|Allison van Diepen||Interview with Allison van Diepen, February 2008|
In a school run by gangs, staying out was harder than joining. We knew who our friends were, and were careful what we said. If people thought we were haters, it would only be a matter of time....
Lines are clearly marked at South Bay High School. It's mixed territory for the Crips and the Bloods, which means the drama never stops.
Julia DiVino wants none of it. No colors, no C-Walks -- it's just not her thing.
But when Eric Valienté jumps into her life, everything changes. Lines are redrawn. And then they're crossed.
If a brother wanna get ahead, he gotta use every minute to better himself. Everything I did made me better -- tougher, stronger, richer, smarter -- or I didn't do it.
Take high school. A waste of time. Nobody there taught me what I needed to survive on the streets....
Ty Johnson knows survival. Since inheriting his pop's business at sixteen, Ty's developed smarts, skills, and mad discipline. The supply game's in his blood. And life is pretty sweet when you're on top.
But one slip -- or one serious competitor -- and life turns ugly fast. Suddenly, Ty's got to rethink his whole strategy. And for the #1 dealer on the streets, strategy is not just about staying ahead. It's about survival.
ETC: STREET PHARM and SNITCH are both dead-on in their depictions of inner-city youth. Was it your teaching that enabled you to write these books?
van Diepen: Oh yes. The old adage "write what you know" holds true. Ty Johnson and Julia DiVino resembled the students I taught every day in Brooklyn, so I was comfortable writing from their viewpoints. A number of my students were drug dealers and gang members, and many of them boasted of their activities. So researching these books was not a problem either.
ETC: Both STREET PHARM and SNITCH have appeared on ALA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers list. How do you feel about your books' popularity among reluctant readers?
van Diepen: It's wonderful. I've received many emails from teens saying, "this is the first book I've ever finished" or "this is the only book I've ever liked!" Often the next question they ask is if I can recommend other books they might like - which means readers have been born. There is nothing more gratifying than that, especially for a teacher. I've always believed that you can get any teen to read if he or she is given the right book.
ETC: What impact do you hope your books have on teens?
van Diepen: My goal is to give them an enjoyable reading experience, and to get them thinking about the questions raised in the books. For those teens who have taken a dangerous path, I want to give them hope that they can turn their lives around.
ETC: How did you begin writing?
van Diepen: I've always been a storyteller, and I made up plenty of scary tales to entertain my childhood friends. I started writing my stories down when I was twelve, and completed my first novel when I was fourteen. I loved writing so much that I knew I was going to keep at it no matter what. I wrote mysteries, fantasy, romance - whatever I was reading at the time. I knew that getting published would take time, and that I probably wouldn't be able to make a living writing, so I also followed another calling: teaching. Once I became a teacher, it didn't take long for me to realize that I wanted to write for teens.
ETC: How do your students react to having a published author as their teacher?
van Diepen: They think it's cool until they realize that I'm still going to enforce the rules, at which point I become lame. Actually, a number of my students have taken an interest in my books, and they ask me about the writing process and publishing. One benefit to having an author as a teacher is that I have a great selection of new teen fiction in my classroom.
ETC: You're not in Brooklyn anymore. Will you continue to write urban teen fiction? What can we expect from you in the future?
van Diepen: I love writing YA and will write novels on whatever inspires me at the time. Right now I'm working on RAVEN, an urban fantasy YA that will be published by Simon and Schuster in the spring of 2009. Visit my website, www.allisonvandiepen.com, for updates.