I tried to convey some of this in my live video while revealing my new cover for 34 Seconds, but there were technical issues because me and technology…well, that’s all, just me and technology.
I’ve been asked several times why 34 Seconds has a new cover, and why I keep saying I’m relaunching my brand. Those of you who know me or have followed me for the past several years may know I have undergone some of the big life changes in recent years.
I released 34 Seconds, my debut novel, in 2015. It was the start of a new school year and the second year I spent more time researching different schools and districts, including those out of my home state of Colorado, than writing.
After yet another year of incessant teasing and bullying, including being pushed down stairs and into tables and lockers by kids we knew, I pushed for a move for my daughter. I’d always said she won’t see the age of sixteen unless she has wings to fly and be her own person. The high school she was slated to join had lost several kids to suicide. It took the entire school year and into the summer to make the move, but in mid-2016, my family and I moved to Arizona. I could get into how much happier I am, but that doesn’t matter. I could even get into how well my daughter is doing though I am convinced she has pain I may never understand, but that, too, doesn’t matter to the story of 34 Seconds.
Before the school year was too far underway, I discovered something about myself and about what I needed in my world. For the first time in years, I had a support team. Not just a friend or two who listened and advised or nodded heads in an understanding of parental difficulties, but a real team. People who surrounded me, lifted me up, loved me, told me day in and day out that I am worthy. I had been bullied almost as much as my daughter had been. By teachers, by schools, by the people I thought loved me most. I had been told over and over I am wrong, not worthy, and useless. It didn’t take long for me to grasp the good in my world, hold my breath and fall off a cliff into a realm I knew little about.
My family fell apart.
My world spun out of control.
I stared at divorce papers through tears wondering if I’d ever believe the things I’d heard in my new world.
In the two years since the move the Arizona and the six months before, my debut novel didn’t get any love. I couldn’t publish my other work. I couldn’t promote my one novel. So, it sat. Unloved. Unattended. Unwanted.
There’s a funny thing about life’s challenges. If we push ourselves, if we build a team around us to hold us up when we are weak, if we allow ourselves to feel every horrible emotion settled into our stomachs, we can come out not just alive and surviving, but better than before.
I can’t say I’m there yet.
But I believe Stella is worth it. I believe my work is worth it. And I believe I am worthy.
And those things are a big change from where I was two years ago.
So, when the time came to allow myself to publish again, I ran 34 Seconds through more edits, more Beta readers, and found a fabulous designer to make a new cover.
And it’s here. Like me. Much the same, but new again. Renewed. Worthy of being out in the world. It’s not the writing I do today. If I were to rewrite this whole book today, I’d probably change quite a bit. Nikki would be stronger. Maybe Will would respect her and not just think he did. Maybe Chris would be the partner a strong Nikki deserves.
But I didn’t change much. This book is already a few years old now. But it’s a story that is so close to my heart, I had to make it worth getting back out into the world.
I will be publishing more again. Just Jules should be ready for beta readers soon. My artist is waiting on cover ideas, so he can get to work. And if you’ve followed me for the past few years, you may know Finding Her and What May Come will follow in the next year to two. I’m also working on a middle school adventure, and I’m excited to bring Zane into my writing world. I haven’t decided what I will do with the LGBT stories I have, but I will share when they are ready.
If you take anything from this, know you are worthy. And stop letting people tell you otherwise.
You know, I’d truly appreciate sharing with your friends and grabbing your copy, so I’m tossing some links in below so you can easily find 34 Seconds. Grab a bottle of wine and some tissues while you’re shopping.
My favorite high school teacher passed away on Friday, July 13th. If you knew him, you’d likely think he chose this date for his own demise, even if only because we’d say it was so.
I have some of his writing I’d like to share at some point, but I can’t just yet. I cannot yet read it out loud without crying.
But I wrote this in his honor.
In memory of Hugh Scanlan:
In the blink of an eye, it passes. Life. Like the mist on the lake water, it glides over moving with grace and speed until light fills its spaces and darkness lifts. As we go about our day-to-day chores, as we laugh and cry, time passes without regard to our thoughts, our stresses, our worries, or the moments we’d like to revisit.
