One Texas State alumna has addressed the issue of unintentional strangulation deaths among young adults in her newest novel.
According to Center for Disease Control data, an estimated 82 children and adolescents died from unintentional strangulation between 1995 and 2007. Often mistaken for suicide, children who participate in what is known as “the choking game” fall victim to what begins as an innocuous attempt to experience a temporary high.
Diana Lopez, author and Texas State alumna, addresses the exhilaration and consequences of the game in her newly released novel, “Choke.” The story focuses on Windy, an insecure eighth-grade girl. When she befriends the mysterious new girl Nina, Windy embarks on a tumultuous friendship when the girls become “Breath Sisters.”
Lopez is the author of three novels including “Confetti Girl” which was the recipient for the William Allen White Award.
The University Star had the chance to speak with the author about her latest work.
EC: Why write a teen novel about the choking game?
DL: I started writing “Choke” pretty soon after “Confetti Girl.” The CDC had done a study about the choking game. As a teacher, I was introduced to the effects this game had on some of my students. Even though the game has been a hot topic in the media, no one has really addressed children about the dangers. It motivated me to write the book. I wanted to write it before someone else did.
EC: As a teacher, have you witnessed similar events to those that are portrayed in your novel?
DL: Soon after the CDC report came out in February of 2008, I was teaching at a middle school in San Antonio. I discovered some girls were playing the game when they came to my class with bloodshot eyes. I don’t think they realized what they were doing to themselves. They thought it was funny. The girls didn’t see it as the shocking game it is. I found out they were taking turns choking each other in the bathroom with a scarf. I think students believe this game is okay because it isn’t illegal and doesn’t involve actual drugs. They want to experience that temporary high.
EC: What kind of impression do you hope your work will leave on young readers?
DL: In one respect, it’s a cautionary tale. I want teens to be aware of the physical and emotional dangers. However, it’s also about what defines a friend, what makes a good friend. I want my readers to ask themselves what they would do if a friend dared them to go down the wrong path.
EC: Along with two young adult books, you’ve written a literary novel for adults. Is there one genre you prefer writing over the other?
DL: I don’t know if I’d prefer one over the other. It’s easier to market the children’s books over the adult books. For example, I’ve been asked to speak at schools and do readings all over Texas. Writing an adult book versus a children’s book is different in the sense that it taps into different emotions. My children’s work tends to be more hopeful.
EC: Texas State has educated many successful writers. Do you have any advice for the aspiring writer today?
DL: You get discouraged because people tell you that you can’t make a living. What I’ve learned is: if you have a terminal degree in creative writing, then you’re eligible to teach at community college and other university levels. The program at Texas State forced me to write, but also helped me evaluate my writing through the value of critique. A writer needs to learn how to be objective about his or her work.