For many of us readers, we understand the power of the gaining enlightenment through the written word. But for those of us who deal with individuals who are just becoming aware of the power that engaging in the act has, the thrill of sharing the joy of reading can be equally thrilling. Novelist William Kowalski is gifted in documenting the human condition through his books, but his love of his craft and his understanding of the power of his final product shines through his work with Orca Books’ Rapid Reads series. As his latest item for Rapid Reads is about to come out, he answers a few questions for me about his book, JUMPED IN, and he explains the power of the written word has for all of us. JUMPED IN will be released April 18, 2017.
1) First off, could you give an outline of JUMPED IN?
JUMPED IN is part of my Rapid Reads series, which is written for adults who are new to reading.
It’s the story of a 16-year-old named Rasheed, who lives in a bad neighborhood in a large city. His school is so dangerous that he’s dropped out. His sister was the victim of a drive-by shooting when she was a little girl and is now paralyzed. His mother has become addicted to her daughter’s painkillers. His father’s whereabouts are unknown. His neighborhood is ruled by a gang called the E Street Locals, who are constantly trying to get him to join. Rasheed seeks to escape all this by hanging out on a nearby university campus. Here he meets a campus cop who eventually takes him under his wing and helps him realize that his strong desire to make his world safe for his family again can be translated into a career in law enforcement, rather than always rebelling against authority. The Locals jump him in, but he’s able to escape from them, and we get the sense that he has a real chance to start over.
2) Was there anything specifically that caused you to write this book? Is there anything you hope readers will gain from JUMPED IN?
I was motivated partly by the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer. It sprang up in the U.S. as a response to several police shooting of unarmed black men. I was really disgusted by some of the responses of my white friends to the whole thing. They didn’t seem to understand or care that being black in the U.S. is a whole different experience, and that people do not have the same opportunities just because they are Americans. A lot of black people are living in circumstances that middle-class and upper-class whites can’t imagine. So, I wrote this book partly to help illuminate that fact.
Like all Rapid Reads book, I also wrote it to address a specific audience. I wanted to create a character that my readers could identify with. These books are written for teens and adults who are interested in becoming better readers. A lot of them are locked up. We know that a disproportionate number of people of color go to jail in our society. This book is for them, too. Not only does it show them that someone out there understands them, but it helps them see there’s a way out, too.
3) The Rapid Reads website has this listed as your seventh book with them. Has your writing changed at all since your first book with this series?
I think it’s become clearer and simpler, a little more so with every book. Writing this way is good for me. I have to practice my basic techniques over and over. I think it keeps me fresh.
4) Have you had any contact with any readers of your books from the Rapid Reads series? If yes, what was their reaction to your books?
I get lots of letters from people who read these books. Often, their adult education instructors will forward them to me. They seem to really like them. For many of them, it’s the first book they’ve ever read. That’s a big deal. You never forget your first book. They’re proud of themselves for having finished. They let me know what they liked and didn’t like about the story, and they are always curious to know if I will write more. I always write back.
5) Do you think you will be doing any future books for Rapid Reads?
I hope to continue to write a book a year for the Orca people! We have a great relationship, and it’s working well for both of us.