Thursday, May 24, 2007

Enchanted Fridays Journey of a Novelist

I’m thrilled to interview one of the best YA authors out there and someone I've learned a lot from - Alex Flinn!

We're talking about DIVA today, but don't forget that Alex's next book BEASTLY comes out in October from HarperTeen, and sounds absolutely delicious!

KIMBERLEY: What was the seed for DIVA? What led you to write a novel about Caitlin after your book, BREATHING UNDERWATER?

ALEXANDRA: I got a lot of requests for a sequel to BU, and I really had no idea what I would possibly write about. "Nothing interesting is ever going to happen to Nick again," I explained to the kids who e-mailed, and I firmly believed that to be true.

A few people, not all girls, asked for a book about Caitlin, and I toyed with the idea of writing a book about her, after the book, going to performing arts school, because I had gone to a program like that my last two years of high school.

Then, I did a school visit where I was discussing abusive relationships with several girls who had been in them. "Why," I asked, "are so many girls in this school in abusive relationships." One girl replied, "It's a small school. If you broke up with your boyfriend, there'd be no one to date."

I thought that was sad that these girls thought they had so little going on in their lives, that they needed a boyfriend so badly that they'd accept one who hit them. And that sort of provided the spark of the idea for DIVA, to write a book about a girl pursuing her dreams and realizing that those dreams did not necessarily need to include a boy.

The opera part came a little bit from the fact that Caitlin was a singer in the first book and a lot from the fact that I like opera, and I think it is misunderstood by most young people (including my generation). People think opera is boring, but it actually has enough blood, guts, cheating spouses, and undying love to fill a season of Desperate Housewives and several Manga books. I used the opera, La Traviata, among others, as a parallel to Caitlin's and her mother's lives. La Traviata has been used in several modern movies, including Pretty Woman and Moulin Rouge, so I thought teens would get it.
KIMBERLEY: How much of Caitlin’s journey toward singing opera, performance arts school, auditions, and teachers experiences mirror your own?

ALEXANDRA: A lot of the little things that happened to Caitlin happened to me or my friends. The bigger things didn't. Caitlin's parents are not my parents, and I never knew a boy like Nick. Caitlin's best friend, Gigi, is an entirely fictional character. The only characters who were loosely based upon real people were Caitlin's friend, Sean, and some of the teachers (Rowena, for example, is sort of a hybrid of two of the three voice teachers with whom I studied). But the little day-to-day things that happened to her (including her terror that she would be asked to dance on the side of the stage) were taken from my own life. I think writing an autobiographical book would be very challenging, but making the book about Caitlin gave me the opportunity to take the story away from my own and just choose bits and pieces I liked about what happened in real life.

KIMBERLEY: Are Caitlin’s favorite operas and arias your favorites? If someone has never been to the opera before is there one that you would recommend they see first?

ALEXANDRA: La Traviata is a favorite of mine. Some of my other favorites are more complicated to explain within the context of a book, like The Tales of Hoffman, or they are not for Caitlin's voice part, like Cavelleria Rusticana, so I didn't include them. The first opera I ever saw live was Turandot, which is an excellent choice because it has a compelling plot, unlike some of Puccini's other opera's, which focus more on beautiful music. Probably the "chestnuts," by which I mean the popular operas which are performed constantly, are the best ones for a beginner. These include Carmen, Madama Butterfly, Pagliacci, La Boheme, and Rigoletto.

KIMBERLEY: One of the most emotionally powerful scenes in DIVA, to me, is on pages 90-94 when Caitlin runs into her old boyfriend Nick, an abusive boy that she finally found the courage to leave. Her feelings toward him are so real. On one level, Caitlin still feels in love with him and yet she keeps telling herself that she shouldn’t have these feelings and tries to remind herself of how badly he treated her. Unfortunately, the good memories of Nick are hard to shake and she’s torn and a bit miserable. The doubts and insecurities she expresses in her online journal ring very true. I think many girls and women can relate to those feelings. We’ve all had them at one time or another when we’ve dated boys/men who weren’t good for us, whether they were actually abusive or not. Were those scenes difficult to write?

ALEXANDRA: I volunteered at a battered women's shelter and worked at the State Attorney's Office with domestic violence cases, before I became an author. After I became an author, I talked about dating violence with a lot of teens at school visits. At most schools, there are at least one or two girls who tell me about their abusive relationships. A lot of the stuff Caitlin puts in her journal that day is stuff I talk about with kids at school visits -- the whole question of "Why doesn't she leave him?" I know well why girls don't leave, but I hope my books help them to consider why they should.

KIMBERLEY: The most surprising or unexpected thing that’s happened to you since publishing your novels.

ALEXANDRA: It's really surprising to me that kids read my books in school. When I was in school, we mostly read stuff like Charles Dickens or, if we were really lucky, George Orwell, but never anything more modern than that. It never occurred to me that anyone would assign Breathing Underwater or Fade to Black. I think the topics appeal to teachers, and the real-life situations appeal to students.

KIMBERLEY: What are you working on now?

ALEXANDRA: My upcoming novel, Beastly, comes out in October. It's a modern, urban version of Beauty and the Beast.

KIMBERLEY: Share with us your secret "Diva" wish!

ALEXANDRA: My editor always talks about "What will readers take away from the book?" So my wish is that girls who read the book because it has a pink cover, might still take something away from it, whether it is insight into their own relationships with boys or their mothers, or maybe a little interest in the performing arts.

A big THANK YOU to Alex for stopping by and giving us a peek into her life and inspiration. Applause, applause!!!

Go hang at her Live Journal: and her web site!


Daniel said...

Hi Kimberley,
At first my friends on EbonyFriends.comand I think your imagination is so nice and maybe it will come true.

Alexandra Flinn said...

Hey, Kimberley, I've been out of town. Thanks so much for putting up this little interview with me. Congrats on finishing your WIP. I've got a ways to go, and with school getting out, who knows when . . . Alex

P.S. Let's see if this lets me post. I suspect I may, in fact, be a spamming bot because I always get these words wrong!



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