Author bio & links:
Tahlia is an avid reader, an extremely casual high school teacher, an occasional mask-maker and has studied philosophy & meditation for many years. After scripting and performing in Visual Theatre shows for 20 years, she is now a bone-fide expatriate of the performing arts. She lives in an Australian rainforest, is married with a teenage daughter and loves cats, but she doesn’t have one because they eat native birds.
1. What inspired you to address the topic of bullying in You Can’t Shatter Me?
I didn’t actually set out to write about bullying. Initially, I planned to write a series of short stories about the same people, but as soon as I took my main character into a school setting, a bully appeared and shoved a fat boy against the wall. Carly, the female lead, decided she had to do something to stop it, but when she stepped in, the bully turned on her. He kept coming back in the following stories and so bullying became the thread that eventually turned the stories into a novella.
I guess the theme came out because I’m very aware that it’s one of the main issues that face kids today. It affects everyone, either as the one doing the bullying, the one being bullied or as a bystander. I can’t stand seeing people being cruel to others, so if there is anything I can do to stop it, I will. I hope this book will encourage bystanders to do their best to stop bullying whenever they see it and also to give both victims and bullies a way to handle the situation in a positive way.
2. Tell us about the most difficult moment in the book? The most empowering?
The most difficult part of the book for Carly is when Justin, the bully, locks her in the art storeroom and turns off the light. It’s really just a closet, so she gets very claustrophobic and she thinks she might die. The male lead, Dylan, struggles with his desire to protect Carly by punching the bully, something that will ruin his spotless school record, disappoint his mother, make his father really angry and probably make Carly mad at him too.
The most empowering moment is when Carly finally manages to use the light of loving kindness to protect herself from the bully—it manifests as chocolate cake—and the most inspiring moment is when she flys at the end.
3. How is You Can’t Shatter Me a revolutionary novella?
It’s the ideas behind it. There’s so many dark books out there for young adults, but this one, as well as having a really gritty story, shows someone dealing with a difficult situation in a way that makes them strong inside. Carly uses love and compassion as both a protection and a weapon against bullying. I think that’s pretty revolutionary in today’s climate.
4. What strategies to cope with bullying do the characters use in the story? Which ones are the most effective against bullying, and what ways of coping don’t work so well?
There are specific analogies for ways to deal with the kind of verbal abuse kids get. One is treating insults as bait on a hook and telling yourself you’re not going to bite. There’s a post about it here. Another is treating your anger like a cowpat and not stirring it up, because that makes it stink. There’s a post explaining the details here. I taught both these methods to kids at school with great success.
The main one is based on the idea that you can’t do much to stop the bully bullying you, but you can learn not to let it bug you. Instead of seeing the bully as someone to fear and hate, you can see them as someone who is suffering and let that arouse your compassion. If the bully was really happy, they wouldn’t feel the need to abuse others. So you send happiness to them in the form of light from your heart, it makes you feel calm and strong and changes the way you behave towards them. In turn that affects the way they relate to you.
I use this in my own life and so does the rest of my family, and it does work. The kindness tends to disarm the bully. I haven’t had the opportunity to use it with kids at school because it takes time to understand the ideas, but many Tibetan Monks used it to not only survive imprisonment at the hands of the Chinese Government, but to come out a stronger and more compassionate person..
5. Would you like to share any enticing tidbits about upcoming projects?
After this, I have to decide whether I’m going to leave my young adult fantasy series with my agent—she’s been looking for a publisher for 2 years—or let Catapult Press publish it. Catapult Press is very small, just staring out, and I’d still like to get a big publisher for it, but I am getting sick of waiting, so I’ll see how this one sells and then make a decision. Either way, I’ll be turning my attention back to it again. The first in the series is called Lethal Inheritance and it’s about a girl whose mother is kidnapped by demons who feed on fear. She has to go into a hidden realm to rescue her mother and learn to fight without fear. Along the way she falls in love with a gorgeous guy.
6. Anything else I haven’t yet asked that you’d like to share?
Just that there’s a really sweet romance in the book to offset the bullying stuff, and although it’s a young adult book, adults will enjoy it too.
Thank you for the wonderful interview, Tahlia, and I can't wait to read your novella! Best of luck with your decision about getting LETHAL INHERITANCE into print. I've been following that journey for awhile now, and the premise sounds so exciting! Hope we all get to read it soon.
Synopsis: You Can’t Shatter Me
Sixteen year old Carly wants to write her own life and cast herself as a superhero, but the story gets out of control when she stands up to a bully and he turns on her. His increasing harassment forces her to deal with flying hooks, giant thistles, deadly dragons and a suffocating closet. Dylan, a karate-trained nerd who supports her stand against the bully, turns out to be a secret admirer, and while he struggles to control his inner caveman, Carly searches for her own way to stop the bully. An old hippie shows her an inner magic that’s supposed to make her invincible, but will Carly learn to use it before Dylan resorts to violence?
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