Breaking News: Helping Students Navigate a Post-Truth World

Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby! Macedonia Manufactures Metallic War Spiders! Ted Cruz Father Linked to JFK Assassination! The National Enquirer

Not so long ago, The National Enquirer was the bastion of almost joyfully fake news. Then things started getting, well… weird. Now we now find ourselves in a world of “post-truth” —the 2016 Word of the Year according to the Oxford Dictionary—where emotion and ideology are more powerful sculptors of public opinion than facts

shutterstock_115472515.jpgSo what is real? What is a lie, and what’s merely a joke? Is a fact, in fact, a fact? These days, it’s hard to tell.

Even though fake news isn’t new, more and more Americans are getting their news from social media, not legitimate news sources. And a staggering amount of this news isn’t news at all.  According to Buzzfeed—a popular online source covering digital media and technology—“fake news” outperformed mainstream news in the days leading to Election Day.

By now, most everyone has heard President Trump use the term “fake news.” Yet even this term isn’t exactly true, as he and his administration tend to use the label to mean anything that they don’t agree with versus what is proved to be untrue. While some fake news has a political purpose, most often the goal is to simply get a reader to click or to visit an advertiser. The more inflammatory the headline, the more clicks it often receives and, therefore, the more money is made and the more prominence that article is given. The “click-bait” phenomenon has gotten so bad that even Facebook and Google are trying to get a handle on curtailing it.

This is especially worrisome for kids and teens, who get most of their news from social media feeds and who haven’t developed the “site-smarts” to discern fake news from legitimate sources. This is, in many ways, the defining issue of our time. And it’s vital that today’s students develop the capability to become shrewd consumers of information.

Fake Checks and Balances

Media comes at us so fast that it often rushes past our ability to gauge its credibility. And viral content is exactly that: a virus that can spread beyond anyone’s ability to contain. This means that both kids and adults alike need to view news as an editor would: as fault-finders constantly questioning the validity of the information presented.

This chart by patent attorney Vanessa Otero shows where popular news media fall in terms of skew and quality of reporting, helping students to be better aware of their sources.

As a response to the fake news phenomenon, the State of California has already drafted legislation requiring “civic online reasoning” be added to curriculum as a response to a troubling study conducted by the Stanford History Education Group showing that young people are particularly susceptible to fake news stories.

The Stanford researchers studied middle school, high school and college students in 12 states and found they had difficulty distinguishing ads from articles and fake accounts from real ones. More than 80% of middle schoolers assumed that sponsored content was real news. High school students accepted photographs as fact. Most college students didn’t question the potential bias behind tweets from activist groups, or identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source.

But it’s a challenge to wean children off fake news when their parents are so easily fooled.  Even if a story seems false, if it fits the reader’s particular ideology, then it’s often filed away as true regardless. This is, perhaps, the scariest part of all of this: even if something turns out not to be true, it is quickly dismissed as the lie has already been accepted.

Tools for Truth


So it’s up to the educator, in many ways, to create media savvy students. And questioning what you read begins with questions. How believable is the story? If it seems fake, it often is. What do you know about the source? A little research can go a long way.

Other tips for helping kids to sniff out falsehoods include:

