Underwater, a girl’s view of how to catch a guy can get distorted.
And the thing about panicking when you’re forty feet under the ocean’s surface is that you can drown, and you know you can drown. In fact, you can’t breathe without your regulator even if you’re not panicking. You’re also not supposed to hold your breath, because there’s pressure underwater. That means if you’re not breathing out bubbles while the regulator is out, your chest might expand until it explodes.
Although girls read all my adventure books (thank goodness!), Breathless is the only novel I’ve written that could be called a girl book. As in, it has a female protagonist and issues that interest teen girls (catching a guy, losing weight, handling a situation where a guy hits on her to the point where it could almost be called date-rape).
I wrote Breathless the same year I was in the middle of my Xtreme series, or more specifically the same year I wrote Surf Zone, which has diving scenes in it as well.
I took up diving specifically to help me write both books. I was forty feet under on my tenth dive when I had a full-on panic attack. The instructor saw what was happening, swam up to me, put his face mask against mine to hold eye contact and took me slowly to the surface. (Too fast and you can blow out your eardrums.)
You’ll find that scene recreated in Breathless – except then the protagonist gets a crush on her divemaster and things develop from there.
In my case, I found the courage to submerge again and complete my diving exam, to receive my certification. Then I asked my instructor if he’d help me with the diving scenes in Breathless and Surf Zone, which he did. After reading over the scenes, he complained, “But they do everything wrong!”
“Of course they do,” I responded. “How else would it be exciting?”
To know what they could do wrong and right, however, I felt a need to take up diving as well as work with an expert.
Meanwhile, my diving instructor ended up with two free autographed books. I autographed them, “From your worst diving student.” He told me I was not his worst diving student, which I find really scary!
In the plot, fifteen-year-old Beverly has two goals: to lose ten pounds in ten days (way too fast to be safe) and to “catch a guy.” The guy she catches is eighteen, and has an agenda beyond hers.
When I was fifteen, I was quite heavy, and always going on ill-advised crash diets. So the way that Bev sneaks around avoiding or hiding food is all based on stuff I did.
I slimmed down after university by eating nothing but salads and toast for a few months, and by taking up kayaking and running and weight training. I’ve never been heavy since, which is why I’ve been questioned suspiciously by high school girls who’ve read Breathless, as to how I could create a character like Bev. But hey, I’ve been Bev. And the trouble she gets into with her crash diet hopefully offers lessons to readers.
Why have I never (yet) written another book specifically targeting girls? First of all, my former literary agent told me, “Don’t even think about it. You have built a niche writing for boys.”
I didn’t have to listen to her, but you know what? Something like eighty-five per cent of authors who write for teens and children are female, and they’re far more likely to write series like The Baby-Sitters Club than boy-friendly books about sports. And I’ve become quite passionate about getting more boys to read, and so I’ve stuck with my niche.
On the other hand, all my adventure books have strong, go-for-it girls in them, even if the main protagonist is a boy. So I definitely have a female audience as well, and I take pride in that.
By the way, Breathless has also been translated into Spanish and Serbian! I read the entire book in Spanish. It took me longer to do that than it took to write it in the first place. But it was an accomplishment. :)