Sam has the rules of slackerhood down: Don’t be late to class. Don’t ever look the teacher in the eye. Develop your blank stare. Since his mom left, he has become an expert in the art of slacking, especially since no one at his new school gets his intense passion for the music of the Pacific Northwest—Nirvana, Hole, Sleater-Kinney. Then his English teacher begins a slam poetry unit and Sam gets paired up with the daunting, scarred, clearly-a-gang-member Luis, who happens to sit next to him in every one of his classes. Slacking is no longer an option—Luis will destroy him. Told in Sam’s raw voice and interspersed with vivid poems, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott is a stunning debut novel about differences, friendship, loss, and the power of words.
My wife and I are seriously amped for the next installment of Sherlock. It’s too long of a wait. We got sucked into the soap opera that is Homeland and we watch Modern Family regularly. It feels like it’s time for something new, so if your readers have suggestions (any genre), we’re all ears.
What book(s) are you in the middle of reading right now?
I’m totally into How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz, and Blasphemy, Sherman Alexie’s short story collection. I just got through a John Green marathon. I hadn’t read any of his books. Too popular, or something. I finally had to give in and see what the fuss was all about. I read The Fault in Our Stars, An Abundance of Katherines, and Looking for Alaska. I loved all three and they have me fully inspired heading into the re-write of my second novel.
Would I be correct to assume you’re a big Nirvana fan? Their music played such a huge role in Jumped In.
I love Nirvana. But I didn’t really get into them until I was in my late thirties. I was actually in Seattle attending the University of Washington just as Nirvana was becoming big. I remember one of my best friends going to a show at the student union building dubbed “Four Bands for Four Bucks” and the next day telling me about this incredible band called Nirvana. I thought they sounded like amazing performers, but I just wasn’t into punk or loud music so I didn’t give them a chance. Years later a co-worker gave me Incesticide and that album got me going. I got Bleach after that and was hooked.
Sam became a Nirvana fan pretty late in the process of writing Jumped In. A lot of editors were passing on the book, saying that they couldn’t connect to Sam. He was just too glum to like. So many kids these days love Nirvana the way kids were into The Ramones and Sex Pistols when I was in high school, so I kept the glum but gave Sam this passion that turned him into a character that folks seem to want to root for. After that re-write, the book sold pretty quickly.
Were you able to share any of parts of the book with your students? If so, what were their reactions?
In the beginning, I was teaching in the middle school that inspired the book. I almost exclusively shared Luis’ poems. I was a theatre major, so I’m a pretty enthusiastic reader of my own writing. I was never sure whether kids were engaged because of the writing or if they were just bemused by a whacky teacher getting all dramatic.
After the book sold, I worked with elementary kids and did some lessons on accepting feedback. I showed kids my rejection letters and showed them how I took feedback from editors to improve my writing. Kids seemed pretty excited about the whole deal.
I eventually got the opportunity to read portions of the book to older students again, as well. They had a lot of feedback on details I could add to make Sam more real. It’s neat to read to kids when they know things are still in play and that maybe their feedback might make it into the book.
If you were to write another book about Sam how would his life change? Would his mom come back? Would he have deeper friendships or perhaps be composing music?
I spent some time feeling bad about what I did to Luis, and I thought that maybe I’d get the opportunity to write a version of the the story in which (SPOILER ALERT) Luis makes it to the poetry slam and he and Sam are able to go on as friends.
I never really thought it through any more than that.
If I did write a sequel, yeah, I would love to see Sam go through the ups and downs of longer-term friendships with Julisa and maybe even Carlos. It’d be interesting to have him in a band with Rupe and Dave (maybe Julisa would be the lead singer?) and to have them go through the difficult process of rekindling these idealized boyhood friendships after having been apart for so long. There’s a lot to go on there. And I’d love to have song lyrics play a similar role (in this new awesome book you’ve encouraged me to write) as Luis’ poems in Jumped In. And you’re right, mom would have to come back. It’s too messy to not explore that relationship.
So glad I could encourage you in that way! It is sounding so interesting!I
Is there a real life Ginny and Bill, or are they completely fictitious? As grandparents left to take care of their grandson, they seemed to be giving Sam just about everything he needed.
My sisters and I were raised by loving, present parents. We also had a grandmother who lived close by who was almost like a third parent. I think there’s a bit of her in Ginny and Bill. I wanted it to be difficult for Ginny and Bill to talk to Sam in a deep, emotionally honest way about his issues. At the same time, they are truly there for him. That felt true to my upbringing. I think Ginny and Bill were even more inspired by so many loving grandparents, I see as a teacher, who are raising their grandkids. The generation gap makes communication rough, but so many of them seem to make it work. Not what I envision for my retirement years. Ginny and Bill are thrust into a role that they didn’t choose, but they handle the role with a grace that I guess I would hope to have if I find myself in that position someday. Ginny and Bill, Cassidy, Carter, Luis’ mom, Graves… I admit, they’re all fairly idealized; they’re the kind of grownups I hope I could be someday.
I couldn’ t help but look at the young man on the cover of Jumped In in that hoodie and think of Treyvon Martin in his hoodie. I think that hoodie is becoming a symbol for young men who we really don’t know, perhaps a generation we’re losing. Do you know how the hoodie got chosen for the cover?
When writing Jumped In, I wasn’t thinking of the hoodie as a symbol, but as a practical means for Sam to hide in school. After the fact, I can see it as the symbol the way you describe it, sure. I don’t know if the artist was thinking of Treyvon Martin, but I know that when I made sketches of the cover, years ago (it was looooong process from first draft to publication), it was always Sam and Luis standing there in their hoodies, their faces obscured. No one had heard of Treyvon at that point. I don’t want to hide from the fact that that connection is going to exist in people’s minds. I’m just pretty certain that the cover was based on the description of Sam in the book.
Luis was there, but not there. Giving him a voice through the poetry really foreshadowed some of the ending. How difficult was it to create this character?
The book I set out to create was going to be a collection of poems written by a kid who has passed away, Luis. In the world of the book, everyone had thought/assumed Luis was a gangbanger and definitely not a poet. Sam was just going to be the kid who found a box of Luis’ poems and his narration was just going to be, like, “I found this box of poems. They were written by Luis. I was moved by his poetry and the story it tells, and I wanted to share it with the world so you could get to know the real Luis, as opposed to the kid we’ve made all these assumptions about.” I had never written any sort of prose before, so I thought that that would be about all I could handle. Well, I started writing Sam and it turned out I liked writing prose as much as I liked writing the poems and pretty soon, it became clear that I was writing my first novel. At one point after it had become a novel, there was a poem or two after every single chapter. Then the poems were judiciously trimmed and Luis became this stronger character, somehow. Luis is there but not there, but I still feel like this is his story, as much as it is Sam’s. He sees where his future is headed, and he makes this decision to bust out of the role he’s been playing and the role the community sees him in, and he makes Sam the sidekick that enables him to share his true identity to with the world.
Luis, as a character, as a voice, came out of a bunch of kids who don’t want to be in gangs, but who don’t have/can’t see a better alternative. Being a teacher, I get the opportunity to see these kids as real, normal people with real, normal hopes and fears. And in the school where I was working, I got to see kids, including wannabe gangbangers and posers, read poetry in Ms. Cassidy and Ms. Christenson’s class poetry slams.
Thanks, Patrick, for such a nice interview! Good luck with Jumped In!