Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I have a confession to make - Susan Vaught is one of my literary heroes. Her novel TRIGGER was a huge inspiration when I started writing YA, and a seminar I took from her years ago still resonates every time I have to write a killer synopsis (which I can now do because of what I learned from Susan). Her books take hot topics and turn them into intensely personal stories (BIG FAT MANIFESTO, EXPOSED). When I found out she was writing a YA about sexting and the repercussions of laws that don't keep up with today's reality, I had to get an advance copy.

I don't cry easily. It seriously took most of Titanic before I shed a tear, but by the end of her new book GOING UNDERGROUND, I was sniffing and wiping away tears in a good way. I really fell for her main character and the difficult and ridiculous situation the all-knowing adults around him have put him in (I have to say, the parents got off pretty well in this book. The law and those who enforce it rightfully don't) and what it does to his psyche and his future.

Here is a snapshot of GOING UNDERGROUND:

Del is a good kid who's been caught in horrible circumstances. At seventeen, he's trying to put his life together after an incident in his past that made him a social outcast-and a felon. As a result, he can't get into college; the only job he can find is digging graves; and when he finally meets a girl he might fall in love with, there's a sea of complications that threatens to bring the world crashing down around him again. But what has Del done? In flashbacks to Del's fourteenth year, we slowly learn the truth: his girlfriend texted him a revealing photo of herself, a teacher confiscated his phone, and soon the police were involved.
Basing her story on real-life cases of teens in trouble with the law for texting explicit photos, Susan Vaught has created a moving portrait of an immensely likable character caught in a highly controversial legal scenario.

These are the first lines of the new book:
Dead zones are places without life, without feeling, without air. I've seen them in pictures of polluted oceans and read about them in descriptions of the cold void of space. Sometimes I think parts of my body have turned silent and dark like those pictures and descriptions. Sometimes I think I've become a dead zone.

I told you her writing was amazing. I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan recently and asked her a few questions about the book.: As the parent of teen and pre-teen boys this was a topic that really hit home for me. How do you think having kids of your own changed the topics you write about or the way you write fiction?

My childrens' enjoyment of stories inspired me to start writing for children and young adults, and whenever I write fantasy, my son's tastes definitely weigh into the equation. My daughter is the contemporary literature fan, as is her best friend, who is now a high school teacher. I think about them as well. At times, I explore topics that were fears of mine when my kids were younger, or I imagine how I'd deal with newer-to-the-world issues now, if my children were still young. I believe I tune into injustice more quickly, because kids, teens, and young adults have a hard enough time surviving to adulthood without being strangled by the mistakes and shortcomings of adults.

I think my favorite lines of Del's are toward the end where he's explaining his situation in a letter to a college admissions officer; "....my personhood got revoked. I got kicked out of society. It felt like getting kicked off the world." My heart was just breaking for him and I was so angry at the outcome of such a ridiculous situation. Do you think things are getting better legally with Romeo and Juliet laws?

Some states are, some states aren't. I really wish it could be addressed at a federal level, and I believe we have to find some way to keep up with technology, and to focus more on real protection and safety issues for teens and young adults vs. trying to legally enforce morality. This last is the socially sensitive issue, I know, but it drives me insane when kids lose their futures because of ridiculous laws or legal decisions, or the over-legalization of the normal mistakes kids, teens, and young adults make. Sooner or later we have to face the fact that we have essentially criminalized consensual sexual activity between teens--something no society ever in time has been able to control--and we are ripping futures away from teens and young adults because we can't a) keep up with technology that they are mastering faster than we do, and b) get our act together on accepting the fact that teens think about and experiment with sex. I'm not saying don't have rules, don't educate them, don't attempt to dissuade them, don't have consequences (within the family group)--just, how about let's not send them to jail and prison and put them on sex offender registries for life for falling in love or doing the modern technological equivalent of "playing doctor."

I know you were inspired by some of the cases you worked with as a psychiatrist - what other research did you have to do to make the book ring true?

I researched age of consent laws in various states, researched cases where children have been convicted of sex offenses based on sexting, and spoke to a district attorney. I remember one question I asked the DA--what if two teens, one under the age of consent by one day and one over the age of consent by one day had sexual contact? Would you prosecute? The DA said, "I wouldn't in that situation, but if a parent chose to press charges, I wouldn't have a choice." I then asked her if she had seen cases like that, and she got tears in her eyes, nodded, and didn't answer out loud. That made quite an impression.

My favorite part of writing are the 'happy accidents' that come while you're writing when a character or situation just shows up. Did you have any 'accidents' that made it into the book?

The inclusion of Fred the parrot and the rescued animals happened by accident. That was nowhere in my outline when I started, but my own parrot was plucking my nerves (and my hair) while I was writing the first couple of chapters, and shortly thereafter, Fred the parrot stormed into the narrative.

In spite of having a difficult real world job, you write so many great books - what's up next for Susan Vaught?

I have one manuscript completed and in the editing process. My title for it is FREAK, but that may change. FREAK is told through the eyes of Jason, a young man with schizophrenia. When his best friend and maybe girlfriend Sunshine disappears, he knows he has to find her--even though the police and the FBI consider him the primary suspect. His voices and distorted perceptions confuse him and make him doubt himself, but he'll never give up, not if there's the tiniest chance of finding her alive--but Sunshine's time is fast running out.

I also have another manuscript still in the revision/writing process. It's a contemporary romance with some . . . unusual . . . fantasy elements. :)

Thanks Susan! Find out more about Susan and all of her books here. GOING UNDERGROUND is an important book for anyone to read, but I think it is particularly eye-opening for the parents of teen boys. And it's on sale TODAY!!!!

1 comment:

Paula said...

I'm gonna go get it! And can't wait yours!. Hey, perhaps we should have a reunion in November for C's birthday!