  • Start by looking at the address. Is it a .com? Is it a .gov? Is it a .edu? Be sure that students understand that .com represents the word “commercial” (businesses) and .org means “organization” (such as charities and non-profits) and that countries also have their own domain extensions. Unusual URLs—especially if the content is trying hard to appear as another legitimate source—are to be viewed with a grain of salt.
  • Consider the point of view of the source. What are they attempting to have readers believe? What do they have to gain through this viewpoint? Some Google sleuthing into the source could reveal possible motives and/or biases. Are the authors qualified to write about this issue? Are there any facts that are conspicuously missing?
  • Follow the money. Who paid for the content? Or, if content is clicked, who stands to get paid?  Spending a little time investigating a source—such as their About Us section—can be illuminating. If a site doesn’t include such a section, that’s a red flag in and of itself!
  • Double check the facts. It’s a good rule of thumb to compare three sources to gauge the validity of a fact, being sure that one of those sources is from an opposing viewpoint. Snopes, and Wikipedia are easy ways to test the validity of wild claims. Also, see if mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news. If not, this could be a clue.
  • Looks can be deceiving. A lot of fake news outlets employ professional-looking graphics and design to convey a sense of reliability. Kids need to learn how to separate the information from the presentation. Helpful signs are grammatical errors, sensationalist images, outlandish claims and a lack of sources.
  • Read beyond the headline. Does the story itself match the intent of the headline? Is the date current? Is the site a satirical news site such asThe Onion?
  • Gain a foreign perspective. Another interesting approach is to have students consider how events are reported in different regions of the world. Looking at the same event through the lens of various foreign countries can reveal unique viewpoints.

When in Doubt, Head for the Library

Chicago librarian Kylie Peters is on the front lines of the war against fake news.

“Librarians are the original search engine,” says Peters. “People think they don’t need libraries because of Google. In fact, they need us more than ever to help them combat information overload, and sort and evaluate the current glut of information.”

Here are a few of her tips for helping students navigate a world of falsity.

  • Scroll to the bottom of the page and look at who owns the copyright. Is it an individual? A business? A smaller division of a large business? What makes this site qualified to provide accurate information on the topic the site covers?
  • Does the website cite its sources? Are the sources reliable? Does it link to reliable sites?
  • Poor graphic design may be an indicator of low-quality material.
  • Watch for “bias words” that indicate emotion, opinion or slant.
  • Don’t use Google search rankings as an indicator of accuracy. There are a lot of tricks people will use to make their Google search rankings go up. Google also pushes its own properties to the top of the search results.

Peters also suggests that students test their media manipulation skills by Googling the phrase “Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus” and clicking on the site that comes up first. This site was specifically designed to teach students digital literacy and has some built-in clues to help identify false information.

And Peters advises that if a student feels overwhelmed, that they can always seek out a librarian to help them with essential media literacy skills.

Other tools for combating fake new include these Google lesson plans for evaluating the credibility of sources and an irreverent syllabus called Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data created by two University of Washington professors tackling critical thinking in regards to “data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.”

The News is Fake but the Threat is Real

Ignorance and propaganda are a threat to the American way of life as democracy depends on the acknowledgment of facts to help steer our government through a sea of opinions and self-interests. Even more so, fake news can strip away faith in our institutions, effectively making them useless.

It’s up to the educational system to help create a more savvy generation of citizens to lead our country forward. This entails not only the ability to more accurately sift through fact and fiction, but a better understanding of constitutional democracy and the structure of government.

Perhaps a push for media literacy and more comprehensive civics education could help mend our fractured political landscape. And while creating a civics curriculum can be a touchy thing—walking a tightrope to avoid the potential ire of parents—it is essential in giving students a unifying foundation and hope for the future. This skill would also offer students strong examples of how powerful “true” journalism can be in revealing societal ills, thus encouraging solutions.

As Chris Berdik recently reported in Slate, preliminary research suggests that students who receive media literacy training are better able than other students to evaluate the accuracy of political claims and distinguish advertising, entertainment, and advocacy from news.

With social media’s popularity as a news source, it’s more important than ever that we equip students with the media literacy and critical thinking skills to distinguish fact from fiction. Admittedly, it’s a challenging task. But our civil society depends on a well-informed citizenry— including tomorrow’s voters—that have the tools to make up their own minds. As Thomas Jefferson (purportedly—I’ll have to check three sources) said: “An ignorant people never remain a free people.”

