Friday, April 2, 2010

You are all amazing!

Oh my!

My hands are numb from all of this typing. I am in a state of amazement and awe at the outpouring of support for the new group, Young Adult Authors Against Bullying (YAAAB). This whole experience has been a whirlwind and I am only now coming up for air. I want to thank the nearly 1000 (yes, you read that right, 1000!) people who have joined the Facebook Page of Young Adult Authors Against Bullying. I cannot believe that I started the FB group last night at 1:30 in the morning (my husband all grumbly because he was trying to sleep and I was pecking away on my laptop. Note to husband: if I had the iPad, you wouldn't hear me typing. I'm just sayin'...)

Anyway, the group is not just for authors. It's for anyone who wants to join the fight against bullying.

So how did this whole thing come about? Oh boy. Well, I have to say it all stems from my anger management issues. I've been seething and stewing over the Phoebe Prince case ever since I heard about it a few months back. I think what drew me in was the similarity to the bullying *mean girls* that I had written about in my books. I really had to dig deep to create those awful characters, and here were a group of girls (and boys) that seemed to have jumped off the pages of my book. I tried to put myself in Phoebe's place (and at certain points in my life, I've been in Phoebe's place), but it was so hard to imagine why she felt that killing herself was the only option. She was in a much darker place than I could ever imagine.

When the ruling came out the other day and the pictures of the "alleged" (I have to say that for legal reasons) bullies were printed in the Boston Herald, I put their pics front and center on my blog and listed their names (just stopping short of tracking down their addresses and phone numbers) and I was about to post when my very level-headed sister, Jocelyn, gently reminded me of my anger issues and that I should not start stoking the fire or become a bully to the *bullies*.

(Darn it, I hate it when she's right.)

So, I took a few deep, cleansing yoga breaths and revised my post to focus on Phoebe and not her tormenters. Then someone emailed me an essay she had written and posted online, and it broke my heart. Here was a girl who was so smart, so wise beyond her years, so self-aware, and yet she allowed these awful people to harass her to the point where she felt she had no way out. That is what breaks my heart. That she felt so alone. I read a Facebook post from Jennifer Sky who posted, RIP Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide after being relentlessly harassed by kids in school. I'm sorry faerie, we would have loved you.

And it's true. The YA world would have opened their arms to this girl. She is who we are writing for. She makes what we do worthwhile. Phoebe and everyone like her, everyone going through the often hellish, never easy task of being a teen in the 21st century-- the age of the Internet and cell phones, IMs, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc. -- this is our audience. This is who we care about.

After I posted my Phoebe Prince story, I noticed that my good friend and fellow writer (one of my favorite YA authors who is just as nice as she appears to be), Carrie Jones had posted something on her Facebook that said, I'm thinking of Phoebe Prince today. Then, a lightbulb popped up. I posted on her FB page that I had just blogged about Phoebe and how I wanted to DO something. There must be something we can DO. We're writers. We have a platform. The kids that read our books are the very ones who are bullying or being bullied. Maybe we can make a difference.

Carrie and I decided to make this into a real movement, a real cause. Not just for Phoebe Prince, but for all the hundreds and thousands of kids who are being bullied RIGHT THIS MINUTE. We want to create a *safe haven* where authors and readers can connect so that they don't feel like they are going through this alone. Because the truth is, they are not alone.

All of a sudden, within hours authors (Jay Asher! Ellen Hopkins!!) were generously offering to help out with this project in any capacity. Carrie and I said, "This is great! We have all these incredible authors on board... Ummm... I've never started a movement before, have you? What do we do now?" We were all Norma Rae without the actual plan of attack. But slowly, we started to piece together some ideas of what would be helpful; what would make the most impact.

First of all, the Internet and all it's wonderful applications have been taken over by the bullies. We want to take it back from them. Instead of using things like the "Honesty Box" on Facebook or anonymously texting people mean things, we want to use it to bring people together, not drive a wedge even further between them. In reality, the Internet has totally changed the way that people interact. When I was in high school and someone wanted to bully me or say rude things to me, they would say it to my face (or to ten other girls who would then say it to my face). Now, everyone can hide behind their computers and say that most horrific, degrading, awful things to each other, and they don't even have the guts to say it face to face. It's like the anonymity of the computer has given rise to a whole new level of meanness in the world.

