As part of her blog tour, author KM Walton is answering five questions about her novel, CRACKED. I haven’t gotten the chance to dig in, but I am so excited to read it! I hope you enjoy the interview…
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K.M. Walton writes contemporary YA, middle grade suspense, picture books and nonfiction. Her debut contemporary YA novel, CRACKED comes out from Simon Pulse ~ Simon & Schuster January 3, 2012. She is fortunate to be represented by the lovely Sarah LaPolla from Curtis Brown Ltd.
1) Your debut novel, CRACKED, is about a boy and his bully. What compelled you to tackle that subject? How has bullying affected you?
Anti-bullying was always the core principal of my teaching career. I never shied away from facing or addressing bullying – I believed it was my job, as the adult, to discuss and address bullying – every single time it reared its hideous head. My entire purpose was that I wanted kids to see each other for the human beings they were, not the labels or assumptions they attached to each other. CRACKED was a natural write for me because of my passion for the subject.
2) The bully in CRACKED isn't portrayed as some one-sided, evil-to-the-core mean teenager. How important was it to you to show the emotional depth of Bull, to show that bullies are victims, too?
I’ll refer again to my time teaching middle school. Every bully I encountered had a backstory, a reason for their anger and aggression. Human beings don’t torture or hate by accident—something has to fuel the bullying. I wanted Bull’s horrendous actions to have a source and a reason and not be read as “Oh he’s just the mean teenager. That’s why he bullies. He’s mean.” Human beings are far more complex that that, and Bull was very real to me. So was Victor and his heartbreaking pain. I sincerely hope the reader ends up loving those boys as much as I did while writing them.
3) If you had the chance, what are some of the things that you'd say to teenagers getting bullied? And the bullies themselves, what would you say to them?
During my twelve years in the classroom my eyes and ears were on constant alert for bullying. If I heard or saw or was told about bullying, I addressed it. I brought the victim and the bully together countless times. Some meetings were formal lunch meetings while others were a quick talk in the hallway. My goal was always the same: get each child to see the human being across from them. I wanted the bully to fully understand the pain he/she was causing— to try and understand the tangible effects from their hateful words and actions.
Let me back up though right here. I’d like to clarify that my anti-bullying classroom atmosphere was built from minute-one with my classes. My students knew my stance on it from the moment they entered my room. I also took great and carefully planned steps to build a solid classroom community the first two weeks of school. Curriculum was introduced, but it was always through the lens of community building. I wanted every single student to feel safe and important and part of the community of learners.
I purposefully crafted my language arts units to focus on some type of social action, which made it very easy for me to consistently provide genuine opportunities to discuss and explore—via reading and writing—courage, racism, bullying, etc…. In retrospect, it was that solid classroom community that allowed me to bring the bullies and victims together and have what I coined, “Explicit conversations” about their feelings. If that base of trust wasn’t built, there’s no way in hell I’d have gotten twelve and thirteen year old students—boys especially—to open up and change their hearts.
4) What do you think makes CRACKED different than other books about bullying? What can your novel say to teens that others haven't?
CRACKED definitely isn’t a “I’m going to intentionally try and teach the reader a lesson” kind of book. Truthfully, I find those types of books unsatisfying. I want to come to my own understanding from the story and the characters, not be bonked over the head with an author’s message.
CRACKED lets readers inside both boys’ heads so they can experience each side of bullying. The point of view alternates chapter to chapter. I wanted my characters’ voices to speak to the reader, not mine.
I’d like to think that CRACKED has the potential to get teens talking about bullying—maybe in high school English classes or book clubs. Talking opening about a subject helps break down walls and barriers and misconceptions. Explicit Conversations have the power to let teens see each other as they are, feelings and flaws and all.
5) What bullycide story -- in the news; there've been tons -- has caught your eye the most? What do you think would be a solution to the bullying epidemic?
Every bullycide story breaks my heart because I believe it could’ve been prevented. Bullycide is a failure of the adults surrounding the bullied child…and the bully. Oftentimes it is an unintentional failure. Many adults simply don’t know how to help. They fear they will do or say the wrong thing—make the situation worse. Or the help they do provide is ineffective and fails to make the necessary impact.
While part A of the focus should always be on the victims of bullying, there seems to be a forgotten part B. Dealing with the bully and figuring out a way to break the hate-filled-behaviors is the only way the cycle will end. For good. By dealing I mean getting the bully to identify why they bully and understand, like, in their very soul, that their behaviors have ripped a fellow human being’s heart out.
Until adults (teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, coaches and of course parents) realize bullying can never be ignored or minimalized, it will continue.
Until adults learn how to bring bullies and victims together and conduct Explicit Conversations, in which the bully walks away fully realizing the pain he/she has caused, and the victim walks away with a sense of peace knowing the bully will no longer cause him/her pain, it will continue.
Children, regardless of age, need to be taught that their actions and words can have a profound effect on other children—in both a positive and negative way. Who is responsible for teaching this crucial bit of Humanity 101? Adults. Adults must take the reigns here and lead the way. They must take a stand, reach out, make themselves uncomfortable if need be, step out on the limb and change lives. Actually, save lives.
Brent, I have to say, your questions were deeply thought provoking for me. Answering each question was an experience. It is obvious from these questions that bullying is also close to your heart. I truly appreciate you giving me the venue to share my thoughts on the subject. It was an honor.