Check out these resources for incorporating “truth-seeking” into your classroom:


From Reluctant to Triumphant: Turning Wary Writers into Writing Winners

Part Two: Reaching Auditory Learners

shutterstock_318745259 (1)

A reluctant writer comes in many guises: a student who is good at telling stories but lacks the skill (or desire) to put them down on paper; someone who is never satisfied with what they write; a poor speller; someone who thinks that writing is just grammar and rules; someone who abandons their writing easily; or someone who is simply scared to push themselves or risk appearing foolish.

A simple strategy is to not make writing seem like writing to the reluctant writer. Not tricking them, per se, but cleverly building up necessary skills to help make writing more productive and satisfying.

Now You’re Talking (and Writing)

Some children are auditory learners. You know: the ones that you are constantly hushing (it’s odd: we spend so much time trying to get children walking and talking as babies only to force them sit down and be quiet when older!). In any case, many of these “chatty” students simply must process thoughts through their lips.

In terms of writing, verbal learners might prefer talking another student through their story before committing pen to paper: verbally formulating their plot and solidifying characters. This helps young writers put thoughts in order beforehand to better avoid writing frustration.

Auditory learners have the tendency to read out loud, repeat information and ask a variety of questions for clarification. They understand the world by talking about it, tend to like music, would rather listen to and talk about a story than read, and demonstrate good oral spelling.

All Ears

Auditory learners remember what they hear and tend to process by talking aloud. They are the vocal students who hum, tap their pencils to a beat, or can’t go throughout the day without singing or sharing a story. These students can often have a hard time concentrating in a noisy environment.

Headphones can act like mufflers for students who are easily distracted by sounds and side-conversations. Non-intrusive music can also be used to set a “mood” in the learning environment. This can help students better focus on the task at hand. Long periods of silence when reading, writing, or testing can be difficult for auditory learners. Classical music can help calm students during an exam, while upbeat music might prove motivational during certain lessons or exercises.

These students thrive in group discussions and read aloud activities. They often need to read out loud, ask questions, or talk through problems they are having with their work

Persuasive writing exercises can be engage auditory learners by getting children together in groups to form and present persuasive arguments. These types of learners often make strong debaters, so enabling students to build persuasive arguments can be an emboldening experience. Students can begin by determining a goal, then identifying reasons to support that argument then finding facts or examples to validate each reason. Persuasive lessons help students discover the power of writing to serve their needs. When they recognize what writing can “do for them,” they are motivated to write and to work at making their arguments clearer and more persuasive.

Set the Stage for Collaboration

Sometimes students simply work better together. Pairing children or putting them in small groups for a set amount of time should help keep them focused (though be prepared for some noise!). Pairing up students to help them brainstorm their stories can ignite creativity on its own, with each child helping one another to fill in gaps or take their ideas in exciting new directions. Students can even “role-play” their characters and situations! Partners can write and switch too—building their stories line by line—or one person can transcribe what the other dictates and then switch, turning an evolving conversation into an actual story. Their stories don’t even need to be formally committed to paper and could, for example, be recorded as a podcast. Listening back to their podcasts and either honing their stories verbally or through the act of writing can kick-start healthy writing habits.

Children don’t even need to be in the same room when brainstorming stories. Online collaboration tools such as Padlet can help with collaborative ideation. Padlet works like an online sheet of paper where students can put any content (e.g. images, videos, documents, text) anywhere on the page, together with anyone, from any device.

Correcting a peer’s writing (or a teacher’s, for that matter) is also far less painful than correcting your own. This helps a reluctant writer learn how to revise and correct without it feeling too personal.

Make It a Habit

Making writing a fun and frustration-free part of a student’s daily life is important. Timed free-writing exercises—no more than ten or 15 minutes at a time—help to ingrain good practices. Ideally, students will begin to consider this “their special time” to reflect, let their imaginations run rampant, vent frustrations, or capture life-moments. It’s also important to let students write about what engages them the most before nudging them into specific directions. If they are passionate about a topic, this passion will ultimately come through in their writing. This could even take the form of “fan fiction”: where students continue the adventures of beloved characters from books or movies.

