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1. As someone who taught in schools, were you ever afraid of a situation like what happens in your book, happening in your classroom or school?
I was never consciously afraid of violence in my classroom, but I dreamed about it several times, so I know the anxiety was there. It’s just such a huge responsibility, knowing that – if something happens – the lives of those 20 or 30 kids are in your hands. I also traveled in Europe with my students in summers, so I was very aware of safety issues.
Fortunately, nothing like this ever happened to me, although I remember several occasions when a student was found carrying a gun in our building. The only time I ever felt danger was when I was pregnant and got knocked to the ground while trying to break up a fight. A huge crowd of students was surging forward to watch and couldn’t see me on the floor. It was terrifying! Fortunately, another teacher came, broke it up, and rescued me. I haven’t tried to break up a fight since.
2. What inspired you to tell this story?
My then 2nd grade nephew told me they’d been instructed, if they were in the bathroom and heard gunshots in the hall, to lock the stall, sit on the toilet, and pull their feet up so an intruder wouldn’t see them. It was heartbreaking to picture him in there alone and terrified. It made me feel like kids were already losing their innocence when we had to paint that kind of scenario for them. I hate that our world requires those kinds of scary conversations with our children, but it’s obvious, in light of recent events, that teaching them to hit the floor if shooting starts might save their lives. How do you teach that without traumatizing them – but how can you risk not teaching it?
3. What can you tell us about Emery and Jake?
Emery and Jake are both fighting their own inner battles long before they’re involved in the classroom one. She’s dealing with an absentee parent, a domineering one, and a puzzling illness. Jake is reeling from the death of a parent, a difficult step-parent, and a damaged reputation. But I don’t think I’ve overloaded their lives with unrealistic conflict. So many of the teens I taught were facing these huge life issues – several at once – and yet they moved through the school day with poise and strength that amazed me. I only knew about those incredible hardships through their writing or sometimes when they came after school to talk; I was honored by their trust when they shared problems with me.
Emery and Jake are a lot like the students I taught – they’re smart and strong and brave when the need arises. They draw on inner resources they didn’t even know they had when facing down an armed gunman. I’d trust my kids to respond with the same calm competence in a real crisis.
4. What was the most difficult part of writing such an emotional story?
The last few chapters were the hardest part to write. There can’t be a truly happy ending to a story like this. When unstable people are armed, we can’t always protect the innocent. I wanted a resolution that made sense – one that readers could accept if not embrace. I wrote what I felt would actually happen in a situation like this -- but with a twist or two to keep readers guessing.
5. What do you hope readers take from this story?
I hope to foster a little better understanding of post traumatic stress. Our culture frowns on what’s considered “weakness” if someone needs help, when – in reality – any reasonable person would be deeply troubled by war or abuse or an accident or tragedy. Our soldiers face a huge adjustment coming home from war. Brian Stutts is the “bad guy” – no doubt – but would he have instigated this horrific tragedy in a first grade classroom if he’d had psychological help?
I’d also like to increase awareness of POTS, which is easy to treat but tricky to diagnose – and affects 1 in 100 teens. I hope, too, that the bravery of Emery and Jake will inspire any readers who find themselves in a dangerous situation to stay calm and help those around them.
This is Not a Drill by Beck McDowell
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (October 25th, 2012)
Reading Level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 224 pages
Two teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD
When high school seniors Emery and Jake are taken hostage in the classroom where they tutor, they must work together to calm both the terrified children and the gunman threatening them--a task made even more difficult by their recent break-up. Brian Stutts, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, uses deadly force when he's denied access to his son because of a custody battle. The children's fate is in the hands of the two teens, each recovering from great loss, who now must reestablish trust in a relationship damaged by betrayal. Told through Emery and Jake's alternating viewpoints, this gripping novel features characters teens will identify with and explores the often-hidden damages of war.
Check out the next tour stops:Monday, Nov. 12
KATIE’S BOOK BLOG - http://www.katiesbookblog.com/
Tuesday, Nov. 13
ALLURING READS - http://www.alluringreads.com/
Wednesday, Nov. 14
PAGE TURNERS BLOG - http://www.pageturnersblog.com/
Thursday, Nov. 15
MY BEST FRIENDS ARE BOOKS - http://bestfriendsrbooks.wordpress.com/