A Conversation With Michael Mehas Author of Stolen Boy
Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, Michael Mehas author of Stolen Boy.
Michael is a writer, film producer and attorney. He received his Juris Doctorate from Pepperdine University School of Law and the following year graduated from the Academy of Justice School of Advocacy. He followed this with a brief stint with the public defender’s office and private practice where he researched, prepared and tried felony criminal matters. In the 1990s, Michael divided his energies as a screenwriter and freelance journalist, his work published internationally. In 2003, he co-founded an international news and feature Internet magazine called The Inquisitor.
Good day Michael and thanks for participating in our interview.
Thanks, Norm, it’s great to be here. I very much appreciate you taking your time to talk with me.
I notice you have been interviewed by KNX News Radio in LA, WOR in New York, and Fox News Radio, to name a few. How do you prepare for an interview with someone?
It’s interesting, but, generally speaking, I don’t really feel a need to prepare for my interviews. I mean I’ll do the basics, of course. I’ll find out what I can about the medium where the interview is going to run. You know if it’s TV or radio versus print or on the Internet. To see what the format is going to be like. And what kind of audience I might expect. And of course I’ll try to find out what I can about the interviewer. I’d like to know his or her background. The type of people they’ve interviewed before. The type of questions they ask. I’ll also want to know the kind of company that I’ll be up against as far as who else has been interviewed by these people.
You know, am I going to be keeping good company as an interviewee? But as far as preparing for what I’m going to say, I really don’t like to get too locked into that. I would rather my interview not sound canned, if you know what I mean. I love the spontaneity of not necessarily knowing the direction the interview might be going. Interviews can be so interesting in that way. When two people are talking and then they both head in a new direction, that neither one of them anticipates. It’s like traveling through a whole new dimension in life.
You guys in the media have been very kind to me and to my book. Nobody’s set me up, or tried to attack me for my beliefs or my involvement in the Jesse James Hollywood death penalty case. I have a great trust in the media, so far. It also helps that I’ve prepared an extensive media kit, both physically, that I send out to the media, and on my Web site, so they can download it. I’ve prepared a couple pages of questions and answers for the interviewers. But I’ve also provided a ton of other information as well. There’s a lot to talk about.
The media has covered this whole event and my involvement in it a lot in the past, so there’s a ton of general information also available on the Internet and from the various news organizations. So I generally let the interviewer follow his or her path as much as possible. But I do try to also deliver the essence of my messages. Basically it’s the same types of messages held in my book and the movie Alpha Dog. And that is that we need to change what we’re doing. That as parents—and members of society—we need to take a more immediate and compassionate stance when it comes to dealing with our children. Especially the troubled ones. Our personal happiness and our futures depend on this.
You attended law school at Pepperdine University School of Law. Could you comment on the nature of your education there –were you able to apply what you learned as a law student to an author, screenwriter and freelance journalist?
Pepperdine has a very fine law school. And I have a very solid training in the Socratic method of inquiry. I learned what I had to learn to not only get through law school but to pass the California bar exam on my first try.
But you have to remember law school is not an end in and of itself. The experience of having gone to law school played a huge part in paving the way for me to become an attorney. I would never have attained the types of life experiences that I did if I hadn’t made the commitment to get through law school first. And that was no simple matter—let me tell you.
I was a really good athlete when I was a kid growing up, but—and I hate to admit this—I was also somewhat of what people might like to call a ‘party animal.’ I loved to spend my time smoking out and drinking with my buddies. And the girls. Boy did I spend a lot of time with the girls. And sometimes we did a lot worse than just smoking and drinking. But that was the culture I grew up in. I’m a product of the 60’s and the 70’s.
Right here in Southern California. I grew up in the Hollywood Hills. I’m a graduate of Hollywood High School. We knew how to party. And of course, along with that, went my athletic career. Let me tell you something, no matter what anyone tries to tell you, drugs and alcohol do not mix well if you’re an aspiring athlete. But I finally got it together and made it through law school. Which then led to all these incredible experiences in life. Which all tested me as an individual. And forced me to react to certain types of situations. And sometimes that was not a pretty thing. I got into a lot of battles. Especially when I first started out practicing. I was a deputy public defender and I was one of those guys who thought he was going to change the world. And I fought everybody while trying to do it. My clients. The judges. The district attorneys I was up against. The cops. The county, everybody.
