Patrick Flores-Scott is the author of the debut Young Adult novel Jumped In (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers). He has previously written for theatre, film, and the slam poetry stage. Flores-Scott works as a teacher and lives with his family in Seattle, Washington.
What inspired you to write Jumped In?
Patrick Flores-Scott: When I began writing Jumped In, I was teaching at a middle school in Des Moines, a small town situated between Puget Sound and seedy Pacific Highway, south of Seattle. Just about every element in the story was inspired by my time there.
There were wannabe gang boys and boys who everyone assumed were headed in that direction. There were a couple of boys who’d share their hip-hop-inspired poetry with me. Luis was an amalgamation of these guys.
There were two great teachers who held class poetry slams, and there was a teacher who’d tell stories about her crazy African Grey Parrot. They’re in the book as well.
I taught in a room with three other teachers, helping kids who struggled with reading. There was one boy I’d watch from across the room. This kid never bought in. He never really talked to his teacher or to other students. He was clearly depressed, and I wanted to try to imagine how he got to that point and how he could come out of it. That kid became Sam.
I wanted to write a book that I thought my students would like, one that was structured and formatted in a way that would entice struggling readers, and one that was as true to their lives as I could make it.
How were you introduced to slam poetry?
PFS: I think I saw a Def Poetry episode once, although that’s not technically a slam. I know I read about poetry slams before I ever saw one. My brief time as a slam poet took place after moving back to Seattle after six years of living in Los Angeles. For a few months, I had a delivery-type job and I was on the road pretty much all day. One time my car radio broke, and instead of getting it fixed or replaced, I started entertaining myself by making up really bad rap lyrics. Being an extremely silly, not good rapper was my thing for a while. When I got back to Seattle, I was kind of floating around and needed to try something new. I read about the Seattle Slam in the paper, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I did some of my silly raps and then tried to write some actual slam poetry. I had a great time with it.
What advice would you give a young adult interested in slam poetry?
PFS: Get online and YouTube “youth poetry slam” or “Youth Speaks” and check out the unbelievably amazing stuff that kids are doing. It’s a great way to see what the possibilities are. The next step is to stop watching those videos for a while. Try to develop your own poetic voice and try out your own performance style. And don’t try too hard to change the world with your poetry. Just speak from your heart. Think about what moves you, what excites you, what scares you, or makes you laugh. Write a poem, try it out on your closest friend, then get out there and show your stuff. Do your thing at a school talent show or organize a slam in your own school. I was invited to a school to do some slam poetry workshops. The students there wanted a slam event, so they just made it happen. It was really cool.
Why do you think Young Adult fiction is so important?
PFS: Many teens I know are perfectly capable of reading adult fiction, and they should. But I think they should read YA as well, because it provides a more immediate, true place for teens to explore the dilemmas that are a part of their daily existence.
Who is your favorite contemporary author or poet?
PFS: It’s so hard to name one. I have a list of novelists who’ve influenced me as a writer and whose books move me. But if I have to name my one favorite author, the truth of the matter is she writes picture books for kids. Her books are 100 percent heart, and they sock me in the gut every time. I spent some years as an elementary schoolteacher and my kids got an earful of Patricia Polacco. Whatever issue came up in class, the discussion seemed to start with a Patricia Polacco book. She uses a very direct, clear style to get to such emotional depth. I want to write novels the way she writes picture books.
If you were a bookseller, is there a book you would say YA readers just have to read? (Besides your own, of course!)
PFS: Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time-Time Indian. Like any great fiction, the protagonist’s struggles become your own as you read. In the case of Arnold Spirit, along with a bunch of typical teen stuff (girls, being a school nerd, family and friendship problems…), the reader has the opportunity to experience what it means to be a Native American teen struggling to overcome a bunch of crap that is the end result of an ugly history that most Americans just haven’t come to terms with. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is totally engaging, funny, sad, and important.
If you were stranded on a desert island, what three titles would you want to have with you?
PFS: I’m going to want to be challenged on that island and I think I’d prefer to read some long books I haven’t yet taken a crack at. Let’s say, Don Quixote in the original Spanish (as long as I can take along an old Spanish-English dictionary), Infinite Jest, and Moby-Dick.
Are you working on anything now?
PFS: I have a draft of a new novel. It’s a road trip book about two younger siblings trying to keep their suicidal PTSD Iraq War vet brother alive and their family from falling apart.
I just wanted to send out a huge thanks to the folks at ABA for their support along the way. It’s meant a ton to me.
Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, Hardcover, 9780805095142) Published: August 27, 2013
For more on Patrick Flores-Scott, visit patrickfloresscott.com
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