s going to take you. Also, never delete anything that you write, because you can always use it. Also, don’t get addicted to caffeine.”
I’m sure it’s too late for most of our readers!
You can buy Alyssa’s book The Junior Intelligence Agency: Book 1 on the iBook store, Nook, Amazon, lulu.com, and smashwords.com
If you’d like to see what’s to come in the trilogy, follow Alyssa on Twitter (@alyssalesho) or tumblr (thejiaseries.tumblr.com).