Setting up a class blog, with teacher-penned prompts (such as quotes, snippets of dialogue, or even photographs), can also prove successful. Be sure to promote short bursts of productive writing: save the editing and spelling for later. The worst thing for writing flow is to have issues such as spelling and grammar impede that initial gush of creativity.

Again, for the verbal learner, this could be simply recording their thoughts for a designated period of time, and making use of those ideas later when writing. Students can capture ideas—either alone or with collaborators—while on walks by dictating into their phones. It’s a great opportunity for students to talk their stories out while releasing restless energy! Even recording recollections of dreams can be a powerful way of building vocabulary.

And, since reluctant writers are often reluctant readers, have students make reading a part of their daily routine. This could even be listening to audio books or magazine podcasts on an iPod: anything to fill a young writer’s head with well-chosen words.

Peer Pressure

Students are often more inclined to step-up and brave that blank page if they know that their writing will be shared with peers. Hold a reading at a local coffee shop for student work, or simply a weekly “open mic” in the classroom where students read what they have written that week. Student stories can also be published in a book, blog or eBook. Be sure to teach “tactful” commenting and critique. Even those who are shy to share will likely be inspired by those who aren’t.

Resistance is Futile (and Fuel)

Even resistance can be used as writing fuel. If a student doesn’t want to write and, instead, would prefer to play outside, let them write about what they’d do outside. If they want to scream and throw a tantrum, have them write about that. Let them write about how much they hate writing until they have run out of words. This will reinforce that all-important pipeline between brain and fingers.

The Write Tools

There are a number of online tools to help get auditory learners writing.

ReadWriteThink is a handy online resource that provides educators, parents, and afterschool professionals with free, high-quality reading and language arts instruction materials.

Another way to help students organize and arrange stories is through Adobe Spark Video. This free tool allows students to quickly create animated videos featuring their own narration. Not only do the app’s prompts help children with story structure, but Adobe Spark Video can also be an empowering tool for students who are uneasy with giving formal presentations to their peers.

Other tools include: PodOmatic, where auditory learners can create, find and share podcasts; Playlist, a resource for auditory learners to access free music to play in the background while they learn; Natural Reader, a way to read text stored on your computer; Audacity, easy-to-use audio editing software; Librivox, providing free access to nearly 1,500 free audio books recorded by Librivox volunteers; Project Gutenberg, a collection of human-read and computer-generated audio books; Lit2Go, a collection of free stories and poems in mp3 format; and Read With Me, a student literacy and reading tool for grades K-2 (and their teachers).

With these and other writing tricks and tips, reluctant writers will eventually overcome feelings of past failure and begin to develop the skills crucial to strong writing: building confidence, pride and perseverance!

From Reluctant to Triumphant: Turning Wary Writers into Writing Winners

Here’s a post from my side project, Write-Craft-Edit, where I try to help young writers get over common obstacles and release the stories trapped inside!

Part One: Reaching Visual Learners

shutterstock_212468167I can’t write. I’m not good with spelling and grammar. I don’t know what to write about. The letters get all mixed up. Writing is boring.

The excuses are many. But there’s really no excuse for students not writing. Every child has a story to tell. It’s just that, oftentimes, the words get lost on the trip from the brain to the fingers.

The key is to make the experience of writing engaging and relevant: helping students to overcome either imaginary obstacles or very real obstacles such as dyslexia.

It’s simply a child’s nature to develop a “block” to something that frustrates them. But teachers and parents must help coax strong writing habits by creating a climate of expression as opposed to one of correction. Writing is a process. And by making this process enjoyable and fulfilling, the young writer will work at his or her own pace to develop essential skills.

