|Alexandra Flinn [Interview Below]
[Peer Pressure - Toxic Relationships - School Violence]
15-year-old Paul is desperate to fit in at his new school. His eagerness leads him to a startling new friendship . . . and a startling act of school violence.
READ MORE @AMAZON
FADE TO BLACK
Alex Flinn grew up in Syosset, New York and Miami, Florida. When she was five years old, her mother suggested that she should be an author. "I guess I must have nodded or something because, from that point on, every poem I ever wrote in school was submitted to Highlights or Cricket magazine. I was collecting rejection slips at age seven!"
She also learned to read early and often. But she compensated for this early proficiency by absolutely refusing to read the programmed readers required by the school system -- workbooks where you read the story, then answered the questions. When the other kids were on Book 20, Alex was on Book 1! Her teacher, Mrs. Zeiser, told Alex's mother, "Alexandra marches to her own drummer." Alex's mom is still uncertain whether Mrs. Zeiser considered that a good thing.
Despite the conviction that she would someday write and publish a novel, Alex tried several other things first. High school was spent in Miami's various "gifted and talented" performing arts programs. She studied opera in college and then went to law school.
It was the latter experience which probably helped with her first novel. Breathing Underwater (an American Library Association Top-10 Best Book for Young Adults) deals with the serious and all-too-common problem of dating violence. Alex based the book on her experiences interning with the State Attorney's Office and volunteering with battered women.
Alex lives in Miami with her husband, Gene, and her daughters, Katie and Meredith. She is currently working on her third book, tentatively scheduled for 2004 and titled Nothing to Lose.
"I shouldn't have come back to Miami…I've been escaping cops' notice for a year now-the year since I ran away. I'm no longer Michael Daye, high school athlete with a promising future. Now I look like someone with no future. I look like a carny."
A year ago, Michael's life seemed pretty good, at least from a distance. But look closer, and he was a guy on the edge, his stepfather's violent rages making his world spin out of control. Then, Michael met Kirstie, who offered an escape - a traveling carnival with a "no questions asked" policy. He grabbed it, leaving his old life and his mother behind.
This year, Michael is back in Miami, and his mother is charged with murdering his stepfather. As the day of her trial nears, Michael wonders how much longer he can hide from his past…and his future.
Embracing the Child Interview with Alex Flinn
Question: Why do you write for young adults?
Alex Flinn: I write for teens because I never finished being one. There's a saying among kids' writers, that you reach an age, and that is how old you stay. For me, it is thirteen. In my mind, I am still this girl, running around the athletic field in a really baggy white gymsuit. Writing YA is a way to go back to that time . . . knowing what I know now. I try to write books I'd have liked back then.
Question: Do you still have the gymsuit?
Alex Flinn: No way. Actually, I don’t think they even have gymsuits anymore. Teens in Miami just wear shorts and a shirt. It’s one of the great strides they’ve made in secondary education in recent years.
Question: Your books, Breathing Underwater and Breaking Point deal with difficult topics. Breathing Underwater deals with dating violence, and Breaking Point is about school violence and peer pressure. What made you want to write books like that?
Alex Flinn: I think there are certain topics that teens need to know about. When I started writing Breathing Underwater, I wanted to tell a great story. But I had also worked with domestic violence victims, so I knew that studies showed that 1 in 4 teenaged girls had been abused by a boyfriend. I think that sometimes, reading about a character who is going through something can help a teen recognize the warning signs. They can learn from someone else's mistakes.
Question: Do you hear from girls or women that have been involved in abusive relationships, that Breathing Underwater relates to their lives?
Alex Flinn: All the time. I hear from boys too. One of the most interesting letters someone sent me was comments about Breathing Underwater from two boys in the juvenile detention system in, I think, Colorado. They said the book really related to their lives and their anger. Both of them said they didn't like to read, but they liked Breathing.
Question: And Breaking Point? What made you want to write about school violence and peer pressure?
Alex Flinn: I wrote Breaking Point because a lot of teenagers have the experience of struggling to fit in at school. I know I did. I think teens will relate to Paul in the book, if not to his actions. This topic has become especially important in recent years because of all the violence in schools. There is an increased awareness of kids who don't fit in. This is a good thing, if parents and educators try to help kids be more accepting.
Question: What about the other kids -- the kids who do fit in? Should they read Breaking Point too, or is it more for the loners?
Alex Flinn: I think they are interested in this topic too, because school violence effects them too. At least, books like She Said Yes and Rachel's Tears (both about Columbine High) are really popular with teens. I think teenagers are trying to make sense of the whole thing. It's got to be pretty scary, going to school every day and knowing there is a possibility that someone could bring a gun to school or plant a bomb. In a lot of ways, things haven't changed that much since I was in school in the 1980's. But this is one big thing that has changed. It's life and death out there now.
Question: Breaking Point is set at a prep school. What made you choose that setting?
Alex Flinn: I set Breaking Point at an exclusive and insular school because I wanted to show that there are really no safe places. People can't say, "That won't happen here" anymore -- because it has happened in a lot of places like that.
Question: Breaking Point deals with a friendship that becomes toxic. What can parents and kids do to avoid a situation like this?
Alex Flinn: It's tough because the teen years are a time when kids are rebelling against their parents anyway and clinging to their friends. There's nothing wrong with that. Everything friends do is so important at that age. But I think if a parent establishes a strong relationship with their child before then, that can help. Make sure they know the right thing to do, so that they'll be less prone to give in to peer pressure. Also, parents have to be aware, now more than ever, of whom their kids are hanging with . . . and teens should be aware that their parents are aware, if that makes sense.
Question: Is it significant that the main character's parents are divorced in Breaking Point?
Alex Flinn: To a degree. Obviously, there are kids whose parents divorce, who come out fine. But the fewer close relationships a kid has in his family, the more significance his friends will take on. In the book, Paul's had his heart pretty much broken by his father, and his relationship with his mother is strained. So Charlie (his best friend) takes on greater importance.
Question: In Breaking Point, Paul and Charlie plant a bomb at their school. Do you worry that the book could give teenagers ideas?
Alex Flinn: Not really. Breaking Point has a very strong anti-school violence, anti-giving in to peer pressure message. One of the big things that it teaches is that you are responsible for your own actions. In the book, Paul tries to blame his friendship with Charlie for what he does . . . but finally, he realizes he can't. Responsibility for one's actions is a major theme in all my writing, actually.
Question: Which comes first in your writing, the story you want to tell or the message you want teens to take away from it.
Alex Flinn: The story has to come first. Writing, especially for teenagers, can't just be like a PSA -- "Don't hit your girlfriend . . . don't plant bombs." It has to be a good story with characters they really care about, and the "S" word: Suspense. The best thing teenagers say to me is, "I read your book in one day" or "I couldn't put it down." I strive for that. If they get anything else out of the book, that is a bonus.
Question: You have two very young daughters. When will they be ready to read your work, and will you let them read your books?
Alex Flinn: It will be a while (They are six and two), but absolutely when they are twelve or thirteen. I think YA novels are a good way for teens to experience things while maintaining a certain distance. I'd like my daughters to learn from the safe environment of a book.
Question: Both of your novels are told from a male point of view. Why did you as a woman decide to write as a teenage boy -- twice?
Alex Flinn: I mostly just listen to the voices in my head and see who is talking. That is the only way I know how to write.