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Eve Porinchak:

 

Young Adult Author

Since earning a degree in Biology/Psychology from UCLA, Eve has lived all over the planet and spent much of her time in and out of jail – as a creative writing teacher for teen inmates. An agent with Jill Corcoran Literary Agency since 2012, Eve also serves as the Volunteer Training Coordinator for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Los Angeles, and is responsible for recruiting and training Guardians ad Litem assigned to foster youth. A former medical student, child welfare social worker, and public school teacher, Eve writes stories featuring youth she feels have been underrepresented in children’s literature, such as those born into gang life, the abandoned, and the incarcerated who – ironically - have the most fascinating tales to tell. Her first book, One Cut - a haunting nonfiction story with a juvenile justice bent – launched Simon and Schuster’s new young adult true crime line SIMON TRUE in May 2017.


Q&A with the author

 

Have you always been drawn to reading and writing?

Yes and no. 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 couldn’t ever finish a whole book. I was slow reader with low comprehension and embarrassed to tell anybody. I had a family full of 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 own hilarious books. But it wasn’t until I went to medical school that I actually learned how to “read” properly and digest and comprehend efficiently.

 

You went to medical school? Like, to become a doctor??

Yes, when I was young and silly it sounded like a good idea. Because I couldn’t read well growing up, I always felt I was dumb. I worked my butt off in high school to get into UCLA. Once I was in college, I felt really dumb because I was surrounded by valedictorians. I’m pretty sure I wanted to prove to the world (and myself) that I was actually smart enough to become anything I put my mind to. Also, my sister and I had a good friend in college who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was pre-med and we used to study together. I always marveled at his positive nature and drive despite going through gnarly cancer treatments all four years. I think hanging out with him and joining him in his chemo appointments gave me a hero complex. I remember thinking, “If I was his doctor, I would have cured him by now.” He died soon after we graduated. Maybe I believed that if I became a doctor, people like Pete Morey wouldn't have to die so young. I’d work harder than anybody. And I’d find a cure.    

 

So, why did you quit medicine?

Turns out, curing people is much tougher than I’d expected. I was going into pediatrics, and I saw some awful stuff. Everybody told me I’d get used to it. Once I realized I didn't want to get used to it, I quit to become a first grade teacher. Also, to be honest, I love sleep too much. Medical doctors don’t sleep. It’s not healthy. Nobody makes good decisions while sleep deprived!

 

How did you get into writing professionally?

As a first grade teacher in a severely impoverished New England district, I had no budget for books in my classroom. We had a handful of easy readers and anthologies provided by the district, but they were super valuable commodities because we all wanted our own classrooms to score the highest on the state exams. Teachers got competitive, and started hoarding and hiding the few books we had. It was insane! I problem-solved by writing my own picture books and easy readers with my very own illustrations. They were dreadful. Still, my kids learned to read and I fell in love with the process of writing for children.

In 2002 I quit teaching to write full-time. I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). From 2002 to 2015 I attended every conference, seminar, and retreat available. Turns out, I wasn’t meant to write picture books. They are concise and poetic, and I am neither. Once I switched gears to writing young adult books, everything fell into place. I’ve taught in the juvenile jails for many years, and have also worked with foster youth in various capacities. Once I began writing their stories I really found my “voice.”

 

Wait, did you say you teach in jail??

Yes, I’ve taught creative writing to incarcerated youth since 2007. Actually, in college I tutored in a juvenile prison camp and fell in love with working with that population.

 

Are you ever scared to be in jail?

Gosh, no! First, kids who are incarcerated are the most friendly, polite, well-behaved teens you’ve ever seen. They are super stoked to be out of their cells and doing something fun and productive. Second, kids who are locked up are just like you and me. They’ve got insecurities and fears and crushes and hopes and dreams. Unlike me, the vast majority of them were born into extreme poverty or criminal families or gangs. Those who weren’t generally made one stupid impulsive decision that led them to jail. You may be shocked to hear that I’ve witnessed more beauty, bravery, and humanity in jail than I have just about anywhere else in my life. 

 

Where do you get your ideas for books?

I like 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 safe life growing up, I was always drawn to the kids who had the opposite. I always knew that their stories could have been mine. Circumstance gave me the winning lottery ticket. When I started writing 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 never find books that reflected their experiences. I started writing their stories, both fiction and nonfiction.         

Back in 2005 I helped edit an anthology of true stories written by Roosevelt High School students through Dave Egger’s 826-LA program. Most were impoverished kids from Boyle Heights who had incredible stories of family struggles. In the year I spent with them I learned that many came from undocumented families who had fled their beloved countries and crossed the border out of fear for their safety. America was supposed to provide a better, safer life. Instead, they found themselves deeply involved with gangs or criminal activity just to put food on the table.

Once I started writing their stories and talking with editors about the “real” America that many don’t see, people became interested. 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. 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.

Funny thing is that my incarcerated kids want nothing more than to read a good book. That is the number one thing they request I smuggle in for them – books! More than gummy bears, more than photos of their families, more than giant Diddy Reese cookies from Westwood (although, I smuggle all those things in as well). They want books. As long as they give me permission to tell their stories, I will.

 

How do you think your debut book, ONE CUT, has been received?

For the most part, reviews and feedback have been very positive. The one common response I get from teens is that ONE CUT is incredibly depressing. One girl told me she wailed crying at the end and hurled the book across the room and broke a mirror. That was the best reaction I could have hoped for! I want people to be outraged. I want people to scream and throw things. Then, I’d like for them to consider how we can bring change to the juvenile justice world. All prisoners deserve to be treated with humanity. But our kids, some as young as 12, are being tried as adults, treated like animals, and locked up forever. It’s insane. I want people to get visceral reactions when they read ONE CUT. I want people to know that falling into the rabbit hole of criminal justice can happen to any teenager at any time. And it’s not okay. It needs to change.  

 

What’s next?

I’ve got another nonfiction project about a young girl who was bullied to death, which is out for consideration. 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 are full of humor and tragedy, but mostly humor. It’s a nice change for me.

 

What do you enjoy in your free time?

Free time? What is that?? I work full time in the children’s court recruiting and training guardians appointed to foster youth. Then I’m still writing and agenting with Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. And then I’ve also taken on developing and teaching courses on how to get published in the Kidlit world for the University of California Extension system. So….when I do get a rare day off, I love to hike, bike, watch movies, go to sports events with my friends, paint, and play poker with my UCLA buddies. When I take real vacations, I travel the world with my sister, who is also my best friend. Life is good! 


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Upcoming events

Events with Eve Porinchak coming soon...