This month Spellbinders will focus on stories for kids and teens dealing with crisis. I've found books to be a valuable medium for bringing up tough subjects. Young people often benefit just from knowing there are others going through the same struggles. I think it's true for all of us that as we see characters overcoming what seem to be insurmountable obstacles, we find the strength and courage to face our own difficulties.
My job as a speech-language pathologist in the public schools has had a definite impact on the types of stories I create, so I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to interview Albert Borris, whose career as a Student Assistance Counselor inspired him to write Crash Into Me, the story of four high school students who meet online and form a suicide pact. They decide to go on a road trip together and spend two tumultuous weeks visiting the sites of celebrity suicides with the final destination of Death Valley, where they plan to end their lives. But an interesting thing happens on the road. The teens form connections, and as the narrator, Owen, finally finds a voice to express his despair, he begins to find hope as well. Check out Albert's website at www.albertborris.com.
Carolee: Albert, thanks for joining us for this month's issue of Spellbinders. What got you interested in becoming a counselor?
Albert: Because I was a kid once, too. Also, I took a Human Psychology class with Dr. Betty Duff. She thought that I could be a suicide hotline worker. By my junior year in college, I was a counselor and never looked back. I also worked with teens while my father was getting sober. It all just stuck.
My first job in schools was given to be by a woman named Carolyn Hadge in the Toms River school district. I worked there for two years and I loved it! Then I was given a grant to work in Moorestown for three years. When that time was up, they asked me to stay!
Carolee: How would you describe the work you've done with teens?
Albert: My job involves a lot of talking and connecting. I am a teacher as well as a counselor, which means being an authority figure as well as a friend. I offer a shoulder to cry on for students in 9th through 12th grade. I give emotional assistance for kids thinking of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and experiencing other hard times. But I'm also a teacher, taking on a class called Natural Helpers, I instruct students on the Ropes Course and I organize the Project Graduation.
Carolee: I've heard of Ropes. They had one at a psychiatric hospital where I once worked. A group of people go out on an obstacle course and do repelling and climbing with ropes and harnesses. It's about testing your limits and building trust. I've never heard of Natural Helpers or Project Graduation. What are those?
Albert: Natural Helpers is a series events from CHEF/ Comprehensive Health Education Foundation, and Project Graduation was a drug free event I organized for graduation night (8pm to 7am). Over 95% of the students who graduated came to the event.
Carolee: That's a wonderful turn-out. It sounds like you've done a lot of great things for kids. How has your job influenced your writing?
Albert: My line of work is directly expressed through my book. The inspiration for Crash Into Me came during a Parents' Workshop I coordinated. The other books I have written are along the same lines. Junior, The Holy Darkness, and my next book, The Anarchy Game, are all about some kind of struggle or suffering.
I know that through these books we can get the message out that there are kids/teens/adults that all have troubles. Sometimes, we all feel alone but there is always hope. By writing these novels, I can make that mark introspectively
Carolee: Thanks so much for joining us for this month's issue of Spellbinders.
Guest Column - Sea's Journey
This month's Guest column (below) is by Heidi Kling, debut author of SEA. It's the story of a fifteen-year old California girl, Sienna (Sea) Jones, who is haunted by recurring nightmares since her mother's disappearance over the Indian Ocean three years before. She reluctantly travels with her psychiatrist father's volunteer team to post-tsunami Indonesia six months after the disaster where she meets the scarred and soulful orphaned boy, Deni, who is more like Sea than anyone she has ever met.
Heidi's husband, a practicing psychiatrist, went to Indonesia after the tsunami and his experiences inspired the story that Booklist calls, "... a lyrical story of loss and daring to love again."
Heidi is generously giving away a copy of SEA to one of our lucky readers here at SPELLBINDERS. In case you didn't know, issues of SPELLBINDERS are also posted on the Spellbinders blog. If you go to the blog site and post a comment, you could be the lucky winner. Also, it's a great time to sign up for our blog list. That way if you ever change email addresses, you will still have access to our articles.
We will post the winner's name in our December issue.
Sea's Journey by Heidi Kling
Heidi R. Kling
Sometimes, when you're married to someone for a long time, it's hard to tell where you stop and he begins--and vice-versa. That's sort of how it is with my husband and I, his profession and mine. I'm not a psychiatrist. I really wouldn't want to be one. He's much more hardy than I am, and hearty really. I hear sad stories and either buck away from them because I can't deal, or break down in sobs.
He is better at being neutral, objective, while still being empathetic and kind. So how does his profession influence my writing? Well, if it weren't for him and his volunteer work in Indonesia, Sea would not exist. In any form. I never would have come up with the idea.
And even if I did get this particular idea on my own, I wouldn't have felt comfortable entering this tragic, sensitive world on the other side of the globe, without first hand knowledge of real people who have been there, experienced it all, first hand.
When Daryn returned home from Indonesia, the first time he went, he was inspired to change everything in his career's future. He was a resident, so still in that phase of not knowing what comes next. Instead of going into private practice or working for a big HMO etc., he went to work for non-profits that focus on helping refugees and victims of natural (tsunami etc.) and man-made (war trauma) disasters with their PTSD. Yes, the pay is less, but the internal benefits of helping so many people who otherwise would not receive care made it so worth it.
The way this decision inspired me through writing, is I want to make sure every project I work on means something to me. SEA was a story I felt needed to be told. Indonesia is a place many teens or grown-ups don't know too much about. Also, there is still so much stigma around mental health disorders, and I thought if I created this extremely likable boy, Deni, and gave him PTSD, it would be a good way to bring up that topic and make it not as taboo.
