ITM: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
EP: I was a severe reluctant reader as a kid. Like, to the point where I made stuff up
when I had to write book reports because I could never finish a whole book. I was slow reader with low comprehension and embarrassed to tell anybody. I had a family full of super smart obsessive speed-readers who devoured books. However, I did love Mad Magazine and The Family Circle comics, so that’s where I really learned to read. Strangely, I loved writing and spent much of my childhood in my room propped up against my orange vinyl toy box writing and illustrating my ownhilarious books. But it wasn’t until I went to medical school that I actually learned how to “read” properly and digest and comprehend efficiently. I always said that I would someday write books that I would have liked to read when I was a kid. Now I’m doing that!
ITM: Is writing your only profession? What do you do when you are not
writing? If so, how does that tie into your writing?
EP: I work full time in the Los Angeles children’s dependency court, recruiting and training guardians appointed to foster youth. It’s intense, but I love it! I’ve worked with foster youth, gang kids, orphans in Baja, and incarcerated teens for many years in various capacities, as a creative writing teacher, advocate, and social worker. This is where all of my writing comes from, both fiction and nonfiction.
When I started learning to write kid’s books in 2002 I was struck by the appalling lack of characters who came from marginalized populations. I’d worked with gang kids and those from the inner city for as long as I could remember. Yet, we could rarely find books that reflected their experiences. MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers is a huge exception…it’s the most riveting and realistic book I’ve ever read! I’m committed to writing about the “forgotten” youth.
Kids who are locked up, or in foster care, or who crossed the border into America alone and illegally. Because I had such a stable life growing up, I was always drawn to kids who had the opposite. I always knew that their stories could have been mine. Circumstance gave me the winning lottery ticket.
I started writing their stories, both fiction and nonfiction, and talking with editors about the “real” America that many don’t see. Still, there was a perception that nobody would care to read these stories. Thank god for the WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS movement. These kids. These forgotten, invisible, underrepresented kids need to see books about themselves. As long as they give me permission to tell their stories, I will. The idea that kids who are poor or kids who are marginalized don’t read is ludicrous. Finally, the KidLit publishing world is catching up.
ITM: Do you remember when you first got the idea to write One Cut? Can you share with us how that came about?
EP: I began teaching in LA’s Central Juvenile Hall and the Sylmar jail (where kids in the compound are waiting to be tried as adults – very much set up like an adult prison) in 2007 through Inside Out Writers. There I met Sharry Holland, a fellow teacher who had two sons who were sentenced to life in prison when they were fifteen and eighteen years old. I had read about these kids – Jason and Micah Holland – back in Randall Sullivan’s 1997 Rolling Stone Magazine article, and was shocked to learn they had lost all appeals and would die in prison. They were good kids, who had grown up just like me in the LA suburbs. After school one day they’d gotten into a backyard fistfight, a pocketknife was pulled out, and one friend accidentally died. Five of the seven boys were arrested and charged with first-degree murder (possibly facing the death penalty!) including one kid who was still in his truck and never even saw the fight. These were teenagers!
I became obsessed with learning everything about the case and devoured all the police files and 7500 pages of trial transcripts. I seriously memorized every detail. And nothing added up. When I pitched the idea for a book to a publisher at Simon and Schuster during a breakfast meeting (where I had tagged along, uninvited) she was riveted. Soon after, I had a contract to write the book.
ITM: What challenges did you face with One Cut on the road to publication?
EP: First, the subject matter is incredibly disturbing because an innocent kid died, and four teenagers (now middle aged) are rotting in prison. That was the toughest part. I visited the boys in the prisons on weekends, and became very close with them. It’s rough watching guys suffering in inhumane conditions, no matter who they are. But, it’s especially sad because these guys – Micah Holland, Jason Holland, Brandon Hein, and Tony Miliotti – don’t belong in there.
Getting all the facts straight and combing through every single word of the book with the Simon and Schuster legal department, to ensure everything is 100% true and accurate, was exhausting and time consuming. But it was so worth it, and I learned a ton about writing nonfiction!
ITM: You have worked with other writers in your profession in school and in your job at the literary agency. Have you ever had to help get someone through writer’s block? Have you ever experienced writer’s block yourself? Do your suggestions to others work for you?
EP: Every writer I know has suffered from writer’s block at some point in time. Veteran writers always told us to “write through it.” I found that the opposite helped. When I suffered from two full years of writer’s block, after enduring a traumatic
event, I walked away, set down my pen and closed my computer. During that time, I spent many hours, days, weeks, months immersed in the jail system. I still taught creative writing, even though I was paralyzed to write myself. Focusing on my kids, getting to know them on a deep level, and fostering their love of writing and journaling was the greatest thing I’ve ever done. They absolutely saved my life, and healed me. I haven’t stopped writing since. Sometimes, you’ve just got to walk away for a bit.
