Kids Need Hope More Than Fear

 

Hope EnduresWants versus needs. We humans seem to want everything, but actually need very little. Children need love, safety, security, shelter, clothing, and food. They need to be engaged in character-building activities. They need to be taught how to be decent human beings who accept as an axiom that all life is sacred. They need to be taught that life doesn’t revolve around them, that they are part of a larger world – family, neighborhood, community, city, country, planet – and that they are not entitled to have everything they want. Healthy fear is also a need. It helps protect us from making dangerous choices. However, scaring kids is never a good idea. Irrational “the sky is falling,” “we are doomed,” kind of fear is unhealthy and leads to destructive, rather than constructive, behaviors in kids.

 

Years ago, many states instituted “Scared Straight” programs as a result of a famous documentary wherein wayward teens were taken to a maximum security prison and threatened by the inmates. They were told horrible things would happen to them should they end up in prison. Several of those teens later ended up incarcerated, one for twenty-five to life in the very same prison where the documentary was filmed. The “scared straight” program didn’t work anywhere it was tried in the country and often proved harmful, likely because it created a self-fulfilling prophesy in the minds of kids who’d already been labeled “bad.” Those kids needed hope, but they were given fear. And it didn’t work.

 

In some cities, teens are taken to the morgue to view the corpses of drunk driving victims in the hope that they will be scared enough to avoid driving drunk or riding with someone who had been drinking. These programs also proved ineffective, as did all the “Red Asphalt” videos shown to kids in driver’s education classes. Across the board, adults think that scaring kids, and sometimes each other, is the best way to generate positive results. But how can a negative lead to a positive? They are opposites, after all. Kids at all stages of their development need hope much more than they need fear. And so do adults.

 

Which brings me to the environmental movement, the backdrop of my novel, Warrior Kids. Our careless destruction of the environment and its ancillary effects – climate change – are immense areas encompassing all walks of human life. There’s shifting climate patterns, GMOs, poisoned water, fracking, land fills, oil spills, air pollution, CO2 levels – the list goes on and on. Too often, the environmental movement is about doom and gloom – the sky is falling and we need to act now by donating money to this group or that one. Almost every non-profit involved in the environmental arena says to give money to them because they have the inside track and all the answers. Sadly, people are profiting off of environmental destruction, and I don’t mean the obvious beneficiaries – fossil fuel companies, paper mills, coal producers, natural gas extractors and other industries. I mean people supposedly on the “right” side of the issue. They’re making bank, too, and scaring people in the process.

 

Climate changes fueled by our abuse of the environment could be the defining issue of the millennium, but just this year a new poll indicated that one-third of Americans don’t think there is any climate change at all, and even if it is happening, they don’t believe anything serious will affect them during their lifetime so they don’t care. It’s the usual selfish, shortsighted aspect of human nature that is the root of all human problems – putting “me” over “we.” And in the case of environmental abuse, adults are putting themselves and their personal comfort zones over the needs of their children and grandchildren. It’s disheartening to say the least, but real solutions seldom come from the generation that created the problem. Real solutions come from the generation inheriting the problem. In our time, it’s the millennial generation stepping up to defend and restore the planet. Worldwide, kids are standing up for the environment and their generation. But we need to engage and encourage more young people to take an interest in the big picture. We can only do this by giving them hope, not fear.

 

Kids need to know the sky isn’t falling. They need to know they can help ensure a better future for themselves and their own children yet to be born. This is the message of my novel. The book presents facts about environmental abuse and pollution, presents tangible solutions to some of the issues, and empowers kids to take real action in their homes, schools, communities, and on a national level by mobilizing via social media.

 

My goal as a lifelong youth leader, mentor, teacher, coach, volunteer has always been to empower kids, to give them hope for a better future, one they can help bring about by their own choices and actions. Scaring kids with environmental tales of doom and gloom over climate change will just paralyze them and lead many to seek out destructive, self-absorbed hedonism because they figure, why not? The world is crumbling and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I might as well have self-serving fun, right? Wrong. There’s plenty kids and adults can do. The most significant action adults can take is to lead by example, to show kids what real power they have, and give them hope, ideas, and motivation to step up and be leaders in their own right.

