September 27, 2011

Dear Bully: Interview with the Editors

I'm delighted to be able to welcome the editors of Dear Bully, Carrie Jones and Megan Kelley Hall, to the blog for a Psychtember interview!

First, a bit about the book (from Goodreads):

You are not alone.

Discover how Lauren Kate transformed the feeling of that one mean girl getting under her skin into her first novel, how Lauren Oliver learned to celebrate ambiguity in her classmates and in herself, and how R.L. Stine turned being the “funny guy” into the best defense against the bullies in his class. 
Today’s top authors for teens come together to share their stories about bullying—as silent observers on the sidelines of high school, as victims, and as perpetrators—in a collection at turns moving and self-effacing, but always deeply personal.

And now, the questions...

1.) What was the inspiration that sparked the production of Dear Bully? How did the concept of the book change along the way?

Carrie: For me the inspiration was seeing all this kids bullied. Phoebe Prince and Jazmin Lovings were the two that particularly hit home. Phoebe because she was such a promising writer and Jazmin because she's just a five year old girl who was having nightmares about her bullying experiences.  I thought about how lonely it feels to be bullied, and how stories and writing can make connections so I called out on my blog for people to tell stories. Megan did the same thing. From there it grew into an idea for an anthology. First we created a place on Facebook called YOUNG ADULT AUTHORS AGAINST BULLYING. Megan started the page for us and it quickly grew from 5 people to 1,500 to beyond. We wanted it to be a safe place to disseminate resources and for people to tell their stories.
The book's concept really didn't change all that much. We just wanted it to be a myriad of authentic stories or poems about authors' experiences with bullying.
MEGAN: As a Massachusetts resident and having already spoken about bullying in schools, I was horrified after hearing about the bullying that took place in the Phoebe Prince case. While writing my books, SISTERS OF MISERY and THE LOST SISTER, I had to dig deep to make “mean girls" as evil as I possibly could. When I heard about all the bullying and bullycide stories in the news, I felt like the bullies had jumped off the pages of my book and into real life. I was also disheartened by the numerous times I’d done book signings and would say to readers, “I hope you never meet girls as mean as the ones in my book.” Shockingly, they almost always said, “We already have.” I reached out to Carrie to do something, since we both had coincidentally blogged about the Prince case on the same day. Together, we felt that we owed it to teen readers to discourage bullying -- to make it "uncool." I started by creating a Facebook page that kicked off an entire "movement" to end bullying.  This was the day that we decided to use their platform as Young Adult authors to actually facilitate change and to be a voice for those kids who cannot speak out or are too afraid to be heard.

2.)  What are the most common misconceptions about bullying, and how does this book seek to challenge these?

Carrie: One of the biggest misconceptions is that it's a necessary rite of passage. Nothing about torment is necessary. Another one is that bullies are always evil. IT's not often as polarized as that. A lot of kids who were bullied become bullies at some point. Labels are confining and don't often tell the whole story.

Megan: I think that so many people believe that if it's not happening to them, it's not their problem. If you or your child is not the target of bullying today, it's only a matter of time until the tides turn. This is everyone's problem. And if we can encourage bystanders to not tolerate bullying in their schools, to stand side by side with the victims, to not give the bully the audience that he/she desperately needs to feel powerful, then and only then will bullying end.

3.)  There are a number of different ways you could have organized the stories. How did you decide on the method of categorization you used?

Carrie: That was a lot of team work and back and forth between us and Harper Collins, the publisher. They did a fantastic job helping us shape the vision of the book.

Megan: We went around and around with different ideas -- even with the title of the novel.  It wasn't until one of our entries from Laurie Stolarz (the book was named after her story, DEAR BULLY) did the rest of the chapters fall into place. We wanted each chapter to reflect the attitudes toward bullying.  Regret, Survival, Speak, Write It, It Gets Better.... all of these titles came from a positive place as opposed to the negative ways that many people deal with the effects of bullying. I remember suggesting one chapter heading, "Just Kidding," because I remember that was what I had heard growing up when girls were bullying each other. They'd come out with these awful things to say to one another and end it with, "Just kidding!" as if that made it okay.  That was an important aspect of bullying that I wanted to cover-- that sometimes "friends" can be the bullies. Actually, more often than not, friends ARE the bullies at some point.
4.) What did you find most unexpected or surprising about the experiences these authors shared?

