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October 2010 Archives

"Vladimir Tod" author Heather Brewer talks books and bullies
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heather_new.jpgHeather Brewer is the author of the five-book series, "The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod." Starting with "Eighth Grade Bites" and ending with the just-published "Twelfth Grade Kills," this fun and frightening saga tells the story of a teenage vampire struggling with typical (and not-so-typical) problems of surviving middle school and high school. IML had a great time talking with Heather about her books, her experiences as a tween, and how young people can take a stand against bullying.

IML: Hi, Heather! Congrats on the success of the Vladimir Tod books!

Heather: Thanks!

IML: Your main character, Vlad Tod, is a vampire. Why do you think the gothic and paranormal genre appeals so much to tweens and teens?

Heather: Personally, I've always been a fan of darker things. I've always loved horror, and Stephen King is my favorite author. I was twelve when I read his novel "Carrie." So for me, it's very natural to be drawn to those things. But I think that there are different reasons for other tweens and teens to be drawn to it. For girls, I think a lot of it is that vampires are the eternal "bad boy." I think that it's something dark and dangerous, but you can experience it in a safe little world. Because when you close the book, it all goes away.

IML: If you were to take away the supernatural angle, do you think your books would still work in the real world of middle school and high school?

Heather: Absolutely. Because I didn't set out to write a vampire story. I set out to write a story about a boy who feels like he doesn't belong...and he just so happens to be a vampire.

twelfthgrade.jpgIML: What part of the books has been the most fun to write?

Heather: The most fun to write has been inventing new and creative ways for Vlad to get his blood, like hiding his blood in Twinkies, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and spaghetti. That's been the most fun, like, "How can I feed Vlad this week?" And also the conversations between Vlad and his best friend Henry, because they're just really fun, and they're very typical teenage boy conversations.

IML: What was hardest to write?

Heather: The most difficult thing was confronting a horrible thing that happened when Vlad was younger. His parents died in a mysterious fire, and that's based on my own childhood. Between the ages of five and twelve, I experienced five house fires, and no one knew what caused them. Growing up with that was very troubling. So dealing with those emotions was absolutely the most difficult thing about writing the books.

IML: How much or yourself do you put into your books?

Heather: Well, I'm a big fan of wearing black, and of reading banned books. And even though Vlad has a very close friend in the character of Henry, he's very much a loner and deals with things in his own quiet way, and that's very much me. Plus, his sarcastic sense of humor is absolutely me!

IML: How has communicating with your fans changed the way your story has progressed from the first book to the final one?

Heather: As the readers have really grabbed onto the characters, I feel a duty to make sure that the characters are absolutely true to themselves, and to include special little things I know the fans will enjoy. There's a small group of characters referred to as "the Goths" and because of the fans, they ended up being a much larger part of the series. So I do try to listen to my readers, and see what they want more of, and still stay true to my vision. They are a part of this, and like I've told them many times before, "I write the stories, but once they're written, they're yours now."

IML: The idea of being an outcast or outsider is central to your story. Vlad is terribly bullied at school. Did this come from your own experience?

Heather: Actually, I think I had it worse that Vlad. I was picked on from Kindergarten all the way through my senior year. I was pinched, and punched, and kicked, and spit-on. I had rumors spread about me; I had things written on my folder. It was awful, going through school. So I withdrew into myself, and I wrote a lot of stories to get those feelings out. I also read everything I could get my hands on, because I could live those different lives if I was reading stories. I would become the characters I was reading about and live with their problems, which seemed so much smaller than my own. Everything in the stories ended happily, but my life just wasn't that way at the time. And that's one of the reasons I started writing the Vlad Tod series, because those feelings of being picked on and bullied really followed me into my adulthood, and they wouldn't go away. So I decided to confront those feelings head-on and write this book and deal with exactly what it felt like, to feel like a freak who didn't belong. And I'm happy to say that by the end of writing this series, I didn't have any of those feelings anymore. Because I got them all down on the page.

