Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hey friends,

Sorry it's been so long since I've updated my blog. Summer is typically a time I try to set aside for my kids. It's hard to get work in when they're on summer break! Hope that you are having a great summer and enjoying time with your family and friends. Mine has been filled with water parks, movies, vacation and more. I am looking forward to Fall. It's been the 100's here and I feel like I might melt soon! It was so hot here that I opened my front door, returning home from being gone all day, and my fire alarm went off because of the rush of heat that hit the inside of my home!

In other news, I want to thank all of you who've read LISTEN and who've written to tell me how it has changed your life. I continue to run into people who've been deeply affected by words. One of those people is Susan Richardson, a fellow writer, who has graciously allowed me to post an article she wrote on the power of words. You can read more about Susan at http://www.nextlevelcritiques.com/. Below is her powerful essay. Hope you enjoy. We'll talk soon.


When Words Wound the Soul
by Susan Richardson

Lunch was the worst, I think. If I didn’t get to the cafeteria early enough, then I had to run the gamut of insults to try to find an empty space that wasn’t close to anyone else. Too close and I’d get “What are you sitting THERE for?” or “We don’t want YOU here.”
After that it was the restroom. Going in was like entering enemy territory, never knowing when an ambush awaited. Who knew who else might be in there? Some days I tried not to go at all. Other days I chose lesser used restrooms or went at odd times. Anything to avoid being ridiculed and told that I had no business being in there.
Each time something like Virginia Tech or Columbine happens, the shooter’s story turns to bullying. He or they were outcasts living in a world of rejection. Finally the pain and anger built to the point that they made a terrible choice. While their actions are horrific, I understand the pain and anger, because their story was mine, too.
School didn’t start out badly for me. The first three and a half years were fairly uneventful. Then I moved to a new school and somehow slid further and further down the pecking order until by sixth grade I was at the bottom of the heap. From then until I graduated from high school, I endured regular abuse from my peers.
In fairness, I have to say that some of the others in my class did not pick on me. Many merely ignored me as outside their group. A few tolerated me, and I had a friendship or two along the way. But the relentless taunting of a core group made my life miserable. The wounds from such treatment are deep and the scars remain lifelong.
Self worth erodes to nothing and a feeling of unworthiness takes its place. Because this violates a basic need every human has, the victim then tries to find some way to make the abuse stop and regain a sense of self. When that’s unsuccessful, anger builds over the growing sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and depression.
Trying to ignore what’s happening doesn’t help. The old “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” sounds good but isn’t true. Cruel words seep through barricades erected to keep them out. Confronting doesn’t work, either. I tried that, but my tormenters just asked why they should stop, because they were having fun.
In the end, I withdrew as far as possible. I dropped out of band after junior high, unwilling to face the hazing of joining the high school band. I wanted to be as invisible as possible. If no one saw me, then hopefully they wouldn’t tease me.
I also had an explosive temper. Most of the time I pulled away, but the anger built and sometimes I’d try to strike back verbally. My peers probably thought that I wasn’t a nice person. In many ways I wasn’t, as I tried to find some way to cope with the pain.
Through the years since then I’ve continued to struggle with the scars left from my school days. Regaining that damaged sense of worth isn’t easy. The message that you’re not worth liking or being around continues to replay.
The other challenge is how such abuse damages faith. After all, many in my world told me I wasn’t worthy of a relationship, so it was hard to believe Jesus wanted to have one with me. Then there was the question of how God could care when He never intervened. We do live in a fallen, broken world, but I’m thankful for the Lord’s protection even in the midst of abuse. The wounds are there, but He helped me survive.
Getting out of the situation helps. So does time. The more positive interactions you have over time, the more healing can take place. I’m grateful to my college pastor for his patience as I struggled. He helped me make the first steps into wholeness. But you can’t erase years of abuse easily.
More recently I’m thankful for a Godly counselor who worked with me to uproot and overcome many of the old patterns with the Lord’s help. Beginning to understand how deeply He loves me and how precious I am in His eyes is balm to a wounded spirit. He’s also shown me people who love and care about me.
Bullying isn’t a matter of “kids will be kids.” It is soul-killing abuse, whether the abuse is physical or verbal. If your child is being bullied, do whatever it takes to get him or her out of the situation and find help to overcome the effects. The good news is that Jesus is strong enough to heal and restore. He offers power and strength for the lifelong journey through death to true life.