ITM: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult? Can you share the name of the book and why it has been so impactful?
EP: Truth be told, I don’t think I ever finished an entire book until I discovered The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton in the eighth grade. I read it 100 times. My girlfriend Maril Manning and I memorized it, and even dressed like the 50’s Greasers gang during that year (Rockabilly was trending at the time, so we were super cool). It struck a chord with us because we had this pact where we vowed to “friend the friendless” in Junior High while some of our classmates strived for popularity or went the bullying route. If somebody was picked on or new to the school or bizarre and different, we invited them to our lunch tree to eat with us. Soon, our posse grew so massive, we had to improvise with the seating! (Our tree enclosure was not all that large).
Because the Greasers in The Outsiders were poor, parentless, and picked on, we felt a deep connection to them. Every kid has been the outsider at some point in his/her life. We promised to never forget that feeling, and always empathize with those while they endured it. Side note – at my 20-year high school reunion, a man approached me and told me that our lunch tree gang were the only people who were ever nice to him during his entire teenage life.
ITM: If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
EP: Not one! I had a fabulous team, generous support, and all went very smoothly. The book really wrote itself, and I loved every single minute of that entire year of researching/writing. My sister, Amy, a public defender who represents kids who are tried as adults, was with me every single step of the way. It was the most fascinating year of my life, for sure.
ITM: How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
EP: Honestly, I juggle three jobs (social worker, literary agent, and college instructor) so marketing has been my weak spot. Because this is sort of a new genre– teen true crime with a juvenile justice bent – we are still navigating the best avenues to get the book into the hands of teens, parents, teachers, etc.
ITM: Will you have a new book coming out soon? Can you tell us about your upcoming book? Is anything in your new book based on real life experiences like One Cut, or purely all fiction?
EP: I’ve got another nonfiction project about a young girl who was bullied to death, which is out for consideration. Very intense subject matter, but wildly important reading, I think. I’ve also got two fiction books, one middle grade adventure about foster youth and one young adult contemporary story about incarcerated kids in an innovative writing program. Both the fiction stories are full of humor and tragedy, but mostly humor. It’s a nice change for me.
ITM: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write in One Cut and why?
EP: I was happy (and sad) to write the ending. Although the boys are still locked up, I have tremendous hope for a miracle. I’ve felt it in my gut that something is going to change, and they will be set free. That said – NEWS ALERT – Tony Miliotti, one of the boys initially sentenced to life without parole (who never threw a punch, but only watched the fight) was miraculously granted release LAST WEEK! I do not have details on how exactly it transpired. But, it gives me great hope for the other three, when it seemed for twenty-three years that all hope had been lost.
ITM: How did you come up with the title, One Cut?
EP: My original title was Cruel and Unusual, because I believe that sentences of LWOP – life without parole – are cruel and inhumane for teenagers. It was an especially cruel sentence for these four boys who never intended to kill anybody. I didn’t even know the title had changed until I saw it for sale on Amazon! That happens often in publishing.
ITM: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
EP: One teen girl told me she was so shocked and horrified after reading the ending, she cried wildly, tossed the book across the room, and broke a mirror. That was the toughest and the best all in one!
ITM: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
EP: NEVER EVER EVER EVER GIVE UP!!! Don’t listen to anybody who tells you that you are not good enough. You are good enough. Or, at least you will be if you work hard to learn your craft. Believe me, if I can go from having low comprehension and dreadful reading skills to becoming a published author with a major publishing house, ANYTHING is possible. That is truth!
ITM: Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
EP: Thank you, thank you, and THANK YOU! I’ve said this before, and I mean it. I don’t care if I ever make money. I don’t care if I’m critically acclaimed. If people (young or old) read my stories and connect with them, I am happy. If somebody reads my work and it inspires them to write or practice kindness to strangers, or pursue work with foster or abandoned or incarcerated youth, that’s even better! I believe that stories are meant to challenge the way we think and move us – whether it’s moving us to laughter or tears or tossing books and breaking mirrors!
Day 4 of Blog Tour – APR 23, 2018: Cecily Wolfe’s Author Site for Eve’s recorded radio interview on the backstory for the book.
Day 5 of Blog Tour – APR 24, 2018: Cecily’s Goodreads Site will host Eve’s In the Margin’s Committee interview.
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