Writers Get the Last Word – Bullies Beware

One of the things I enjoy the most about writing YA are the issues involved. It’s true that one must be careful about coming off too preachy or soap-boxy when tackling the issues today’s teen faces. Nobody wants to read a story in which issues are crammed down their throats.

One of the issues I enjoy tackling the most? THE BULLY. Why? Because I was bullied relentlessly in high school. What I like to get across to my teen readers is that IT REALLY DOES GET BETTER. Sure, there are bullies out here in the adult world. But often we learn along the way that we (THE BULLIED) actually hold all the power. In high school, my bullies held the power only because I allowed them to do so. I didn’t know I could put up shields to block their negativity. That I could survive all the physical attacks. That one day I would be free of them. When I was in the thick of high school, just trying to survive the hallways, I was sure I wasn’t going to make it out alive. Because I allowed them to control me with the fear they instilled in me. I allowed them to tear me apart. I allowed them to get inside my head.

Before I go any further, I have to point out the one saying I hate the most: STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES BUT NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME. That is the biggest crock of shit going. Don’t sell it here, because it’s not true.

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Names hurt. They leave a lasting scar. When it comes right down to it, the names are carried with the bullied victim far longer than the sticks and stones. In high school I was thrown in front of a moving car, punched and kicked almost daily, pushed down the stairs, tripped, had chairs and food thrown at me. Some of those things stung. The moving car incident hurt the driver more than it hurt me. The woman behind the wheel was in her 70s, and I’m not sure she ever recovered from the trauma caused to her that day. The thing about the physical abuse is…I knew how to process it. It hurt.

The names…another story completely. The names get in your head and drill themselves down into your psyche. Twenty years later, when you’re having a bad day and feeling somewhat worthless, those names pop back into your head in the form of TOLD-YOU-SOs. Just a little self-doubt is all it takes for the wellspring of negativity to turn back on. And you get to hear those old recordings in the voices of those loathed bullies themselves. It’s miraculous how that happens.

If you let it.

I can’t even imagine what today’s teens go through…with cyber bullying. They must never get a break. Social Media bullying sounds like a nightmare onto itself. Makes me cringe just thinking about it.

But you can turn the cycle around. You can take the power back. I know. It’s hard work. But it can be done. The moment we stop letting it get to us is the moment the power shifts. Where does the bully come from? Chances are your bully is a swirling mess of non-confidence on the inside. Chances are they are suffering. Chances are they are unhappy, unfulfilled, unsatisfied. They might even be experiencing bullying themselves. Maybe at home, where it is hardest to imagine it happening. We should all have a safe-place to lay our heads at night.

When I tried to be empathetic towards my bullies, I found things a little easier. I found I could forgive some of their anger…that it might not all be about me. Who could hate the way a person looks THAT much? Who could want to kill you because you have a mohawk and dress like a crazy person? There was more to it than met the eye. My bullies were simply suffering in a different way than I myself was suffering.

It’s hard to grow a thick skin, but not impossible. Bullies can’t hold you down forever. There is light at the end of the narrow high school tunnel. Believe it or not.

As a YA writer, I now have the ability to create bullies and show how very fallible they are. Often they appear to be the cream of the high school crop…but this is not always the case. What I get to do is save my bullied characters from their bully. It’s liberating. It shows readers that maybe the bully doesn’t always win. Believe me, when you’re in high school fighting the battle day in and day out…you’re CERTAIN the bully wins. When you’re on the ground, with one side of your face scraping asphalt and the other side being stepped on by the guy who just can’t wait to ruin your day, you tend to forget the possibility of a bully-free future. With the tunnel vision that comes with being in high school, one really can’t imagine a day when they will be bully free.

Some thirty years ago, I always allowed the bully to get the last word. I was afraid not to. They controlled me. Sure, I had my days where I got lippy. I would just get fed up and say my piece…because I needed to. But I knew that for every deposit I made into the bank of TALKING-BACK, I’d have to make a withdrawal out of the bank of TAKE-A-BEATING. I paid for every word I uttered in my own defense. It was the way it went.

Today, I get the last word. I get to write these bully characters into corners. I get to dissect them. I get to confront them. I get to say, NO MORE. WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE. Writing is an extremely powerful form of self-therapy. And the finished product has the potential of helping others. If my writing on bullies (or any of the other YA issues I happen to tackle) helps one reader–only one–I feel it’s worth it. Because I know how easy it is to forget that your high school bullies won’t be making your life a living hell for the rest of your life. But I know that NOW…because I’ve been through it. When I was in the heart of it, I considered these people my lifelong shadows. I was filled with despair whenever I thought of going to school. I knew they would find me. I knew I would have to fend off their slings and arrows time and time again…forever.

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I have to remind people that they will be free. There will come a day…

 

Announcement: Half Dead & Fully Broken Sold!

It is with GREAT PLEASURE that I announce the sale of my young adult novel, HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN!