IML: How did the bullying begin? Was there anyone you reach out to for help, or did you feel completely alone?

Heather: I did feel completely alone. It began with a boy who pulled my hair when I was going down the slide. And that same boy was in my class, and he put a tack on my chair. Everybody laughed, because I sat on the tack, and then, every single day, someone in my class would put a tack on my chair, and try to "get me" again. It became a clear message of, "You don't belong here. You're not one of us. We don't accept you, and it's okay for us to pick on you." And that's just something that followed me all through school.

IML: Why do you think your schoolmates singled you out for this kind of bullying?

Heather: I really don't know. Maybe it was because I've always been very outspoken and I've always had my own opinion about things. I've never been one of those people to follow the crowd. But in the end, I really have no idea what it was that made them do that.

IML: Did it have a snowball effect? Like, once you were the victim, you became the permanent victim?

Heather: Absolutely, because it became acceptable. They thought, "That's Heather... we're allowed to pick on her." I don't know what was worse, the kids picking on me, or the other kids who wouldn't stand up and say something. When I was trying to defend myself, they wouldn't say, "Hey, she's right. You shouldn't be doing this to someone. It's not nice."

IML: Were any teachers or guidance counselors able help to you?

Heather: Oh, no. They were actually part of the problem. I would be in the hallway at school, being bullied, and I'd see teachers snicker, or turn their heads. They thought it was acceptable, like "Oh, that's okay. It builds character. You can pick on her, because she's THAT girl." And now, I've toured all over this country, and I've asked my readers:  "In your school, what is working and what isn't working when it comes to anti-bullying efforts?" And they all say the same thing: the teachers are part of the problem. They're not helping stop the bullying. And that's sad because you should be looking for people in authority positions to step in and stop something like that. I don't know if they feel like they can't do anything about it, or that it builds character, or that it's just part of being a kid, or something.

IML: What do you say to teachers when you have the opportunity to talk to them?

Heather: The biggest thing for me is, if you are a teacher, and you see another teacher acting in a way that is supporting bullying, then you need to say something to that teacher. Because it has to stop with someone.

IML: Bullying has been in the news a lot lately, and we've all heard of the tragic cases where young people have taken their own lives because they couldn't cope with taunting, teasing and abuse. What do you want to say to teens and tweens who feel desperate and alone?

Heather: It is really terrifying when someone feels like they've reached a point where no one can help them. I wish that somehow we could get through to them to tell them that there is hope. That things will get better. That things can change...but that you can't let the bullies win. When someone thinks, "No one is there for me, no one cares about me," they should know that really, there are many, many people who would love to reach out to them. And I hope that if anyone is thinking of doing something like hurting themselves, that they won't. Because, really, in the end, that does let the bullies win. And you can't let them win.

IML: What about the kids doing the bullying? What do the bullies need to hear?

Heather: I don't think that a lot of teens who bully actually realize that they're doing it. When I do appearances, I always tell young people that if someone is making you feel like you don't belong somewhere, or that you're inferior, or makes you question your self- esteem, then you are being bullied.  So if you are the one making someone feel that way, then you are bullying. If you're doing something that makes someone so upset that they don't feel like they can come to school, or they have to dodge or avoid you, then chances are you're bullying. And you can stop. Don't fall into the group mindset, where a couple of kids are picking on someone, and you laugh along with them. Because then you're part of the problem.

IML: What advice do you have for tweens and teens who want to be professional writers?

Heather: There are two things that every writer has to do. You have to read a lot, and you have to write a lot. And when it comes to writing, the best thing to do is write something every single day. A sentence, a paragraph, a chapter...whatever it is, write something every single day. That's the only way to get better. I call this the formula for writing a book: "butt" plus "chair" equals "writing." If you keep doing that, eventually you'll finish a story!

IML: And have you finished the Vlad Tod story?

