KLIATT, January, 2007
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR JON RIPSLINGER
1. What made you want to become a novelist?
As a high school teacher and a wannabe writer, I always felt I could write something worthwhile for teens. I'd been trying to write short stories for girls' magazines like Seventeen and American Girl for a long while—like four or five hears—but with no success. I happened to read Judy Blume's Forever, published in 1975. It's the story of a girl who feels it's okay to enjoy sex with her boyfriend because she believes their love will last forever. But when she goes away to a summer camp as a tennis instructor, she becomes involved with one of the other instructors—proving that first love is not always forever. I liked the book, the writer's style, and the story's theme. I thought to myself I can write a book like that! So I started, but learning the craft of novel writing took a long time. That first novel, A Winning Season, still sits in my file drawer.
2. What was your inspiration for writing DERAILED?
I wrote Derailed because throughout my teaching career I saw hundreds of bright young people squander their academic and athletic talents. They had no focus in life, no parental support, and refused to make smart choices for themselves. Their failure to utilize their talents always saddened me—I regretted the waste—and I decided to express my feelings in Derailed, the story of a bright but lazy kid with no parental backing who, with the aid of an intelligent but troubled girl, shapes himself up and sees a bright future ahead.
3. How do you feel your experiences as a high school teacher have informed your abilities as a writer of young adult novels?
During years of teaching, I read thousands of student journal entries dealing with teen angst. Students often wrote about very private matters: troubles at home with parents and siblings, troubles in their love life, feelings of doubt and lack of self-esteem. Really, I knew what was going on in their lives and what they were thinking. I also connected with hundreds of students as friends. 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. I became friends with the friends of my teenaged kids—I had six kids. In fact, I had many of my kids' friends in class. Gradually, I became sensitive to teen problems and felt I understood young people—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.
4. Stony, the main character in DERAILED, tends to glide through life with a laid-back, devil-may-care attitude. Do you share any traits with Stony or how do you feel you differ?
I got out of the Navy when I was twenty-two years old. Like Stony, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I'd simply been drifting along with no plan. I knew I liked to write, but I felt I'd never make a living as a writer. I didn't want to work in factory. I had the GI Bill to pay my way to college, so I thought I'd go to school, study English and maybe become a sports reporter because I liked sports. Though the small college I attended didn't have a journalism major, I gained some sports-writing experience by working part-time for a local newspaper on the sports desk. I read copy, wrote minor headlines, and answered phones. But I got married when I was a freshman in college, had two kids by the time I graduated, and knew I needed to find a real job as soon as possible to support my family. From that point on I became goal-oriented and remain so today. Teaching English was the best job I could find at the time—a rookie sports reporter earned less—and eventually my teaching job turned into a career I enjoyed. I was very lucky.
5. How do you feel young adult literature has changed since you were a teen? How has it remained the same?
I didn't read YA lit when I was a kid. I'm not sure the genre existed in the 1940s and early '50s. But since I started reading YA novels in the 1970s, I've seen a big change—and all for the better, I think. Today's YA novelist has no taboos. As long as he approaches his material with restraint and with good taste, he can tackle any subject of interest to a teen. In Ellen Wittlinger's novel Sandpiper, the main character has tried to gain popularity in high school by giving guys oral sex. You wouldn't have met that character in a book in 1970, '80, or possibly even '90. Today's YA authors can also experiment with explicit dialogue, but once again with restraint and good taste. And stories no longer have to have happy endings. Read Will Weaver's Claws, for an example. One of the main characters, a girl the reader really likes, drowns at the end of the book.
But YA novels are the same in that the best ones deal with characters whose lives are in a state of flux. The characters are filled with doubt, fear, wonder, and longing. They feel themselves changing, realize they are not in control, and wonder what kind of person they're going to grow into. What will their future be? That part of teen life will never change, and I think the best teen novels explore characters who are trying to understand themselves during those troubled but exciting years.
6. Without giving away too much about DERAILED, where do you see Stony in 10 years?
In ten years, Stony will have graduated from college, be happily married and be the father of three kids. He'll be living in his hometown of Hickory Ridge. He'll be a great family guy with a smile for everyone. He'll be working for the Department of Natural Resources, protecting the environment along a fifty-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa, where he lives.
7. For you, what’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
Writing the rough draft is the most difficult part for me. In the beginning, when I first sit down to create a new story, I need to consider a great many aspects of story telling. I need to create a story hook, establish each character's voice, ignite a conflict, provide just the right amount of background information for each character, lay out the setting, and give the reader a sense of what kind of book this going to be—horror, mystery, fantasy, romance. And yet writing the rough draft is also an exciting time because I don't always know what's going to happen next, and lots of times I'm pleased and surprised at where the characters take me. On good days, after three or four hours of work at the computer, I might write two or three pages. On rare days, four or five pages. But I look forward to sitting at the computer every morning and facing the challenge.
8. Who are some of your favorite authors?
When I first started reading teen books, I liked Judy Blume, Norma, Klein, Richard Peck, Robert Cormier, Norma Fox Mazer, Harry Mazer, and Paul Zindel. Lately, I've been reading Chris Crutcher, Will Weaver, Ellen Wittlinger, Kevin Brooks, and A.M. Jenkins. All of these writers tell well plotted, realistic stories filled with exciting characters struggling to make sense out of their young lives—which is exactly what I'm trying to do.
RIPSLINGER, Jon Derailed. Llewellyn, Flux. 258 p. c2006. 0-7387-0888. 7. $8.95.
