A few years ago, Alex Flinn came across an alarming statistic: 26% of high school and college-aged young women admit to having been in an abusive relationship. A little searching uncovered a surprising dearth of information on the subject, especially in light of the attention the recent O.J. Simpson case brought to the subject of abuse. At the time, Flinn, who lives in Miami, was working as a certified legal intern with the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office in a misdemeanor court, where a large portion of the cases concerned domestic violence. It was a topic close to her heart, and she felt compelled to write about it.
She began with research, talking to a woman who works in a domestic violence advocacy program and reading several books on abuse and counseling. Then, taking advantage of an 18-month maternity sabbatical, she began putting the story of Caitlin, a young woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship, to paper. In the midst of it, though, she had a change of heart and decided that the story that she really wanted to explore was that of Nick, the abuser, so she started the novel over from his perspective.
It wasn't Flinn's first foray into fiction, nor was it Caitlin and Nick's debut. In college, she began writing a young adult fantasy novel in which Nick and Caitlin featured in one of the subplots. She never finished that work. "Life got in the way," she recalls. This time, to prepare herself, she read several YA novels and was particularly impressed with the work of Richard Peck. When she saw that he was leading a writing workshop, she jumped at the chance to attend. He steered her toward the work of other YA authors, including Chris Crutcher, Rob Thomas and Francesca Lia Block. Flinn found her agent, George Nicholson, via another writing workshop, when workshop leader Joyce Sweeney referred her to her own agent.
Back at work, Flinn snuck time in mornings and on lunch breaks to finish her manuscript. After a rejection from Simon & Schuster, her novel, Breathing Underwater (HarperCollins), was placed with editor Antonia Markiet.
Making the transition from lawyer to YA author was a natural adjustment for versatile Flinn, who started out with a college major in music and dreams of being an opera singer. The mother of two children, six-year-old Katie and two-year-old Meredith, she now stays at home, writing during nap and school time and at night after everyone else is asleep. "I had a lot more time to write when I was working," she says with a laugh.
Like Breathing Underwater, Flinn's second novel, is lifted directly from the headlines. Blown Away is about a teenager who plants a bomb in his prep school.
Since Breathing Underwater was released, Flinn has received a certain amount of local attention, including articles in the Miami Herald and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. A gratifying result has been that people come to her book signings specifically because of the dating-violence topic. "There was a woman who came from an abusive relationship who bought the book for her son. She was worried that he showed signs of becoming abusive himself. It's very satisfying to see what influence I can have."
Flinn admits that the whole process of becoming a published writer has been thrilling. "Sometimes I feel like I should be the one paying [HarperCollins]! It's just been so exciting."