Wolfpack Writers: Charlene Thomas
Author Charlene Thomas graduated from NC State with a bachelor’s degree in communication media and a minor in creative writing.
At 16, she won the National Novel Silver Award from Scholastic Books, spurring her writing career.
Her young adult (YA) debut novel, Seton Girls, follows the decisions a group of female students at an elite high school makes after discovering the football team’s dark secret. It also examines female friendships and the complex intersection of race, class and gender.
We caught up with Thomas to learn more about her writing process, writing advice, time on campus and more.
Why this story?
I was hungry to put the social dynamics of my high school on the page. That world inspired much of the backdrop for this book.
I also wanted this story to be about privilege — the ones who have it and the ones who don’t — and the bruises and scars it can leave when unchecked. I wanted it to be about platonic love and the ways best friends can be special kinds of soulmates. And, I wanted it to be a story that featured Black and brown girls as the pretty, popular, and smart ones, and not just the sidekicks that we see ourselves so often cast as.
Where do you get your ideas?
From living, reading and just observing humans being humans. I try to consume a lot of content. I sometimes joke that I watch so much reality TV, which is a crash course in human behavior because I’m doing research.
Characters are people, and the best way to make them more believable is for me to keep observing real life.
What was your favorite class at NC State?
My communication classes. They focused on learning in theory and practice, which helped me appreciate the how and why behind the way people interact with one another. That is advantageous in my work life (I’m a marketer) and in my writing life.
Has your NC State degree impacted your career?
As a marketer, I spend much time thinking about how to create messages that resonate with consumers. My major gave me a great foundation for that. Marketing is also about storytelling, so my minor plays a role in my everyday life, which is cool.
My first and only creative writing courses were at NC State. Workshopping stories with my peers was a special experience.
Much of publishing involves receiving feedback gracefully. Experiencing that for the first time in the classroom helped me appreciate how much better that feedback can make your writing.
Did winning the national award influence your writing?
It’s what truly started my writing in a significant way. I’m not sure how long it might have taken me to feel confident enough in my stories to pursue publishing had it not been for that award.
When do you write, and what are your writing rituals?
Whenever and wherever I can: On my desktop, laptop and phone. There isn’t a wrong way to get words on the page.
I don’t have rituals. I call myself a chaotic plotter. I tend to write the scenes that I want to first, versus the ones that come first chronologically.
Which three writers, dead or alive, would you invite to a dinner party?
Ooh, what a fun yet hard question! I’d have to say:
- Maya Angelou, who has the most beautiful literary voice of all time.
- John Green, whose YA storytelling ability is incredible.
- Shel Silverstein, whose Where the Sidewalk Ends was one of my favorite books in elementary school.
I’ll be taking some time away from corporate America to focus on writing. I’ve only ever written in my free time, and I’m ready to see what I can do if I commit fully to it for a while.
My next book, Peekaboo, a YA speculative novel, is set to come out in 2024.
Advice to aspiring writers?
Believe in yourself, read about the industry, do your homework, keep writing and hold tight to the people who are cheering you on.
Publishing is a long, slow game and full of letdowns and rejection at every turn. But, if it’s your dream, it’s worth it. You are capable of attaining it.