The Making of a Young Adult Novel: Individual Interviews

Pictured above: Marita, Michelle, and Charline. Three of the girls I interviewed. 

In this and prior/subsequent posts I am going to show how my young adult novel, The Halls of Abaddon, came to be. Hopefully in the process, I will be able to share with you the joys (and sometimes frustrations) of working directly with teens in the development of a young adult novel. For Step 1 click here.

Step 3:

In the previous post (Step 2) I outlined how I conducted a student survey to identify the important issues facing teens today. From this survey I concluded that the following five issues were most salient in my target audience:

  • The influence of explicit lyrics (specifically in Reggaetón) on teen sexuality
  • Self-image and Self-esteem
  • Bullying/Cyber Bulling
  • Teen Rebellion and Parental Problems
  • Suicide

These five issues will all be addressed, to varying degrees, in The Halls of Abaddon.

At the end of the survey, I asked if any of the students would be interested in being interviewed by me, and if so, which of the identified issues they would be willing to talk to me about. Each student who volunteered to be interviewed had identified a topic from the issues outlined in the survey. But I did not want to jump right into talking about the issues, some of which were highly intense and personal (especially for those who agreed to talk about relational issues and suicidal ideation). I felt like I needed to build trust first. So I came up with some fairly easy initial questions. Here are some of the early interview questions I asked.

  • Can you describe yourself, first as you see yourself, and then as you think others see you?
  • What is your favorite book and why?
  • What is your favorite movie and why?
  • If you could live one day as another person, who would that person be and why?
  • What’s the last song you listened to from your music library?

After some structured “small talk,” I transitioned into more specific questions about what it is like to be a teenager in Puerto Rico. I asked the following questions, which are important for me to understand as The Halls of Abaddon is set partially in Puerto Rico.

  • What has it been like for your growing up in Puerto Rico?
  • Do you prefer to read in English or Spanish?
  • What are some of the challenges you face as a young adult growing up in Puerto Rico?

In my next post, I will talk about how I transitioned from these relatively easy questions to the harder ones that delved into the core of the five identified teen issues.

 

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The Making of a Young Adult Novel: Teen Issues Survey

In this and subsequent posts I am going to show how my young adult novel, The Halls of Abaddon, came to be. Hopefully in the process, I will be able to share with you the joys (and sometimes frustrations) of working directly with teens in the development of a young adult novel. For Step 1 click here http://susannadathur.com/2017/04/04/the-making-of-a-young-adult-novel/

 

Step 2:

Because The Halls of Abaddon was going to be written around teen issues, I wanted to make sure I was focusing on the issues that were most important to the young people who comprised my initial reading audience. So before I even began to write, I put together a survey and conducted it in several selected classrooms. Here is a short version of the survey I used.

Teen Issues Survey

Your Gender male    female

Your Age 15    16   17    18

 

  1. Which of the following internal issues do you think most concerns teens in your community?

self-image/self-esteem

eating disorders

depression

smoking/drugs/alcohol

diet/fitness/exercise

learning/educational issues

other (please specify)

 

  1. Which of the following external issues do you think most concerns teens in your community?

bullying (cyber of physical)

abusive relationships

sexual activity

teen pregnancy

gangs

school violence

cliques

poverty

other (please specify)

 

  1. Which of the following issues involving adults do you think most concerns teens in your community?

poor communication between adults and teens

teen rebellion against adults

physical abuse

verbal abuse

affects on teens in single parent households

affects on teens of divorce of parents

independence of teens from parents

other (please specify)

 

  1. Which of the following issues regarding media do you think most concerns teens in your community?

online predators

online availability of and exposure to material of mature content

influence of television and movies on youth

influence of video games on youth

influence of music with explicit or suggestive lyrics on youth

other (please specify)

From this survey I concluded that the following five issues were most salient in my target audience:

  • The influence of explicit lyrics (specifically in Reggaetón) on teen sexuality
  • Self-image and Self-esteem
  • Bullying/Cyber Bulling
  • Teen Rebellion and Parental Problems
  • Suicide

These five issues will all be addressed, to varying degrees, in The Halls of Abaddon. The most troubling one, suicide, is the one I am still struggling with as I develop the novel.

At the end of the survey, I asked if the student would be interested in being interviewed by me, and if so, which of the survey issues would that student like to talk to me about. In the next post, we will explore the dynamics of these student interviews

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The Making of a Young Adult Novel: Finding Your Place

In this and subsequent posts I am going to show how my young adult novel, The Halls of Abaddon, came to be. Hopefully in the process, I will be able to share with you the joys (and sometimes frustrations) of working directly with teens in the development of a young adult novel.

Step #1

Identify a school with an open door policy that welcomes non-teaching staff to work directly with students.

Meeting with the students; Establishing relationships

In 2012, I found that school in Leonides Morales Rodriguez, the local high school in Lajas, Puerto Rico. Not without some trepidation, I made an appointment with the director and requested permission to interview students for my not-as-yet started young adult novel, Dante’s Kiss. Mr. Molina, the principal, welcomed me with open arms. Immediately after hearing about my project, he introduced me to the 12th grade advanced English teacher, Mrs. Cynthia Delgado. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have been working with Mrs. Delgado and her students for five years now.

Sharing our mutual love of literature, me and Mrs. Delgado.

That first year, I talked to dozens of students. I needed to. I was seventeen + (++) years away from my own high school experience. Also, I was writing a book set in a Puerto Rican high school, which—as I have seen over the last five years—is light years away from my experience in Wethersfield High School. If I had gone to high school in Lajas Puerto Rico instead of Wethersfield Connecticut, I probably wouldn’t be a writer now. Not because writing support is limited in the Lajas public school district—it is—but because I would not have been bullied. Kids are actually tolerant here. Chubby nerds like me are not made to feel inferior or odd—all the makings of a writer, in my particular case.

Why do I start so far back in my journey to the making of the Halls of Abaddon, my second YA book? Because five years ago, I was starting the groundwork for what I have today. An open door to the school, an enthusiastic, supportive teacher, and a wonderful student body that has come to trust me through the experiences of their older siblings. My work over the last five years has formed the building block to a dynamic, creative relationship with the students of Leonides Morales Rodriguez today. And that relationship has given authenticity, urgency, and plenty of teen angst to my creative process.

How many of you have found creativity and inspiration through the young people you work with?

For Step Two Click Here: The Making of a Young Adult Novel: Teen Issues Survey

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