Thursday, September 16, 2010

Author Q & A for Butterflies in May

Author Q & A

First things first. Were you ever pregnant as a teen?  If not, what inspired you to write Butterflies in May?
No, I wasn’t, but several girls I knew of in high school faced unplanned pregnancies. I also knew of several young women faced with the same situation in college.  I used to wonder what if? What would I do?  The seed of inspiration for this book began in high school, but later took hold after the birth of my first son. I’ve always found teen pregnancy a compelling subject that is still very much taboo in our society. I wanted to break that taboo and write a realistic story about the emotional journey of one teen’s pregnancy and lead the reader through her decision-making process as well as the aftermath of her final decision.

How long did it take you to write this book?
It took several years to write a first draft. This is my first novel, so it was a learning experience for me. I also had two sons and moved twice during that time (from Chicago to Toledo, Ohio, and then from Toledo to Cincinnati).  I wrote while my sons were napping and on the weekends.  Fortunately, however, the experience of pregnancy, giving birth, and the emotions I felt during that time were still fresh in my mind.

How has the book changed from that initial first draft?
When I sent my book off to Bancroft Press, it was written in third person and an editor there very much liked the book, but wanted to see it written in first person.  The publisher strongly agreed. Taking their advice changed the tone of the story dramatically and brought a greater intensity and intimacy to Ali’s dilemma, engaging the reader by the reality of the issues at hand. Later, I also added new characters, a new subplot, and more details about Ali’s life as a high school senior and her best friend, Monica.

How is Butterflies in May different from other teen pregnancy books?
Butterflies in May does not resort to apologies, pitiful pictures, or victimhood to touch the reader. It’s not a story about being pressured to have sex, about getting date-raped, about being underprivileged, or about being unlikable. Teens by their very nature consider themselves invincible. To be painted as a victim is usually not something with which they identify. (If it were, 80% of them wouldn’t still be having sex, given the known probability of pregnancy and disease.) Ali and her story stand out for the fact that she and her boyfriend are strong and intelligent with big plans for their future education and lives. Their laudable qualities attract the interest and respect of the intended audience in a way that engages the young adult reader, bringing them into situations with which they are more likely to identify. Ali and Matt choose to become sexually active, they choose to take precautions. Do they think they’re invincible? Yes. Are they? No. They take precautions, but one time lose themselves in their youthful passion. Are they careless? Yes. Victims? No.  What’s more, in Butterflies in May, the dilemma of responsibility and choice is stage front and center.

Would you describe Butterflies in May as a pro-choice or pro-life book?
Neither.  It was never my intention to write a book that made a political statement. I simply wanted to explore the emotional journey of one girl’s unplanned pregnancy, and how it affects her life and the people around her.  When the publisher at Bancroft Press first read Butterflies in May, he commented that he wasn’t sure whether I was pro-choice or pro-life. I took that as the highest form of praise.  I’m finding that this book speaks to people regardless of their political and religious values in the pro-life/pro-choice debate. I believe Butterflies in May  transcends the pro-life/pro-choice debate because it focuses on the emotional journey of my character, Ali Parker.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice? This is a tough question for me because I don’t see the pro-life/pro-choice issue in black and white. Intellectually and practically, I’m pro-choice. In my heart, I’m pro-life.  What’s most important is that I would never presume to know what the right decision is for anyone faced with an unplanned pregnancy. While researching this book, I’ve heard stories about young women who opted to keep their babies and fortunately, with the help of supportive parents, their stories have happy endings. But I’ve also heard stories about pregnant teens being kicked out of their homes and sometimes, even their schools. I spoke with a counselor once who was working with a teen who’d been thrown out of her home after telling her parents she was pregnant. She was also kicked out of the school she was attending. This young woman wanted to keep her baby, and the counselor was trying to move heaven and earth to find this young woman a safe place to stay and a school that would allow her to continue her education. In an extreme case, I read an article in Seventeen (August 2005) about a 12-year-old girl who confided in her mother that she’d lost her virginity. Her mother’s response was to pour bleach down her throat. The girl died. Whenever I hear or read about stories such as these, I realize how important it is for women ¾young and old¾to have options.  Every situation is different and unless we can guarantee the safety and financial viability of every mother and her unborn child, I think we have a responsibility as a society to provide choices.
Who are all these people who’ve blurbed the book?
Most of the people who’ve provided blurbs are people who work closely with teens such as teachers or counselors, or experts in the field of adolescent issues and teen pregnancy prevention. The Candies Foundation and Healthy Teen Network, for example, are both organizations committed to educating Americans about adolescent pregnancy and prevention. Peter Bearman, a professor at Columbia University, co-authored the most comprehensive study ever done on adolescent health and sexuality and shared his results on a 60 Minutes program (May 22, 2005) about virginity-pledge programs.  Other people who’ve provided blurbs include Dr. Claire Brindis, Professor of Pediatrics and Health Policy at the University of California at San Francisco, and Lori Rolleri of ETR Associates, a national non-profit organization that conducts adolescent reproductive health research, training, and program development. You’ll also find a blurb from Christopher Kraus, an Adolescent Advocacy Manager at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and some of his teen leaders who participate in the Postponing Sexual Involvement Program.
How can people whose jobs and politics are so different all agree on the usefulness of this single book?

