Friday, May 29, 2015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jon Ripslinger


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hey, Jon!!  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jon Ripslinger:
I'm a Navy Korean War Veteran, having served aboard the USS New Jersey during the conflict.  I was a high school English teacher for 35 years.  My wife and I have been married 59 years and are the proud parents of six children, 13 grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Jon Ripslinger:
I'm pretty much an open book.  The one thing I never tell anyone, except for now, is that I watch the soap opera General Hospital every afternoon with my wife.  We tape the program so that if we miss an afternoon we can watch it in the evening.  Soap writers understand thoroughly the function of scene and sequel.  They are great at giving characters goals, creating disasters for characters, and providing hooks at the end of scenes and episodes thereby creating suspense - which keeps viewers coming back week after week, regardless of how absurd the plot lines might be.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Jon Ripslinger:
Silas Marner was required reading in one of my high school English classes.  I think it's the only novel I read in high school.  I didn't become a reader until I went to college.  I didn't read a lot until I decided I wanted to become a writer.  Then I read everything YA.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Jon Ripslinger:
Nothing right now.  I'm busy with the Red Adept Blog Tour for my YA novel The Weight of Guilt, and I'm busy on social media promoting the book.  But I've got my eyes set on John Greene's latest novel, Paper Towns.  I'm into realistic, contemporary YA fiction.  Since it's what I write, it's what I read.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Jon Ripslinger:
Reading Judy Blume's Forever launched me into a YA writing career.  I read the book sometime during the 1980s.  It's the story of a girl who thinks it's okay to have sex with her boyfriend because she thinks their love is so strong that it will last forever and they'll marry one day.  But they break up before summer's end.  She's devastated and struggles to move on.  After reading the story, I thought I can do that.  I know about kids.  My wife and I have six of them.  I'm a high school English teacher surrounded by kids every day.  I can write sentences and paragraphs.  I can punctuate.  I can write a book and get it published!  And so I did.  But not without tons of failures and rejections.  I didn't sell my first YA novel until 1994.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jon Ripslinger:
My two daughters shared a bedroom.  When they moved out, I moved in, quickly.  The room features a full-size office desk, table, filing cabinets, bookshelves, two computers and three printers.  On one wall hangs an inspirational poster: Miracles happen only to those who believe in them.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jon Ripslinger:
When I'm writing a scene, I of course visualize everything that's going on.  If two characters are in conflict, especially a verbal battle, I scowl, frown, scrunch up my face, bite my lip, jerk my head back, roll my eyes, wave my hand, or stomp a foot just like the characters living in my head do.  Weird.  I'm glad no one is watching.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where do the ideas for your books come from?

Jon Ripslinger:
My inspiration comes from incidents I've been involved with personally and situations that I know of that have aroused my curiosity.  For example, while I was teaching high school English, I encountered many talented students who were squandering their academic and athletic talents, the inspiration for Derailed.  I knew personally a young man whose father killed his mom, dismembering her body, and tossed the pieces into the Mississippi River, the inspiration for Missing Pieces.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Jon Ripslinger:
Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Phillip Roth, Scott Fitzgerald - all wrote books that I've enjoyed, but as I said earlier, Judy Blume's Forever started me off as a writer.  After reading Judy Blume's book, I started reading Norma Klein, Richard Peck, Robert Cormier, Norma Fox Mazer, Harry Mazer, and Paul Zindel.  Later on, I read Chris Crutcher, Will Weaver, Ellen Wittlinger, Kevin Brooks, and A.M. Jenkins.  I also enjoyed the books of Sara Zarr, Robert Lipsyte, and Jennifer Hubbard.  Now it's Rainbow Rowell and John Greene.  All of these writers tell well-plotted, realistic stories filled with exciting characters struggling to make sense of their own lives - which is exactly what I'm trying to do.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What inspires you most?

Jon Ripslinger:
A harrowing, unique situation in which a character has to make gut-wrenching decisions gets my creative juices flowing, and I keep asking How and why did that happen?  What happens next?  What if...?  Situations from several of my books: Triangle - a girl teases her boyfriend with sex while frolicking around her backyard swimming pool at midnight.  She jumps into the deep end, but he mistakenly jumps into the shallow end and breaks his neck.  Who is Lori Darling - a boy discovers that the girl he's madly in love with has been sexually abused by her dad for the past ten years and is still being abused.  The Weight of Guilt - a guy dates two different girls and each one dies violently.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing that you find most challenging?

Jon Ripslinger:
The most challenging part is getting the rough draft written.  On a good day, after two or three hours of writing in the morning, I'll get myself five or six pages written.  Sometimes only two.  Maybe one. And the most challenging part of writing the rough draft is writing the first chapter - setting the scene, suggesting what kind of story this is going to be, introducing the main character and introducing conflict but avoiding information dumps.  And the hardest part of writing the first chapter is hooking the reader with a first sentence.  I can't tell you how many times I wrote and rewrote the first chapter for TWOG.  Twenty, thirty - I don't know.  I wish I'd have kept track.  Even now if I reread the chapter, I'd find some little thing I'd like to change.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Jon Ripslinger:
A likeable, vulnerable, flawed character faces an overwhelming situation, perhaps a death-threatening one.  He attacks the situation head-on, overcomes great obstacles, and emerges triumphant.  In the process, he earns a better understanding of himself and of the world in which he lives.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little about your book(s), your target audience and what you would like your readers to take away from your story.