Susan Richardson

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Power of Words talk with youth

Here is part one of a four part You Tube video of me talking to a youth group about our experience with bullying and the power of words. Search me on You Tube to find Parts 2-4!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chapter 5 - LISTEN

Here is a new video blog for my novel LISTEN, where I discuss Chapter 5.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Kinder Than Kind

Loved this post from Jerry Jenkins' blog. This is the valuable lesson we need to teach our youngsters.


How do we teach them? Like we say in the writing world, Show Don't Tell.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Here's Chapter Four in my ongoing discussion about the writing of LISTEN!

Thursday, April 8, 2010



As a novelist, I often write from experience, but when I released by sixteenth novel, Listen, I was shocked to find that I was experiencing what I wrote.

It was mid-February of 2010 and I was busy promoting my newest book, Listen, a novel about the power of words, in which a small town’s private conversations begin being posted on a website for all to read. I had set up a Twitter account to talk about the power of words and a blog to support this same theme. Listen was a labor of love, with an intense writing process that forged in me a passion to help people everywhere understand that words are weapons if they are not used in love.

I never imagined that I’d be dealing with the very topic of my own novel, in the most heartbreaking of ways, only two weeks after its release.

It was February 15th when my son, a fourth grader, came home from school and broke down in tears. After much prodding we discovered that not one, not two, not a handful...but twenty kids had formed a mob against him, and were verbally bullying him daily. As a mother, I was so heartbroken that I couldn’t get a grip on my emotions. I saw the utter pain in my son’s eyes as he said, “Mom, how am I going to go through the rest of my life being this unlikable?” He went to his room and I could hear him crying, and I curled up in a ball and cried on my bed, wondering how so many kids could turn against such a sweet-natured, creative, and unique kid.

I knew we were in a desperate time and that I had to intervene. My husband and I went to his room and tried to talk to him about how loved and liked he was, but he wouldn’t believe us. He had twenty fourth graders telling him differently. You’re stupid. You’re fat. Nobody wants “John germs.” Our voices seemed so small, and as a mother, I’m not sure I’d ever felt so helpless.

I knew I couldn’t send him back to school and told him he wouldn’t have to go. That evoked the first and only smile we got from him that evening. I could see relief in his eyes, and I realized how tormented he’d been.

The next morning Sean and I made an appointment with the principal, Mr. Bailey. He got us right in, and we met with him in his office. We told him we’d made the decision to pull John from school, and I could see the hurt in his eyes. We relayed to him the information we’d gotten from John: that twenty of the twenty-six kids in his class had turned on him. There were five who did not participate but did not stand up for him. Only one child, a girl, took a stand against what was happening.

As we talked, my mind raced through all the scenarios we were facing. Was I going to have to homeschool him? How brutalized was his self-esteem? How was I going to make him understand that everything these kids said about him was wrong?

As I tearfully conveyed the information to Mr. Bailey, he was nodding, and I could see tears in his own eyes. He was feeling our pain. He told us that he believed what we were saying, and that he thought a mob-like mentality had formed. We knew that one kid in particular had started it, weeks ago, and had somehow managed to get nearly the entire class involved. We were all perplexed....we knew most of the students. We knew their parents. These were good kids. How could it have gone this wrong?

We were surprised at how seriously our principal took it. Even though we knew him, and knew what an outstanding principal he was, we figured we’d get a song and dance, and some papers on how to help a kid stand up to bullying. Instead, he immediately called in all the fourth grade teachers and asked them to report what they’d been seeing. Next he called in the school counselor, Mrs. Carmen, and told her what was going on. We could tell Mrs. Carmen was visibly moved by the incident. She sat down at the table with us and said, “I want to do something, but I need your permission.” She explained that she was already scheduled to talk to the fourth grade about bullying on this same day. She asked if she could specifically use John’s name and this incident and talk to the kids about it. Sean and I looked at each other and then decided, Why not? What else did we have to lose?

