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You are not alone.

By now, I hope you’ve heard about the suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer. I say “hope” because it’s a story that isn’t going to get a lot of mainstream attention and I think it’s a story that everyone needs to hear.  It’s made the rounds on my RSS feed but then, I’m prone to subscribe to feeds that would naturally cover this. So often, I get bombarded with news stories that I feel everyone MUST know about just because I see them constantly, only to learn that many people don’t know what’s happening.

And maybe you’ve also heard the story that after Jamey’s funeral, his sister went to a dance at school where the bullies in Jamey’s life chanted that they were glad he’s dead. Remember when you were told to just ignore a bully and they’d go away? That’s a lie. It’s always been a lie. Today, they bully you even when you’re dead.

I’ve got my own stories of being bullied. In grade school, a wealthy classmate offered to buy a brand new BMX bike for anyone who would beat me up. In junior high, I got tossed around a bit. High school was more about psychological abuse. Let’s face it: when your last name is Farrey, you’ve pretty much got a bullseye on your forehead 24/7.

When I think of how prevalent bullying was in my life, it seems insurmountable. Like NOTHING could ever be done to stop it.  And there are elements in this country who don’t think it’s possible to stop, or insist it’s a “natural part of growing up,” or have no interest in trying. (Yes, Representative Bachmann, I’m looking at you.)  But it’s only in recent years that I’ve begun to believe we CAN do something. We SHOULD do something.

I’d like to suggest some fairly small/easy things you can do that could make all the difference to someone who’s being bullied:

–Donate to the Trevor Project.  This is a great hotline dedicated to preventing suicide among LGBT youth.  At our wedding last year, my husband and I did a dollar dance where we contributed the money to the Trevor Project. I say that not to boast but to show that I’m getting behind when I say “please donate to the Trevor Project.”

–If you’re in the Twin Cities, check out a performance of MEAN, an original drama about bullying and it’s increasingly tragic consequences. Produced by the Youth Performance Company, it traces the story of three students being tormented based on physical appearance, perceived sexual orientation, and religion.

–Donate a copy of the recently released DEAR BULLY to your local library. 70 authors recount stories of their own abuses growing up in an attempt to reach out to anyone in a similar predicament today.

–Follow Caleb Laieski on Twitter. He’s a 16-year-old guy from Arizona who is lobbying President Obama to to appoint a youth advisor to work with the administration on the everyday emotional and complex issues that LGBT youth face. You can sign Caleb’s petition here. I’ve got tons of respect for Caleb and what he’s trying to do.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know how I got through it.  I know I had a close knit group of friends in high school who were a large part of helping me achieve some mental stability. But before that? I have no clue. I just know that as long as I can do SOMETHING to reach out, I’m going to.

I am, of course, not just talking about LGBT youth. But I can speak from experience that maybe the greatest moment in any gay man’s life is that moment of recognition, knowing conclusively that you’re not alone.  It’s liberating.  That’s what I want any teen considering suicide to realize.

Never pass up a chance to tell someone who’s being bullied that they’re not alone.  Never stop reaching out.  We can do something.  And we will.

Published in: on September 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Karma

For years, I’ve believed that I suffer from bad line karma. In some past life, I was extremely offensive when it came to queuing up and I’m paying for it now. No matter which line I choose at the checkout, I’m going to pick the line that has the most problems. New checker, 9,000-year-old woman paying by check, six-year-old paying with pennies. I’m sure you’ve been behind them all too. But not nearly as much as I have. Trust me.

Since I started doing author events, I’ve discovered that I was a writer in a past life as well. Because now I have bad author event karma.  I’ve only done three events so far but something has gone haywire at each. Not enough to truly ruin the event, but enough to let me know that I’m on the karma gods’ list.

Cases in point:

–at my Loft event with David Levithan (which actually went very well overall), my books never showed up for the bookseller to sell. (My magnificent husband saved the day by dashing home and getting the few we had on hand to sell.)