Heather: No, I'm actually writing a spin-off series called "The Slayer Chronicles." They take place during the summers between the school years of the Vlad Tod books. They'll end with one book beyond "Twelfth Grade Kills," and I really think of them as a continuation of the series.

IML: Thanks for sharing all this with us, Heather, and good luck with your future books!

Heather: Thank you!

For more about bullies, check out IML's advice on this subject.

For more about Heather Brewer and Vladimir Tod, visit http://www.vladtod.com



Celeb Scoop: Ryan Ochoa
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The new Disney XD television series "Pair of Kings" is fun fantasy viewing that poses the question: What would YOU do if you ruled your own island? The show is about twin brothers Brady (Mitchel Musso) and Boomer (Doc Shaw), who discover that they're heirs to the throne of a tiny tropical island called Kinkow and it's time for them to step up and take charge. Going from regular to royal isn't easy for these guys, especially with lots of weird island superstitions and magical happenings in the mix. 

ryan_ochoa.jpgRecently IML spoke with one of the show's co-stars, 14-year-old Ryan Ochoa. 

IML: How would you describe your character on "Pair of Kings"?

Ryan: I play Lanny, who's basically trying to eliminate the kings and take their throne because I was next in line. Before they came, I was the one who was kind of ruling the island. So I'm jealous, always messing around with them and being sarcastic. I'm always being mean behind their back but nice to them in front of their face.

IML: So you're the show's "bad guy"!

Ryan: Yes, but it's a comedic kind of bad guy. I'm the little, cunning, funny kid who's basically super annoyed by the kings all the time. They have no idea what they're doing, and I read the Great Book which tells about the whole island and I know how to rule. I'm just really jealous of them and a little menace. It's really fun to play, especially because every one of my lines is really funny.

IML: Is this a departure from other roles you've played in the past?

Ryan: No, actually! I played Chuck on "iCarly," and he was kind of a bad guy too.

IML: That's right! So how did you get started in acting, and how did you know you wanted to pursue it professionally?

Ryan: I started modeling when I was 5 and 6, doing fashion shows and that kind of thing. I've always loved entertaining people and I'm an outgoing person. Acting is something that I found and wanted to pursue. I love movies and TV, the whole industry really fascinates me and I wanted to be a part of it.

IML: Is it fun working with Mitchel Musso and the rest of the cast?

Ryan: Mitchel has been with Disney since he was 12 years old and he loves his craft and he's really professional. We all really respect him becuse he knows what he wants, and is really talented. It's a real honor to work with Mitchel because he's also a good person off camera. Doc Shaw is also really laid back and down to earth, and we hang out together. The cast is really just one big family!

IML: While you're doing all this, you've just started high school. How do you balance school and friends and family with work?

Ryan: It's hard, but it's worth it. I go to public school because I want to stay grounded and be a normal kid. I want to be able to hang around my friends and other students who aren't in show business. On Fridays I have my table read for the show, we have a light rehearsal, and then and we go home. Once I get home, I see all my friends. I want to make sure I have time for them.

IML: We hear you like producing and directing your own videos. Is that true?

Ryan: Yes! I write ideas and short films and I direct them with my family. We have a little HD camera and we shoot around the neighborhood with my friends and even my acting friends too. Then we put them up on a YouTube channel. It's really fun because that's something I want to do when I get older, direct and produce and write my own films and be able to act in them too. So I'm learning and getting the hang of it. It really lets you express yourself and do something different.

IML: Are there any sports you're really into?

Ryan: I love to play football and I'm a big fan. I love the Raiders! At our house everyone comes over to watch Sunday night football.

IML: You have three brothers. That's a lot of boys in one family. What's that like?

Ryan: It's crazy! Me and my older brother are really, really close. We call each other Peanut Butter and Jelly. My little brothers are Ketchup and Mustard.

IML: When you fight, what kinds of things do you fight about?

