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Interview: Michael Hassan, Author of CRASH AND BURN, Part One

Debut author Michael Hassan creates a stunning story from the perspective of recent high school senior Stephen Crashinsky about how he prevented classmate David Burnett from blowing up their high school. Alternating between the present and Crash's recollections of his relationship with Burn starting in second grade, CRASH AND BURN is a timely story of heroism, fate and fulfilling expectations. In the first part of this interview, Michael Hassan discusses how he researched his story, how he wrote his book to attract teens with ADD and how he wants his story to serve as a wake-up call for teens and parents alike.

- Click here to read the second part of this interview.

How long did it take you to write CRASH AND BURN, or rather, how long was this novel in the works?

The short answer is approximately two years from the time that I started to write. My process was a bit longer than that however --- probably three years if you calculate from the time that I formulated the initial idea. During the first year, I lived with the characters in my head and tried to view the world as they do; and after I more fully developed the storyline, I did a good amount of research: interviewing a number of high school kids (including my son who has ADD) and building a realistic time-line that reflected the external world at the stages of the characters’ development.

For example, I needed to hear the songs that the 12 year old versions of the characters would be listening to and the movies they were watching, so I built a detailed chart of media events, movies and songs that came out each year to coincide with the ages of the kids in each chapter. This process also gave me a greater sense of reality for the characters and their world

Did you always envision the format to alternate between Crash's present after the incident and the back story of Crash and Burn's relationship?

I always envisioned the book to be something more than a coming of age story. I don’t generally like the use of flashbacks, which was my first inclination. I wanted to come up with a mechanism for Crash to become more self aware and I realized that diary concept, the “how I spent my summer vacation” part of the book, would allow Crash to actively reflect on not only the events surrounding the siege of his high school, but to re-evaluate his feelings and his actions throughout his growing up process.

Also, from a technical perspective, I always liked to read novels that have two simultaneously plot lines going, where one chapter ends in a cliff hanger that makes you want to read the next one, only to find that the next chapter involves another aspect of the story, leaving you conflicted as to whether to skip ahead or patiently get involved with story two. In writing a story from the first person perspective, I wanted to come up with a device that would leave the reader with the same kind of suspense from chapter to chapter.

In the acknowledgements, you mention that CRASH AND BURN was the result of you trying to write a book someone with ADD could read. But it's so long! In what ways did you approach writing the novel with this in mind?

I wasn’t concerned about the length of the book. I was more concerned about gripping the reader, including kids with ADD, and keeping them interested. Since I had an expert in the family, given that my son was diagnosed early in his high school career, I constantly consulted with him, played the same video games he did and watched the movies that he liked. There was never an issue of length in these forms of entertainment; there was a question of boredom if things didn’t move fast enough.   So, in my early outlines, I tried to craft the stages of the book as a video game.   

As mentioned before, the device of alternating between the past and the summer vacation story was intended to give the reader a sense of urgency to continue, including the ADD reader, given that they often have a sense of frustration with respect to having to delay gratification.

Finally, I wanted to create something that an ADD reader could read and recognize himself in, not only in the out-of-control sequences, but in the ability to see things on a level that the “normals” don’t, and to remind these readers that they have talents that they can exploit. Going back to the dual story line, I wanted to create a mechanism in which an ADD teen accomplishes something ---  I hoped that the book itself would give this audience a vicarious sense of satisfaction in Crash’s accomplishment and the feeling that that if Crash can accomplish a task of this magnitude, so can he or she.

Crash's story is one that you don't often hear of in books or at least that I have come across: he has ADD; he wants to do well, but his father has little patience for him; every time he gets in trouble, he somehow gets away with it; he's an average student at school but is considered much more brilliant outside the classroom; and he parties pretty hard. Did you feel like you had to voice this side of adolescence or want to give this type of reader something to read?

After learning what I learned from my interviews, research and observations, I wanted to create a “warts and all” depiction of reality for these kids and everyone else in high school --- as I said before, something that they can identify with. It was crucial for me to report on what I saw as accurately as possible --- the parties and impulsive actions of the characters in the book, the alcohol and out of control drug use, all of which are rampant in high schools now. Then there is this element of a secret society of adolescence where kids take care of each othe,r and adults are considered in some ways as “the enemy." This is something that I haven’t seen documented before in a way that kids and their parents can recognize.    

I very much wanted the book to be read by adults of teens as a wake-up call. During my research, I have heard over and over again from parents who had convinced themselves that their kids were “clean-cut” even as their kids were simultaneously confessing to wild partying. I have seen an over-riding sense of denial in the face of obvious clues, have seen parents who are over-indulgent to the point of letting their kids party in their basements and then make excuses. These are the types of things I wanted to address in the book without turning it into a piece of non-fiction.