Respect for human life, I believe, is the great equalizer in this story.  Whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life, everyone agrees that human life is precious and the main character in my book, Ali Parker, gives voice to this as she considers her options. Everyone also agrees that teen pregnancy is a serious problem in America. Every year, nearly one million girls will face the frightening and life-altering news that they are pregnant, according to statistics from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Butterflies in May  puts a human face on a real-life problem and provides a platform for discussion. Every expert I’ve talked with agrees that talking to teens about the birds and the bees and s-e-x does not mean having one conversation and then saying you’re done. Butterflies in May  is a contemporary, fictional exploration of teen pregnancy and the human experience that gives teens, parents, counselors, and teachers something to think about, examine, and discuss—at length and in depth.

How do you hope your book will be used?
Butterflies in May can easily stand alone as a novel that teens will find engaging, whether they are sexually active or not.  It’s a story about first love and letting go¾timeless subjects that have wide audience appeal. But it certainly could be used as an educational tool, and I hope that it will.  Statistics show that 80% of all teenagers are having sex. (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 1998.) I think Butterflies in May, in an engaging way, brings young adult readers into situations with which they are likely to identify.  This book addresses first love, adolescent sexuality, contraception, reproductive services, and relationships¾topics that can serve as a platform for discussion at home or in school. 

You have two sons. Have they read Butterflies in May?
My youngest son is 11 years old. For now, he prefers to read about mythical creatures and flying broomsticks. (But I’m sure this will change over the next two years as he approaches adolescence!) My oldest son, who’s 13, is reading it now. He’s had sex education in school and I think Butterflies in May fills in the gaps created by an abstinence-only education.  After he read the first couple of chapters, we had several very lengthy discussions about the pros and cons of abstinence-only education, sexual morality and values, peer pressure, abortion, adoption, and contraceptives. He even ventured into some surprising areas like feelings and how to discern the difference between infatuation and love.

What can we learn from Butterflies in May?
Without preaching or condescension, Butterflies in May emphasizes the consequences and responsibilities of sexual behavior among teens. If there is a message in this book for teens, it’s to look before leaping into a sexual relationship. As for parents or anyone who works with teens, Butterflies in May gives them a realistic snapshot of a teen’s life, the world they live in and the pressures they face. The reality is that 4 in 10 girls will experience at least one pregnancy before reaching age 20, according to statistics from The Candies Foundation.  Unfortunately, adolescent sexuality and teen pregnancy continues to be a delicate topic that we don’t want to talk about. Teens think it can’t happen to me; and parents think it can’t happen to my kid. But it can and it does. It’s my hope that this book will get the lines of communication open between teens, parents, and anyone who works with adolescents. Without being intimidating, without being a lecture, Butterflies in May serves as a platform for discussion and gives everyone something to talk about.

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