Ryan: The lamest things! Video games. Typical little kid stuff. If one person is messing around with your stuff and you don't want someone else to get one of the things you own, you start fighting about it. Then a few weeks later you give it to them anyway!

IML: Here are some "Favorites" questions for you. What's your favorite...

...Movie?

Ryan: There's so many. I just saw "Inception" and I think that's the best movie ever made. You're thinking the whole movie and it's amazing. Leonardo is my idol and my favorite actor. He's someone I'd love to work with someday. He's just pure acting genius.

...TV show?
Ryan: "So You Think you Can Dance" and "America's Best Dance Crew." Me and my family are big dance fans so we watch all those shows!

...Music artist?
Ryan: Eminem, by far!

...Way to spend a rainy day?
Ryan: I go to the movies a lot with my family.

...Way to chill out if you're feeling stressed?
Ryan: Hanging out with my friends from school.

IML: Thanks, Ryan! It was great to meet you, and good luck with the show!

Ryan: Thank you!



Boo! It's Halloween 2010!
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halloween_boy.jpgWe LOVE reading about your 2010 Halloween Costumes. IML'ers are so creative! We're sitting here, imagining a runway fashion show of all your dress-up creations, taking note of what's hot in trick-or-treat wear this year.

For instance, Lady Gaga. There's been much debate on the You Said It boards about her and whether or not her songs and videos are appropriate for tweens, but that isn't stopping a lot of you from planning to dress up like the pop superstar. We're sure the real Lady Gaga is thrilled; they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

"Decade" costumes are as popular as ever, and a lot of you are dressing as 60's hippies, 70's disco dudes and dudettes, and 80's new-wavers. Even 50's greasers and 20's flappers will be out there in force again this Halloween. These are fun costumes to put together because you can raid a relative's closet or thrift store for all the makings.

Vampires are huge again this year, but some of you have told us that, despite liking vampires, you don't want to be associated with a trend you don't follow (ahem, Twilight). Our advice: you should never let something you DISLIKE keep you from enjoying something you LIKE. So if you're a fan of bloodsuckers but not the sparkly ones, we suggest you bare those fangs proudly and if someone asks if you're a Cullen, just say, "You kidding? I eat Cullens for breakfast!"

Another trend we really love this Halloween is homemade or improvised costumes! Costumes have become a huge money business over the last decade, and it seems like, year after year, more kids and adults are buying outfits from stores instead of getting creative with what they have at hand. We don't know if it's the tough economic times, or if people are just tired of seeing the same pre-made costumes in every store, but it definitely seems like a lot more of you will be rocking "do-it-yourself" looks this year. Whatever the reason, we at IML really like this trend because, while buying a cool costume can certainly be fun, making your own lets you show just how imaginative you can be at a time of year when imagination rules!

Other popular choices this year include:
  • Nerds
  • Alice in Wonderland (no doubt helped by the Tim Burton movie)
  • Anything with emo, punk or goth elements
  • Cheerleaders
If you're still stuck for a costume idea, here are a few of our faves:
  • Combo costumes. Like "half devil, half angel." Or "zombie cheerleaders" and "dead prom queens." It's fun and easy to take something familiar and kind of boring, then give it a Halloween twist. Make something unique with an existing costume (a great use for hand-me-downs or borrowed ones) accented with lots of scary, gory stuff like fake blood, fangs, pale makeup, etc. For instance, you could buy a simple fairy costume and be an "Evil Fairy" with just a few extra touches!.
  • Pun costumes. Play with words and have fun watching people guess what you are! We love the "Cereal Killer" idea one IML'er posted (a cereal box with knives sticking out of it). What can you do with things like "Pig Latin," "Anchorwoman," "Black-Eyed Pea," and "Butterfingers"?
  • Black to basics costumes. Dress all in black and you'll be surprised by how you can turn yourself into a background for something simple yet hilarious. One IML'er posted about how she's using an all-black outfit and glow sticks to become a Human Stick Figure. Cover yourself in dryer lint and you're Static Cling. Wrap a fake cobweb around yourself, along with some plastic bugs, and you're a Spider Web. Tape socks all over your body and carry a laundry basket, and you're The Missing Sock Vortex. You get the gist!
To get more ideas or to share your own idea, visit My 2010 Halloween Costume.