The sun set on us all at one time, and though I’d like to think my sun is at high noon, we never know just when gravity might cause it to fall straight from the sky crushing us with the weight of overwhelming loss.
My sun is setting. So is yours. I’ve buried the suns of loved ones for years without a question as to how I would carry on. Because we just do. We carry one day in and day out. We move forward, we move past, we move ahead sometimes tripping over our own lives, our weaknesses dropping us to the ground in moments we haven’t the strength to carry, and we get back up wondering how we survived, checking our sun in the sky for the slightest movement. But that’s the thing. Its movement is so slight we don’t notice it. Like watching a baby grow, we don’t see its occurrence, only acknowledge it has occurred.
I started my journey with Scanlan in my life when I was fourteen years old. In ninth grade, he challenged me and opened my eyes more than any other teacher had before. Sure, there were others before him who let the light in, introduced me to something inspiring. But Hugh Scanlan was it for me. He was…just a school teacher some would say…just a guy who knew movie trivia and who could rent the movie to you if you guessed the title from a quote…just someone pushing pencils and dropping tests to watch us squirm…he was an inspiration, mentor, father, husband, friend, coach, comedian, and so much more under the guise of a simple high school teacher.
After my ninth-grade year, I had Scanlan again for Oral Language Lab, then my junior year English studies and Senior year English was in his classroom too. I did the one-act play under him and went on to college to study theatre because, in all those years in his presence, I developed not only a love for the stage but also an appreciation for the work it takes to get a piece on the stage. When we studied Shakespeare, he allowed me to read Stephen King, because he and I had discussed William’s words so much after school and in his free periods, he trusted I knew the material. When everyone in the film section of our lab had to report on My Fair Lady, he let me work from Pygmalion because he knew I like the stage version better. But more than that, he knew I get more out of the play than the movie.
You see, as much as I’d love to think I was special and stood out to Mr. Scanlan, he did this for anyone who let him know they’d follow him to the moon if he only asked. He had this special power so many teachers have that often goes unnoticed until we wake up one day and realize the impact this power had on our lives. He could see deep into every student. He knew our personalities; he knew what motivated each one of us, and he knew how to keep us in a position where we were constantly growing – all without us knowing. My story is just one of many lives he touched.
I graduated in 1991. For the first few years, still living in the county, I’d pop in after school and sit and talk with him. In 2012, I came back to Virginia to say goodbye to my father. I knew I may never go back again, so I stopped at the high school to say goodbye to my favorite teacher too. I didn’t get to see him that moment I tried. It was late September, early in the day, and the office ladies didn’t give a hoot who I was and why it was so important for me to say goodbye to him before I left. But they caved and told me when he had a free period. I waited. I got in my car, drive to Gloucester thinking of all the evenings I’d drive down there to visit him at the video store and all the things he taught me standing there talking about movies. All the movies I’ve seen in my lifetime because he said to give it a watch. When it was time to head back to Saluda, my heart raced. I cried. I knew I had to share something big with the man I’d given credit to for so many years without him knowing. And I wasn’t sure if he’d even care or remember me. But he did. And we talked. He told me he was retiring after that year. We shared to sorrow from the past year and some laughs from years past. Finally, I told him I had to come to see him because I’d buried my father and wanted him to know all the things we never to someone until they are gone. He was my inspiration. He was my mentor. He is the reason my life has taken the path it had taken. When I felt (or feel) less than confident about something, I remembered him and his words. I remembered how he knew me. And how he always had the right thing to say to put me in a role where I’d thrive or get me back on track. I was already in my late thirties, and I was writing my first book. I looked into his striking blue eyes, and said, “Thank you. You are the reason I am a writer today. I did other things in fun industries outside of theatre before becoming a mom and staying home to focus on children. But when it was time to focus on me, when it was time to ask myself if I could do anything I wanted to do, if I had the freedom to be me, who would that be, I thought of you, and said I will do what Scanlan believed I could do.”