We were in the principal’s office for two hours, and the compassion and genuine concern we felt from him was almost indescribable. We walked in feeling defeated and broken. We walked out with the hope that our school cared about our child.

The rest of the day we spent with John, taking him out to eat, trying to explain to him how precious and special he was, and that kids are often meanest to the most unique of the crowd. He nodded, but I knew that he was still hurt, and that the rejection from his peers had deeply wounded him. It was all I could do to not cry for the entire day. I wanted so badly to take all his pain away.

That afternoon we sat by the curb, waiting for the kids to be released from school so we could pick up John’s little sister, Cate. John was quiet and pensive. I wanted to hug him and rock him, but he was ten. All I could do was pray. I noticed our van was suddenly encircled by boys from John’s class, and one motioned for him to roll down the window, so I told him to go ahead.

To our surprise, they all had big tears in their eyes. The first one said, “John, I am so sorry for everything we did to you.” The second said, “Yeah, me too. I will never bully you again.” And the third one added, “And we’re never going to let anyone bully you again.” More apologies came and after they were done, John looked at me with his jaw hanging open. I was shocked too. Did that really just happen?

That afternoon the principal called and asked to speak with John. I could see John nodding enthusiastically with the phone pressed up against his ear, and then the principal asked to speak to me. Would I consider allowing John to come back to school? I asked John if he wanted to, and he said that he did.

That evening, the mom of the only child who stood up for John called and asked if I’d heard what happened at school. I said no, that I didn’t, but told her some boys had come up to John and apologized.

She went on to tell me that the counselor had taken John’s homeroom class into her classroom. She began to ask them if they’d ever been hurt by words. Many kids responded and tearfully told of incidents where they’d been hurt by words. Mrs. Carmen set them up perfectly, because then she asked, “Did you notice that one of your classmates isn’t here today? Who is that?” “John,” they responded. Mrs. Carmen said, “That’s because of the words you’ve spoken against him.” She then went on to ask each child if they’d bullied John. One by one, they admitted it. She asked them, “Why do you think you bullied John?” and one boy responded, “Because he’s weaker than me.” Mrs. Carmen said, “The truth is that he’s stronger than all of you, because he took all your bullying upon himself and never bullied back.” These words pierced through their hearts, and most of the kids started crying, understanding how terribly hurtful they’d been to my son. Even after their long discussion in Mrs. Carmen’s room, many of the children who’d bullied John were still crying when they got back to their classroom, convicted of what they’d done, fully understanding the consequences of their actions.

The next day we sent John to school. I felt unsure and worried about him all day long, praying that things would go well. I showed up early to wait for school to get out, eagerly wanting him in my safe care. Suddenly I saw him, the very first kid bounding down the path. Usually he was one of the last kids, and he certainly didn’t bound. He jumped into the van with a humongous grin on his face. “Mom! Guess what?” “What?” I asked. “You know how I didn’t have any friends yesterday?” I nodded. “Well, today everybody wants to be my best friend!” He went on to tell me how all the kids came up to him an apologized. Some wrote cards. One girl wanted to get “John is my friend” t-shirts made. He hugged me and said, “This has been the best day of my life.” I choked up and could hardly believe the turn around I’d witnessed.

I believe John’s story ended well because of the drastic measures the school took against verbal bullying. They treated the incident just as if John had been punched out on the playground. We have seen the devastating effects of verbal bullying in our society. Suicides over Facebook posts and beatings from text messages. Even mass shootings.

We have to get the message out to our children that mean and hateful words are weapons. What once was mostly seen in high school settings has slowly seeped into our elementary schools. Younger and younger kids are now willingly participating in the verbal abuse of other kids. Thanks to one school, a group of kids will never look at words the same way again. And who knows? Maybe they will end up standing up for another kid in the future, a kid who doesn’t have a good home base like John. We’ll never know if the actions of one elementary school’s principal and counselor, and the lessons they taught a group of fourth graders about the power of words, will prevent a future Columbine.

What helped carry me through the pain of watching my child go through this was my faith. I knew what we were going through with the bullying of my son and the release of my book was perhaps ironic but not coincidental. When John was crying in his room and I couldn’t seem to gather my emotions, I asked God, “Why would you let a little one suffer like this?” The next evening, after the “best day” of John’s life, I was tucking him into bed when I felt God’s voice in my spirit. “The reason I didn’t move before is that I wanted John to see me do something big, and if I’d handled it little by little, he would’ve missed My hand in it.”