At the time, I really didn’t understand where to draw the line. But this all goes towards creating character. And you have to understand character to be able to write about character. It’s one thing to be able to characterize people. But it’s a whole other ballgame when it comes to creating true character in your stories. I had to go through all of my life’s experiences to give me the understanding to be able to write truthfully about life and character. Which helped me as an author, screenwriter and journalist. Law school and life in general helped to give me the tools to understand how people are affected by events in their lives. And how they react to those life-changing events. These experiences enabled me to understand how people change in life, which is an important aspect of developing characters when it comes to writing. It also taught me, to a certain degree, how life parallels story in so many ways. And vice versa.
You have worn many hats, lawyer, author, screenwriter, and journalist. Which one do you prefer and why?
Oh, my favourite by far is the hat o’ the author. I very much appreciate the author’s lifestyle. It’s very conducive to self-exploration. Which is what we’re here for, right? To figure out who we are. Why we’re here. What we’re supposed to do from here on out. So when you write story, you’re really writing about people. And how they’re affected by what happens to them. And how they react to that. But you can’t write about other people, or characters, until you understand how that cause and effect relationship works in your own life. So you have to start to draw back into yourself to understand who you are.
And to do that, you have to go back and look at how you got here. What were the turning points in your own life? And why did they cause you to change the way you did. Then, once you start to come up with these answers, it affects the way you act. Because you’ve changed again just by learning from your past. But now, you understand the pattern of life. This cause and effect relationship that we have with our surroundings. And you can start to apply it to your writing. I just love that about the profession. I can sit in my office and pattern my characters with the same living breathing rhythm that we experience in life. And this is what I did in Stolen Boy. I took these kids who committed this act in real life, ages 15 through 20, and based my characters on them as applied through my own experiences while growing up.
Could you tell our readers a little about Stolen Boy and what motivated you to write the book and did you know you were ready to write the book?
Stolen Boy is my fictitious exploration of why five kids, basically, ages seventeen to twenty years old, would risk everything they have in life to try to keep a very dark secret. And this was based on a true story. This was a Greek tragedy in real life. It destroyed these six kids’ families. And many other families who were somehow involved in all this. It also happened near where I live, and I saw how it affected the entire community. People were very passionate about this crime. They had very strong feelings about Jesse James Hollywood, and what they thought should happen to him. I wanted to understand this. And then I got access to the prosecutor’s entire file. And then these key interviews with crucial witnesses, including the fifteen year old’s brother and sister. And I knew that this was a book that I was going to have to write. There were too many important messages that had to be told.
Besides, this is a tragedy that is far from being over. There’s still a major California Supreme Court decision waiting to come down that could dramatically affect whether Jesse Hollywood ends up on Death Row. And in a lot of ways, my book was written for him. This is somebody who had disappeared for five years, before he was captured in Brazil. The global mass media had demonized him the entire time. Law enforcement officials, through the media, had tried and convicted him in absentia. The public believed Hollywood guilty just from reading the redundant—and inaccurate—headlines. The mass media didn’t get the story right as to why this had all happened. But I had all the documents. The police reports. The trial transcripts. I knew what was what, and if I didn’t come out with a more accurate portrayal of truth in character and motivation, I’m not sure Jesse Hollywood would ever have had the chance to do so on his own behalf. People just didn’t care what he had to say. So I felt a need to not only try to paint a more accurate picture of what really happened, but to get it published and onto the marketplace before he was tried and convicted and sent to Death Row. I believe my book to literally be a matter of life and death for all the kids who were involved in this terrible tragedy. But especially for Jesse James Hollywood.
What does your title Stolen Boy represent?
That is a very good question. I think in a lot of ways Stolen Boy is a metaphor for each of us in life. In one way or another we’ve all been robbed—stolen from our destinies of peace and happiness and freedom. For women, it’s sad the way society and many cultures degrade and disrespect them. Look at how they’re treated in other parts of the world. Places like Afghanistan and areas of the Middle and Far East.
And in this country as well. Through all the conditioning of the mass media, girls grow up believing that if they don’t look a certain way, they aren’t worth looking at. And then when they grow older, they’re further conditioned by things like ads for plastic surgery and other types of personal augmentation. They’re never really allowed to be who they are. They’re told they have to grow up in a certain way, and act certain way, and look a certain way, which is often against their true natures. Females are these beautiful, intelligent, godly creatures that deserve every right that has ever been afforded a man. And then some. So why can’t we just let them be, and support them, and love them for whom they are? Not what we think they should be.
And the same for the men. We’re all stolen boys. We’ve all had our innocence forcefully ripped from our arms at different stages of our lives. First, it was our parents with this controlling dominating kind of thing. That they probably picked up from their misguided parents. And then they raised us, which in most cases, was a very traumatic experience for parent and child alike. And then we were conditioned by massive forces like religion, education, and government. And they all have their own agendas, which, I really never believed had anything to do with us or the enrichment of our lives.
Religion is a massive political tool used for social control. And the same with government. And I always felt our schools were out to slow us down with very little practical application to real life. I had to re-educate myself after I stopped going to school. I had to relearn who I really was. I had forgotten. Society had stolen my identity, and I had to find it again. I see this happening all around us. Disturbed young men, drifting like zombies, seemingly clueless about life’s true possibilities. Because they too have been brainwashed by all the major institutions in life. Now our prisons are filled with them. They have become slaves to the private prison industry. And now we all find ourselves trying to sift through the wreckage of humanity—the garbage and lies, the diseased messages—in an effort to rediscover our true natures.
What do you want your work to do? Amuse people? Provoke thinking?
I want to raise the level of public discussion. I’ve always believed in the endless possibilities for the marketplace of ideas. It’s just that a lot of times, we’re talking about the wrong ideas. You know all discussion is set up using polls as boundaries to free thought. One poll is set for us to the far left. And one poll to the far right. And those who create all the ideas and tell us what to think, always center the discussion between these two polls. Democrats on one end. Republicans at the other. All other parties in between. Abortion at one end. Antiabortion at the other. Pro life at one end, pro death at the other. Anti war to the left. Pro war to the right. But this thought control process confines us with regards to what we think and who we are. And I want to be one of the people to try to take us outside of that.
For instance in my efforts to do what I can to make sure that Jesse James Hollywood does not get the death penalty, I don’t want people talking about this as a ‘should he live or should he die?’ kind of issue. That’s not what this is about. This is a human being. He is one of us. We are all a part of a greater humanity. And I want people talking about what we can do to actually effectuate change in a positive way. There is a world out there that is controlled by all these negative forces, and we need to recognize what they are. That they’re the ones who set us up for the death penalty. If you’ve noticed, those who make the laws are never subjected to death through the courts of law. That’s made for you and me. The common people. So they’ve formulated the social discussion around should we kill our own who are convicted of crime or shouldn’t we? As opposed to, how can we change these people who did these things and improve society—and the quality of our lives—in the process? So let’s raise the bar to these important issues, the ones spelled out in my book, and that affect each and every one of us. That’s what I believe good writing can do for you.
Could you tell our readers something about your work habits as a writer and author?What is your working method when you are writing when you have a great deal of notes to work with? Do you do much rewriting?
Right now, my work as a writer mostly involves marketing. But when I’m actually writing, I’m pretty strict with what I do. First things first, I try to write everyday. And for me, I’m a morning person. My best energy is at the beginning of the day. So I try my best to not schedule anything else in my mornings. And when I can, I’ll write all day long. But, you know, something very special happens once you get inside that ‘zone.’ And when you do, you don’t want to ever get out. It’s an amazing space to be in. It’s an altered space. And it’s a tough place to find. But for me, if I write everyday, it’s easier to re-find the ‘zone,’ and stay in focus of what I’m trying to do. Stay with whom my different characters are. What their goals are. What their personal reactions are going to be to the different aspects of my plot.
As far as working with notes, this project was a bear. Because, remember, I set out initially to research the story and help put it together for Nick Cassavetes, who wanted to write a screenplay based on the youngest man ever on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Initially, he wanted to write as truthful a version of what happened as we could. That’s why I worked so hard to accrue the information I got. We basically knew what happened right off the bat. We had read it in the press. And the prosecutor told us what happened. Or what he believed had happened. But I wanted to find out for myself. Things that I was reading just didn’t make sense. There was something that just wasn’t quite right with the picture we had been given, and I needed to see if we could push through that.
So, ultimately, I ended up gaining access to the prosecutor’s entire file. I got his trial notebook and all the police reports. The videos, the audiotapes, the confessions, the sentencing reports and the psychological profiles. Between Nick and myself, we also interviewed all the major players in the operation. Nick, I believe, spoke to most of Hollywood’s four co-defendants. I discovered amazing information when I interviewed the victim’s siblings. I had thousands of documents and notes and audiotapes. And to organize everything, I decided to develop an extensive timeline to all events that I had information on.
If it was in a police report, or someone testified about a certain fact or bit of information, I’d put it in the timeline. A lot of the information I uncovered contradicted itself. Either certain witnesses had seen something differently, or people were lying to protect themselves or others. So I had to play judge to the information and decide what went in the timeline and what didn’t. But the whole goal was to find the truth of what happened. That was key. Why did all these young and affluent kids set out to do this, and end up destroying themselves in the process?