I released my first novel in 2015. I only had his school email address. And he’d retired. I knew 2012 would be the last time I spoke to him. But, it’s funny…life…I said all the things I wanted to say to him. I gave him the credit he deserved, the credit I’d give him for so many years when speaking of my life to anyone but him. I told him he is the reason I believe in myself. And today, almost thirty years since graduating all of his classes, he is still my reason.
His spirit lives in everything I write – even if he would have torn it apart and challenged me to rewrite it.
This is an edited version of an email I sent out to administrators of our schools. I will leave out which district is currently ours and instead show comparisons from around the United States. This isn’t hard research. This is simply using Google to help our family decide where our children will fit most. If you have a bullied child, have you researched other schools, other districts, or helped your school to stand up and stand out amongst the crowd?
Our local high school has lost yet another student who may have passed through your doors at one point to suicide. Recently in a local K-8 school, a child brought a knife to school and threatened another student with words I can’t imagine my children hearing in even a fictional setting just yet. As I understand it, this child was given three days suspension. The message here, over and over, is kids can abuse rules and their consequences will be minimal. The silent message is consequences will vary from case to case and students don’t know common sense rules around cruelty, nor do they know definitive consequences. As a parent, I just learned this year the police can create no contact contracts and ticket offending students. As a parent, I’m very upset I didn’t know this before. Maybe these three boys who have violated my daughter over and over again could have been dealt with sooner. Maybe my daughter could have been helped sooner. Maybe the children who have decided to end their own lives could have known there are answers out there in the real world. Maybe they’d still be here if they knew they could keep other students away from them. I’m truly at the point where I no longer truly care if you read what I’ve written below, but I will share it with you in case you’d like to be the start of change.
Be the change your school district needs.
We are moving after the end of the school year. I have to give my daughter a chance to survive. I have to put her in a place where pro-active is the norm rather than being in a reactive school. Two of our local schools have shown us the support we never had at our first school. But this problem of bullying and teasing and intolerance within schools is so much larger than you or your school. In middle school this year, our daughter has been teased more because there are families from her first elementary school who just joined public schools for middle school. She’s been told the kids “know” she was expelled from in 4th grade. As a good student and a great kid, our daughter didn’t even know what the word expelled meant. And it’s certainly not true. We left by choice after she was punched in the mouth by a student who had bullied her all year. The decision to leave followed the school’s decision to dish out zero consequences time after time with this student and their decision to continue to keep them in the same classroom. In middle school, I’ve had to explain to my very innocent daughter what a blow job is because kids were teasing her when she was eating a carrot. The school’s response was to suggest I cut her carrots so she wasn’t eating a whole carrot. If someone had called and said, “Look, eating a whole carrot is loud, distracting, and bothersome to some people, could you cut them into bite sized pieces for her,” I’d have been happy to oblige. But instead, the school reacted to the poor behavior of others by asking us to change her eating habits. This is a problem we’ve faced time after time; adults reacting instead of taking a proactive approach to bullying, teasing, and intolerance. She was pushed over and over into a science lab table and the consequence was for you to move her to a new locker in a different room. She was violated at the school bus and sexually harassed on the school bus, with video proof, and the only thing left for me to do was to drive her to school myself to keep her safe. Last year in 5th grade, she was kicked by three boys in the head, in the chest, and on her legs. These same boys threw ice at her in the winter months. They talked to her about their penises and her vagina on the school playground. The only thing I know these boys had to do was write an essay as a result of kicking her.
This past year, two eleven-year-old students committed suicide in Fort Collins, Colorado. Their reason? Bullying. They didn’t belong. They didn’t fit in. They didn’t see a way out. Our district almost lost an eleven-year-old this year as well to suicide due to incessant bullying. His mother reached out to social media and to the news stations. The district did nothing. We tend to react for a quick moment and move on quickly to the next state testing forum or the next big sporting event. But we don’t actually deal with this problem. My daughter is slated to go to our local high school in two years where we lost four students to suicide in one year. Can you imagine the fear I have for my daughter in a place where the care for these kids is only localized to their issue once they are gone?