The Eyes Have It

Visual learners are often the most resistant to the practice of writing. Giving them the time and the strategies to visualize their writing beforehand is not only a way to get students creatively thinking about their writing, but is a great tool for all writers: helping to solidify thoughts, settings and details before pencil touches paper. Drawing a picture before writing can help set the stage for imaginative storytelling. This could be a map of a make-believe world, a comic strip, or a crude sketch: anything it takes to get creativity flowing. Visualization exercises also work for reports, essays, and other nonfiction-type forms of writing.

Concept mapping tools and index cards are a simple and compelling way to help young writers overcome the hurdles preventing them from organizing their ideas. Concept mapping tools—such as the Learning in Context: Concept Mapping app—give children a chance to experiment with ideas and possible outcomes in a fun, hand-on way. This allows free exploration of most any idea, with the strongest ideas forming a visual outline. An outline can be as simple as a brief character sketch, that character’s motivation, a list of other characters and/or antagonists, and how–in general—the story will end.

1) Have your student pick a theme, topic, or even a sentence that could form the basis for a story. Have them put this in a circle or square at the center of their screen.

2) Have your student brainstorm ideas related to their central topic, generating as many as possible. Next, they should pick the ideas that work best with the general theme or idea, and put them in circles or squares around the center circle, connecting them with a line.

3) Have students repeat the process—branching out of subtopics—until their screen looks like a constellation of ideas: enough to form a general outline for a story.

4) Students can use their concept map to organize their ideas to create optimal “story flow”: arranging connected plot points closely together, pacing ideas in a way that conveys a satisfying arc, and removing ideas that don’t seem to fit anymore or are too similar to other ideas. A concept map tool makes this easy (and fun!).

5) Have students consult their concept map often while developing their stories so they stay on track and feel as if there is a visual “support” for their writing. An outline or template can provide structure for writers who don’t know where to begin. Knowing that there is scaffolding in place, students can relax a little and allow their creativity to take over.

All a (Story)Board!

Creating storyboards can also help young writers to visualize how their story might unfold. This makes the ebb and flow of a story seem real to visual learners. When a student is fully immersed in their creation, their imagination kicks in and inhibitions begin to loosen their grip!  A storyboard should, ideally, visualize a key scene or milestone from a story, and not necessarily be a comic book (though that is fine too!).

There are a number of storyboarding apps and tools. Some popular storyboard creators areStoryboard That, Storyboard Generator, and ReadWriteThink: Story Map. These tools function in much the same way: creating a number of panels to be filled any way the student wishes: some allowing for drag and drop characters, conflicts and/or settings to help a writer organize their story.

A teacher can also hand out sheets with pre-drawn panels or even index cards, which add the ability to reorganize scenes much like a concept map.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (Give or Take)

Another tool to help jump-start writing for visual learners is photographic prompts. Show your students a series of photographs and ask them to imagine whom the people in the photographs are, where the photographs were taken, and how the photographs makes them feel. Then have them begin to imagine what sort of story they can make from what they see. This can really help relieve the pressure of starting a writing project from scratch. You can either grab kid-friendly photographs from Google, Flickr, Pics4Learning, Photos For Class, or your favorite photo resource.

Blanking on the Blank Page

Students often have no idea what to write. By telling them who their audience is, you can help students better connect the dots between reader and writer. Have them choose a topic that might be of interest to their specific reader, and choose their language accordingly. This audience could be a person (Abraham Lincoln or the child’s best friend), an animal (a squirrel or family pet), or even a thing (a robot or talking dragon).

Another technique is to have students write within a particular form, such as a diary-entry or even a recipe! These formats imply a certain structure, which can birth creative ideas (sometimes nothing is as daunting to writing as complete freedom!). Giving students a choice also makes them feel empowered and valued, and can make a big difference in helping a student get their words out into the world.