Jon Ripslinger:
The eight novels I've published are contemporary, realistic stories for young adults from ages 14-18.  All of them involve male/female romance.  Six of them include a mystery, suspense and a major crime - usually murder.  Two of them are simply love stories.  All end happily and suggest that though life is tough for today's teens, they can grow and survive if they make smart choices.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jon Ripslinger:
Tough question.  After giving this a lot of thought, I've decided I'm not like any of my lead characters.  I'm a rather conservative, non-risk-taking sort of guy.  I tend to think before acting and act cautiously.  I'm non-violent.  My lead characters often find themselves in dangerous situations they should have avoided in the first place.  They sometimes act impulsively, making a bad situation worse.  They're capable of violence and often in the story's climax react in a violent way, at t times exhibiting bravery I'm not sure I possess.  I hope that doesn't make me a coward.  In my defense, I think I'm loyal, honest, and moral - qualities that my lead characters also possess.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Why did you pick your particular genre?

Jon Ripslinger:
The young adult genre was an easy pick for me.  First of all, my wife and I have raised six kids of our own, helping and guiding them through the angst of surviving their teen years.  Secondly, over many years of teaching, I read thousands of student journal entries dealing with teen anxiety.  Students often wrote their very private matters: abuse at home, boyfriend/girlfriend abuse, other troubles in their love life, feelings of doubt and lack of self-esteem, secrets they were keeping.  Really, I knew what was going on in their lives and what they were thinking.  I also became close to hundreds of students.  I lived in the same neighborhood as many of my students.  Some rode to school with me in the morning.  I socialized with their parents.  Gradually, I became sensitive to teen problems and felt I understand them deeply - their feelings, desires, fears, and frustrations.  I didn't need to research story ideas: A classroom full of ideas sat in front of me every morning.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating this book?

Jon Ripslinger:
Never give up on a project you believe in.  I started TWOG June 10, 1992, and completed the final draft December 15, 199 - I keep records.  From the time I started to the time I finished the final draft and found a publisher - 23 years.  After the book's many rejections, I worked on other projects during that time and successfully published seven other young adult novels prior to TWOG.  I had originally written the complete story from John Hawk's point of view.  In 2012, I dug the story out of my file drawer and I decided to include Charlotte Cotton's point of view.  So I had to rewrite and add Charlotte's chapters and eliminate some of John's.  Not only that, I found it easy to capture Charlotte's female voice if I wrote in the present tense.  That meant I had to go back and rewrite John's chapters in the present tense, too.  A very difficult job.  But I didn't give up.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your book different from others in this genre?

Jon Ripslinger:
Another tough, tough question.  I think my books are well-plotted, character-driven stories featuring a lead who has definite goals, faces huge obstacles, and acts with determination.  Many YA novels introduce a character who is passive and spends his time in the story reacting to events that overwhelm him instead of creating story action because he's trying desperately to achieve his goal.  I think TWOG clearly follows the standard, time-honored technique of presenting a beginning, middle, climax, and resolution.  I also think he voices of my teen characters are distinctive.  I hope those qualities make my young adult novels different from many others.  Maybe not all, but many.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your 'trunk'?

Jon Ripslinger:
I have three other YA novels in my trunk that are waiting to be rescued: Kissing Lessons - a young man wants to remain a virgin until he marries but fails miserably.  Desperate  - a gifted high school football star falls in love with a bisexual girl and becomes embroiled in the murder of the girl's female lover.  Deep Water - a high school girl discovers her BFF since fourth grade is gay, is madly in love with her, and won't take no for an answer to her advances and to a relationship.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Jon Ripslinger:
I hope the future brings the release of my YA novel Trapped.  In this story, a boy discovers that he man his widowed mom has fallen in love with and wants to marry - her high school sweetheart - is a thief and murderer.  The book is in the hands of Red Adept Publishing, and I'm sure the publisher is waiting to see how well TWOG does in the market place before making a commitment, which is smart business protocol, and I understand.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by, Jon.  It has been GREAT having you.  I have got to get my hands on some of your other YA books and good luck with Trapped.  That sounds like a really interesting premise to a book and, WHEN Red Adept Publishing decides to publish it (ALWAYS stay positive :D), you are definitely welcome back for that one, too. 
            One more thing before you go: Where can we find you?

Jon Ripslinger:
Blog ** Facebook ** Twitter

About the book:
Driving home from a bonfire party, eighteen-year-old John Hawk crashes, killing his girlfriend, Riley.  Bullied and tormented at school, and crushed by his guilty conscience, John transfers to a school on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he attracts the eye of the principal's daughter, Megan.  Though he's reluctant, she convinces him to be her prom date.  The morning after prom, Principal Jones reports Megan missing.  Four days later, her body is recovered from the river, and John becomes the prime suspect in her death.
            Charley Cotton, Megan's best friend, knows that Megan had a secret, but she doesn't trust John because of his past.  John is desperate to avoid adding to the shame he carries for Riley's death, though - it's destroying his life.  With Charley's help, he learns that others in Megan's life had a motive to keep her quiet.  But every effort they make to uncover the truth edges them closer to a desperate murder with everything to lose.


About the author:
After Jon Ripslinger retired as a public high school English teacher, he began a career as an author.  He has published many young adult novels and truly enjoys writing books for teens.  He has also published numerous short stories in Women's World magazine.
            Jon and his wife, Colette, live in Iowa.  They are the proud grandparents of thirteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
            When not working writing, Jon enjoys the outdoors, especially fishing.  He waits patiently for the next "big one" to strike.

2 comments:

Nancy said...

What a wonderful interview. I was so impressed. This should enlighten your readers of your talents and perseverance.
Looking forward to the next one too.

Meghan H said...

I agree, Nancy. This is one of the best interviews I've done yet. He is just an awesome guy and really very nice. :)