Wendell Stoneking, or "Stony," knows what his future will be in his small Iowa town. After he graduates from high school in the spring, he will get a job at the quarry, just like his father and his grandfather did. He'll probably marry young, have some kids, and hang out with the other quarry workers at the local bar. He is a major force on the football team, but his spot is in jeopardy when he finds out he may lose eligibility. Stony's trademark smile isn't enough to help him save his failing English literature grade. When he visits the guidance counselor, a potential new path is illuminated for him. What if there were more to life than just working at the quarry? What if Stony could pull his grades up not just to keep his spot on the team, but because he's a smart kid with a lot of potential? His new tutor, Robyn, also helps reinforce these ideas. Stony is immediately intrigued by h r, especially when he finds out that she has a child. As he works to uncover pieces of here mysterious past, he makes significant discoveries about himself. The story takes a dramatic twist when Robyn's abusive and mentally unhinged ex-boyfriend shows up and kidnaps their son. Though the story often feels rushed, Ripslinger's characters make this a page-turner. Stony, who initially comes off as a one-dimensional stereotype, is a surprisingly complex young man, a fact that reveals itself at just the right pace. The monotony of Stony's small town is conveyed well; the stifling feeling envelopes every moment of action. With strong male and female main characters, Derailed will appeal to both sexes. Amanda McGregor, St. Cloud, MN.
Article: Local writer publishes teen novel
By Judy Betts published Monday, October 02, 2006
"Life is about setting goals and making smart choices."
Jon Ripslinger's newest young adult novel, "Derailed," focuses on choices teens must make choices about how to live their lives now and in the future.
This article appeared in
the March 21, 2003, issue of the Beak 'n Eye, the
West High School student newspaper, Davenport, Iowa.
Former teacher publishes book
by Melanie Hanson
Former West teacher Jon Ripslinger recently published his second young adult
novel, How I Fell in Love and Learned to Shoot Free Throws, nine years after
his first, Triangle. Booth books make references to the Quad Cities and West
A Michigan native, Ripslinger came to the Quad Cities when he attended St.
Ambrose to study English. His original intentions were to be a sports editor,
but the hours didn't agree with him so he studied to become a teacher. He did,
however, work for the Quad-City Times in the late 1950s under local legend John
He was one of the original staff members when West opened and was proud to be
employed by the district.
"I thought I taught in the best high school in Iowa," Ripslinger said. "We
had a couple of really strong principals...Bob Liddy and Bill Rettko."
After 35 years of teaching language arts, Ripslinger can boast mentoring such
students as Steve Saladino, science, and Paul Flynn, physical education.
His teaching has been a great influence on his writing, as well, as he has
gotten many of his ideas from his won students. The main character in Triangle
was loosely based on his former student Pat Dunn. The idea for How I Fell in
Love came from reading the journal entries he assigned to his students. He was
amazed by how many secrets his students revealed in these entries about first
love, anger, frustration, and parental battles.
Besides education, Ripslinger's four-year experience in the U.S. Navy was a
large part of his life. During his time in service, he was stationed on a
battle ship, the USS New Jersey, in Korea during the war there.
Ripslinger says that he knew he wanted to write when he was a teenager,
spending the years after getting the experience he could in everything from the
high school year book to working as a sports reporter.
"You want to persevere in life," Ripslinger said. "I sold my first book in
1994. It took me nine years to sell the second one."
Ripslinger is currently a Davenport resident and still writes at age 70.
This article appeared in
the June 26th, 2003, edition of the QUAD-CITY TIMES,
Davenport teacher publishes teen book
By Judy Betts
I eyed Angel McPherson harder. She was probably the best female basketball
player in the state of Iowa, an all-state center, playing on an undefeated team
that had won the state championship a month ago. Awesome for a small-town high
school in eastern Iowa on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Jon Ripslinger draws on 33 years of experience as an English teacher at
Davenport West High School in his newest book for young people, "How I Fell in Love
and Learned to Shoot Free Throws."
A solid message about the importance of truthfulness and honesty in
relationships is embedded in a tale about basketball, teenage romance and family
secrets - all set in "Big River," easily recognizable as Davenport by Quad-City
Important scenes take place at West High School, Duck Creek Park and the bike
path, Emeis Golf Course, Waverly Road and the Wapsi River.
Contemporary issues, such as gay parents, test-tube babies, marital
infidelity and the death of a parent are addressed.
"I wanted to write a story about kids keeping secrets," Ripslinger says. "And
I wanted to write about something unusual."
As a teacher, Ripslinger assigned students to write daily entries in their
journals. They often wrote about problems in their lives that they didn't share
with their peers. This, and his personal experience as the father of six
children, spurred him on to write. He also worked part-time as a sports writer for
the Quad-City Times.
"I attended a lot of games," he says.
Ripslinger has 11 granddaughters (and one grandson), and tries to have a
strong female character in his stories. The girl in this story is top-notch
basketball player. The main character in his previous book, "Triangle," published in
1994, was a softball player. Girls buy most of the books sold, he says.
The 70-year-old writer says he looks forward to getting up every morning and
"I just let the characters rattle around in my head. I don't always know how
it's going to end. Lots of times characters take you somewhere else."
Young people tend to read stories about kids older than them, Ripslinger
says. The students in this story are 17 and 18 years old, so the book will appeal
to teens 13-15 years old.
"How I Fell in Love and Learned to Shoot Free Throws" is available at area
bookstores. The cost for the 170-page hardcover book is $15.95.
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