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Bullying

I’ve been struggling with what I wanted to write for Hold Onto the Light. Not because I didn’t have anything to say—I knew I wanted to talk about bullying; that’s why I volunteered to participate—but because I wasn’t certain exactly what I wanted to say about bullying. I’ve decided I should just tell my own story and leave it out there for the readers to interpret on their own.

I was bullied in school. Not to the point where I considered suicide or became depressed (I don’t think) or anything like that, but it definitely shaped me and my life. I’m a military brat—meaning my dad was in the military and so I moved repeatedly throughout school and passed through many communities with various levels of support for the military families in the area. Some were extremely supportive, others … not so much. I ended up going to three different high schools, spread across the US—Washington State, Virginia, and Texas. It was great to see and experience such a wide and diverse cross-section of the US—something that likely helps me create different, realistic cultures and worlds in my fantasy novels—but it had a significant disadvantage as well: no stability, which meant it was difficult to form lasting friendships. Not impossible, but difficult.

I was bullied at each school. It wasn’t physical bullying, it was more subtle than that. Because I was military and new and got good grades, I was shunned by almost everyone. The first time someone said they wouldn’t talk to me because my dad was in the Navy was a slap in the face. Somehow, that made me different, and as we all know, being different is what draws the bullies in. What it did to me was turn me inwards. I escaped into books, found my friends inside words and pages. In essence, I shunned nearly everything and everyone throughout high school. I was a “loner” that participated in band and other activities, but I never became part of any of the social cliques at any of the high schools I attended. I was always the outsider, and in some sense I accepted it and embraced it. It shielded me from the teasing, which was constant, but thankfully never escalated into violence. Possibly because I became so self-involved that I simply didn’t react to anything they said or did to me. If the person you’re torturing isn’t reacting, the “fun” of bullying gets old fast.

But the point is, without that bullying throughout high school, what might I have done? I’d likely have been part of the theater club, perhaps some of the other more social clubs as well. I might have done more with the band, rather than jumping from one instrument to another. It probably wouldn’t have taken me 28 years to finally come out as being gay. Granted, I may not have become a fantasy writer without the bullying, because I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time reading fantasy and sci-fi novels to “escape.” And I wouldn’t have spent so much time creating my own worlds, with characters that I consider friends, because all of the books I’ve written so far started there in high school.

And all of the books I’ve written so far have had some form of bullying that has shaped the main character. In the “Throne” series, Varis is bullied or abused by nearly everyone she meets in the slums. In particular, she’s bullied psychologically by Bloodmark. In the “Well” series (originally published under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate), the books start out with Colin being physically beaten by a group of kids his own age, and that bullying continues throughout the series, even into their adulthood. And in the new “Ley” series, Kara gathers around her friends who are being bullied by others, because she’s been bullied herself and sees herself as a protector. I even have an unpublished novel called FEVER that, after reaching the halfway point, I suddenly discovered dealt with physical abuse/bullying in the first half, and psychological abuse/bullying in the second half, all unplanned. It simply wrote itself into the story.

So obviously the bullying I experienced throughout school affected me. I tend to tell myself that it didn’t, but obviously it’s coming out in my writing. Obviously, it left a more lasting mark than I’d like to admit. I’m not consciously trying to make my novels or stories about bullying, but it’s certainly there. It’s coming from the subconscious, which does most of my writing in the first place. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the bullying—most likely I wouldn’t be a writer at all, perhaps not even a sci-fi fan—but I have to ask myself, was that really necessary? I know I didn’t experience an extreme form of bullying, but it still had lasting effects. The fact that even this mild emotional bullying altered me to such an extent only emphasizes that the more severe bullying can be devastating.

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About the campaign:
#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to
https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/

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Joshua Palmatier

September 2017

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