I ended up with a 239-page story chronology that I used to help Nick write his screenplay. Now this story chronology was much more information than we needed. There were many stories within it. We had to figure out which story we were going to tell. Nick pretty much knew how he wanted to tell it in Alpha Dog. And that pretty much came to me as well later when I got serious and sat down to write the book.
But I think what you have to do when you have so much information is to compartmentalize everything. First compartmentalize all the facts in a story chronology from the beginning to the end. Even if you know it will never be in your book or movie, get it down, just in case. Maybe you’ll use it for exposition or characterization later. Once you figure out the story you want to tell. Also, anything that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the facts of the story per se, but applies to a person, put it down under that person’s character profile. Character profiles are critical when it comes to learning about who your character really is, and how this person would react to certain story situations. You should have one for every major character.
And as for rewriting, it is 99 percent of the writing game. If you aren’t willing to rewrite, you might as well go outside and play croquet. Because your time as a writer will be a waste.
Do you ever let anyone else read your work before it is sent to an editor? Is there anyone whose critical judgment you trust?
As a writer, you have to get over what I call writer’s fears. The fear of failure. The fear of someone not liking your work. Let’s face it, if nothing else, Hemingway hit the nail on the head when he said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” In the beginning, you’re going to write drek, there’s no question about it. I wrote a lot of drek. Shovel fulls. We had to hire a plumber to clear out the hallways with all the crap I was creating. But eventually, I found the ‘zone,’ learned a few things that I didn’t know before about writing, and got my stuff written.
Part of the process of writing involves getting feedback from what you’ve created. And it has to be honest. It has to be filled with the positive as well as the negative. No writing is pure crap just like no writing is perfect. Unless, of course, you’re Toni Morrison or Dennis Lehane. Then pen goes to paper, and the perfect words just sort of fly directly out of your veins.
But if you’re a mere mortal such as moi, you need to hear it. The energy of the story is very different if you read it, say, on a computer than if you print it up and read it off the paper. And these are both different than reading it to yourself out loud. Which is very different than reading it to someone else. Or having them read it to you. Or reading it into a tape recorder and listening to it. These are all very different experiences. And you need to do them all. You need to be able to hear and identify the music of your prose. And you desperately need other people to help you do this. You need to find somebody who can be constructive, yet honest.
Positive feedback is so critical to a writer’s fragile stability. It’s a lonely world sitting your butt to the butt of your chair, and writers tend to spend half the time writing, and the other half beating themselves up for what they wrote. Writers are their own worst critics. So you don’t need anyone else to criticize you. But you do need someone to point out to you what doesn’t quite work. Sometimes you need your ninety-year-old grandmother to let you know you’ve used the word fuck 350 times too many in your book. That’s about how many I took out after I read it to her.
What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer?
Marketing. It has been a numbing, eye opening experience, trying to grasp how to master it. I spent many years of my life trying to perfect the craft of writing. And I’m pretty good at it. But I’m a total novice when it comes to marketing. The truth is I’d just as soon lock myself in my office and daydream all day with my characters and story. And only come out when the bell rings for dinner. But I won’t get very many books sold that way. In today’s publishing world, especially if you’re a first time novelist, you can’t expect to get much help from the publisher when it comes to promoting your book. So you had better master the means available to attracting yourself and your book to the potential buyer’s mind. And everyone’s situation is unique. So you have to figure out your particular niche. And who your target audience is that you’re going to market to. And then you have to manipulate through the minefields of radio and print and TV and the Internet and figure out how you’re going to reach all the people who subscribe to the different mediums.
And that’s also another aspect to where Internet is so important to writers. Because it is a great place to market from. I mean, people will be driving in their cars and they’ll hear your radio interview and the name of your book. But then the interview’s gone. And unless they’ve got a pen in hand and a piece of paper on their lap. Or they’re driving into the parking lot of a bookstore, that happens to be carrying your book, they’re probably going to forget about you and your book before they get home. But the Internet has permanence. Your name is there seemingly forever. And it expands and multiplies. Giving you a lot of avenues for exposure. And it’s also a relatively inexpensive avenue for promotion compared to the expenses involved in advertising on radio or TV or print.
What do you think of the new Internet market for writers?
I believe the Internet is the future for writers in many ways. With the sellout to commercialism, propaganda, and mind manipulation by the corporate mass media, it’s difficult to find truth about most things for most people. But there are still wonderful resources available through the Internet. Truth in understanding leads to truth in writing. To me, it’s a writer’s job to try to bring truth to the reader. That’s what we are: Messengers in man’s evolutionary process. Because we’re the one’s who have been afforded the time to learn a little bit about life, and now we’re trying to share those experiences with others. But what we write can only be the truth as we the writer understands it. So we have a responsibility to discover life, and our relationship with it, and to share that consciousness transforming experience, as best as we can, with the reader.
I also think the Internet is a terrific outlet for humanity. It has a tremendous amount of resources. And it will only continue to expand and modify and promote an ever-expanding amount of possibilities for the writer. People are always searching for information. There will continue to be an ever-increasing amount of demand, and we are the supply. We can write for others, or we can frame our content into a form of merchandize and sell it ourselves. I’ve just begun to understand how the Internet works, and how it can benefit me. But I’ve sold a lot of books through the Internet and it will forever be a part of my marketing campaign. And part of that marketing campaign involves writing the content to sell what it is that I market.
Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?
As I said before, we are the torchbearers to thought and change. Not only does the writer transform his own consciousness through the writing experience, he will change others. And he has to be responsible in the way he does that. Some writers intentionally tell lies in their stories. False truths as to human nature. How many times was the bible rewritten? It was rewritten by popes and tyrants and religious zealots as a form of mass popular control. There are major selling books today that dictate the current popular thought in harmful ways. Bad books about child rearing. Books filled with religious and historical lies. Books that lie to us about who we really are. Books that lie about the nature of our true realities. And people are hurting each other because of what books tell them.
But, the amazing thing is, people are also loving each other, and helping each other, and healing each other like never before, based on what they’ve read. These books help to speed up the human evolutionary process where those other books try to destroy us. Or teach us how to destroy each other.
Are you working on any books/projects that you would like to share with us? (We would love to hear all about them!)
I have received a lot of interest in a Stolen Boy sequel. My goal for the first book was just to tell the amazing story about these mere kids, trying to act like adults. And I had to get inside their heads to do it. So it turned into a psychological thriller, from inside these kids’ heads. These kids found themselves under an extraordinary amount of pressure in trying to figure out what they were going to do. And their parents were too mixed up in their own traumatic worlds, so they were of no help. And then all of a sudden, time was up. And they had to make this incredibly important decision that, in their minds, would destroy someone one way or the other. But the decision they made ended up destroying them all. And that’s where I ended it. Right after the climax of the crime.
There is still so much important story left to tell. About the arrests of Hollywood’s four co-defendants. Their amazing chain of confessions. The trials. The victim’s mother’s moment for revenge against the accused. And then Jesse Hollywood’s disappearance and his capture. And then there’s my story with my involvement with the film, my book, and the case. But the story’s not over yet. We still don’t know how it will end. Will Jesse James Hollywood get the death penalty? Will I go to jail in my efforts to try to help save him? Will the victim’s suicidal mother end up killing herself as a result of all of her pain?
The truth is, this has been a trying ordeal for me in many ways. I’ve been working on the film and book projects, as well as being an activist and participant in Jesse Hollywood’s life or death situation, since April of 2003. At some point I’m going to need to take a break from all this intense energy. That’s why I may begin an adaptation to a screenplay I wrote several years ago called Twice Sacrificed. It’s a deliciously intense story of family and sacrifice. Where a young man, who’s spent more than half his life in prison for murder—one he swears he never committed—gets out with the chance to find out what really happened to his stunning fifteen-year-old-girlfriend eighteen years earlier, only to discover the grisly secrets of his family’s past. Secrets that could now cost him not only his freedom—but his life.
Where can our readers find out more about you and Stolen Boy?
I have a Web site with a lot of information on it about Stolen Boy and my involvement with Alpha Dog and Jesse James Hollywood’s death penalty case. And that can be found at www.MichaelMehas.com. For those of your readers who are members of the media, I’ve also got a wonder media kit on the same sight. And, I’ve also begun a blog at www.StolenBoy.com, where I’ve started to cover a variety of subjects from the death penalty to law enforcement officials who try and convict defendants through the mass media instead of court and what can be done to make positive social change with our troubled youth.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
Just that I would like to again thank you for the time to discover what I’m about. These issues are very important to me. I want to see us all living happier and healthier lives. And anything that might be done to help inspire some kind of movement in these directions I believe will be positive for all of us, especially our children. Change is the key to our evolution, personally, as well as a race of people.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Thank you, and have a brilliant day.
To read Jessica Roberts, one of Bookpleasures' reviewers review of Stolen Boy CLICK HERE
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