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"Vladimir Tod" author Heather Brewer talks books and bullies

By It's My Life on October 28, 2010 2:08 PM | No TrackBacks

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





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