Today, Patty Blount is going to talk about the inspiration for writing her debut novel, Send—a YA story about a former cyberbully learning to deal with the shocking aftermath of his actions.
It's been five years since I clicked Send.
Four years since I got out of juvie.
Three months since I changed my name.
Two minutes since I met Julie.
A second to change my life.
All Dan wants for his senior year is to be invisible. This is his last chance at a semi–normal life. Nobody here knows who he is. Or what he's done. But on his first day at school, instead of turning away like everyone else, Dan breaks up a fight. Because Dan knows what it's like to be terrorized by a bully—he used to be one.
Now the whole school thinks he's some kind of hero—except Julie. She looks at him like she knows he has a secret. Like she knows his name isn't really Daniel...
BEHIND THE BULLY
First, let me tell you about my son. When my oldest boy, Rob, was in sixth grade, he broke down in tears one gloomy night in April and told me he no longer wanted to live. To say I was surprised would be the biggest understatement in history. Turns out, he'd been the victim of bullies since the term began the previous September. I had no clue he was being tormented. I had no idea he was even unhappy. He was twelve years old and suffering through an early puberty. His classmates tormented him over his body hair, his acne, his deep voice and made him feel so freakish, he actually believed he was not normal. We got him help and spoke to his teachers and principal and my son finished out the year with no further incidents. He's now in college but his scars are deep.
The second contributing factor occurred the following year, when Rob was in seventh grade. I'd left the house early one Saturday morning to run errands with my youngest son in tow. Rob was still sleeping when I left. When I returned to my house, I saw some guy hanging by his fingertips from my living room window. This guy turned out to be the older and very muscular brother of a classmate who claimed Rob was now bullying him. He came over to 'talk some sense into him,' which – judging by his confrontational demeanor – was code for 'see how he likes it.'
I've been a parent for a long time now and I KNOW most of us are oblivious to our kids' shortcomings and faults. I have seen so much denial in my life but trust me on this – the word 'disbelief' doesn't even come close to describing my reaction. How could the same boy in so much pain barely a year earlier turn around and cause that same pain in someone else? Near as I was able to determine, since the child would not directly address us, Rob intimidated this child without meaning to. Rob is large: by sixth grade, he was shaving, had reached five foot nine inches tall, which put him about a foot and a half higher than most of his classmates. What he thought was fooling around or playing was perceived as something entirely different by this boy. Judging by the depth of Rob's guilt after hearing the accusations from this boy's family, I have to believe he never meant to intimidate or threaten anybody. His despair over this runs nearly as deep as his scars from sixth grade.
I'd been writing all my life and after Rob's sixth and seventh grade ordeals, put all that on hold for a while. I picked it up again to write a contemporary romantic trilogy that had been burning in my brain for a few years. I'd finished book 1 and had books 2 and 3 outlined. That brings me to the next significant event – my day job. I write software instruction guides and several years ago, a new executive directed us to start using social media in our work. I didn't even know what sites like Twitter were. So I started doing the research. I learned not only how people use these sites, but also how they abuse them. And somewhere in the back of my brain, a little voice whispered, "I did that."
I became obsessed with the idea of guilt – or more specifically, living with that degree of guilt and wondered how a kid who'd done something without understanding the permanence or the reach of his action could endure such guilt. And that little voice replied, "I'll let you know when I figure it out."
This voice would not shut up. I'll be honest, he really pissed me off. I wanted to write book 2 in my trilogy, not turn a bully into a tragic hero. It felt wrong – distasteful – disrespectful – even disloyal to my son. I wasn't ready to forgive Rob's bullies. I wasn't sure I could especially since I knew forgiveness would be an important theme in this novel. The idea of torturing this character in effigy did hold a certain amount of appeal. I gave it a shot and found that the deeper I dove into Dan's story, the more I actually liked him. The duality of Dan/Kenny was a nod to that persistent voice in my own head that compelled me to write this story – sort of an inside joke.
Would you be able to forgive your or your child's bully? After reading Send, do you think most bullies are like Dan and my son, and unaware that they're causing any pain?
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