Carrie:  I think I found the essays where authors admitted to being a bystander or a bully the most surprising, especially when they talked about how the guilt for those actions stayed with them for so long. Those were really brave essays. They are my favorites.

Megan: What I found--and still find-- surprising was the sheer number of people affected by bullying. When you look at our table of contents, it's practically a "whose who" of the YA writing world. So to hear that writers like Megan McCafferty, Alyson Noel, R.L Stine, Heather Brewer were all bullied and went through the same insecurities that the rest of us went through as teens, that was a real eye-opener for me. And will also, hopefully, provide inspiration to those kids going through bullying today. It definitely would have inspired me when I was a teenager!

5.) Facebook is mentioned in several of these stories. How would you say social media has changed the nature of bullying in recent years?

Carrie: It's brought bullying to a whole new level of evil through fake profiles, online harassment, mobbing and baiting, but it's also helped so many people. Prior to DEAR BULLY, I had two fans who were alone and suicidal express their feelings through social media. Both of them are still alive today, thank goodness, because they are so brilliant and good and talented. But I'm not sure if they would be if they hadn't reached out through their blogs and status updates. We want the DEAR BULLY website and Facebook page to be an extension of that hope - places where kindness and empathy and tolerance are embraced and served up daily. That sounds sort of schmarmy, but it's true.

Megan: It's made bullying relentless. When I was a teen, bullying and rumors and teenage torment ended at the front door of kids' homes. Today, there's no escape from it. It's around them 24-7. Even if they are not actively participating in it online, their classmates might be posting things on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Emailing rumors, photos, you name it. That's one of the reasons we started our group on Facebook. We wanted to create a safe haven and take back Facebook from the bullies who were using it to their advantage. Now, if we get word that there's a mean-spirited Facebook page, we can rally our members to report it to Facebook in the hopes that it will be removed. We also want people to be able to communicate with others -- other authors, teens, teachers, parents, counselors -- so that they never feel like they have to face this growing epidemic alone.
6.) There’s a strong connection between bullying, depression and suicide. What sorts of “buffers” are there for individuals being bullied, to prevent these negative outcomes?

Carrie: Friends, adults, caring individuals, health-care professionals and law enforcement officers can all help prevent those outcomes.

Megan: First and foremost, adults need to step in. They need to be aware, not only about their own children's lives, but about the lives of other teens. A recent study said that most bullying occurs in middle school. Those kids should still be interacting with their parents or caregivers on a regular basis. They aren't driving or at college or living away from home for the most part. The idea that going through this by themselves will make them stronger is antiquated and, quite frankly, dangerous. If we cannot take a good hard look at our own kids or at the children around us to make sure that bullying isn't taking place, then we are failing. That said, teens need to be surrounded by a strong support system. If that's not family members, then it should be coaches, educators, friends' parents, health-care professionals or even the police. 

7.) If someone only has time to read 5 stories from Dear Bully, which ones would you recommend as “must-reads” and why?

Carrie: Uck! This is the hardest question ever, and I just can't answer it. I'm so sorry. I think it depends on that person and what they need. A kid who is being bullied for being gay is going to need five very different stories than a kid who is being a bystander in mobbing events. That's part of the beauty of the book, really. It has so many stories to pick and chose from as needed.

Megan: I have to agree with Carrie on that one. There are so many stories to choose from, and I think that many school counselors have said that they are going to tailor their reading suggestions to teens based on what each individual is going through. There are so many different perspectives to choose from. I pretty much guarantee that there is a story for everyone.

8.)  What emotional impact has telling these stories had on the contributors? Were any authors invited but found it too painful to actually participate?

Carrie: We didn't actually invite that many authors. Most volunteered. There was one author that I was talking to at an event for Vermont College who said she wanted to write one, but she wasn't ready yet. She wrote for the anthology because it was so important to her, but she didn't tell her own story. She told someone else's story. There were a couple others who cried while writing it. A few authors said it was the hardest thing they'd ever written, and the most emotional. I am so in awe of all of them. They were terribly brave. And the only reason they were so brave is because they knew kids needed these stories.