Switch It Up

Sometimes creative writing itself can be too intimidating for some writers. Persuasive writing exercises can not only seem more “relevant” to certain students, but also help develop crucial skills such as supporting ideas concisely and comprehensively. Begin with subjects that students are passionate about, such as food (free pizza and ice cream being served in the cafeteria), freedoms (later school start-time or no curfew), and favorite pastimes (why skateboarding is the best or why a certain band or recording artist is the best). Some students may not even be really sure what, exactly, they are passionate about. Ask them questions and ferret out their personal stories. Their personal interests—and subsequent writing opportunities—should emerge. Once they feel confident that they have something to say, they will feel more confident in their writing.

Next, help students to understand the distinction between opinion and fact (unless, of course, they are running for political office). One pre-writing activity could involve flipping through magazines and analyzing advertisements to better understand the distinction, as well as incorporating colorful, persuasive phrases and language.

Other times, switching up the typical tools—such as pencil and paper—can help to inspire and engage. In addition to laptops and writing platforms such as Microsoft Word, blogging sites likeWordPress or Blogger can help shake up writing routines by making the process more fun. Students can also continue their writing or make revisions at home or even share their work with others for feedback.

The Write Tools

There are a number of other online tools to help get students writing, such as: Storyjumper, a tool for creating online books; Story Starters, a selection of interactive story prompts; Zoo Burst, 3-D pop-up book creator; Storybird, a visual storytelling community; Pixton, comic book creator; andMy Story Maker, a simple storybook creator.

Educators need to follow a student’s lead whenever possible as opposed to imposing rigid expectations. Weave writing exercises and prompts naturally during the course of their day, every day. Make writing a shared journey that either your child or your entire class can share together.

Happy Heckoween

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 5.20.14 PMIt’s that time of year again, when children wear cumbersome, restrictive costumes and wander in the dark to eat food handed to them by total strangers. What could go wrong? How about…getting the Circles of Heck series! Yes, imagine the looks of mild confusion when, instead of getting some fun-sized candy (as if “fun” could ever be properly measured!?) your young boys and ghouls receive fresh copies of the Circles of Heck series!


Read what real people could possibly be saying about the highly affordable Circles of Heck series!

“So frightening that I soiled someone ELSE’s pants!” — Stephen King

“I laughed so hard that I broke all of my ribs. Seriously, I am in incredible pain, please help me.” — Will Ferrell

“Basye uses many of the same words that appear in classic pieces of literature.” — Harvard University

“The [Heck series] is the [best series] [ever written].” — [New York Times]

“You will laugh, cry and cherish every page of Dale E. Basye’s exceptional Circles of Heck series!” — Not a Real Magazine Magazine

Where the Heck is Heck?


Heck-o, readers on the other side of the magic screen. Long time no…well, no nothing. And if I’m anything, it’s a no-nothing. I have been getting emails lately…that fact in and of itself is less than earth-shattering. Many of you probably receive emails. But the ones I have been receiving have been questioning where, when and/or if the next Heck book will be published. Short answer? Heck-if-I-know.

Here’s the skinny: About a year and a half or so (I forget, exactly, as the wound has since scabbed over), I was told that Random House would no longer be publishing my Circles of Heck series: even though I had already submitted the eighth installment, Sadia: The Eighth Circle of Heck. The company had recently merged with Penguin, becoming something of a Random Penguin. And while it was still a House, it was sadly no longer my home. I knew that the merger had streamlined the company, with editors sharing offices and having to cut whatever titles weren’t make the cut, editing-time-to-profit-wise. Meaning, my editor was spending more time than was deemed worth it on my books so I (and many authors) were let loose and reintroduced to the wilds of the non-published.

This sucked. And, since I had two titles to go in my series, no other publishing house (according to my agent) would want to publish and promote another publisher’s series. The only glimmer of hope is that MGM have the option to make the first Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go book into a movie. They have had this right for nearly five years; with the project on its second director and…I don’t know: third or fourth screenwriter.

