Girl On Point by Cheryl Guerriero
It is such a wonderful time to be a reader right now. There is so much talent out there, so many amazing new debut authors and Cheryl Guerriero is no exception. Cheryl was kind enough to reach out to me and send me her book and I am so very glad she did. Girl on Point is an intense, emotional read about grief, vengeance and ultimately, empathy. The story centers on Alex, a high school kid from the Jersey suburbs. She’s 17, having a great year at school ….. her whole life is before her. Things go horribly wrong one afternoon when Alex sends her little sister in to a convenience store after a heated high school basketball game. Her little sister is shot and killed when she gets caught in the crossfire during an attempted robbery. At first Alex is numb to the world, succumbing to depression and total despair over the loss of her sister. When the police turn up empty-handed, even though they suspect the robbery to be committed by a local gang, Alex snaps out of her depression. She becomes so consumed with rage at the thought of her sister’s killers walking around free that she vows to get justice on her own. So begins Alex’s descent in to the brutal and violent world of female gangs. She becomes so committed to infiltrating the gang completely that the lines between friend and enemy soon begin to blur.
This book was a fast read at just 250 pages, and yet I found myself experiencing a vast array of emotions within such a short time period. Cheryl’s work reads as that of a seasoned author, her characters have depth, the plot was well executed and she expertly managed to create an environment that read as authentic. While the subject matter is quite dark and occasionally hard to read due to the violence, I found myself caring for one of the characters that I was supposed to hate by the time the book was over and therein lies the brilliance of Cheryl’s ability. She converted me so completely on something that started out as being very black and white and instead left me struggling as a reader because I ended up FEELING for this one particular character….. I wanted her to make better choices, I wanted her to rise above her circumstance, I wanted her to seize her potential and become something more…… from disgust, shock and disbelief to mercy and forgiveness and all of that happened in 250 pages. This book is excellent and I think it would make a great film. I was so fascinated by the premise and impressed with the story that I reached out to Cheryl with additional questions. Please read below for that interview.
Q and A with Cheryl Guerriero
SA: Why girl gangs? I don't think I have ever read a book about this topic so I am curious as to what steered you in this direction. Also, is this based on an actual case?
CG: Me neither! At least fiction. There were a few things that steered me in this direction. Or influenced me, well before I even knew I wanted to be a writer. The first was - my sister and I were adopted by our parents as babies. We came out of agencies in NJ that weren’t in the safest or nicest parts of the state. Occasionally, it would hit me, “what would my life have been like if my parents hadn’t adopted me?” I was aware how fortunate I was to have been adopted, to have been given the life I had, the upbringing, compared to how it could have been. The second thing – my cousin died suddenly when she was about sixteen years old. I wasabout fourteen. What I remember most about her dying is how unbelievably sad it was. How devastating it was, especially for my aunt who never recovered from my cousin’s sudden death and shortly after also died. Even thinking about it makes me sad. How do you survive that type of loss? I dedicated the book to my cousin and my parents. But it wasn’t until years later when I became a screenwriter and was standing in a grocery store line that I saw a magazine cover and it read: “Gangs-- It’s just not a guy thing.” Or something along those lines. I forget the actual title. I picked up the magazine and read the article and it was fascinating because I only knew about male gangs. And it was in that moment I realized I wanted to write a story about a girl trying to overcome the grief of her sister dying who infiltrates the gang responsible for her death, in order to get revenge. However, I always knew it would be so much more than a revenge story. I should also note – I first wrote this story as a screenplay. I enjoy gang movies and I’m a hard-core drama lover. Which is what I primarily write—fictional drama. After that moment in the grocery story I started the screenplay, finished it and it got me representation in Hollywood and “almost” got made into a film… Finally, after I got the rights back and was struggling with “what to write next?” I prayed about it and asked God for direction (yup, I do that!) and literally after running into the last producer/director who had owned the rights (at Runyon Canyon where I frequently take hikes) we chatted, and as I was walking down the hill, the thought hit me—you need to write this as a novel. And so I did. Also, out of all the screenplays I’ve written so far, this was the one that best lent itself to be written as a novel because there’s a lot of emotional and internal battles the protagonist goes through. I was excited to go deeper with all the characters and further with the story. Ironically, now there’s interest in it as a movie.
SA: I have seen various documentaries and talk shows about gang violence and I feel like your depiction of it in your story is very accurate. What kind of research did you do to make the gang life feel so authentic?
CG: What you mentioned -- I've watched numerous documentaries on gangs, movies based on former gang members, read various non-fiction books by gang members, researched articles online, statistics and I've spoken to detectives and former gang members.
SA: I was surprised when Alex only served 8 months of her sentence before being released. Is that common for first time offenders with similar charges to what Alex had? Did you consult with police officers/lawyers about the procedures described in the book?
CG: I consulted with a detective I’m friends with, a lawyer and I googled! I researched a lot, reading about various cases and sentences today. I actually let the time of Alex’s sentence and the 8 months sit for a while, until right before I finished the novel. I landed on five years, but for only serving 8 months I factored in-- what led her to prison, good behavior, never having been convicted of any other crimes and her being white (which seems to me, at times, to play a part in sentencing)
SA: How long did it take you to write Girl on Point? I am always interested in how a story takes shape in an author's mind... what is your writing process like?
CG: Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe 6 months? But it took years to finish or “be ready” because I started the novel and stopped (for various reasons) and then in 2015 after I had gotten fired from a job (blessing!) I made the decision – I’m finishing this novel and one way or another it’s getting published. I sat down every day and wrote for hours and hours. I’m not someone who starts with an outline. I start with character then story. I don’t outline until I’m well into the 2nd act because I like to just write and see how the story unfolds, but I do this knowing where my story will end. It isn’t until the 2nd act that I need the roadmap (outline)… because I might be getting lost or off track. Also, I’ll re-read and revise what I’ve written the day before, going over the pages again and again and again, until I feel comfortable enough to move on. Sometimes, if I’m spending hours on a single paragraph (or days, seriously) I’ll have to force myself to move on, and return to it later. When I’m re-writing or editing – a lot of times I’ll sit down and read from page 1 to the end, making notes, then I’ll go in and make the changes, read it again….It can be exhausting, like running a marathon, but it's what works for me. Then I'll get to a point where I'm only editing certain scenes or certain chapters. Then I just have to let it go and not expect it to be perfect.
Cheryl Guerriero was born and raised in New Jersey and currently lives in Los Angeles. Cheryl, an athlete since the age of 7, went on to college where she became a National Lacrosse Champion. Upon graduating, her mother insisted she get a job at Prudential Insurance company which was a five-minute drive from their home and get married. Guerriero promptly moved to New York City and became a writer.
After Cheryl received her first check for writing, her parents got off her back about getting a real job. She began her career as a screenwriter and has won numerous awards, but her proudest moment to date was when she was sitting in a Chicago movie theater watching her first produced film, National Lampoon’s Pledge This!, when one fine moviegoer yelled out, “This movie sucks!” Making it even more special was the fact that Cheryl, voted “funniest” in high school, had written the screenplay with a best friend who had been voted “most likely to succeed.” The movie was neither funny, nor successful.
Cheryl continued on her way with writing and saw her next original screenplay Hunting Season, a mystery thriller, make it from the page to the screen. Hunting Season has aired on HBO/Cinemax, Lifetime and numerous TV channels around the globe.
In addition to writing, Cheryl also directed and produced the documentary short My Best Kept Secret and was invited onto the Oprah Winfrey show as a featured guest to discuss the documentary.