I implore you to be the schools who start change within your district. A proactive program could create a school which feels safer from the get go for these students who face hatred and intolerance each day. As a parent, it took me a long time to realize reaction is not what we need. We left our first school with the hope that our new school would react better than the staff before had reacted. We were right. The team reacted in ways we’d never seen before. We were happy. The students had simple consequences if they harmed or were cruel to my daughter. This was new to us. Before, we were told our eight year old needed to assert herself more. We went from the bullying our daughter faced being her fault to a kind staff who cared about her, her feelings, and her safety. It was a world of change for us. Positive change. But after two more years, it’s not enough. It just isn’t. We can’t only react and expect students to know what our expectations of them are. In PE and Health classes this year, she was pushed into walls during a game several times day after day. The students used the game as an excuse to harm her. Each day she would tell the teacher, and each day these students were told to be more careful or simply that it was mean. Each day these students knew the teacher would only react with a verbal consequence and a simple reminder of their behavior being unkind. But that was all. There seemed to never be any set expectations that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated. These kids did this day after day for nine weeks. The nine weeks prior, she was shamed in the locker room for not needing a bra at the age of eleven. Imagine being naked in a room full of peers and hearing body shaming because you are who you are.
This year I decided schools in general need to be proactive. For years, I’ve called the district over and over to get a definitive plan to tackle bullying in schools. For years, I’ve been told it’s up to the schools themselves to set a plan and put in place a program. Each school is different. Each school is responsible for creating a program or having a plan according to the district.
Here is a cut screenshot of our district. I was going to post other Colorado school districts to show zero results, but from Denver all the way up to Fort Collins and all in between, this was the only one I found with zero results. I’ll keep the district name private in hopes they won’t be the sole site with zero results much longer. Trust it is a school district’s site. And all others I search locally had at least government resources or community organizations.
I encourage you to search your district’s website.
There are zero resources available for parents or for students. Imagine being a student with the technology the district offers, an iPad or a Chromebook, and looking for help from the district. This is what they would find. Oddly enough, I was prepared to share the one document the district provided when I began my searches months ago, but it is no longer there. This search used to yield one link to one document which was 1.5 pages and titled, Code of Conduct. It was a document of rules, expectations of conduct for students on school grounds or at school events. It didn’t address kindness, only events such as property damage, substance abuse, and weapons on school grounds. For whatever reason, with several weeks of school left for kids who are looking for help, even those expectations are no longer available. I even searched ‘code of conduct’ with zero results.
In comparison, look at this screenshot when I type bullying into a search bar on a different district’s site:
There are over ten pages of links, almost 1900 results in that search for one district. Some of these links go to teacher pages. Some go to individual schools. Some go to government sites such as Stopbullying.gov. Some of those ten pages of links don’t actually address bullying at all but might link to a teacher who addresses bullying on their page.
If you follow some Arizona districts, you’ll see they teach zero tolerance in their curriculum. I know our middle school does peer mediation. But I only know because my daughter has done it and told me about it. I didn’t find any resources about it on any website. I know our elementary school has a focus on character traits. But I never know what trait is the focus for each month. The last tweet from each school was fairly recent and usually only about evacuation drills, weather conditions, and honor roll. But often times, communication is left to a weekly newsletter with one or two focus points, usually academic. For a child who is struggling in today’s social world with the technology at hand, they have no tweets, no Facebook posts, no newsletters, and no websites that represent them and their struggles. There is virtually zero communication on tolerance and acceptance, yet every school seems to want to connect to parents and students with the convenience of social media. Utilize it.
There are simple things your schools can do to assist parents who are struggling with this horrible epidemic in schools. There are websites available to you, to students, and to parents. Here’s how one district shares some of their resources outside of the ten pages of links when one simply searches the word bullying on their site.