 

Kids rule social media. If they wanted, they could crash the congressional servers with demands for action. They can work within their schools to make them more environmentally friendly. They can do the same in their communities. They can petition their mayors and city council people to take real action on issues that affect them now and will impact them in the future.

 

Youth have an innate capacity for hope. I’ve worked with so many kids over the years whose childhoods have been hell on earth. You wouldn’t wish their lives on the most evil of humans. And yet they still have hope that the future can be better, that they can still have happy, productive lives. They continually remind me that life is sacred and all life is a gift. Hope needs to be nurtured in children and teens, not scared out of them because adults have an agenda they want to push or profit from. Even when the motives of adults are pure, if the methodology is wrong, the adult is wrong. Period.

 

It comes back to wants versus needs. Too many people want to be celebrities and be famous. Some are using the environmental crisis as a springboard to fame and self-aggrandizement. Conversely, many in the environmental arena are genuinely concerned and seek not to profit from the problem, nor become famous as a result of it. But people need to closely examine each organization they consider supporting, especially where their kids are concerned. Parents should make sure that their kids are not following “It’s all about me” environmentalists or they will lose even more hope because they’ll see selfishness and greed that isn’t any different from that exhibited by big industry and big government. Hypocrisy in arenas that impact the lives of children is beyond disturbing, but sadly it exists across the board. Between the self-absorbed environmentalists and the fear-mongering ones, kids can feel overwhelmed and paralyzed and hopeless.

 

Parents and honorable adults must lead by example and direct kids toward real solutions to all of life’s problems. In my fictional story, the adults do this – they lead by example, they model “we” over “me” thinking, and they refuse to allow the “cause” to be all about them. As a result, the millions of children and teens who follow them do the same. It’s not difficult to choose “we” over “me,” but it might take daily practice to shift one’s consciousness in that direction.

 

Try this experiment for yourself and your family: commit to one day per week – the same day every week – during which you will consciously choose “we” over “me” from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep that night. In other words, throughout that day look for every opportunity to serve the needs of others in some fashion. This could translate into being more focused on recycling, not using Styrofoam cups, not throwing away food or useful items – all of these and every other environmentally friendly action clearly helps other people by helping the planet. Or you could commit to helping individual people in some way – people in the community, school, or the workplace. There is always someone who has less than we do and always someone who needs assistance of some kind. For you kids, it could be reaching out to that student who is super shy, or even super annoying, and extending a hand of friendship. The possibilities are endless. If everyone on the planet adopted this idea – to not self-obsess one day per week – can you envision how much better the world would become overnight? It would be transformative. Please try this out for yourself. Commit to this experiment for one month. My guess is that you will find such innate joy and hope in choosing “we” over “me” that you will continue well beyond that month. And I predict you will add more days of “we” over “me” to your weekly schedule.

 

Hope. It comes in many forms and from many sources. It is the cornerstone of a positive, productive life. It is an essential ingredient for all of us, especially kids. Adults must model it. Adults must share it. Adults must embrace it. I have always done my best to share hope with even the most damaged kids I know. And they continue to share their hope with me. It’s that “we” over “me” mentality. When we look out for the needs of each other, everybody wins.

Earth Warriors Red BG

Book Review: Onwaachige The Dreamer

The Dreamer

Onwaachige The Dreamer, the third book in the Two-Spirit Chronicles is another delightful read by Jay Jordan Hawke. I loved the first two books in this series and the third is no exception. Not as dark as the second book, this one reaches levels of genuine hilarity in the banter between fourteen-year-old Joshua and his best friends, Mokwa and Little Deer. These three teen boys have distinctive personalities and play off each other perfectly. Having only just met at the beginning of summer in the first book, they bonded as only friends who were meant to be friends can bond.

 

This installment follows Joshua on a journey to discover the meaning of his dreams, and in a larger sense, to find his place in the world. He runs away following the horrific events that concluded A Scout is Brave because of a prophetic dream that terrifies him, and returns to the only place he has ever felt safe and secure – his grandfather’s Ojibwe reservation in Northern Wisconsin.

 

Back on the rez, Joshua tries to hide from his mother, who he knows will come searching for him. Once Mokwa – a fun-loving, sweet-natured teen who can’t keep a secret if his life depends on it – discovers Joshua by the lake, the cat is soon out of the bag. And speaking of cats, Pywacky, the rez cat, befriends Joshua and becomes a memorable character unto himself.

 

These three boys could be a comedy team. They know each other’s rhythms so well and their dialogue, as they first try to keep Joshua’s presence a secret and later set off into the north woods in search of Joshua’s father, is always spot-on and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. If this story were set in the present day, these three would be You Tube sensations – all they’d have to do is get on camera and just be themselves.

 

I also love the character of Gentle Eagle, Joshua’s wise and patient grandfather. In this installment, he has some extremely well written scenes with Pastor Martin, a minister who has lived on the reservation for decades. Previously, Martin came across as a self-righteous man who disdained the Native culture that surrounded him and believed he had all the answers. In his extended conversations with Gentle Eagle while they search for the missing Joshua, the man comes to understand and accept that Native ways are not bad and don’t conflict with his Christian beliefs as he’d always thought. Because he’d never taken the time to understand Gentle Eagle and the Ojibwe culture, he’d never realized how narrow-minded he’d become. These two men form a much stronger bond in this book, one that is built on mutual respect. Nice to see.

 

A new character, Caleb, one of the college interns who befriends Joshua, is also a breath of fresh air. He’s the kind of Christian I am more familiar with who behaves in a Christ-like manner and doesn’t judge Joshua for being Two-Spirit and doesn’t dismiss Native beliefs as being superstitions or even running counter to his own. He is a kind, generous young man who passes judgment on no one and at no time attempts to shove his beliefs on Joshua or another teen character, Crazy Crow. Seeing nuance in Christians is almost unheard of in books or movies – they are usually portrayed as stuffy, narrow-minded jerks – and I commend the author for his refreshing, more balanced, and more true to life take.

 

Since all three books occur over the same summer (yes, Joshua has an eventful three months), I would suggest starting with the first book, Pukawiss the Outcast. There are numerous references throughout this narrative to previous events, and much exposition in the first chapter, so reading Onwaachige as a standalone is perfectly acceptable. However, the arc of Joshua’s passage from a boy who was adrift to one who becomes anchored is a joy to behold and you really should take the entire journey. As for me, I eagerly await the further adventures of Joshua, Mokwa, and Little Deer. Let’s hope I don’t have long to wait.

Onwaachige The Dreamer on Amazon

 

Why I Write Diverse Books That Are Outside-The-Box

The Boys of SPINNER

As an urban high school teacher for twenty-five years, I primarily taught kids of color. And yet, in the books and stories we read, almost all of the characters were Caucasian, and most with reasonably stable home lives. I decided as an author to write about the kids I knew best – kids of color, gay kids, marginalized kids, poor kids, kids with disabilities, gang members, and incarcerated kids – because I want all youth to see themselves represented in a positive light within the pages of teen literature.

To that end, I crafted a five-book series called The Children of the Knight Cycle that takes a fantasy concept – King Arthur in modern-day Los Angeles – and uses it to showcase a laundry list of crimes this society perpetrates against kids who don’t “fit the norm,” or won’t be shoehorned into the “one size fits all” mentality of public education, or don’t want to be a mini-me version of their parents. Virtually all the main characters in my series are teens of color, including Native Americans. Some of them are gay. But all are dynamic, memorable individuals that readers can relate to. Every day in America such kids are kicked to the curb. We don’t want them in our homes or classrooms or in our books. We’d rather they just disappear. In recent decades, we’ve decided we like putting them in prison. A staggering number of states arrest children aged ten (and younger) and charge them as adults for imitating the anti-social examples of adults, or for copying illicit behaviors popular media models every day.

I present these kids as real human beings with the same hopes, fears, needs, and wants as everyone else. My characters benefit from adults who choose to love them no matter what and who show them how to do what’s right, rather than what’s easy. The kids learn that every one of them can make a positive difference in this world, and that’s a message the students in my urban, working-class high school seldom got from the books I was forced to teach them. In those books, only “white” kids succeeded.

In my teen horror thriller, Spinner, I highlight the other forgotten kids I taught for many years – those with disabilities. These kids tend to be the most overlooked of all high schoolers because it is “assumed” by adults that they will never amount to much in life. Kids with physical or learning disabilities are no different from those without them – they can learn and achieve, but maybe not in the same cookie-cutter fashion school systems like to employ. I know what I’m talking about because I have a disability of my own – hearing loss. I’ve lived with a severe sensorineural hearing impairment my whole life, and did not have access to hearing aids until I was in college.

I also didn’t know anyone with hearing loss until after graduate school. I was the only kid like me, and that kind of singularity can be isolating. Even though people don’t always mean to be insensitive, not a single day went by that I wasn’t made to feel “different” because of my disability. On the plus side, my isolated childhood gave me true empathy for every youngster who was “different” in some way, and likely directed me to seek out such kids and work with them. After graduate school, I joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, wherein adults mentor kids with no father in the home. I was matched to a 14-year-old boy with hearing loss, and the experience was revelatory. Even as an adult, the relief that I felt to finally know someone who grew up with hearing loss was palpable. Imagine what it’s like for kids like me to see themselves in books they read, to understand that they aren’t alone or broken or crippled, to see hope for their lives because they see others like them achieving greatness. We all need to know that being different is not wrong. In fact, being apart from the norm is most often a net positive. But, my disability never defined me, and I want kids to see that theirs don’t define them, either.

I think publishers are skittish about books like mine that mash up various genres and focus on outside-the-box characters, stories that don’t fit an established pattern that can be “pitched” easily, and can’t be described as “the next Hunger Games” or something of that nature. Children of the Knight was released by an indie publisher that seemingly lost faith in the project because there was no visible attempt to promote it to the target audience. They even labeled it a romance on Amazon and it’s not a romance. I made a big push with Spinner to engage the interest of an agent or larger publisher and got nowhere with either. An indie publisher, YoungDudes Publishing, saw potential in the book and chose to release it. As a startup, they have no budget for promotion, but they are awesome people and working with them has been wonderful. But without the marketing arm of a big publisher, without those necessary journal reviews, like School Library Journal, nobody knows the book exists. This is the dilemma every writer must face, especially if, like me, you write outside the box and outside the genre mold.

Having said that, I would not change what I write to fit those molds or to make my books more “white,” assuming that is the goal with publishers. The main character in Spinner is Caucasian, but his friends are kids of color and they all have various disabilities. I took an interesting class last year about cover art on books for teens and children, and learned that even if the main character in those books was a child of color, the cover had been whitewashed in some fashion so the race or ethnicity was obscured. That class opened my eyes to how the publishing industry works and maybe showed me that, just as I never did in life, I might never fit into their predetermined “molds.”

One reviewer of my Children of the Knight series applauded me for breaking the teen hero mold by presenting a strong teen boy who is conflicted about his sexual orientation: “Lance is the hero around which the action pivots. Not many authors would have given such a character the heartthrob role. But Bowler takes a chance, fashioning something completely different by having such a key figure question his sexuality.”

I suspect a major publisher would have told me to “make him straight” like every other teen boy hero. I never had the chance to make such a choice, but I hope I would have said no. Lance is far more interesting and real for his inner turmoil, and for his desire to “fit in” the way society says he must in order to be a “real” boy.

No matter what we look like or how much money we have or how smart we are; no matter our race, ethnicity, gender, or orientation; no matter our abilities or disabilities – at the end of every day we’re all the same. We’re all human. We’re human first, and everything else second. We spend way too much time in this country focusing on what we perceive to be the weaknesses or differences in others. The teen characters in my books prove that our strengths always outweigh our weaknesses, and our diversity, i.e. our differentness, is to be celebrated, not hidden away. If more adults would focus on the natural talents and gifts of kids instead of always trying to make everyone “fit in,” then all children would have a real chance to soar. As a writer of teen lit, my goal is to empower every kid, not just the ones most Americans “look like” or even “act like.”

The Children of the Knight

 

Lance Statement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the Genre Term “Young Adult Literature” is Dangerous

Young Adult

I hate the term “Young Adult Literature.” Teens and children are NOT young adults and they never will be young adults. Twelve and under are children or kids. Thirteen to eighteen are teens or adolescents. Eighteen years old is the beginning of young adulthood in America, and the adult brain isn’t fully formed until age twenty-one plus. That’s real science, not my opinion.

I point this out because it’s a major theme in my writing. America seems bound and determined to rob children of their childhood. Even on such supposedly safe channels as Nickelodeon and Disney, shows often depict kids as young as ten or eleven pursuing romantic relationships.

These storylines put ideas into the heads of kids at home that there must be something wrong with them if they don’t want a boyfriend or girlfriend in elementary or middle school. Kids that age should NOT be pursuing such complicated and stressful relationships. They should be building friendships that are strong and binding. Developmentally, they are figuring out who they are as individuals and don’t need the pressures of a “relationship” they can’t fully understand and don’t actually want. I talked to an eleven-year-old recently who said he wanted a girlfriend. When I asked why, he didn’t have an answer. I know the answer – it’s because the media keeps pushing that idea and kids always want to “fit in” with whatever is the current trend. Why the media pushes romantic, and by extension sexual, relationships on children is a disturbing question to ponder. No good can come of such poisoning of children’s minds and souls in this fashion, and yet we as a society allow it to happen. That’s scary.

There’s another, even more insidious aspect to labeling kids “young adults.” Children today are exposed to more and more adult behaviors, usually bad ones, and when they copy those behaviors they are expelled from school or arrested. If the behaviors are really serious and somebody gets hurt, these children are put into adult court and sentenced to prison. I know a large number of them personally. I’ve spent time with seven and eight year olds in juvenile hall. Children reflect the society in which they grow up, and America is teaching them how to be self-absorbed consumers with little regard for others. Maybe that’s the plan – keep them self-absorbed with “me” centered behaviors and they won’t challenge the status quo. If kids, i.e. the next generation, don’t challenge the status quo, corruption and greed win every time.

Young children can be tried as adults in many states and the media always labels these kids “young men” or “young women.” Why? Because readers or viewers won’t feel sorry for them and think of them as the damaged children they actually are. Even when children do something positive, they are still referred to with those factually and morally misleading terms “young men” and “young women.” It’s clearly an agenda designed to benefit adults. There’s no other explanation. If society decides children are “little adults,” then anything goes with those kids, right? They can be put into prison, used sexually, or forced to work so parents or guardians can make money off of them.

My Children of the Knight series explores these themes in depth. My young characters rebel against societal brainwashing and use social media to galvanize their peers across the country to do the same. A revolution ensues that continues in the latest installment, Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot. Children and teens are the only ones who can make society better because they will run it some day. Brainwashing them to obsess over themselves – as though kids don’t do this enough already – is the easiest way to ensure that those in power across the board won’t be challenged. Sadly, the tactic seems to be working. It’s my hope that kids who read my books will come to the same awareness as my characters about what is really going on and feel empowered to rise up and stop it.

Vigilant parents keep their kids away from media, and screen everything, within reason, that kids watch or read. And allow their children to grow developmentally along natural milestones. Rushing children to “behave” like adults is a net negative. Far too many adults are poor role models. These adults don’t want to make the world better for kids because they personally benefit from how it is now. I don’t want my children copying the behaviors of most “famous” people, or even characters in so much of what passes for children’s entertainment these days, because then my kids will become part of the problem, not the solution.

So yes, I decry the term “Young Adult” applied to children and teen lit. It’s just an excuse to distract kids by putting more adult material into their books, mostly sexual material, and get away with it because the books are for “young adults.” No, they’re not. These books are for kids who are still developing and are not young adults and never will be young adults until they actually grow into young adults. I write books for teens and tweens that can be enjoyed by adults of all ages. Now I just have to convince the rest of the industry to call teen lit what it is – teen lit. If more parents complained on a grass roots level and emailed publishers and Amazon to replace that “Young Adult” moniker, we could seriously challenge the status quo. Or we could just succumb to the brainwashing and do nothing. I prefer to challenge. And then go after Disney and Nickelodeon.

Anyone with me?

WarriorKids-Facebook V2

Michael J. Bowler

Michael J. Bowler Amazon Page

Horror and Adolescence

SPINNER

Horror and adolescence go hand in hand for many reasons, which explains why teens tend to thrive on horror films and books more than any other demographic.

Adolescence is a time of great change for kids – a transitional period between childhood and adulthood. No, teens are not young adults until they reach the age of eighteen (despite the media obsessively referring to 11 year olds as “young men” or “young women”), but their brains and bodies are changing at such a rapid pace that these years teeter between exhilarating and terrifying on a daily basis. The adolescent brain has one foot firmly planted on the accelerator while the other foot struggles to find the brake. Teens seek out thrilling experiences that pump the adrenalin and pound the heart. Hence the love of amusement park thrill rides, fast driving, and the heart-pounding experience of a good horror film or book.

But the “thrill gene,” as it’s been loosely dubbed, in teens isn’t the only correlation to horror, or the only reason teens love the genre. Fear is a HUGE part of adolescence, and teens stress over how best to manage that fear. What fears do teens face on a daily basis? Depends on where they live and go to school. For many, the fear is physical. Will they make it through the school day without getting bullied? Will they make it home without getting jumped? Will they fail yet another class and have to take it over? Will dad be drunk again tonight? Will mom tell them they’re losers? Will there be any food for dinner or will they have to go hungry until school the following day? These are but a few of the real fears no kid should have to live with, but far too many in America do.

But, above and beyond these issues, every adolescent is afraid to be different, to stand out from their peers, to not fit in. This is a palpable fear that guides almost every decision teenagers make. While some parents may encourage kids to embrace their differentness, most want their kids to be “mini-me’s” and conform to the “accepted societal norms” so they (the parents) don’t look bad in the eyes of other adults for having “that weird kid.” Such parents are embarrassed to have a disabled child, or one who isn’t good at sports, or who doesn’t get all A’s in school or who’s LGBT. By the time the adolescent brain kicks in, the wiring is geared toward socialization and social acceptance, so teens squelch their innate differentness in order to fit in. They live in fear every day that the mask they wear will be knocked off, the real “them” will shine through, and they will be ostracized as a result. So they dress the same, talk the same and act the same as their peers out of fear that their real selves will be rejected.

How does this fear relate to horror? Look at the huge number of horror films that feature a kid who’s odd or different or possessed or threatened by nightmares that expose his secrets to the world. Look at how many films or books that feature a damaged character that hides behind a literal mask. Horror often features the outsider kid, the one nobody likes because he or she is “different” as the hero, the one who saves the day when his or her “conforming” peers are getting knocked off one by one. The plethora of possession movies speak to teen fears of having someone inside themselves, i.e. the real human being, revealing itself to the world and not being accepted. For LGBT youth, this fear is profound because they know how society consistently rejects kids like them for being born “different.” I supervised the GSA at my high school and, sadly, most of those kids were more afraid of their parents than their peers. Many kids wanted to attend meetings or functions, they’d tell me in private, but were afraid other kids would turn against them or, worse yet, inform their parents.

Special Education (SPED) kids harbor a similar fear. As a teacher to disabled students, I know from experience that their greatest fear is for peers to find out they’re SPED. I know the fear – I’ve lived with hearing impairment my whole life and there was not a single kid like me at any grade level up through and including graduate school. I never told peers that I couldn’t hear clearly. I just laughed if other kids did, even though I didn’t hear the punch line, or I stayed silent and nodded if I didn’t clearly understand something. I shied away from group sports or dances or activities that were loud and had many kids talking at once because I was afraid I’d have to admit my weakness and then get mocked for it. There was never a day when I wasn’t reminded that I was different. So it was no surprise that even as a child I loved horror films and books. For me, seeing people manage fears that were greater than mine helped me deal with my own. These stories also raced my heart and fueled my imagination and inspired me to be a writer when I grew up. Horror is a thrill ride teens hope they never have to live through in real life, but they thrive on the adrenaline rush of being chased by the guy with the chainsaw, or having an exorcism performed on them, or having a guy with blades for fingers reach out of their dreams to try and kill them. Their hearts pound, blood rushes, and then they get to walk away unharmed.

For these very reasons, the best horror stories feature teen protagonists. Teens are always more willing to take risks adults wouldn’t – like opening that cellar door to see what’s down below, or sneaking into a graveyard to dig up graves or playing with that Ouija board that they know from countless films will lead to disaster. Teens are risk-takers, and horror stories are about managing fear while taking extreme risks, the kind that can often be deadly.

Spinner features a cast of teen characters with disabilities who have to solve a centuries-old mystery, as well as a string of murders quite possibly committed by one of them, all without the ability to read or write or, in Alex’s case, walk. Like gay kids and bullied kids, these characters face fear every day just by going to school where they know they will be mocked and ridiculed for being “different.” But being different doesn’t stop them from bonding together and risking their lives for each other. At the heart of any good horror story is friendship between characters who have to make life and death choices that the viewing audience, or the reader, hopes never to have to make in the real world. Horror teaches kids valuable lessons without being dogmatic or preachy. Some lessons are complex, like how the smallest choices can have the biggest consequences, while others are minor – like don’t go into a dark basement alone when you hear sounds down there.

Being a teen today shouldn’t be the equivalent of a horror film, but it sadly often is; reading a novel or watching a film can be cathartic and help kids survive by reminding them that the different one, the “odd kid out,” the bullied kid, the kid who thinks outside the box will be the last man standing. Within these fictional forays into terror, kids see how their true selves, the ones they hide from the world, are the ones that ultimately survive and save others along the way. In teen horror, “different” is the new “normal.”

SPINNER has been given the SEAL of APPROVAL from Literary Classics. It also won Honorable Mention in the Young Adult category from the San Francisco Book Awards and it won the Young Adult category in the Hollywood Book Awards. Kirkus Reviews says: “It will warm your heart and chill your spine.” Spinner releases on August 5th. Pre-Buy Link Here: Spinner Amazon Link

Spinner front cover with CLC Sticker v3

My Series Is Complete

Once full cover

My final book is available as of today. Once Upon A Time In America brings The Knight Cycle to a close and will be the last book I have in print for a long time. Children of the Knight was never a stand-alone book, but merely the first of five long chapters spanning four eventful years in the lives of my characters and the country as a whole. Once is the chapter that brings the story of Arthur and Lance and the modern-day Knights of the Round Table to a close, and I hope I ended their journey in a way that satisfies readers and engenders within them the feeling that the series was a worthwhile investment of their time.

It has been a long, often bittersweet journey for me in the writing and publishing of these books, but in the aggregate I am proud of my accomplishment. I feel I have greatly improved as a writer and the books get better as they go along. I’m proud that this series addresses issues that most writers tend to shy away from. I’m proud of the themes and messages that youth can take away from this story. I’m proud that the series is not another knockout of “insert title of popular YA book here,” but stands on its own as an original, unique “world.” It’s our world of today, but rather than make it worse and dystopian as so many writers do, my story offers hope that the world and America can get better, and that young people are the ones who will make it better. To do so, youth need to ignore much of what they’ve been taught by the media and their elders. They must join together and be the change they want to see. They must accept and embrace their superficial differences and work together as human beings first, everything else second. In banding together in this way, the youth in my series bring about profound and positive changes for the entire country, and are outstanding role models for any teens who read about them.

My next blog post will be aimed at those out there who want to be successful authors, especially those who have their first book ready (they think) for publication. I made a lot of mistakes in my attempted journey from writer to author, mistakes I have yet to overcome. Perhaps if I share them with the world at large, other writers will not commit the same errors and will achieve real success.

Writing is difficult and lonely, but also very exciting as the world you envision comes to life on the computer screen before your very eyes. However, going from a writer who has written a story to an author with sufficient readers to make all the time and effort worthwhile is an entirely different story, but it’s really the “big picture,” and in my view what separates a writer from an author.

Because of my mistakes and the fact that self-promotion is an area in which I have zero ability (sadly, no joke there), I have garnered a mere handful of loyal readers. But they are super-loyal and love my series and I love my readers. And I’m grateful to have them. For those readers, and because I always finish what I start, I completed the series and made it available. It is my hope, of course, that word of mouth might eventually bring more people to the story and then those people will bring even more. Writers write so that readers will read, and hopefully enjoy, their work. I am thrilled that those people who have read all five books greatly enjoyed them and loved journeying with the characters, and I thank everyone who has stuck with me along the way.

At present, I have written another novel – a YA horror thriller – that I will shop around. I strongly doubt that it will see the light of day as a published book, but as one of the main themes of my Knight Cycle asserts, hope endures. The writing business is tough. I don’t make claims to being a great writer, but I think I’m a good storyteller. However, my opinion doesn’t count. LOL The marketplace determines the success or failure of any piece of art (I’m greatly stretching the meaning of that word to include my books – Ha!), so time will tell if The Knight Cycle will ever catch on with the reading public, especially the youth for whom it is intended.

My book writing journey ends for the time being alongside the journey of Arthur and Lance. However, I will now, hopefully, write more posts for this blog since Sir Lance tells me he’s lonely all the time. HaHa! The next post will be centered around the mistakes I made on my road to becoming an author and then, who knows? I will, of course, work hard to interest an agent or publisher in my new book and if, by some miracle it gets picked up for publication, I’ll be thrilled and grateful. But I won’t expect that to happen. False expectations in any avenue of life can be deadly. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from the many incarcerated kids I’ve worked with over the decades: hope for the best, but expect the worst. Sadly, that’s how our juvenile justice system works – the worst usually prevails. Success in the highly competitive world of book publishing is so not different.

However, hope endures…

Amazon link to Once Upon A Time In America is below.

http://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Time-In-America/dp/099087110X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1415807221&sr=1-3

Does Word Count or Storytelling Matter More To Readers?

check-word-count-one-word-less-than-word-limit

How long is too long for a novel? According to everything I read from “experts” online, a novel is defined as between 50,000 and 110,000 words, with 100,000 often the upper limit of word count that an agent or publisher will even consider for publication.

For Young Adult novels, the upper end of the word count is defined as 80,000, with 70,000 or less preferred. Anything over 80,000 words is considered “too long” to engage teen or young adult readers.

Here’s my question to you, the reading community – do you consider word count before you embark on a new book, or do you select books because the story sounds interesting and/or you like the cover art?

For myself as a reader, I love long books if the story and characters are engaging. I do not like extraneous detail that adds to the word count and detracts from the story. By “extraneous” I mean describing in extreme detail what each character is wearing each and every time he or she appears on the page, or describing what paintings are hanging on the walls or other unnecessary setting details. If such information is intrinsic to the plot or essential to understanding a character, it’s fine as long as it’s not overdone. Most of the time, however, authors simply “indulge” themselves.

As an example, I know people love the Song of Ice and Fire series, but I cannot get through them. I read two and a half books, very slowly and sporadically, I might add, while simultaneously reading other books that I found more appealing, and then finally gave up. Besides the constant brutality, especially towards children and teens, the author spends far too much time describing things I don’t care about. What Circe chooses to wear in every single scene is not important – a general description in a few words suffices to create an image in my mind. I do not need paragraph upon paragraph of descriptive detail when that detail does nothing to move the story forward.

Digital printing of paperback books is not very expensive. I know this because I have self-published books and my novels have better covers and formatting than many works from large publishing houses. That’s my opinion, of course, but I find the finished products to be stunning and completely professional.

It seems to me that the word count numbers used nowadays by agents and publishers reflect the overall “dumbing down” philosophy of media in general. I feel insulted that these people equate me with someone who only watches television or other “short-attention span” media. Readers, by definition, have longer attention spans and like being engaged with the printed page (or even the digital one.) I know people are busy these days and life is more complicated, but as a reader I love to be involved with characters I care about no matter how long the journey is, or how many words the author needs to finish the story. Some books have a lot of characters and plot – I’m very guilty of this – and thus require a higher word count to give both the story and the characters justice.

So here are my questions, and I welcome your comments and opinions – do you as readers only want short books, or does the quality of the writing and the complexity of the plot matter more? Do teens and young adult readers only want short books with simplistic plots and only a few characters to keep track of? Are readers incapable of following long stories with involved plotlines? Does word count matter more than storytelling?

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&field-author=Michael+J.+Bowler&search-alias=books&text=Michael+J.+Bowler&sort=relevancerank