For many people, coming up with a costume is too much pressure. Can you still have fun on Halloween if you don't dress up or feel like your costume is kinda lame? Well, that all depends on what this "holiday" means to you. It's something you can decide for yourself. If you see it as a chance to get dressed up, "be" someone (or something) else, and exercise your creative muscles, then that's great. If it's just about having fun with your friends and scoring loads of candy, that's great too. Maybe it's more appealing to you to stay home and hand out candy to younger kids. And in the end...it IS just a holiday that will be over before you know it.

Halloween can also be about helping children in other countries who don't have stuff like clean water, nutrition, health care, and education. Chances are, in the past you've done some collecting at Halloween for UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund. Now, UNICEF (and spokesperson Selena Gomez) has more options for young people to give as well as get, like creating your own "Trick-Or-Treat Online" page to collect donations from friends and family over the Internet, or ideas for hosting a Halloween party fundraiser. For more information, check out Trick-Or-Treat for UNICEF.



At the New York Comic Con
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New York Comic Con was held last weekend (October 8-10) at the way-enormous Javits Convention Center in fabulous downtown Manhattan...and IML was there! We had an awesome time, but our feet are still throbbing from walking up and down the cavernous main floor, hour after hour, meeting cool people, checking out the stuff for sale, and taking in the eye-dazzling sights. It was a fun way for us to check out some of the things you talk about on the You Said It pages, and get a sneak peek of what you might soon be talking about in the future.

Con2.jpgWhat is Comic Con? NY Comic Con is the second largest comic book convention in the USA (only the all-powerful San Diego Con is bigger), with over 70 THOUSAND fans attending (that actually makes it the second largest event of any kind in NYC). But the convention is about more than just comic books. This year, fans from all over the world showed up to celebrate video games, sci-fi and action movies, fantasy fiction and graphic novels, vampire and gothic culture, steampunk, animation, role-playing games...you name it, they had it! And this year, the Con incorporated the New York Anime Festival, so there were thousands of dedicated anime and manga fans there too.

Describing everything we saw and did at NY Comic Con would take, well, almost forever. So we'll just give you the highlight reel of what we absolutely loved:

The Costumes. If you've been to a comic convention recently, even a small one, you know that one of the coolest parts of the whole scene is "cosplay," which basically means dressing up in costumes for the fun of it. We saw hundreds upon hundreds of amazing costumes at the con, from instantly-recognizable top-tier superheroes to really obscure video game icons and out-of-this-world fantasy warriors and monsters. We were impressed that a lot of them were homemade, rather than bought-off-the-shelf. Some were so elaborate and complicated that they looked like they took weeks, or even months, to construct. The comic and sci-fi heroes and heroines were awesome, but our faves were the Japanese anime and manga characters, with wild wigs every shape and color you can imagine, cool cloaks, capes and coats, and huge replica weapons. We particularly liked the tweens and teens who showed up in large groups, representing entire casts from their favorite shows and books.

Con1.jpgTriumph of the Nerds. Have you ever been called nerdy, geeky, dweeby, or dorky? Well, at Comic Con, nobody is ever going to call you names...unless they do it as a mark of pride, as in: "We're all nerds here, and we LOVE it!" You see, events like Comic Con are opportunities for fanboys and fangirls to be themselves, and celebrate all the things that make them happy. If you're into sports, you have events like the Super Bowl or the World Cup. If you love music, you can have fun at a concert or band camp. But if you love to geek out with animation, manga, video games, and fantasy, cons are your chance to let your nerd flag fly, make friends, goof around, and just have a blast. And the really BIG conventions like this one show you that you are far, far, from alone in your hobby. Thousands of people are into the same stuff you love, and they're here to share it with you.