–at the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association Trade Show, I was told the wrong time to show up and was NOT told that I would be pre-signing 50 books. (I am, thankfully, very early to most things, so was able to sign the books AND have lunch, which I would have missed if I’d shown up at the time I was told. And not that pre-signing 50 books is a bad thing. It’s just the “pre” part, which wouldn’t have happened if I’d shown up at the time I was told.)

–at the Edgerton Book Festival this weekend, I was told to arrive at the opening address (delivered by the wonderful Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) at 9:00am so I could be introduced with all the other authors present. The festival coordinator started the day by introducing all the authors…. except me. (To his credit, he realized his mistake after Arngrim’s talk and gave me a quick shout out.  I should also probably mention that this man, the coordinator, has been my best friend for 25 years.  That probably makes this story even sadder, right?)

That said, these brushes with karma aside, all three events had positive sides.  I got to read with the amazing David Levithan. I got to be table-hopping buddies with Andrea Cremer, who is funny and charming and a DOCTOR WHO fan (even though we discovered we don’t see eye to eye on everything WHO related…). And I got to meet some really wonderful people in Edgerton.  I also got to take this picture, which just might be my most favorite sign ever.

You KNOW you want to see the toxic one. Right?

It may sound like I’m complaining. I’m not. Like I said, all three events went well.  But I’m on my guard. And a bit skittish about future events. And in desperate need of some regressive past life hypnotherapy to figure out what I could possibly have done to earn both bad line AND bad book event karma.  Any thoughts?

Published in: on September 26, 2011 at 7:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Defending the MFA

I’ll start by stating something that I hope is obvious: No, you don’t need an MFA to be a writer. You don’t need an MFA to get published.

It’s been fashionable in recent years to bash MFA programs.  The criticisms are many:

MFA Programs churn out cookie-cutter writers who all write exactly the same.

There may be a modicum of truth to this. I don’t think any program encourages this.  It makes me think of the armed forces, where the first goal when you enlist is to break you down and strip you of your individuality in the belief that you will be more efficient if you’re just like everyone else.  In an MFA program, you just can’t let ‘em do that.

MFA Programs are only about literary writing and are useless if you want to write genre or commercial fiction.

It’s true that most MFA programs I know focus on literary fiction, mainly in what is assigned as reading.  And the snobbier programs make no effort to hide their disdain for genre/commercial fiction. If that’s your interest, I recommend doing your homework before signing up for one of those programs. But understand: the building blocks of writing are the same no matter what. If you get fed a diet of literary fiction, you can’t help but use that knowledge to write your vampire novel.

MFA Programs are full of pretentious, turtleneck-wearing snobs.

Actually, I think they stopped wearing turtlenecks about 30 years ago. But, yes, you’ll see these people too. While they were in the minority, my program certainly had them.  They all subscribed to the “mercy is for the weak” school of critiquing, where close friends were vaunted with praise while anyone not in the clique was vivisected. In many respects, it resembled high school.

MFA Programs bilk people out of money by imparting knowledge you can get by reading a few books.

See, here’s where I take exception. And I take a lot of exception.  For a while, the number of “I hate MFA” or “You don’t need an MFA” blog posts had dwindled but recently I’ve seen a few more crop up. (I won’t link to them because, well, if you’re that curious, do a Google search. I’ve no desire to send them traffic.) The crux of the argument is, “If you really want an MFA, go read these five books on craft, join a critique group, and **poof**, you’ll have your MFA.”

The problem I have with this approach is that it fails to take a very key part of the process into account: the fact that not all people learn the same way. Or at the same speed. Or respond to the same sort of stimuli.  This approach offers a cure all for a population of writers with very diverse backgrounds and capabilities for learning.

