I’m very excited to have Sharon G. Flake, author of many award winning books with me this week, to talk about her upcoming book PINNED. First, let’s blurb:
Autumn and Adonis have nothing in common and everything in common. Autumn is outgoing and has lots of friends. Adonis is shy and not so eager to connect with people. But even with their differences, the two have one thing in common: they’re each dealing with a handicap. For Autumn, who has a learning disability, reading is a painful struggle that makes it hard to focus in class. But as her school’s most aggressive team wrestler, Autumn can take down any problem. Adonis is confined to a wheelchair. He has no legs. He can’t walk or dance. But he’s a strong reader who loves books. Even so, Adonis has a secret he knows someone like Autumn can heal.
In time, Autumn and Adonis are forced to see that our greatest weaknesses can turn into the assets that forever change us and those we love. Told in alternating voices, Pinned explores issues of self-discovery, friendship, and what it means to be different.
Now let’s get the author’s insight:
Angelhorn: PINNED uses a duel point of view technique that young readers seem to love. In PINNED however you’ve achieved a really strong distinction between the two voices by writing Adonis in more formal mainstream English, while Autumn’s voice is more casual and reflective of her African American culture. This completely suits their characters and really brings their conflicts to life. Could you tell us something about the challenges both of writing in two voices and of writing in a colloquial style?
Sharon G. Flake: I love the alternating voices myself. My editor suggested it. Adonis spends a lot of time trying to get away from Autumn, ignoring her or hoping she’ll go away. So only writing from her perspective meant that he wasn’t talking to me, the author, either. Using the first person perspective for Adonis allowed him the freedom to tell his own story, and gave me full access to what was in his head. That changed everything about the book. There wasn’t really a challenge writing in two voices. It was easy for me to go back and forth. To make sure one character didn’t sound too much like the other, I did have to go over the text again and again. In the African-American culture, we can say a word or sentence like no one else on the planet. It’s why I love writing the way so many of us speak. It’s why so many people want to emulate us, although they don’t always do it well. It can take twenty standard English words to say what many folks in my culture can say in three very well placed ones. Now how great is that.
Angelhorn: There are some very supportive and encouraging teachers, coaches and librarians in PINNED. What was YOUR school experience like?
Sharon G. Flake: I always loved school. I don’t remember all of my teachers but I can’t ever remember having one I truly disliked. So much is said about teachers and librarians these days. If we aren’t careful we will find ourselves with no one to teach our children. They aren’t all perfect but so many want students to learn and better themselves. I love the ones in my book. They aren’t based on anyone. They evolved from the story like most of the characters I write about. I think the readers will enjoy each one of them.
Angelhorn: Autumn is such a great role model for young women. She’s very loving, assertive and uninhibited and physically and morally strong. Also she’s fully aware and accepting of her weaknesses (in reading) and proud of her strengths. I’ve read so many books with very bleak and angsty girls. What made you decide to write Autumn this way?
Sharon G. Flake: From the beginning she was feisty. Later for some reason she became quirky. Maybe because I am a bit quirky myself. Autumn is clear about her need to tell the world her strengths and weaknesses with no embarrassment. Not many of us can do that. It’s a sign of her inner confidence, as well as innocence. She is certain about everything, except her ability to read better. It’s been so hard for her. It’s the only thing she doesn’t believe she can master. It’s easier for her to think about her talents, her love for Adonis and cooking skills. I hope her reading challenges will give young people the courage to discuss their own, and like Autumn decide they can be better at it.
Angelhorn: In contrast, Adonis is a sweetly flawed character. He’s so prideful and intolerant and can say very cruel things. In a way his journey is much more difficult than Autumn’s; he seems to have a lot he needs to let go of. But he’s also brilliant, conscientious and responsible – the very antithesis of the “black male teen” stereotype that pervades the popular media. Was this a conscious choice? How do stereotypes inform or drive your writing?
Sharon G. Flake: I am always saying in my work you don’t know these teens. They are not perfect, but they are deep and full of so much the world needs to recognize and showcase. Recently I did a Skype with students in Thailand. They were reading my novel The Skin I’m In. Dark skin is a problem in that country. So here I am with them reading about African American inner city girl saying how much they connect to her. All problems are universal. When books about African American youth, Latinos, Irish and others are told, anyone can benefit. Adonis will free a lot of young men. Give them the freedom to tell their own unique stories of being intellectual, self confident and bold. Yet as you said he has many things to let go of. Learning to trust someone outside of himself is part of Adonis’s journey. And Autumn is the perfect person to walk it with him.
Angelhorn: Your writing appeals to everyone, but especially to young people of color, who can see themselves on the covers and in the pages of all your books. Is there extra responsibility that goes along with writing for this audience?
Sharon G. Flake: Maybe. I just try to do my best. Everyone won’t be happy. There will be times when I probably will have to say oh man I blew that. Adonis would tell me “There is absolutely no excuse for that to happen.” Autumn on the other hand would say, “Don’t worry, try again tomorrow. Hey wanna wrestle?”
Angelhorn: Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on now?
Sharon G. Flake: Well I just sold a picture book about a duck! My first picture book. I’m writing about more teens but mum is the world on details…something else very different from me. Wrestling with Autumn freed me up a bit I guess. It took five years to write. It went through many changes. I went through many including writer’s block, fear, change of my writing process, fear, learning to trust others, did I say fear? Fear that maybe for the first time ever I wouldn’t be able to deliver a book. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to write another novel. Wrestling with characters and a storyline that kept shifting, You hit a wall sometime. That’s life. Now what will you do? That is what happens in my novel too, I suppose. Autumn hits that wall. What will she do now that her back is pressed to it? Adonis hits his own wall. Will he stay the same or grow? We all grew, me, Adonis, Autumn. Now ain’t that what life is all about?
Yes! I couldn’t agree more. And anyone who has ever seriously tried to write something knows that feeling of being up against the wall. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Sharon and good luck with your duck book; I have a duck book too! My first novel was about a duck.
PINNED hits bookstores October 1st 2012. I was lucky enough to score an ARC at ALA12. I’m giving away this ARC. To enter comment, and follow this blog and follow me on twitter to enter into a draw to win this ARC. If you do all three you get three entries.