If the movie happens, this would—ideally—renew interest in the series so that I could properly finish it (or as properly as I can do anything). The option has been extended until the end of the year, so hopefully there will be some movement in this area. There are a lot of talented people involved, so I would love to see this project kicked into production! If the movie doesn’t happen…I don’t know. I could self-publish, but I would want the books to be as high-quality as possible and not look, I don’t know…shabby in comparison to what came before. I’m not even sure if there is a market to make it worth the trouble, as the last book in the series Wise Acres: The Seventh Circle of Heck—while being my favorite of the series—only sold about 2,000 copies.  And, the weird thing is, that book is literally printed on money, so each copy is worth at least $10,000. Be sure to buy a carton today! In any case, I’m open to ideas! As I said before, Sadia is finished and I can’t stand to work on something and not have it see the light of day, or the dark of eternal night.

So that, in a nut-job, is what the haps.

I hope you all are well and swell and not swelling in a well.

“Beast” Wishes,

Dale E. Basye

Bully For Me. Bully For You.

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 11.35.25 AM

To commemorate October as “Bullying Awareness Month,” I bring you the following insights regarding the subject…

As a latch-key kid, I basically came home from school, made my meals, and did my homework until my adult “roommates” came home. (To amuse myself I’d drive across the local park, set fire to things, and make Super-8 movies, usually of me driving across the local park and setting fire to things.) So when I was bullied at school, I not only didn’t have any sense of conflict management or support tools of any kind, but I couldn’t even really talk about it. At the time, the notion of “talking about it” just seemed like it would make it all the more real. So I kept it all bottled up inside and quietly hated myself for being bullied upon. The bullying wasn’t extreme, really, in retrospect: hardly ever physical, mostly just name-calling, the threat of abuse, a few books knocked out of my hands, etc. I was never punched, never shoved, but I still felt like a victim. The bullying created a thick layer of malevolence and unease to my school day, which—in retrospect—affected my school-work, my relationships, and my self-esteem even today. I often feel like I put up with more shit than I need to, like the guy at the end of an incontinent elephant parade armed only with a shovel.

The bullying turned this outsider inside out. When people talk about how happy they were in school, I simply can’t relate. I had great friends and, equipped with a selective memory, I can create a fairly convincing scrapbook of happy times in my head. But, really, I only started to feel comfortable with myself in my 30s! Maybe that’s why my books are obsessed with the infantile. A part of me is still frozen in a state of arrested development. In the vicious, viscous amber of time. Despite being a boy named Dale, I was pretty popular in elementary school, doing plays and talent shows, etc. But, upon middle school, all my friends were sent to one school, while I was sent to another. I never really recovered from that. I was sent to, basically, an off-Broadway production of Lord of the Flies and learned to keep my head down (my, what interesting feet I have!).

I hated middle school. Hated it. So I find it supremely ironic that, after writing a bunch of books for middle-readers, I find myself having to go to schools for appearances. It’s like if I wrote a book about terrible prison experiences, then had to do a tour of maximum security penitentiaries. Yay. Maybe my next series should be about tropical spa vacations. Anyway, I don’t have a wide audience. My books are kind of cult-y. Niche. But the fan-base are really devoted. Half of the letters or messages I get are from adults, which is interesting. Also a lot of “spooky” teen girls, which I didn’t bargain for. I thought Heck would appeal mostly the pre-teen boys, but girls have really latched on to Marlo. Anyway, while I haven’t gotten any letters specifically about bullying, I can tell that my books are savored by outcasts: those that feel different. And that my stories, humor, outlook and way of writing appeal to them. They really enjoy the obscure references that make them feel part of an exclusive club. And I know that, when I was growing up, sci-fi and punk music really helped me through. It was very different then: media wasn’t so omnipresent. You had to actively seek out the things that you liked and, with the effort and intention that required, it made you feel like part of a club. Just knowing that there were other freaks out there that liked what I liked made school much more bearable.