Con4.jpgFans of All Types. Fandom isn't limited to one age group, and this was easy to see at the con. IML saw infants in strollers, toddlers in costumes, tweens, teens and young adults having fun, and even a lot of parents and seniors enjoying the scene. We met comic artists and writers just out of college, and listened to stories from some of the giants of the golden age of comics who helped create iconic characters more than sixty years ago. All ethnic groups were represented, and judging by the national flags some people proudly carried, there were fans there from quite a few countries around the globe. We were even impressed by how many girls and women were in attendance!  We're pretty sure there were slightly more guys in the crowd, but it probably won't be long before big conventions like this are equal parts male and female. The era of the fangirl is definitely upon us!

The Razzle-Dazzle. Late in the day, the crowds on the main convention floor actually got a bit too heavy, and it was difficult to move. There were times when we felt like tired salmon, pushing against a current of people. But the throngs of fans are part of the overall spectacle of Comic Con. Loud music, bright lights, huge video screens, giant banners reaching up to the lofty ceilings...big conventions are all about glitz and showmanship. The movie studios and publishing houses spared no expense to pump up the crowd and get everyone excited about their characters and products, and its safe to say that almost everyone got dazzled by something. We liked the deejays spinning tunes, the TV and movie celebs signing autographs, and all the fabulous merchandise for sale. The handmade steampunk goggles, toy weapons, and bizarre gadgets were particularly awesome.

Sneak Previews. Part of the fun of attending a big con is getting a glimpse at upcoming movies, TV shows and books before the world at large gets to see them. There were hundreds of previews for creative projects and products at this year's convention, but we were most excited by the new "Avengers" animated series and a soon-to-be-launched line of graphic novels from Disney.

The Indie Artists. Apart from the main convention floor, there is another huge room with booths from smaller publishers and independent creators and artists. Some of them are just individuals who self-publish and do all their own promotion! We chatted with many of these folks, and it was great to see that creating comics and characters isn't limited to the big, multi-million dollar companies. All it really takes to create something cool is an active imagination, a piece of paper, and a pen. We have to believe that a lot of people who came to the con as fans and then met these cool creators will go home determined to create something themselves.

Do you have a favorite character from the world of comics, graphic novels, anime, or manga? Tell us about it!



Celeb Scoop: Jackson Harris
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One of our favorite things about music fandom is when you find an artist who's in the early stages of his or her career, on the verge of having a huge hit or becoming a familiar face. It's like you're right there with that person as their dreams come true and hard work pays off. And of course, it's fun to be the first of your friends to "discover" the next big thing. That's why we're always on the lookout for up-and-comers who want to share their music and experiences with IML...so we can watch them grow into stars and say to ourselves, "We knew them when!"

jacksonharris1.jpgRecently we stumbled upon 22-year-old Jackson Harris, whose four-song debut EP "Long Story Short" releases on iTunes today. When we heard Jackson's music, which combines heartfelt lyrics with catchy, danceable pop melodies and a sweet yet mature and emotion-packed singing voice, we knew Jackson's star is headed for dizzying heights. We were even more psyched to talk to him and find that he's a smart, insightful, passionate guy who has a great outlook on where he's been and where he's going, along with some valuable advice for IML'ers.

IML: Tell us about the songs on the album. They all seem very personal!