So, Carrie came up with the great idea of creating a "defriend" button on Facebook where you can unfriend bullies. I don't know if that's possible, but if they can create a million of those annoying Blingee postcards and fan pages for artichokes, I suppose they could create a "defriend" button.

The other amazing thing that came out of all of this was the sheer number of YA and MG authors that had their own personal stories of being bullied. Almost every single one. This totally blew us away, and we realized that this was the direction we needed to go in. We are going to tap all the authors who offered their assistance (tap, tap, this means you!) and try to pull together an anthology of bullying stories. That way, if teens can see that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, maybe they will realize that junior high and high school are such tiny blips on the radar of their lives. It may seem all-encompassing now. But with a little distance, you can look at it through different eyes and see that what seemed so insurmountable and impossible to deal with was actually just one tiny stepping stone, one small obstacle on the way to bigger and better things. Do you think J.K. Rowling cared if she was bullied in school? Maybe she did then, but now, look who's got the last laugh. (By the way, J.K., I know you're an avid reader of my blog. Call me if you want to contribute to the anthology.)

Alright so now Carrie and I have gotten ourselves into this project. It all started less than 24 hours ago and it's increasing momentum in leaps and bounds. We have to sit down and hammer all of this stuff out. Don't worry, we don't mind being inside. We're New Englanders, Spring doesn't come here for a few more months anyway.

But I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who have shared their personal stories on my blog, Carrie's blog and the YAAAB Facebook page. I'd also like to thank all the authors who are so forthcoming with their help on this project (whatever it turns out to be!) That's when you know you are dealing with amazing people. Carrie and I don't even have anything set in stone yet and all these writers are saying, Whatever you need, let me now and I'll help out. (Hmmmm.... a million dollars might be nice.... again, just kidding) You really have to admire people like that. I know that I do.

Most importantly we want to create a place either on Facebook or a website or a blog where teens and authors can interact and connect on the topic of bullying. Because the last thing we ever want to happen is to have another tragedy like Phoebe Prince. We want to make sure that no one ever, ever, EVER feels so alone that they believe that ending their life is the only answer.

Okay, I'm going to get down off my soap box and rest my weary typing fingers for awhile. I think I might flip through the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog and order one of these hand relaxers.
Hmmm... on second thought, my husband might think I'm a little crazy. Maybe I'll hold off on this purchase.... for now...


Hi There!
I think what you all are doing is an amazing thing! Just an idea for the pile. I am sure you have heard of "Kids Help Phone"? Well, how about an internet version? You mentioned that the bullies got meaner with the internet platforms, maybe the kids who are bullied will find it easier to talk to someone on here too. I know for myself, that when I am alone and have time to think the words through, I am more honest with myself and whomever I may be talking to. Kids Help Phone is wonderful, but it's "spur of the moment discussion". Using a internet platform may help kids share more and be more honest. Besides, how kewl would it be to share real life experiences with authors we adore and who have been there! Sometimes all it takes is someone special (not necessarily someone we know personally) to say "I hear you, I understand you, and I want to help you"?

Again, Kudo's to YAAAB! I'll be promoting this movement any way I can!
Kate (aka YzhaBell's BookShelf)

I just finished the Lost Sister. It was better than Sisters of Misery and you are a fantastic author!


I think it's wonderful what you and Carrie are doing. I tried commenting on your previous post, but I think maybe the demand broke blogger! ;) I commented on Carrie's LJ instead.

Anyway, count me IN - this is something very close to my heart & I am shocked and horrified by what happened to Phoebe. Thank you for starting this wonderful movement!

I can build a website. I am pretty decent at code. I am also contributing a story to the anthology. (sent you my email I did yay).

I think it is good to take the movement and give it a website of it's own that you and Carrie can update.

I can do it this week and next, after that I am pretty busy at Yahoo setting up their disability accessibility blog.

I reposted the various posts Phoebe made on her english blog and will be linking to this post of yours and to the YAAAB facebook site.

If your group sets up a separate site, please leave me a comment with the link so that I can get that up, too.


sauerkraut @ litterbox blog