The baddest bully in my books, Damian Ruffino— is actually named after a real bully I encountered in middle school. I forget what his first name was, but his last name was definitely Ruffino. He was one of those kids that was twice as big as the other kids, probably had facial hair as a baby…I remember he had the name RUFFINO on the back of the football jersey he’d always wear. He was just one of many. He never really did anything but make fun of me or threaten me. Anyway, in the first chapter of the first Heck book, Milton—the main character—has these horrible memories of his encounters with Damian flash into his mind just before his—SPOILER—death! While these scenes weren’t anything that happened to me, per se, they captured the feeling I would have of basically being “hunted” at school. Avoiding someone as if they carried the bully-bonic plague!

And, I have to say, adults weren’t much help at the time. At least not for me. I remember in middle school we had a PE coach for a while, his name was—get this—Tiny. And, of course, he wasn’t. One of those nicknames that bullies adopt to basically dare you to say something, I’m sure. Anyway, my friend Guy Himber and I were trying our best to play football despite our utter non-interest and complete lack of skill, and the boys who basically lived to play football as an excuse to hit each other would always plow into us with undisguised glee. So, I had headgear—of course—and after one particularly vicious play, Guy and I were pretty banged up and were either crying or were on the verge of crying, and I recall vividly Tiny, surrounded by a pack of snickering boys, just laughing at us. An adult not only thinking that it was fine for some boys to physically abuse others, but openly condoning, even celebrating it. That really pissed me off. I mean, what an awful, awful person. I’m sure there is an open position in Heck just waiting for Coach Tiny!

So that’s pretty much the fuel that feeds my Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go series. It was basically my middle school experience…a living Heck, though none of my teachers had hooves and horns, at least to the best of my knowledge. So, as irony has it, my book series often sends me back to school to do readings and workshops. My bowels still turn to jelly when walking down those shiny, institutionalized floors, hearing the exploding heart-attack bell, and swimming upstream through halls of impulse-control-challenged pre-teens. Maybe it’s a form of therapy. But it still feels like, inside, there is that nervous little kid with the headgear, wearing bellbottom cords and a Star Wars T-shirt, just trying to get through his day with as little fuss as possible. And I’m sure it is exponentially worse for kids today.

Being an adolescent is hard. Harder now than ever, actually. Especially with all of the adult tools nowadays that only kids have the disposable time to completely utilize for evil. The key to it all is perspective. Now, in retrospect, I know that that time was fleeting. Transitory. But a blip. Sure, it was awful at times, but now I know that it was just a patch of bad road. At the time, though, it seemed impossibly deep and impassably terrible. And it’s really hard to convince someone with no perspective to have perspective.

But does get better, as they say.

Just remember: A bully is basically no different than their victim, only he or she tends to keep their bruises on the inside. A bully is really only beating him or herself up……only you’re the one doubled over in agony, scrambling for your broken glasses and your shattered dignity. No joke (In fact, you should never joke with a bully, as they always finish up with a strong punch-line). Bullies are always on the prowl for a quick and dirty fight. It’s best to leave them to simmer solo in their own beastly juices. Trying to win is the surest way to lose. The battle they’re fighting isn’t with you. It’s with themselves. You’d just get in the way…

Book Review: Wise Acres (Heck: Where The Bad Kids Go #7)

MIscellaneous Soup

Dale E. Basye is a literary genius. No, I’m not exaggerating. After a certain point in the book, I believe that he truly is a genius.

Plot: This is a much lighter book than Precocia. It almost feels as if Mr. Basye was trying to write something slightly different than the normal format, just to experiment for future literary endeavors. That being said, it is not a bad book. It takes the concept of the word ‘meta’ and brings it up to a level that even Phelous, creator of a film reviewing web series, wouldn’t dare to traverse. Unfortunately, to explain further would be to ruin portions of the book and it is too good to ruin.  Wise Acres feels like a gigantic love letter to the art of creating a novel. An art that I wish I could master, incidentally. If I didn’t officially proclaim it…

View original post 489 more words