OPRF ’20 grad book release

“I believe the best writers are the people who enjoy writing…who have an appreciation for stories…”

On the day the first physical copy of her book, “The Importance of Breaking Things,” was slated to arrive, 18-year-old and 2020 OPRF graduate EJ Haas was running frantically back and forth between her friend’s dorm, reviewing for a quiz, and University of Missouri’s mailroom.
She actually went a total of seven times, checking if the attendant had changed shifts so she did not arouse suspicion. But at 8:03 pm, when she saw the notification it had arrived, she ran down seven flights of stairs without shoes to get her package. She fell down on the fourth flight as she tried to open it up.
“I am technically an author now. I still can’t remove the ‘technically,’” said Haas. “I have been staring at this for two years.” These past two years and perhaps her entire high school career have been focused on developing her skills as a writer. But the resulting book was not necessarily the goal for Haas; in fact, she had finished most of the writing before she knew it was going to be a book.
“The Importance of Breaking Things” is a collection of short stories and vignettes, all sharing common themes. Haas wrote most of the short stories independent of each other, in between classes and being a writer for Trapeze. When she was a junior, she started to recognize some commonalities between the pieces and saw the potential for a book.
The connection between many of the novel’s characters is the “unreliable narrator, (and) low self-esteem.” Haas said her book is about the “ways in which humans lives interact with each other.”
Haas said readers often assume many of the stories in the book are about her. In reality, they are derived from observations from her life, “overheard discussions, (and the) high school general experience.” However, most of her stories are about adults and their interactions.
Haas credits famed Oak Park novelist Ernest Heminway for influencing her voice and it is clear in her novel. Both Hemingway and Haas are clear and concise in their language on the surface, but every word is deliberate and meaningful. Each story is strong on it’s own, but as a reader, it is more enjoyable to read them all together and try to form your own connections between the characters and plotlines.
Choosing the order of the book was a hard process for Haas. The first story needed to be short, appealing, and “ease in the reader.” She advises readers to “pay attention to language (to) see when stories go next to each other.”
A greater challenge was figuring out what conditions she could write best under. Although she did not plan on this specific novel, it was a life-long goal for her to one day write a book. Haas had the ambition to write, but she had to become in tune with her abilities and her energy levels. The writing process can be “erratic and confusing and a little more time-consuming than you want, Haas said. “I have to embrace that there are days where I wouldn’t be able to do anything at all.”
Haas says to others pursuing long-term goals, like finishing a book, “Don’t hate it, you should love it. It’s not supposed to be an obligation. Don’t be angry if you get roadblocked…The same way that the super energetic writing bursts don’t last, the writing block won’t last.”
There were moments of panic or questioning of abilities during the process. “The day after publishing…(there was) an overwhelming sense of regret…(the book) wasn’t ready!” But Haas likes to remind herself, despite her extraordinary accomplishments for her age, that she is “not at the peak of writing career.” She is still growing up, and has the space and time to improve as a writer.
Haas also had to confront the reality that her book is out in the world, for anyone to read. She found out shortly after it’s release that it was being sold in Barnes and Noble. “As a child, I thought that was the pinnacle of literary achievement.” When it went live on Amazon, she had to shut her computer and clean her room to try to ground herself.
Now with her book “publically accessible,” she knows not everyone is going to understand it. “I wrote it because I had fun doing so.”
Haas will be continuing at University of Missouri majoring in Journalism. She is a staffer for Mizzou’s investigative writing team, is on the student newspaper, and is continuing to write short stories. She hopes to continue being published and her next project will venture into non-fiction grounds.
You can buy “The Importance of Breaking Things” at The Book Table in downtown Oak Park, where Haas makes sure the independent bookstore retains all the profit of the sale.