As far as the rest of my writing goes, I play a pretend therapist in my essay contribution to Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls, where I pick apart, and advise, the relationship between the Salvatore brothers from TV's hit show The Vampire Diaries. Interestingly, my husband didn't help me with the essay until the last draft. I had him read through it for clarity. I think it's just being around him-someone who listens to people's problems and helps try to fix them for a living. It's just rubbed off on me. The same way it would have if I was married to a rock star, or a rodeo heavyweight. I would know more about music. I would know about bulls. And those rocking outfits that cowboys wear.
I'm so grateful to my husband for doing what he does. I hope in some way, I'm able to help others through my words, the way he does with his important, often tragic, often hopeful, work.
It's hard in this current genre of sparkly vampires to make a go of a book that is largely about healing, family, and takes place in a third-world country, but my readers have been so enthusiastic and have fallen in love with the characters and this story.
This means the world to me.
The entire experience of this book, from early idea to publication, has taught me to stay true to my ideals and to tell the story I want to tell.
Kimberley's Book Buzz
Kimberley Griffiths Little
Kimberley Griffiths Little
Many thanks to Heidi R. Kling and Albert Borris for their personal stories, passion and experiences that led them to write their books.
In keeping with our Crisis Books theme, here are eight more well-written and thought-provoking titles for your teens. They may also work for 7th-8th grade students, but we do recommend that parents, teachers and librarians read the books first and be ready to discuss. All the topics are timely and the stories and characters very insightful, but they do have mature themes and some swearing.
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney is about a girl dealing with date rape and its effects on her friends and school.
Struts & Fretsby Jon Skovron is about a teenage boy whose jazz musician grandfather has Alzheimer's disease.
Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan about the drug use of a parent.
Dark Song by Gail Giles is the story of a parent in trouble with the law and a girl who gets involved with an older boy who plants in her mind the idea of killing her parents.
After by Amy Efaw, about the mental break-down and come-back of a girl who hides her pregnancy and dumps the baby in the trash.
Girl, Stolen by April Henry, about a blind girl who is kidnapped and how she survives.
The Hate List by Jennifer Brown, about the events leading up to a school shooting and its aftermath.
Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia, about bullying by girls in the school/sports arena and the issues of personal and community responsibility.
This month, keeping with our theme of novels with a strong central problem or crisis, I would like to discuss story goals. Many of the story grammar aids used by teachers to discuss story structure with students involve indentifying the central problem in the story. This seems straightforward. Even simple stories have some kind of basic problem. The three bears have experienced a home invasion by a fair-haired stranger. Little Red Riding Hood is being stalked by a wolf. Voldemort wants to get rid of Harry Potter.
Not all stories are based upon a problem, however. Some are based upon attaining a very coveted prize. In the movie, Friday Night Lights (based upon the novel Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, a 1990 non-fiction book written by H.G. Bissinger) the Permian High School Panthers want to win the state football championship.
Although the concept of a story problem seems fairly simple, further breakdowns are observed when students are asked to generate a problem for an original story. Many balk at the idea of "creating a problem." Much of their lives may be spent staying out of trouble, not thinking up ways of getting into it.
I have had much more success talking to students about the idea of the Problem and the Prize. I tell my students that some stories start with a problem such as an evil Jedi kidnapping a princess or a wizard wanting to regain power. Soon thereafter (or sometimes not so soon), the Prize is identified. Rescuing the princess or finding the Sorcerer's Stone before Voldemort gets it becomes the central goal of the story. Other stories, however, start with a Prize, such as capturing the attention of the cute boy in the cafeteria. But as we all know, as soon as you set a goal, obstacles soon arise to block your path - Oops, the cute boy is a vampire. That certainly complicates matters.
One of the other reasons that students have difficulty identifying the central problem of a story is because the objective often changes. Luke Skywalker rescues Princess Leia only to discover that there is a bigger problem - the Death Star must be destroyed. The hero may kill an evil monster only to find out that the monster has a mother. Dorothy's central problem is that she's been blown to Oz and needs to get back home, but in the middle of the story, the wizard tells her to go confront a witch and steal her broomstick. The Problem (confronting the witch) and the Prize (getting the broomstick) have nothing to do with the central Problem (needing to get back home), except for the fact that this task has been assigned to Dorothy as a prerequisite to attaining the wizard's help.
In a nutshell, this is what I tell my students: Some stories start with a Problem, and the hero of the story soon identifies a Prize to be attained that will help to overcome the Problem. Other stories start with a Prize, and obstacles (or Problems) soon arise to prevent the hero from attaining the Prize. Also, sometimes the Prize that the hero is pursuing at the Midpoint of the story is not the same Prize he seeks at the end. It may simply be a preliminary reward needed to advance further down the Hero's Path, or what the hero wants may change. The important thing is that as we identify with the hero of the story attaining his goal against insurmountable odds, we start to believe that maybe we can face our own Problems and come away with a Prize worth fighting for.
For a Fun Activity Looking at Problems and Prizes visit the blog on my website at www.caroleedean.com.
YALSA Symposium in Albuquerque, NM
The Young Adult Library Services Association Symposium was held in Albuquerque from November 5th to the 7th. Lois Ruby and Carolee Dean were in attendence at YALSA and had a great time. YALSA and its national conference will be the subject of next month's Spellbinders.
ASHA International Convention, Philadelphia, PA
If you happen to be in Philadelphia later this month, please try to attend the 2010 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention.