CS: Why did you decide to write Bullied? What inspired you to write it?
Katherine: So many young people have taken their lives in response to bullying, and each time I’ve wondered, “Didn’t someone notice they were in pain?” I wrote Bullied because I wanted to reach out to young people – to let them know that someone does care about what they’re feeling, and to let them know that someone who’s been through what they’re going through has recovered and made it through to the other side. It’s absolutely possible to recover from the trauma and pain of bullying, whether it happened last week, or thirty years ago, and to create a much happier and more fulfilling life.
I also wanted teens to have a resource written by someone who had been in the same kind of position they are – someone who’s not a psychologist, teacher, or other authority figure – someone who could be a friend and help them through a tough situation.
CS: Did you make any kind of outline before writing Bullied or did it take shape as you wrote it? What did this organizational process look like?
Katherine: I write at the direction of my muse, who gives me the inspiration of phrases – and sometimes paragraphs or pages – which I record as they come; and after I’ve written a number of pages, the organizational structure begins to appear. I imagine some semi-conscious part of my brain has a part in creating the outline that comes to me as I draft a book, but I also believe my books are “co-created” with the Universe, so I know I receive information from somewhere. I usually think of my muse as “the Divine Creative Force,” the “Universal Consciousness,” or “That Which Wants to Be Said.” I’ve been writing for more than 20 years now, so the process has really become organic for me, a very natural part of the flow of my life, and I’m extremely grateful for that.
CS: Does this book have a specific target audience? How did you decide what audience you were writing to? Did you write the book with that audience in mind? If so, what are some of the things you did in your writing to target and engage that audience, such as use a particular voice, vocabulary, structure, etc.?
Katherine: I did have a teenaged audience in mind when I began the book, though as it unfolded I realized it would be useful for adults who were bullied years or decades ago, and had never gone through much of a recovery process. So I did use a particular voice and vocabulary in that I used simple language that teens could understand; I chose a structure that would offer information in small bytes because I know teens have a lot of information to process; and created a structure that would offer them quick access to what they most wanted to know through the Table of Contents.
CS: There are some specific features that are particular to this book, such as the quotes throughout and the meditation practice at the end. How did you decide on including these features and what effect do you think they have on the reader?
Katherine: The quotes came about because I thought long and hard about illustrations for the book, but decided against them because I didn’t want to include pictures of bullies and bullying, or angry, sad, or fearful characters. But I knew the book needed something besides just straight text if teens were going to read it. Originally I had thought about opening each chapter with a famous-person quote about emotions, but I found so many wonderful quotes that it seemed a good idea to sprinkle them through the text as one might do with illustrations.
The meditation practice at the end was inspired by the thought that teens who aren’t comfortable or don’t feel safe reaching out to other people for help (I was one of them) need somewhere to reach out to – so I wanted to include a meditation that might help them begin to reach out to the world around them, even if they aren’t able to connect with people. I’ve known many people who are much more comfortable with nature and animals than with other human beings, and I wanted to offer help to young people who might feel the same way.
As to the effect, I think the quotes in particular help the reader to absorb the information in the book on a deeper level than they would without the quotes – and help us all understand that people have always had feelings, and that they’re nothing to be ashamed of.
CS: You have work published in several different genres, such as your memoir, The Box of Daughter. How do you think the writing process for a self-help book differs from the writing process of a memoir or other genres? Did you write the book with this genre in mind or is it a categorization that came after the writing process?
Katherine: Bullied began as a self-help book – it seemed a natural follow-up to my memoir. I only included my personal experience in the intro to validate young people’s feelings and let them know that others have had similar overwhelming emotions, even if they don’t express them. When young people don’t see others expressing feelings, they may assume there’s something wrong with them if they have intense emotions. I think this accounts for some teens taking their lives – I believe some of them think they’re defective and don’t belong in our society. That’s how I felt when I was a teenager.
As for my writing process, a self-help book comes much more from my insight and intelligence – though emotions are involved – whereas a memoir comes mostly from memory and emotion, even though there is an essential process of reflection that happens in the rewrite. I think writing a memoir, if one is to write it well, is a very personal experience of sifting through events, thoughts, feelings with a fine-toothed comb in order to get to the heart and soul of the subject of the book. Sometimes the process involves a rather intense reliving of the events in order to write them in a way that allows the reader to actually experience the story along with reading it. Memoir is very subjective, so it’s important to have others read it, get feedback, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite before publishing.
CS: How do you think the relationship between author and reader differs with a self-help book, as opposed to another genre, such as a memoir? How do you decide what genre is appropriate for a work and the work’s audience?
Katherine: In a self-help book, the author is a teacher or spiritual guide, offering the reader insight and information to help them live a better life in some way. In contrast, when I read memoir, even though I am benefitting from the author’s reflections, it’s more like having a heart-to-heart talk with a friend: I’m continually responding in my inner world with my own memories and experience, even though I’m not talking or writing.
CS: How did you determine what voice or style to use in Bullied? Did you experiment with certain styles or voices before deciding? Does this voice differ from the voice you use in books of other genres? How so? How do you know the appropriate voice to use in a book?
Katherine: In Bullied, I used a very similar voice to the one I used in my acting book for teens, Acting A to Z. The voice kind of came naturally. When a writer has written enough words, had enough feedback, critique, and editing of his or her work over time, and has read a variety of other writers and genres, I think choosing and using a voice becomes second nature – it’s an important part of the writer’s craft.
CS: The issue of bullying has become a nationally discussed and debated issue in recent years, but I have not often seen a book before Bullied that discusses the experience and recovery of the bully, in addition to the bullied. Why did you want to discuss the issue from this particular angle? How do you think it changes or contributes to the way bullying is generally discussed? How did you first get interested in the issue of bullying, particularly the issue of recovery from bullying?
Katherine: The reason that all the efforts to end bullying so far haven’t been very successful is that they’re not addressing the real root of the problem, which is that kids (and adults) are never taught how to manage their emotions and express them in healthy ways, so the difficult feelings that are a normal part of living a hectic life in this world have nowhere to go. So they build up over time, and turn into bullying in school and in the workplace, road rage, terrorism, ulcers, heart disease, and more.
Our society puts a huge burden on people by discouraging the expression of feelings. And this issue hasn’t been addressed at all on a large scale in relation to bullying and teen suicide. The problems are not going to stop until it is, because emotion is exactly what’s at the root of bullying and teen suicide. There are some bullies that are just mean kids – but I wonder, what makes them mean? What’s happened in their lives that makes them that way? Kids who bully are only trying to get their needs met in some way, and I think they often feel small and powerless inside. They want to feel stronger, and the only way they can think of to do that is to put someone else down so they can feel bigger. Bullies are usually hurting inside, too, and that’s why I addressed that aspect of the issue in the book. When someone’s boundaries have been violated, anger is a natural response – and if that person can’t strike back (with words or actions) at the person who violated or hurt them, they’ll find someone else. The anger and violence doesn’t just dissolve; it either gets repressed, or it comes out in some other form.
Recovery from bullying is a subject that’s close to my heart because I spent 25 years recovering from bullying and childhood emotional abuse, and I want to let others know that it is possible to recover. So many people carry pain throughout their lives from being bullied, but they don’t have to. They can let go of their pain and create more fulfilling lives if they learn how to express their feelings in healthy ways.
CS: Bullying is an issue that has also become widely discussed in media and other public spheres. You were recently interviewed on TV for WCSH in Portland to discuss Bullied. What was this experience like? What was it like discussing your own writing, particularly in such a public way? What are some similar exciting experiences you’ve had since publishing Bullied?
