Several days ago I read a story about a trans-gender teen. Her classmates voted her prom queen. I was glad to see that this was possible now, that people’s minds and hearts had evolved enough so that this child could be happy. Sadly, there was backlash from closed-minded people. Cassidy dealt with it with strength and grace. Bravo for her. Then, today I read about a kid, Chad, who was thrown out of his home by his own mother when he came out to her. Luckily, he has one of the world’s greatest grandfathers and a place to live. I can’t say how I feel about his mother any better than her own father did, so I won’t. Just read his letter to her. We can’t know exactly what Chad and his mother said to each other, but at least her father left the door open for her to return to their lives, once she finds her heart. The saddest part is that this kind of stuff happens all the time. And it really shouldn’t. Kids have a tough enough time already dealing with school and with hormones sending them on emotional roller-coaster rides, all the while trying to figure out who and what they are. They don’t need all this hate thrown on top.
We need to fight against and cut down hatred whenever it rears its ugly head.
When I conceived and began writing Dragonlinked, I had your typical teenagers in it. Well, perhaps a little more well-behaved than the norm, but still, young adults with hopes and aspirations. Dreams. I threw in a monkey wrench for one of the characters, changed his life a bit. I was about half way through writing the book when I saw a video. And the video made me realize that an even bigger change was in store for the guy (actually, the seeds of it were already there, I just hadn’t seen it yet). The video? Hang on, let me back up a bit to talk about another video first.
Warning for those who haven’t read Dragonlinked: Reading beyond here may reveal a slight spoiler.
I saw How to Train Your Dragon at the movies. I fell in love with it. Immediately. That movie grabs my heart and won’t let go. I can’t even tell you why (but I will sit down one day and study it). So I bought the blu-ray as soon as it was available and watched it the second it arrived. As the end credits began, the song that was playing once again grabbed my ear. I remembered it from seeing the movie in the theater, but now I searched the credits for the writer/performer. Jonsi. Hmm. With a quick Google-smack I found out he was also the lead singer for an Icelandic group named Sigur Ros. I pulled up YouTube and searched for the group. In the list of videos was one whose description said something about it being an award-winning video. Sweet. Click, watch. It’s for a song called Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa. The music and his voice were very dramatic and gave me goose bumps even though I had no idea what he was saying. The video? Holy cow, the video. It surprised me, shocked me, and moved me nearly to tears. Love. It is such a delicate thing, the tiny wings of a heart beating desperately, longingly. Can one control where it will land?
Jump forward almost a year. The book, as I said, was around halfway done. I was on the way home from picking up groceries, just about to pull into the garage, when a song came on the radio. Firework by Katy Perry. It had a decent enough tune, and the lyrics were kinda cool. I was humming it the whole time I put the groceries away. Then YouTube, search, click, and wow. I watched it several times. The message it was offering, the lyrics, the video, everything was amazing. About the third time I watched it, I noticed a scene. What I suddenly realized was a boy seemed to gather his courage, walk over, and kiss another boy.
That video from Sigur Ros flashed through my mind and the scene from this video flashed through again. Connections were suddenly made, and scenes, images, conversations started popping into existence. That guy in the book, he was in love with another guy! The decision to absolutely do this having been made in that photo-flash instant of realization, I brought up the manuscript to look for ways to drop hints from the beginning.
So what the heck does all this have to do with hatred? Well, later, after the book was pretty much done, I gave it to a few test readers. I have to say, despite the powerful feeling I had that their relationship belonged in the book, I had doubts. I made the world of Lethera a place where who you fall in love with was not looked at any differently than whether you have brown eyes, or green, or blue, or whatever. It was just another aspect of your person. But still, two boys in love? I was a little nervous.
Only one of the test readers made mention of this aspect of the book. She asked if I was sure I wanted to leave that relationship in because I’d risk losing a lot of the potential mainstream audience for the book. Are you sure about this? Yes, I said, I’m leaving it in.
See, by this time I had also seen a few videos on YouTube from teens who’d been picked on, bullied, and had cut themselves or contemplated suicide. I had also seen the 2011 movie, Bully. All I saw made me sad, and worried for kids like them. I decided to take a stand. My own little stand, but a stand nonetheless.
These books set in Lethera, the characters in them, are my way of fighting the hatred directed at Cassidy and Chad, at kids like them. All those being bullied because they are not straight. They deserve heroes they can think of as their own. People (or characters in books, movies, TV) they can look up to and say, hey, they’re kinda like me. I’m not alone.
I have no idea if my books will help. It might even be conceited to think they can. But it’s what I can do to reach the most people. And if my books help even one person, it will have been worth it. Because everyone should do something. Speak out if you see bullying or hateful activity. Talk to someone who looks like they could use a friend. We all should fight hatred in whatever way we can.