These words of wisdom are spoken by the aunt in D. Anne Love's new YA novel, Defying the Diva. The protagonist, Haley, must learn to stand up for herself when a classmate puts her down. The book closes with a note encouraging readers to speak up should they or someone they know fall victim to bullies, and I hope readers take note of that note. Here's more on bullying, writing, and other topics with author D. Anne Love.
What prompted you to write Defying the Diva?
A couple of years ago I mentored a group of teen writers who suggested bullying as a topic for a novel. "It's a huge problem," one of them said. So I did a bit of research and was astounded to learn that as many as six million teens are involved in episodes of bullying every year. One researcher estimated that as many as 100,000 teens skip school every day to avoid being physically abused, emotionally tortured, socially ostracized. At about the same time that I was doing the research there were news reports about several cases in which young girls, one of whom was only 13, actually took their own lives after being bullied on the internet. I was devastated at the senseless loss of these precious girls, angry at their tormentors, and at the same time hopeful that somehow my one little book could make a difference. I wanted to write a book that would show what it's like to be the victim of unrelenting torture at the hands of one's peers, and to feel helpless to stop it, a book that might offer hope to girls who find themselves in this situation and the encouragement they need to stand up and fight back. Bullies operate under the radar, behind the backs of the adults at school. The silence of their victims is the source of their power. That's why I love the motto of the safeyouth organization: Take a stand, lend a hand. If this book helps just one girl to reclaim her self esteem and get a bully off her back, it will have been worth every day that I sat at my computer wrestling with words, shaping this story and bringing Haley and her friends to life.
Luckily, I wasn't. I grew up in a more respectful time and before the internet made it so easy to trash someone and do it anonymously.
Your first novel for kids, Bess's Log Cabin Quilt, was released in 1995. How has publishing changed in the past decade?
It has become more competitive, but also more open to edgier and more challenging themes. There was a time when Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War and Katherine Patterson's Jacob Have I Loved were considered "out there." Now we have authors tackling the subjects of sexuality and sexual identity, date rape, and other difficult topics. This new freedom is good for authors and good for readers, too.
Have your writing habits changed over time as well?
I don't think so. I've always been fairly disciplined; I write every day, five days a week. I've published more than a dozen books since 1995 and I've never missed a deadline. I still work from an outline or a two page synopsis of the story, and I still rely on research to teach me what I need to know. My method of research has certainly changed. I used to haunt libraries and spend time on the phone with reference librarians, tracking down facts. Now of course, almost all the information one needs is available online. It's a huge time saver.
Was it difficult to transition from juvenile fiction to teen fiction?
Not really. I like to say I've grown up along with my readers. My third book, My Lone Star Summer was one of those "on the cusp" books. Jill and BJ, the two girls in the story were about to turn thirteen and beginning to discover boys. (Well, at least one of them was and therein lay the problem!) Writing that book gave me a taste of what it would be like to write for teens, and I really liked it. I also liked writing historicals, though, and I wrote a few more of those before transitioning into YA novels.
Semiprecious and Picture Perfect feature mothers who, to an extent, put their big career dreams ahead of their families. If children feel as though this is happening in their household, how can they broach the subject with their parents?
Communication is so important, as Phoebe in Picture Perfect discovered once she actually sat down and talked to her dad about what was going on in their family. Talking to a parent can be difficult, though, so I encourage teens who feel they can't talk to their parents directly to talk to a trusted adult such as another relative, or a school counselor or a favorite teacher, and let the two adults talk first. Or write parents a letter about what they are feeling. The important thing is to get it out on the table. Often, the conversation is not as scary as one thinks it will be. As my character Haley in Defying the Diva observes, "imagination often magnifies a person's fears into something much worse than reality."
The leading ladies of Defying the Diva and Picture Perfect are high school freshmen. What were you like in high school?
Near the end of my freshman year, my family made a long distance move to another state and the transition was extremely painful. It was difficult to make friends. I retreated into the world of books. My saving grace in high school was getting involved in journalism. I fell in love with it, wound up as editor of our school paper my senior year, and later worked as a student journalist to pay my college bills. I finally made a couple of friends from journalism who became my hanging out buds for football games and such, but I have to say, high school was not the favorite period of my life. Graduating, moving home to Texas, and starting college was a huge relief.
In Defying the Diva, peripheral character Annie has "a well-thumbed copy" of one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby. What are your all-time favorite books?
My list always starts with To Kill a Mockingbird. It was published when I was twelve and growing up in a small southern town at the very beginning of the Civil Rights movement. Scout Finch's voice was my voice, and her struggle to understand events that were beyond her comprehension was my struggle, too. Harper Lee is my literary hero. I love Southern writers; I have a long list of favorites, Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price is an American masterpiece, as are the stories of Eudora Welty. I've been in love with her work since reading a short story in high school called Why I Live at the PO. It's brilliant. Carson McCullar's Member of the Wedding is another favorite. I love Kaye Gibbons' Ellen Foster for its unrelenting honesty and purity of voice. Ditto for Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. Last year I traveled a great deal on behalf of my books, and spent a lot of time reading in airports and hotel rooms. I loved Kim Edwards' book The Memory Keepers Daughter. It reminded me of some of Jodi Picoult's books which I've enjoyed, notably My Sister's Keeper and her latest one, Nineteen Minutes, which also explores the psyche of a kid who is bullied at school. I was reading that book during a trip to Austin and I stayed up till 3 AM to finish it. A friend sent Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale for my birthday this year and I found it creepy and yet compelling. I don't know whether it will become a lifelong favorite but I don't think I'll soon forget it.
If you or someone you know is the target of bullying, I urge you tell someone. Please confide in an adult you trust.
Contact the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center: