Saturday, March 10, 2007

What's Fresh with Allison van Diepen's Street Pharm

If a brother wanna get ahead, he gotta use every minute to better himself. Everything I did made me better - tougher, stronger, richer, smarter - or I didn't do it.

Take high school. A waste of time. Nobody there taught me what I needed to survive on the streets...

Ty Johnson knows survival. Since inheriting his pop's business at sixteen, Ty's developed smarts, skills, and mad discipline. The supply game's in his blood. And life is pretty sweet when you're on top.

But one slip - or one serious competitor - and life turns ugly fast. Suddenly, Ty's got to rethink his whole strategy. And for the #1 dealer on the streets, strategy is not just about staying ahead. It's about survival.

Hey Allison, thanks for agreeing to chat! Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale STREET PHARM to Simon Pulse?

Allison: From the time I was 12, I knew I was going to be a writer, and I wrote my first (unpublished) novel when I was 14. As a teen, I stayed up so late writing that I would doze in class the next day. I also sold little romance stories to my friends featuring their favorite celebrities – but I quit doing that when I realized I was being hideously underpaid.

I went to college and studied History because I was into writing historical romance at the time. After college, I decided that I needed a career besides writing to pay my bills, so I went to teacher’s college. My first teaching job was in Brooklyn. (They were short of teachers so they interviewed a bunch of us in Toronto, got us visas and put us in Hard to Staff schools.) Once I started teaching there, I knew instantly that I wanted to write for teens. I wrote a YA book and found an agent a year later. The first book didn’t sell, but my next one did. STREET PHARM was published by Simon Pulse in July of 2006.

Readers and writers often like to get a behind the scenes peek of an author's writing routine. It would be great if you could please share your typical writing day schedule.

Allison: Since I’m teaching full-time, my main writing time is on weekends, with a few hours here and there throughout the week. Saturday I sleep in, then go to the computer, drink some coffee, mess around on the internet, and get down to writing. I write all day, finish by around 6 or 7pm, then go out somewhere, because by that time I have serious cabin fever. Sundays I have a similar routine, with a break to go out for brunch.

Please tell us about your novel STREET PHARM and what we can expect from your characters.

Allison: STREET PHARM is the story of Ty Johnson, a teen drug dealer who thinks he’s got it all under control... until a competitor tries to take over his territory. Things get ugly, and he’s got to make some tough decisions about what he’s willing to do, and what he’s willing to lose, to stay in the game.

I created Ty Johnson because I’ve seen so many of my students choose the path to crime and chaos. I wanted to explore the true cost of this type of life and what hope, if any, remains.

STREET PHARM was also named an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers. Congrats! What's up next, Allison? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.

Allison: My next novel, SNITCH, is coming out in November (2007). It’s about a girl in Brooklyn who falls in love with a gang member and ends up joining. It’s dark and gritty, but also vibrant and romantic.

When I was in Brooklyn, a lot of my students were gang members. I asked them why anyone would join a gang, and they gave me an earful.

The whole concept of “snitch” came about because I witnessed an incident involving some teens from another school and I reported them. These teens then followed me to the subway station, surrounded me, and started throwing garbage at me and cursing me out. The subway platform was crowded, but no one did anything.

The next day I told my students what had happened, and to my complete shock, they all said it was my fault because I was a snitch. They said I was lucky I hadn’t been thrown onto the subway tracks! I realized that if I’d been a student instead of a teacher, I’d have been in real trouble that day. So I started wondering what it would be like for a teen who lived in fear… and the story SNITCH was born.

Wow, Allison how frightening. I'm glad everything came out okay. I can tell SNITCH will be an intense read. Thanks so much for sharing. I wish you the best with your writing career! Would you like to close with a writing tip?

Allison: Think of every moment you spend writing as time well spent. Don’t ever consider all of those hours to be wasted because a certain project doesn’t sell, or your story hits a dead end, or you have to rewrite it. True writers persist. Writing books is like marathon training – it takes regular practice and there are ups and downs along the way.

Allison van Diepen began her teaching career in Brooklyn and now teaches at an alternative high school in Ottawa, Canada. Her first novel, STREET PHARM, has been named an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. Visit her website,

Read the YA Fresh review!

4 fresh comments:

TinaFerraro said...

Allison, that subway story gave me chills. And I'm glad it didn't get any worse--and that you were able to use it in your writing to share this reality with others.

STREET PHARM sounds like a great read, too, compelling and cutting edge.

Thanks for visiting us here at YAFRESH, and thanks to Kelly for such a great interview.

Kelly Parra said...

Hey Tina, thanks! And thanks again to Allison, I'm totally jazzed about her books! :)

Ella Enchanted said...

I agree the subway story sounds terrible. You know in the back of your mind that things like gangs exist - but when you hear about it it makes me so sad.

The book sounds intense but wonderful. That's what's needed when tackling these difficult subjects - an unflinching, gritty story.

Kelly Parra said...

So true, Ella!

Also, these stories do exist in reality and I love the varying fiction for teens out there today. :) :)