Here’s the announcement from Publisher’s Marketplace:

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My sincere thanks and gratitude to my wonderful agent, STACEY DONAGHY of DONAGHY LITERARY GROUP!

Half Dead & Fully Broken was written at the July 2010 Muskoka Novel Marathon in Huntsville, Ontario. It went on to win the 2010 BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL AWARD.

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Once again, I find myself thanking the good (angelic) folks at the Muskoka Novel Marathon. And not only the organizers, who work tirelessly year in and year out to give us writers a magical space in which to create our fictional worlds. No, when I say the folks at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, I mean EVERYONE. My fellow writers, the volunteers who feed and fuel us, the venue people…everyone. Without the Muskoka Novel Marathon, I wouldn’t have so many novels under my belt. Together, they’ve created the perfect environment for me to write in. It takes a village to get me to write a novel. Truly. Whatever the magic elixir is, it works. When I get to the MNM in Huntsville every July, I suddenly have the kind of focus needed to put together a novel. And I am truly grateful to be a part of the magic. So thank you all!

Half Dead is my third Muskoka Novel Marathon novel to be published. (-:

Finally, I’d like to thank Andrew Buckley and Curiosity Quills. I’m thrilled that Half Dead has found a home, and I’m doubly thrilled that it was Andrew who opened the door and let us in. (-:

Matthew Quick, or Why I’m Allowed to Write for Adults & Young Adults!

When I first discovered Matthew Quick, I was at an interesting crossroads in my own writing journey. I had written a couple novels for adults and I was pondering writing for the young adult market. For some reason, I got it in my head that I couldn’t do both. One could either be an adult author OR a young adult author. I don’t know why I thought this, but I did. I’ve made it a point throughout my writing journey to always remind myself that THERE ARE NO RULES. There are guidelines, there is good advice and there is bad advice…but there are no steadfast rules. Writing is what you want it to be.

And yet, here I was…trying to make this decision. And while on the fence, I really sweated about it. I loved the darker issues I could explore writing contemporary adult novels, but I also loved the idea of exploring dark issues in a teenager setting…the coming of age in the high school environment novel. I was weighing the pros and cons of the two markets, because, as I said, I thought it had to be EITHER OR.

Enter Matthew Quick. No…I’m not going to be so bold as to call him my savior, or anything as nutty as that. I’m just gonna say that he reminded me of my own first rule of the Writer Club. The first rule of Writer Club is that there are no rules in Writer Club. He didn’t do this right away, mind you. At the time, I was mass-consuming YA novels…as part of my research in the market. Well, that’s what I was telling myself. Truth be told, I LOVE reading YA. But I was reading solely YA to get a feel for the landscape of the market. I was dissecting books for themes, formula, what-have-you.

I picked up BOY21 for several reasons. Because it seemed to have strong male and female ‘leads’. Because it was sportscentric. Because the blurb really caught my fancy. Sometimes, I’ll admit right here and now, I am sold by a cover. Or, at least, I am gripped by the cover and moved to learn more about a book. BOY21 had an awesome cover. Anyway, I picked it up and I read it. And I fell in love with it.

You know when you discover a novelist and then check out there other books and get excited because you get to spend more time with them? Well, immediately after I finished BOY21 I searched to find out what other Matthew Quick offerings there were on tap at the Kindle store.

HOLD THE PHONE!

The Silver Linings Playbook. Can it be? A contemporary ADULT novel?! Oh my God! He writes for adults AND young adults! YES!

Okay, so Matthew Quick may not be the first author in the history of authorship to do this. But he was the author I discovered doing it when I needed the permission to do it myself. When I needed to realize that it could actually be done. And not only was he writing for both markets, but it would seem he wrote quirky characters. I wrote quirky characters, too. I immediately purchased The Silver Linings Playbook. And I devoured it. And I thought it was a masterpiece!

Click on the book covers to read my reviews of these two Matthew Quick novels:

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I later went through Quick’s full catalogue and loved all his books. I eagerly await his forthcoming THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW! I have it pre-ordered. And on February 11th, when I wake up, it will have been magically delivered to my Kindle! I know what I’ll be reading that day!

Click on the book cover below to read the synopsis of Quick’s latest offering:

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Okay, so on the surface this post may seem like a commercial for Matthew Quick’s books. But I swear to you, the whole purpose of the post is to tell writers to keep reminding themselves of the fluidity of the rules they should live by. When you find yourself questioning whether or not you can do something, DO IT. Try it, anyway. Don’t listen to people who say do this, don’t do that. I was very close to saying goodbye to one of the markets in question, even though I loved both! It was through my discovery of Matthew Quick’s novels that I found the permission to carry on carrying on. Because I saw that he accomplished writing for both adults and young adults, I knew that I could take the same path. And I did. And I for one am extremely grateful for Matthew Quick.

But seriously, check out his books. You’ll love them! (-: