Thursday, April 12, 2012

Writing about Violence When Writing for Young People

 When I was writing my first book, Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog, I had a hard time writing for middle school and high school kids, but dealing with bullies and handicaps and a school shooting.  The darkness was something modern kids live with, but still painful, and even though I knew I was working toward an ending filled with hope and renewal, I struggled with the brutal beginning.  So I tried to rescue Duffy from the immediate agony by throwing in a kinder memory from his younger years.

So, after the school shooting, when his younger sister is taken by ambulance but Duffy is still waiting at the school, I wrote the following scene

Waiting for the school to clear, Duffy had sat on the cement
steps and leaned against the scratchy warmth of the brick wall.
His teacher had glanced back reassuringly several times as he
moved among the students and the parents milling on the curb.
Duffy rarely moved. He sat tensely, with his crutches gripped
tightly and positioned so he would be able to move quickly once
they could finally go. He was holding himself just as tightly and
except for those hiccups he didn't even tremble.
Suddenly a large raven flew down and landed on the blacktop
where the kids played four square. It turned its glossy black eye to
stare straight at Duffy for a moment then it twisted its head to
check the sky before hop, hop hopping to snatch up a piece of a
bagel dropped earlier when the day had still been routine. The
raven and the smaller crows seemed to know which days had
popcorn sales and often only appeared just before lunch on
Friday. Could it still be so early in the day? Duffy turned his head
to watch as another raven dropped in and hopped about, trying to
get closer to the prize.
Ravens, here was something Duffy could think about without
crying or screaming. Here was an ordinary, safe topic which had
nothing to do with Izzy. Duffy wondered where the black birds
went when it wasn't a Friday. Did they come every Friday, even
during the summer?
Suddenly another day with ravens and Skull filled Duffy's
memory; They had been the second grade "big buddies" for a
class of kindergartners. Their class had the job of hiding colored
eggs on the playground for a hunt. As Duffy pulled his walker,
with a dozen bright eggs nestled in the basket always velcroed to
the crossbar, Skull rose up from behind a bush and barked wildly.
He had tripped Duffy. Unbelievably, only one egg had broken.
Duffy left it on the ground and walked resolutely away to scatter
the remaining eggs. The muscles in his back ached from being
clenched as he waited for another attack. A teacher called Skull
over and made him sit alone on the bench. Duffy watched him
out of the corner of his eye. "Odd," he thought, "He looks as
lonely as I am." Then Skull glanced up and met Duffy's gaze. For
a moment Skull looked vulnerable, then his face hardened and he
pounded the palm of one hand with his own fist. Duffy swallowed
hard, and quickly glanced away.
When the eggs were scattered among the bushes and swings,
Duffy's class had lined up to go in and bring out their little
buddies. The teacher suddenly pointed to a raven which had been
waiting for them to leave. It hopped calmly over and gulped down
the bits of broken egg. The class began to go in, figuring the show
was over. Duffy and Skull were among the last in line and both
gasped into startled laughter when the raven next hopped over and
picked up an unbroken egg. It then hopped up with wings
flapping to about two feet above the blacktop before letting the
egg drop. The clever bird then began greedily gulping this second
treat. Their shared laughter felt uncomfortable and Duffy and
Skull glanced at each other, then turned quickly away. Both
hurried after the class and never mentioned the sly bird again.
Duffy blinked and the two birds on the empty playground at
lunchtime grew tired of waiting for the crumb dropping children
who weren't coming. They flew up to a wire, then jumped up and
flew away. Duffy wished he could flyaway with them. He
shivered and turned his head back toward the nervous
adults on the curb.

I still think at times that the creatures out there are smarter than the people they share this world with, but Duffy reminded me that there is always hope.


  1. Its SortaSuperMom- I followed your other blog- thought I'd stop by to see what this blog has to offer- following this one now, too! :-) LOVE the excerpt from your book, btw!

  2. This is BEAUTIFUL! The deeper meaning shown by the birds. During hard times, it is amazing how nature can draw us out and makes things better if only for a moment.

    VERY nicely done!

  3. new follower from the hop, would love a follow back