His mom would’ve too.

And a classroom full of fourth graders.

I am now spreading the word about the devastating effects of verbal bullying, and how we must talk to our children about the power of words, and how they can stop the cycle of violence with simple acts of kindness.

Visit my blog on the power of words at www.renegutteridge.blogspot.com and Listen’s official website: www.listentoyourself.net.

And follow me on Twitter (ReneGutteridge) as I encourage you in your daily word habits.

Let’s not allow this generation to destroy each other with words. Speak out against verbal bullying.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When you become a mom, there is nothing you wouldn't do for your kids. But as you soon realize, there are often situations where you feel completely helpless. That's what happened to me this February when this adorable, sweet and unique little boy, my son John, was verbally bullied at school, by not one of his classmates, but twenty. I'd love to say that his case is rare, but it's not. Thousands upon thousands of children are verbally bullied. According to Paul Coughlin of www.theprotectors.org, an anti-bullying organization, 160,000 children stay home a DAY due to fear of being bullied. And that statistic is from the 1990s. Imagine the number today.

Tomorrow I am going to post my personal story, of how my son John became the target of extreme verbal bullying, and the touching true story that followed. Please tell everyone you know who is interested in combating verbal bullying to come visit my blog tomorrow. Help me spread the word about the Power of Words. When I wrote my novel LISTEN, I never imagined that I would be living out the nightmare I wrote about. But God has a plan, because all things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Help me work out the good. Spread the word about LISTEN. Come follow me on Twitter. And join me in a word revolution!


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chapter 3 - LISTEN

It's been awhile since my last post. Had a computer crash but am up and running now! Check out my newest VLOG on my novel, LISTEN. I discuss what went into writing Chapter 3.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mystery Blogger! James Scott Bell

Today is my first mystery blogger! I asked my friend and fellow novelist, James Scott Bell, to write some thoughts on the power of words. My mystery bloggers will be talking about words in their world. We'll have writers, lawyers, pastors, teachers and more. It will be fun. So here are some thoughts from Jim on the power of words inside a novel. I wonder what would happen if we thought just as carefully about how we use words in real life?

The Right Words by James Scott Bell

Mark Twain famously said that the difference between the right word, and the almost right word, is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. That's the power of words, and the writer needs to be merciless in the search for the right ones.

I see a lot of bland writing in unpublished manuscripts. Description that merely describes, rather than giving us tone or emotion, for example. That's a waste of space. Like this:

The wind blew in from the desert, making the grass brown. Only the oleander plants seemed to thrive, their blooms and green leaves healthy.

But now see how Janet Fitch does it in White Oleander:

The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert, shriveling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw. Only the oleanders thrived, their delicate poisonous blooms, their dagger green leaves. We could not sleep in the hot dry nights, my mother and I.

Every detail of the weather here has tonal and thematic significance to the narrator, who is introduced in the third paragraph reacting to the weather.

Or how about this, from Raymond Chandler, in his short story "Red Wind":

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

What's the key to finding the right words? It's part alchemy, of course. You can't buy the ability. But you can work at it by first looking to the emotions roiling inside the Lead character. Then keep writing and trying different words until there is a connection between them and those emotions.

I see too many lightning bugs on the pages of aspiring writers. Squash them! Zap them with a bug zapper! Then crack some lightning.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's time for a video about Chapter 2! Learn more about my protagonist, Damien Underwood, as I talk about setting him up for conflict in LISTEN.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Video Blog for Chapter 1 of LISTEN

Here's my next video for Chapter 1 of LISTEN. Make sure you've read the chapter before you watch, unless you don't mind spoilers!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Check out the PROLOGUE video for LISTEN, where I speak on the writing of the powerful first scene, and what kinds of decisions I had to make in doing so.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Video Blog Intro for LISTEN

Hey everyone! This is my first post on my new blog for my novel LISTEN, which releases today! In this video blog I talk about why I wrote the book. Check it out! Next video blog I'll talk about the prologue! Stay tuned!