I’ll tell you what an MFA program did for me. It gave me context.  It was part reading books on craft and part reading examples of writers doing interesting things and part experimentation. And it was interaction. See, that’s how schools work. We don’t just throw books at kids and say, “There’s your education.” Teachers guide and help provide context to what can be an overwhelming sea of information.

That’s what I wanted. From years of reading, I knew a lot about writing. It was almost instinctual. But when something didn’t work for me, I had a hard time articulating why. The MFA program gave me the vocabulary I needed. It helped me identify flaws in my own writing, (“It’s not working, Brian, because your main character isn’t doing anything!”) and be precise when providing constructive criticism for others.

You could give five books on craft to five different writers and they’ll each walk away with five different ideas of what was said.  One of them might absorb the information completely and come away a better writer. Someone else, who doesn’t learn well visually, might come away as stupefied as ever.  Not their fault… they just need some context.

And, no, having an MFA doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good writer. Just like going to med school doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good doctor. (As the old joke goes, what do you call the guy who finished last in his class at med school? Doctor.) But I’m willing to bet that if you go and put in the work, you’ll learn something that makes you a better writer.

To sum up:

–You don’t need an MFA to write or be published.

–MFA programs can help guide writers who learn at different speeds and with different styles gain a better grasp of craft.

–Stop slamming MFA programs, you dork.

–I’ve shared this link before but it’s definitely worth sharing again.

Published in: on September 19, 2011 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

My first reading!

For those who don’t necessarily hang on my every tweeted word, I will be doing a reading from WITH OR WITHOUT YOU this Saturday (Sept. 17) at the Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis at 8:00pm. I’ll be reading alongside noted author David Levithan (BOY MEETS BOY, THE LOVER’S DICTIONARY, EVERY YOU, EVERY ME). Preceding the reading will be a panel to discuss LGBT issues in YA literature at 7:00pm. (Note: I am not part of the panel, for which I am eternally grateful.)

You can find out more here.

Image stolen from the Loft's website. Although, technically, they stole my headshot, as I only gave out my book cover. So there's blame to share.

Published in: on September 16, 2011 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

News from the Cupboard Under the Stairs

Because I’m sure you’re dying to know what happened when I crossed the threshold into Pottermore….

A wand chose me at Ollivanders…

And I got sorted…

Surprising. Not disappointing. But surprising.  Guess it pays to close one’s eyes and chant softly, “Not Slytherin…. Not Slytherin…”

I’m in good company with the likes of Professor Flitwick, Mr. Ollivander, and, of course, Luna Lovegood. (I’m just gonna pretend that the Sorting Hat was drunk the day it gave us Gilderoy Lockhart.)

Anybody wanna buy a nice set of Hufflepuff Quidditch robes?

Published in: on September 12, 2011 at 6:47 am  Leave a Comment  

The games I play

Remember Googlewhack?  That was the game where you entered two, hopefully disparate search terms with the goal of returning one—and only one—hit on a Google search. It’s become harder to do (did you know there are 816,000 hits if you search for cantankerous vortices?) which might be why I don’t hear people speak of it as much.

I’ve created a new game but I don’t have a name for it yet. Maybe you can help me. The game goes like this:

1)      Identify a blogger who is obsessive about checking their stats: number of visitors, from whence their visitors came, and, most importantly, what search terms were used to arrive at their blog.

2)      Google the following without the quotation marks: “[person’s name] eats babies for breakfast.” (The more specific you can be about the person’s name, the better. If they’re an author, put ‘author’ before their name. If they’re a painter, put ‘painter.’  If you know the city where they live, add the city. The object is to get a hit that will take you to their blog.)

3)      Click on any result that leads to their blog.

4)      Sit back and watch that person freak out (on their blog, on Facebook, via Twitter) about the weird stuff people Google to find them.

5)      Repeat with other weird phrases [(person’s name) undulates with saturnine munchkins] for added amusement.

What’s a good name for a game like this?  I feel like ‘evil’ should be in the title….

Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 7:05 am  Comments (1)