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SunLit Interviews

How an iconic Hitchcock film inspired a young adult novel about reality in the internet age

Author Donna Cooner contrasted people's real-life personas with online "reality," and was shocked at the private information one photo can carry

Author Donna Cooner.

Donna Cooner is the acclaimed author of “Skinny, Can’t Look Away,” and “Worthy.” A Texas native and graduate of Texas A&M University, Cooner currently lives in Fort Collins with her husband, a cat named Stu, and two chocolate Labradors, Roxanne and Murphy.

The following is an interview with Donna Cooner.

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit


What inspired you to write this book?  

The inspiration for this book came from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “Rear Window.”  Today, instead of windows, we peer into other people’s lives through the internet.  Sometimes that snippet of life is reality, but sometimes it is a carefully curated snapshot to give viewers the perfect image.  I wanted to write about the messy real world of my characters and, in contrast, the one they showed the world online.

Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?

My favorite writers tend to be who I’m reading and loving at the moment.  I also tend to switch between young adult books and adult books. Some of my current favorites are: “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty; “My Sister the Serial Killer” by Oyinkan Braithwaite; “Sadie” by Courtney;  “Hunger” by Roxane Gay; and “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds.

“Screenshot” by Donna Cooner.

Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?

In this excerpt, the main character, Skye, is enjoying a fun, innocent sleepover with friends when suddenly a silly dare has life-changing consequences.  It all happens in the blink of an eye—or the snap of a camera. A contemporary reality, the permanence of the internet is impossible to overcome and online posts often resurface in embarrassing ways.  This scene is where it all begins.

What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?

I loved showing that real life is sometimes very different from the online version. It is especially meaningful for me to tell young adults stories where the main character is a teenager and experiencing everything—love, betrayal, and heartbreak—for the first time.  It brings such poignancy and immediacy to the outcome.

What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?

It’s not just one section, but the most difficult parts for me in this book are the representation of online communication throughout the story.  It’s difficult to visually represent the immediacy and intimacy of that format within a narrative story, but it’s so critical to the plot. I wanted to represent online communication in a realistic manner, but in a way that enhances the story and doesn’t distract from the pace.

What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?  

Researching this book, I learned embedded information in an image file can potentially reveal much more than intended.  It was eye opening to realize pictures can be tagged on social media posts in ways that expose very personal information, including home addresses.  Using location services on your phone is a very helpful tool, but may be a security concern when posting pictures. That information turned out to be critical for the plot of “Screenshot.”

What project are you working on next?

My next book, “Fake,” comes out on October 1.  It’s about a teenage girl who seeks revenge on a bully at school by posing as someone different online.  I’m also in the early writing stages of a book about three teens who take a vow to stay off social media for one month.  It’s a lot of fun to explore how they spend their new-found time offline and if they can keep their promise.

Buy “Screenshot” at BookBar

Excerpt from “Screenshot” by Donna Cooner