Several years ago I read an article about two girls, ages 14 and 15, who were abducted from a mall by a man who promised them jobs in the modeling profession. They got into his car voluntarily, thinking probably of being proud of making a sound, adult career decision. It was six months before they were able to escape their captor. Teen abductions in this country often are not reported because it is assumed that the teen simply ran away. Look at any missing teen website and you'll see the faces of young people who are yearning to be found.
And although most of us think of Peter Pan as a delightful children's tale, it is really a harsh story of someone who sneaks into a bedroom at night and steals three children! It's an abduction worthy of an Amber Alert. So in Panic, I used Peter Pan as the backdrop as students in a dance academy prepare for a performance of it. Dance and music swirl throughout the novel as colorful decorations. They help the characters express complicated feelings while they work through the demons in their lives. When they dance, they are more than the pieces of their lives-they are whole.
1. In PANIC, you discuss the difficult issues of abusive teen relationships as well as the dancers of lurking pedophiles. Why do you deal with such dark issues?
I try to give a voice to teens who might be afraid to speak up about difficult relationships, and a warning to those who think they are “too smart” to be lured by a slick talking adult whose aim was to take advantage of them. My characters can undergo difficult situations so that my readers might not have to.
2. How would you compare or contrast the relationships of the two girls caught in relationships they felt helpless to escape from?
Although Layla’s situation was of her own choosing, and Diamond’s circumstance was very much against her will, both girls were caught by the strength and manipulation of a more dominant person. Both girls needed to find escapes from their situations through their own personal strengths. Good friends play an important role in their ultimate survival.
3. What lessons do you hope to teach young women about growing up female, and how do you think the characters in the book can help girls make healthy choices about their lives.
Teenaged girls today need strong, positive role models that can show them how to be independent thinkers and confident decision-makers. Diamond is proud and self-confident, which is good, but she made a deadly decision which changed her life forever. Layla also became involved in difficult situations that could have been handled better. The other girls—Mercedes, Jillian, even Zizi, all serve as important backdrops to the lives of the girls in jeopardy. I would hope that a young woman can read the book, discuss the actions of the characters, and reflect on the decision-making in her own life.
4. How does the character of Justin figure in the lives of the rest of the girls in the dance studio. What lessons can young men get from reading the book?
Justin is a picture of strength, positive attitude under stress, and determination. He has enough self confidence to fight for his own dreams, both on the dance floor, and with Layla. He is a role model to the girls he works with, and becomes the beacon of light for the girl he cares about. I would hope that a young man would read the book and reflect on the decision-making in his own life.
5. What is the role of dance and music in the book?
Dance and music swirl throughout the novel as colorful backdrops to the story. Dance helps both Diamond and Layla work through the demons in their lives, and it gives the other characters the strength to continue during days of difficulty. The characters’ love for dance and music helps them express complicated feelings and emotions. When they dance, they are more than the pieces of their lives—they are whole. I strongly encourage young people to find a musical or creative outlet, for creativity is what helps us see the beauty in life.
6. What is the significance of the role of Miss Ginger in the novel?
Teachers are often the only people a teenager can talk to or confide in. They provide support, encouragement, guidance, and sometimes just plain common sense. Miss Ginger, since she is not an academic teacher at school, is available to her students on a different level and therefore is even more important in their lives. She offers music, dance, escape from the problems of life, and a strong shoulder to depend on.
7. What was the inspiration for this story? Why do you use quotes from Peter Pan at the beginning of each chapter?
I remember watching performances of Peter Pan as a child. Although most of us think of it as a delightful children’s tale, it is really a harsh story of someone who sneaks into a bedroom at night and steals three children! It is really an abduction story. As an adult and a parent, I’d be putting out an Amber Alert for those children. My tale of abduction, although very different from the Peter Pan story, has the children’s tale of Peter Pan as the backdrop as the students in the dance academy prepare for a performance of it.
8. Describe your writing process.
Writing for me is a very fluid process--I sit down a wait for the words to come. They usually do—in buckets and waves. It's amazing. I look upon it as a blessing because the words come so easily. I start with an idea, or a problem or a conflict, or even a situation that might be pertinent to the lives of young people, then the characters grow from that point. I try to make strong characters that change and develop and learn from their mistakes. I try to make characters so real that young people believe they are real people, and many do. I get letters from kids who ask for Rhonda's home phone number, or who are angry at me because of something that happened to one of the characters. I think the layering comes in the story development. The plot is born from the idea, then is crafted by the characters and how they respond to what happens to them. It's a thrilling, exciting process.
9. How does PANIC fit into the kind of books your readers seem to love? Why do you write this genre of young adult fiction? Will there be more books about Diamond and Justin and their friends?
I seem to be able to capture the mind and heart of the adolescent. Young people write me all the time and tell me how much they identify with the characters and plots in my novels. And yes, more books about Diamond and the young people at the dance academy can be expected.
10. Describe your purpose for writing.
I try to write powerful, meaningful stories for young people and show them I understand the difficulties of growing up, and to let them know I care. When a young person reads my books, I want them to say, "Wow! That was great!" I want them to remember them, to cherish them, to pass them along to their friends. Amazingly, that is what happens many times. Kids who have never read a book all the way through before tell me that they read my book in one night, and do I have any more books they can read. That's a wonderful feeling.