Jackson: Yeah, each one spun off from a real moment in my life, especially the "Long Story Short" single. That came out of necessity, because I would be hanging out with my friends and going to parties, and people would ask me what I'm doing and where I'm going to school. When you're not on the same route as everybody else, you have to explain yourself a lot: "Well, I'm in music and this and that...long story short, I'm following my dreams." When I put that in the context of a song, I wanted to explain to listeners why I'm here and why I want to make music. It's a tough road and it's not always easy and not everyone makes it, but it's about passion. With the song "I Don't Speak Silence," I was on the subway and this one man was asking for directions in Spanish and I didn't speak Spanish; I was also having a problem in communication with my current relationship. When I put those two together, I thought of silence as a language. We've all been there where maybe your girlfriend or boyfriend will indicate that there's something wrong or they're feeling a certain way, but if they're not talking, there's nothing you can do. That was a tough one to write. Another song on there, "Someone Tell Brittany," was about my first real love. She kind of broke my heart but in this song, I'm letting her know that it really hurt, but thanking her because in some way it started all this music that poured out of me. And telling her that I'm okay and I hope she's happy wherever she is. I try to do a little bit of what Taylor Swift does, making each song count and attribute it to an actual memory.

IML: What is your songwriting process like, once you get these inspirations?

Jackson: I wish I could have a little more control over the process, and I think a lot of songwriters would. It happens in a lot of different ways. Sometimes I'll think of a specific melody and keep singing it in my head, and I'll write down the lyrics I want to put to it. Then I'll sit at the piano or pick up the guitar and see what sound I'm trying to go for. Once I figure out the idea for the song and what the story's going to be, I try to figure out the mood. Then I bring it to my producer and with him I figure out the music that I hear in my head. It's a really great collaboration. He's from the dance world originally, so that's a good element to have in there and we end up writing songs that people can enjoy and move to.

IML: If somebody's just listening to your songs for the first time, what do you want them to know about you as an artist?

Jackson: As cliche as it sounds, I want listeners to know that I'm still seeing myself as this kid from New York City who liked music. Even now, after I've been able to meet some great artists or be in the presence of people who work with those people I admire, I'm still just a fan. Music is something I love to do, but in some ways I'm a comic book geek about it. I love knowing who the band members are and what instruments they use. It's so much fun to me and I want listeners to hear that in the songs. And that I try to be honest and not sugar coat my lyrics, and that I don't try to be something that I'm not. I want listeners to be interested in getting to know me through my music, not just because I sing a certain phrase over and over again and they've heard it on the radio 100 times.

IML: You grew up in the Manhattan prep school environment, and you never quite fit in or got on the "track" many kids from that world feel they need to stay on. Can you tell us about those experiences?

Jackson: I think because of movies and TV and stuff, people in my prep school were trying to live up to a stereotype of how they should act or what they should be wearing. Fortunately, I caught on very quickly with a group of friends who loved me regardless of whether or not I fit in. Other things became more important to me. I wasn't so concerned about whether or not I was going to be a lawyer or a doctor or something like that. I was more interested in fields of music and acting and the arts. Even in New York City where there are so many opportunities, there's a mentality where people would say, "No you can't do this because you're from here." So all the "Gossip Girl" type expectations, sometimes they're there but you can still find cool people and I was lucky enough to meet them and grow up with a great crowd.

IML: You never felt like anybody gave you a hard time for doing your own thing?

Jackson: I think I was a little bit misunderstood in the sense that they didn't get why I wouldn't want to adhere to all the fads. I think they were more puzzled by what was going on because I kept a lot of my music to myself. It would appear to them that maybe I wasn't being a good student or didn't want to go the parties, but what I was really doing was writing or singing or trying to go to concerts. It was kind of this secret music life I was living.

IML: When did you know that you wanted to pursue music as an actual career?

Jackson: It was two very different moments. The first was what that first applause feels like. I was in sixth grade, I had to sing Frank Sinatra in the school play. I didn't know what I was singing about, but I got up there in the fedora and the whole suit, and I forgot all the words! So they restarted the tape, and I just smiled, because I had nothing to compare it to so I wasn't really that nervous, and I sang it through. When I heard that first applause...I got the shakes, I'd never felt anything like that before! Fast forward to 11th grade, I'd started this band and we had done some gigs through NYC, and when they all started figuring out what they wanted to do for college, I said to myself, Well, this is the point in my life when I get to make a decision as to how I want things to turn out, and if I go for it young. If everything goes badly, I'll use some form of this education in music to my benefit. If I can't make it in singing, I'll be a songwriter or a backup musician or a producer. I knew, someway or another I couldn't NOT have music in my life.

