Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Author Interview: Alina Klein

Today I have the pleasure of talking to Alina Klein, author of Rape Girl, a book I’ve been waiting to read for months.

Rape Girl is an incredible emotional journey of what it means to endure, survive, and stand up for yourself in spite of the pain it brings. Rape Girl is compulsively readable and very much a one-sitting read. While reading, I was so immersed in Valerie’s world that I didn’t close the book until the last page at which point I blinked a few times, realized I was back in reality and then sat back and thought about what it meant to be Valerie. I was left with feelings of outrage, sadness, anger, empowerment, and, in the end, uplifted as well. Rape Girl isn’t just a great story that tackles some important issues, it’s a story every teen should read – boys and girls alike. Get your copy now – trust me, you won’t regret it!

But before you do, read below for Alina’s insights on writing, publishing and Rape Girl. Also, Alina was kind enough to offer to answer any reader questions, so if you have anything to ask her, leave it in the comments and she'll stop by later to answer!

Here’s a brief synopsis of Rape Girl:

Hey, look. It’s that girl. That rape girl, right? Valerie always wanted to be the smart girl. The pretty girl. The popular girl. But not the rape girl.. That’s who she is now. Rape Girl. Because everyone seems to think they know the truth about what happened with Adam that day, and they don’t think Valerie’s telling it.. Before, she had a best friend, a crush, and a close-knit family. After, she has a court case, a support group, and a house full of strangers.. The real truth is, nothing will ever be the same.. Rape Girl is the compelling story of a survivor who does the right thing and suffers for it. It is also the story of a young woman’s struggle to find the strength to fight back.

Hi Alina! Thanks so much for talking with me today. First, I’d like to talk a bit about your debut novel, Rape Girl. Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for the novel?

Thanks so much for hosting me, Jennifer!

Rape Girl was inspired by my own experiences. When I was sixteen I was raped in my own home. I pressed charges against my rapist, but instead of feeling understood and supported by my peers and community, I felt labeled, stigmatized and alone. Rape Girl is fictional, but the emotions, and some scenarios, come from my own life and memories.

You start this novel with a tragic event and as a result an emotionally and physically devastated character. As the novel progresses, we are able to see Valerie find herself and her strength as she works through what has happened and she begins to heal, against all odds. As I always like to ask, particularly with character-driven novels like Rape Girl, tell us a bit about how Valerie came to be as a character.

Valerie and her family grew in my mind as a unit.  Unfortunately most of what I know about them doesn’t appear in the book, but it was important to me that I understood them and who they were before. I wanted to show what happens when a devastating trauma shakes a close-knit family to the core. They become strangers to each other, even to themselves, for a time. Valerie and her entire family have to adjust to their new reality and find a way to bridge the rifts that trauma causes. That’s part of what Rape Girl portrays.

You’ve written so many important relationships in this novel – the relationships between Valerie and her family members, and the burdens those family members carry, rang so true on the page. They were so touching to read. I’m always curious with this depth of emotion and characterization, do these relationships and characters develop organically through your writing, or are they planned? I guess what I’m asking here is – are you a pantser or a plotter?

I’m definitely a pantser. Here is a post I did for Janet Hardy about foreshadowing that also explains a little of how I like to put my stories together and find connections. Like I said above, I knew how close Valerie’s family was before her assault. I knew that they would want to find a way back to each other, but that their own burdens wouldn’t make it easy. The dichotomy between their desires and their guilt made it interesting to write. Trying to find a natural way to overcome these chasms involved getting inside their heads and feeling out the emotions and possibilities.

Your more “villainous” (for lack of a better term) characters were also incredibly well-drawn. I’m not sure who I wanted to punch more while reading – Adam, of course, but on a less obvious level, I was really frustrated and angry at his friends, Mimi, and even the principal. I imagine it’s incredibly difficult to craft such a cast of unlikable characters, where the reader feels as gut-punched by them as the main character, but you do it so well and it really brings your story life. Any advice on writing such real, unlikeable characters?

I think the most important thing to remember when writing villainous characters is that they don’t know they’re villains. Though their reasoning may be obviously flawed to us, we need to see that they have put some consideration into their choices and come to the decisions they do as thinking humans. If you don’t show that part, how they have reached their conclusions, or even in some small way that they have questioned them to some extent before, or after, then you are more likely to write a snarling villain who is entirely one-dimensional.

What was your favorite part of writing Rape Girl?

My favorite part was working through the tangle of memories regarding what happened in my own life. Why might some of the people from my past have made the choices they made? Why did I? I’ll never know for sure why anyone else responded the way they did, but to explore the possibilities was therapeutic and empowering. I beamed a spotlight into one of the darkest place in my memory. Airing it out and putting it on display makes me feel strong.

Most challenging?

Probably the same answer as the last.  Ha. It was daunting to open the heavy doors to my memory vault and seek out source materials. It was murky and cobwebby and not all that appealing.  But I’m glad I did it.

Since there are probably some aspiring authors that will read this, I’d like to talk a bit about your publishing journey? When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always been a reader and have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember.  Way back in elementary school I had a poem published in the school newsletter, and later I came in second place in a Young Author’s contest with my story about Mary Poppins and Dr. Jekyll getting their prescriptions mixed up at the pharmacy (a spoonful of sugar was involved in the making of this masterpiece).  I took a minor detour when I decided to study biology at Utah State and get “practical”. But my first publications were science articles for kids, so it all worked out.

Can you tell us a bit about your road to publication?

I’m an SCBWI success story! I was at a Novel Workshop put on by the Indiana SCBWI and Stephen Roxburgh was the featured speaker.  I read aloud from Rape Girl during the open mic session and afterward he pulled me aside and told me he’d really like to see it when it was finished. That lit a fire under me to finally get it done and three months later I sent it to him. A week after that, we spoke on the phone, and he told me he’d be honored to publish it.  That was a glorious day! But, lest anyone think it happened “overnight” just know that I started writing the book in 2001. The entire process was anything but speedy.

Tell me how you felt when you first saw your cover? So many aspiring writers dream of their first book cover. That must have been a great moment.

It was a great moment for the fact that it existed. But I’ll be honest and say that when I first I looked at it I said, “wha-?”. I didn’t get it at all.  But it grew on me quickly and now I love it. I love how the word “Girl” seems to take the place of the face in the image, and how “Rape” is her label. The colors, the glow, the chain-link dress—it’s evocative.  I think the designer, Helen Robinson, did an incredible job with a tough title.

What is the best part of the publishing process?

The best part is the readers, bar none. I appreciate them all for taking the time to read my little book and I’m particularly grateful to the ones who tell others what they think about it, good or bad. I’ve made close friendships with some of the survivors who have reached out to me after finishing the book.  The readers? They are phenomenal.

Can you give us any hints about what we can expect from you next?

I’m actually working on another story of survival and of a girl who wants her old life back. But this time it’s an adjustment of a pampered girl to a gritty, self-sufficient lifestyle way out in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Before you go, can you tell us a bit about your Empowerment Project?

Thanks so much for asking about this! I feel it’s one of the most important things I do.  Like I said above, writing Rape Girl has been empowering for me. Sharing truths through fiction, essays, poetry or artwork is a way to open doors, build connections and feel like you’re making a difference. The Empowerment Project is a way for rape survivors, and anyone who supports them, to share their work publicly so that someone else out there might feel less alone. These amazing contributions post Mondays on my blog.

Thanks Alina! I’m looking forward to reading more books from you in the future!

Thank you so much, Jenn. Hugs to everyone for reading!

Click the Rape Girl cover below to purchase your copy. Hurry, you won’t regret it!