Susan Kuklin Tells About Creating Her New Book
Marc invited me to blog a bit about “process,” the beginnings of my soon-to-be-published YA book, No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row.
I’m against capital punishment. Usually my books are about something I’m for, such as, the search for some thing noble, the search for truth. Anti is so not me. When I came to this subject, I felt it was time to break my own rule and try something different.
I set three objectives: One, it had to be written for young people; two, it had to be told from the point of view of people directly involved in the subject; and, three, it had to be very personal.
Armed with these three goals, I met my future editor for lunch. She didn’t seem too surprised when our conversation took a decidedly dark turn. We went from “who’s dating whom” to “are we a just society if we execute our citizens?”
The first thing I learned – after embarrassing myself by my lack of knowledge in front of a prominent lawyer – was that I had to understand the law.
Lucky for me my husband teaches at Brooklyn Law School, so I had a gaggle of law professors willing to lend a hand. Our friend, Ursula Bentele, teaches a popular seminar at BLS on capital punishment. She invited me to sit in the class. The seminar was way above my head. What language were they speaking? I needed to learn basic capital punishment law and I needed to learn it fast.
A funny thing about nonfiction writers: we are fearless when it comes to going after our subject. I wouldn’t dare chat up a stranger at a cocktail party, but I don’t have the slightest hesitation about telephoning a world class law professor who I had never formally met to ask a favor.
Bryan Stevenson teaches at NYU Law School. He is one of the leading criminal appellate lawyers in the country. You see him on television all the time. If there’s a big capital punishment case being argued at the Supreme Court, the networks often call Bryan. So I called him, too. I told him what I was doing and asked if I could audit his capital punishment law course.
And Bryan said, “Yes.”
I LIVED for that class. It was totally fascinating. During that period my husband Bailey and I sat in bed, side-by-side, with our respective casebooks. While he prepared his contracts classes, I dutifully played the student, and read capital punishment cases. I was absolutely petrified that Bryan would call on me in class. I never, ever prepared for a class as thoroughly as I did for this one. Truth be told, I loved every minute of it.
Feeling much more secure, I was preparing for the next20leg of my journey. Start knocking on doors. Do interviews. Take photographs. Hit cyberspace.
And then, my editor was fired and the contract was cancelled.
(more to come)