Go above and beyond. Look at these PDFs from one district. Not only are they pretty and colorful, but they are long and informative. From a family who has felt totally and completely alone for years, I cried when I saw these documents. I didn’t learn anything new. I didn’t feel relief from change. But for the first time, my daughter was truly validated. Not only does someone in this district care, as I know you all do, but they created an environment which shows they care enough to offer resources to parents and to children. The number one issue with a bullied child is often that they feel alone. I see these PDFs and know my daughter could feel as if there is hope; there is someone out there with a plan. I’ve always said I can’t control how parents treat or parent their children at home. Many of these kids won’t change. It’s what they know. It’s what they are taught. But we can give them expectations while they are under our care in schools. And we can hope they will take those teachings with them to their homes and throughout their lives. We are not completely helpless because a child has a different upbringing. If someone came into my home, I have every right to ask them not to stand on my couch or not to swing from my ceiling fans. You and schools and districts have every right to lay out your expectations with your students as well as their parents. You have every right to demand a cruelty-free and respecting, tolerant environment within your walls. It needs to start with communications home to all families. It can carry on with constant communications via social media, email blasts for older students, and resources such as the ones I have shared so no child feels left in the dark by their schools.
Get on your school’s website and search some key words like bullying and suicide. For my district, there is nothing….nothing….there. No school needs to own the responsibility of a child suicide. But as a school or district, is it really that hard to offer links for children and parent to visit when they feel so alone?
Pacer does a walk each year in October, I think. You can get students and parents involved. You can raise funds for an anti-bullying program in your school with a simple 5K walk/run. They sell T-shirts for the event on their page. You can sell them in your school and ask kids to wear them to recognize the larger issue at hand in every school.
Would it be so hard to make these resources available to the families in the district or in your schools? For my daughter, for my family…please make a proactive change. I never thought I’d have to talk to my eleven-year-old about suicide. I never thought suicide would be something that would affect middle schoolers. I wonder if the two families in Fort Collins thought the same thing before they buried their children. In fairness, here is the link to the bullying search Poudre Valley offers since I’ve only offered Arizona school links so far. They also have about ten pages of links when I typed in the word bullying. This is a district in Northern Colorado.
If you simply clicked, I hope you see the big difference between our district which has zero results when I typed in the word bullying and even just one resource for a child or a parent. It doesn’t cost anything to link. It doesn’t take any administrative time to show our children how much we support every stage they are in while in school.
What does your school district show when you type in the word bullying into their search bar?
We are not coming back to this school district. I owe my daughter a chance. And I know despite the fact that she’s been punched in the mouth, kicked in the head and chest, pushed into walls and down stairs, teased, told she doesn’t belong, reminded how much she’s hated….I know she doesn’t have it as bad as others. I know it can be so much worse. But I owe her a chance to be a survivor. I owe her a place where they not only care but are proactive in caring. I’m not naïve enough to think she won’t be teased or even bullied. My kids will be the new kids again. They will face struggles wherever they go, and it’s my job to teach them to cope. But without schools who have resources known to parents and students, without a proactive plan in place to stop this horrid behavior, nothing in her life will change. I don’t know what we will face in our future. But we are lucky enough to be able to live anywhere we’d like.
I share this information with you in hopes that other kids in any district, some I know are fighting the same struggles, can find the hope they need. I hope you can see the huge differences between what I, a parent, can find in our district, a big fat ‘Your Search Yielded No Results,’ and pages and pages of options. I hope it angers you that the district you represent cares so little they offer zero solutions or resources for parents or students.
When life falls apart at home for a child – a death, a divorce, a deployment of a parent, abuse- often times the only stability that child might have is at school. And if they are different or depressed and not fitting in, they look to you all who might help them at the level you can. But if they are lying in their bed at night crying, searching your school website or the district website for help, for a light, for anything….they are only reminded that no one cares for them. True or untrue, it’s the message that is sent from a district with zero results. And it’s heartbreaking.
I hope to never read about bullying or suicides because of school bullying again. I hope you can force simple but impactful changes. In any district across this great nation, be the school who forces great change. Just start somewhere.