Losing my editor was a blow, especially since I was so very fond of her. I knew, though, that I had to find a new publisher as quickly as possible so that I would not lose the book’s momentum. I still hadn’t decided what will go into the book, or even what exactly I wanted to say.
My first call was to Henry Holt & Company because they had published my last two YA books and did a terrific job. [Marc, by the way, had been my editor.] When I called Kate Farrell and told her what had happened, she immediately said she wanted the book.
During a meeting with Kate and Laura Godwin, we agreed that the book should be for and about teenagers. My once vast subject now had a finite shape that felt workable.
Meanwhile, back at law school, Bryan Stevenson was covering laws that dealt with the execution of people who had committed capital crimes when they were teenagers. At the time, death penalty states could legally execute a person over sixteen who committed a capital crime. [It has since changed to eighteen.] Bryan talked about his young clients in class. Some of their situations were so horrific I could hardly breathe. These kids lived violence. It was relentless. It was heartbreaking.
By now, I had spent a great deal of time with Bryan, peppering him with questions before and after class. Our conversations often centered on violence and poverty. A book about the death penalty is a book about violence and poverty.
Now I had a theme that was real.
When he’s not teaching, Bryan Stevenson is the director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama. www.eji.org. I asked Bryan if I could go with him to Alabama and interview some of his clients in prison. And Bryan said, “Yes.”
After a year-and-a-half, stacks of law books, and two publishers, I was finally, finally ready for No Choirboy.
Susan — www.susankuklin.com