Katherine: I enjoy talking about my work in public. Some people say, “Isn’t it hard to talk about these kinds of subjects?” But I’m a person who has to say, “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.” Something in me has to shed light on these issues that everyone keeps wrapped up in secrets, because keeping the secrets is what lowers self-esteem and keeps people in pain. I’ve also done a couple of radio interviews, and the reviews of the book have been thrilling! I’m speaking at schools as well, which I think is a great way to get the word out there. I would like to do that more. But boy, it takes a huge amount of work to make these things happen! I really would rather be writing, but a writer has to do marketing, whether they publish with a traditional publisher, or self-publish.
CS: What are some of the steps you took to get Bullied published? How did you choose this method of publishing? Is this a different method of publishing than you used for your other works? If so, why did you choose a different method?
Katherine: I sent The Box of Daughter around to agents for over a year, and almost every agent responded with some version of, “This isn’t for me, but I’m sure another agent will feel differently.” They all saw the value, but no one wanted to touch a book about emotional abuse. So I self-published. I chose a wonderful company, Maine Authors Publishing, because I didn’t want to work with a company like CreateSpace or Lulu where I never got to meet the people I was working with. I love the staff at MAP – they’re extremely knowledgeable and helpful, and I like them as people. If there’s a problem, I know it will be resolved because we’ve developed a personal relationship along with a business relationship. They can’t just ignore my emails the way a faceless publisher can.
The writing I do is not really mainstream, even though it deals with mainstream issues, so I don’t believe it would appeal to traditional publishers. It’s nearly impossible to get an agent or traditional publisher now unless a writer already has a huge national following. Plus, a writer makes so much more per book when self-publishing than they do otherwise, and we have artistic control over the product. And we have to do most of the marketing either way. Self-publishing puts the power back in the hands of the writer.
CS: What advice do you have for writers, especially self-help writers, on choosing and working with others during the publication process, such as a publisher, editor, literary agent, etc.?
Katherine: Get recommendations! Get recommendations from people you already know and trust! I can’t emphasize that enough. If you can’t get a recommendation from someone you know, make sure you ask for testimonials and references. There are a lot of scams out there expressly created because people know writers ache to get published. And trust your gut – if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Especially, be choosy about an editor, because an editor can make or break a book. I’m an editor myself – have been for more than 20 years – and I can’t tell you the number of manuscripts I’ve seen where the writer says, “It’s been edited before,” and there are all kinds of typos and errors in grammar, usage, punctuation, and it usually reads badly. When someone reads a novel and finds a few typos, they think they can be an editor, but like anything else, it takes many years of experience reading and critiquing book after book after book before an editor knows what works and what doesn’t, and how to fix what doesn’t work. A good editor can see where a book fits in the marketplace, who the audience will be, and how to make the book more compelling to readers so that it’s much more likely to be successful. If you have a limited budget, spend it on editing. One of the pet peeves of voracious readers (the ones that write the reviews and give books good word-of-mouth) is a badly edited or non-edited book. I can’t stress enough that editing is absolutely crucial to the success of a book.
CS: How can our readers reach you?
I’ve taught many courses on writing, including courses on The Art of Memoir, and I would really enjoy the opportunity to speak and offer workshops at writing conferences. If you’re looking for presenters or teachers for conferences, please contact me through my website.
A former actress who appeared Off-Broadway and on the daytime drama Guiding Light, Katherine Mayfield is the author of the award-winning memoir The Box of Daughter: Healing the Authentic Self; a book for teens who have been bullied, Bullied: Why You Feel Bad Inside and What to Do About It; two books on the acting business: Smart Actors, Foolish Choices and Acting A to Z, both published by Back Stage Books; a book of poems, The Box of Daughter & Other Poems; and the Kindle book Dysfunctional Families: The Truth Behind the Happy Family Facade. Ms. Mayfield appears regularly at the Portsmouth Athenæum’s Wednesday Writers’ Series in Portsmouth, NH. She has taught writing workshops and classes in Maine and Massachusetts, and blogs on Dysfunctional Families on her website, www.TheBoxofDaughter.com.