As well as being a novelist, Allison van Diepen is also a teacher whose first job out of school was in a Brooklyn high school. This is the setting that influenced her first two novels - "Street Pharm" and "Snitch." Her third novel, "Raven," is also set in New York but is fantasy based.
On themes of drugs and gangs: I grew up in Ottawa, Canada, a middle class upbringing. Once I started teaching in Brooklyn that became my reality ... It was a reality that could be very depressing. I did find that some of my best and brightest students were in gangs and I wanted to understand.
That's one of the reasons I wrote "Snitch," because I wanted to understand how a smart kid would join a gang, a kid with goals and dreams, who wanted to go to college. I kind of wanted to set the record straight and do right by my students by telling the story authentically.
The students' contributions: The books couldn't have been written without them, especially "Snitch," which involves gangs. They told me a lot about gangs from how you get into a gang, to what you do once you're in a gang to how you get out, which - usually there isn't a way out. We were all very supportive of one another.
Because we had very good vibes in the classroom and because they trusted me, they were more than willing to tell me about gangs and the realities about their lives. I think they wanted it to be realistic, which meant they had to give me the information. For it to be good, they had to tell me the truth.
On parent reactions: I don't blame someone for being concerned about the content of the book from the cover but I think they should read it first then decide if the message is worth putting out there. In these books I try to be very realistic. So if you're a drug dealer, you're not going to live happily ever after. If you're a gang banger you're not going to live happily ever after. These things are not going to go away by our not letting our kids read about them.
Why she writes: Writing was always my biggest hobby and passion. Even as a high school student, after school instead of doing other things, I would write books on my computer. I always loved it. My passion for writing came about through my passion for reading. When I was a kid, I wasn't a huge reader but when I was 12, I got introduced to literature that just got me excited about reading - scary stuff - and then I went on to read fantasy.
I realized that reading could actually be fun and better than TV. It was a great change to find this new world through books. Then I learned that creating my own stories and my own world was the most exciting thing ever.
The rewards: The most satisfying part is knowing that a non-reader, or somebody who thought they were a non reader, becomes a reader. I get e-mails all the time from young people saying "This is the first book I ever finished," or "It's the first book I ever liked." And there's nothing better than that. Anyone can be a reader if they're exposed to the right book.