IML: Good point: You don't have to become a pop star to have music be your career. There's such a range of things you can do to make a living and do what you love.

Jackson: One of my favorite musicians is John Mayer and I would watch him religiously and follow anything he would say. He said something once that really struck a chord with me, which was, "You define your own success." You have to say to yourself, I'm happy if I can sell a thousand records, or if I can go down the street and buy my own record, or simply buy myself a meal! There are people who sell a million records and aren't happy because they want to sell 2 million. And then you're just making tracks, you're not making songs that mean something to you. I'd rather have it mean something to one person than just be background music in an elevator to a million people!

IML: That's a great philosophy. Has your family been supportive of you during all this time?

jacksonharris2.jpgJackson: Yes, that's one thing I'm so lucky and blessed to have had! A mom and sister and family who really supported me and took an interest in what I was doing. There are families who just give you the okay and then there are families who really want to come hear you sing and be a part of it, and my mom has always loved music. They've done a great job of saying things like, "Maybe that wasn't the greatest song but we love you, keep going, we want to hear what you're playing." They never told me to shush, which was tough for my mom with me singing in the car! She's still there every day checking my YouTube channel and I'm so happy that I get to make her proud, and show her that even in high school when teachers were saying, "What is your son doing, he's not paying attention in class?" I can say, this is what I was doing! I was thinking of all these songs!

IML: What would your advice be for someone who doesn't have that kind of support?

Jackson: If your parents aren't that supportive, you should find some friends in school with similar interests or find some clubs or teachers that do drama, sculpture, singing, whatever. Try to go out there and find that support, because it's not going to come to you if you don't go out there and grab it for yourself. I was lucky enough that my grandmother got to hear one of my songs before she passed away recently. When I was 7 years old, she had told me, "Don't let anyone tell you no." Now I realize that she was saying, "Don't let anyone tell you that you're not good enough to do something."

IML: Why do you think it's important for young people to participate in the arts, even if they don't plan to pursue a career in those areas? Why do the arts matter?

Jackson: I think in the same way we participate in certain academic activities we don't pursue as a career. I studied biology and algebra, read philosophy books and all that. I didn't want to be a philosopher or a scientist or mathematician, but it introduced me to stories and brilliant people and amazing discoveries. While these classes are important because they teach you about other people, the arts teach you about yourself. When you learn about yourself, that gives you a better sense of the world and how to treat people, and art and music in general is universal. Two people who don't speak the same language can enjoy the same song or the same piece of artwork.

IML: Thanks, Jackson, for introducing us to your music and sharing your outlook on life and art. Good luck with the album!

Jackson: Thank you!

You can learn more about Jackson and sample his music on his website at www.TheJacksonHarris.com, where he also answers questions from fans.


Asher, Billy, Seth, and Tyler
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asher.jpgIt's October 1. We're kind of glad September is over, because it was filled with news of four teen boys -- in Indiana, Texas, California, and New Jersey -- who committed suicide as a result of being bullied. It doesn't matter why they were bullied. These boys felt so much pain at the hands of their peers that they must have thought there was no way life could ever get better. That's a lot of pain, and it makes us hurt just to think about it.

We urge IML'ers to take a look at our Bullies section, even if you've read it before. We all need to remind ourselves of how our actions (and inactions) might affect other people. It's important to ask these questions:
Then please share your thoughts and experiences -- about these headlines, about bullying, about what you've done to get through it -- on our Bullies You Said It page.

We know things can change, and that change can start right away, and it can start with you and the people around you. There's power in compassion!