Megan: It's funny because some of the first people to sign on and had stories to tell actually bowed out. It seemed to be the ones who were to most hesitant to tell their stories that ended up coming through and offering such incredibly heart-wrenching stories. Some of the stories are funny. Some are raw and painful. All of them have something to teach.  One author stands out in my mind because when I asked if she wanted to participate, she initially said "No, I was never bullied and I don't have
anything to add."  Weeks later, she contacted me and said that she really did have a story, but it was too painful to deal with--it was something that she had put out of her mind and basically repressed. Sharing it was painful and cathartic, but it's one of the most powerful stories. However, I'm not going to say which story that was. I'll have to let the readers decide for themselves.

9.) If you had a child who was being bullied, what would you tell them? How would this differ if they were bullying someone else? Or watching from the sidelines?

Carrie: I have a child, Emily. If she was bullied, I'd let her know how proud I was for her to tell me. I'd let her know that it's nothing to be ashamed of, that the bullying doesn't define who she is. I would believe her, support her, and then we'd figure out strategies to deal with the specifics.

If Em was bullying someone else? That's harder. I'm usually extremely proud of Em because she's been a bit of a defender of other kids since first grade. She would come home and tell me stories of how she stood up for a girl who was of Aleutian descent when a boy made fun of her eye shape. She even stood up for another girl when a ed tech teacher told her that she threw 'like a r-word.' She spoke to the adult ed tech and then told the principal. But Em isn't perfect, I know that. So, we sometimes I'll ask her about social behaviour, how she's responding to an unpopular girl, etc. But she still seems to battle on. If she was bullying, I'd hope to do the following:
1. Accept that there is a problem and tell her that it's not going to be tolerated.
2. Monitor activities, work with the school, communicate about what's going on, be as involved as possible in the situation.
3. Try to be kind and positive and empathetic myself so that she can model that behaviour. Encourage her in kind activities, such as taking care of a pet.
4.  Get help if these strategies aren't working. There is nothing wrong with having professionals help make your child the best human he or she can become.

If Em was a bystander, I'd encourage her to be an upstander, letting her know that helping someone get out of a bullying situation and into a safe place is a heroic thing, that you should tell an adult both in and out of school about what happened. She knows already that there is an expectation to take action, that being afraid of bullies is normal, and I would try to notice when she is brave and kind and praise her for those qualities.

Megan: As someone who was a bystander to bullying growing up,  I would definitely encourage Piper to stand up for others.  Though, I don't know if I would need to do that, because at 8 years old, she's already pretty outspoken and has strong opinions about right and wrong. I plan on continuing to keep the dialogue between us open, even as she gets older. I also plan on being personally involved in helping her deal with bullying situations. I've already had discussions with her about making sure that she takes other people's feelings into account before she acts or makes decisions.  I only hope that other parents will do the same with their children.  Parents need to know as much about their kids as they possibly can--their friends, their fears, their insecurities, their strengths and weaknesses. The good, the bad and the ugly.  And they need to look at their children without rose-colored glasses. And they need to parent accordingly.  Parenting is the most important job in the world and it changes on a daily basis, but it's so often overlooked and undervalued.    If we ever hope to end bullying, parents are the first-line of defense against it. This is something that we need to remind ourselves consistently.

Megan and Carrie, thanks very much for taking the time to give such thoughtful responses to my questions! 

Readers, if you'd like to find out more about Dear Bully, there's a whole website devoted to the book here.



  1. Awesome interview! I just got this book from the library so that I can have it during Dewey's Readathon. It's wonderful to see so much awareness in the public, bullying doesn't have to be accepted as normal childhood behavior anymore. I can't wait to read Dear Bully!

  2. I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know Dear Bully was about the authors' true experiences :/ It's really brave of them to voice their stories though, it must make for a powerful read.
    I think everyone encounters bullying at some point and, to me at least, it seems like such a preventable issue, which makes the sad stories in the news even worse. I'll definitely be reading this, awesome interview everyone.


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