Thursday, September 17, 2015

0 Seventeen YA writers collaborate to create the powerful VIOLENT ENDS

Unfortunately, mass shootings have become an all too common occurrence, which makes VIOLENT ENDS an important novel to showcase.

Shaun Hutchinson had the idea to tell the stories of students impacted by a school shooting from multiple viewpoints. He assembled a group of seventeen incredibly talented YA writers to create the stories of the victims who are brought together by a tragic event. With seventeen perspectives on events leading up to and after the violence, this is sure to be a novel that stays with you.

We are very fortunate and extremely honored to have many of the VIOLENT ENDS authors join us to share their inspiration for their part of the story, as well as answer other questions. Click an author's name to be redirected to their website to learn more about them or scroll down to learn about the entire anthology.

Shaun Hutchinson, The Perfect Shot/Editor

What is your favorite thing about VIOLENT ENDS?

My favorite thing about Violent Ends is that it offers no easy answers. 

The Secret Service compiled a report after the shootings at Columbine in an attempt to create a profile of the type of person most likely to become a school shooter. According to the report (The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications For the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States, which you can and should read at: "There is no accurate or useful 'profile' of students who engaged in targeted school violence."

That was the thing that struck me the most while researching school shootings. When a violent attack happens, survivors, the media, amateur arm-chair psychoanalysts attempt to figure out why. Inevitably they find something they can blame—goth music or violent video games or mental illness or lax gun control laws—and they become so myopically focused on that one thing they lose sight of the bigger picture. 

Instead of trying to offer explanations for what Kirby did by telling stories about a school shooter, Violent Ends offers a multifaceted picture of a real person. Because I strongly believe that if we want to stop school violence before it happens, we need to stop trying to profile children and viewing them as potential shooters, and start seeing them as real and whole people. And it's my sincere hope Violent Ends does that.

How long did you work on VIOLENT ENDS?

Actually, this book came together pretty quickly. I think it was 16 months from the day we sold it to the day it hits shelves. Considering how slow publishing usually moves, that was practically light speed. Maybe 16 months sounds like a lot of time, but we had to plan and write the stories, edit them, copy edit them, figure out the story order. It was a lot of work, but I am thrilled with the finished book, and I couldn't have done any of it without my brilliant agent, my amazing editor, and the exceptionally talented and hard-working authors who signed on to my crazy idea. 

E.M. Kokie, Astroturf

What was your inspiration for writing "Astroturf" in VIOLENT ENDS?

I was intrigued by the idea that there were probably kids in Kirby's world who thought Kirby had it all. Because we all do that -- we envy these lives we think other people are living when things are tough in our own lives. Once I started writing, I loved having my chapter end before the shooting, when Kirby and my character are both still "innocent," and my character has just made this tiny, human connection with Kirby, and he has been changed for it for the better. And for the reader to know that less than a day later, my character will changed again, and Kirby will be dead.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

I really struggled with how to end my story. Nothing was working. And then an off-hand suggestion by another author in the anthology sparked an idea, but there was no way for my character to provide the reader with the necessary information to make it work. So I put out a call to the group to see if anyone else could work the necessary information into their story, and got a quick response from one of the other authors. So an idea tossed into the mix by one author sparked an idea for my story and the a third author helped me achieve it. I loved the collaborative part of the process of creating this book.

What do you hope readers will take away from VIOLENT ENDS?

I hope readers think about how we construct these ideas of who the people around us are and what their lives are like, and consider that those assumptions are not always accurate. And I hope readers think about how fast life can change, and that it's important to pay attention, to be active in our lives and not just coast through waiting for the future to arrive. I hope that as we start to try to see each other more fully and make less assumptions, maybe other potential Kirbys will draw someone's notice -- someone's kindness or someone's intervention -- and maybe another tragedy can be avoided.

Mindi Scott, Hypothetical Time Travel

What was your inspiration for writing "Hypothetical Time Travel" in VIOLENT?

In the summer of 2009, I put together a very rough draft of a novel about a girl whose brother was arrested for murder. While many of the details were fictionalized, it was inspired by something that had taken place in my real life--something that continues to affect my family and many others. But working on that story was exhausting and overwhelming. After only one month, I decided I couldn't continue.

When Shaun approached me years later about contributing to VIOLENT ENDS, it felt like the perfect opportunity. Without having to revisit the manuscript I'd permanently abandoned, I could write from the point of view of a family member of someone who committed a terrible crime. I could give readers a glimpse of what it can be like when the media and the rest of the world seem to view someone close to you as an evil person, even though you've spent many years believing them to be the opposite.

How long did you work on "Hypothetical Time Travel" in VIOLENT ENDS?

I'd had high hopes to finish it in 2-3 weeks between my other writing deadlines, but writing this story was much harder than I'd expected it to be. From start to finish, I estimate that I put in about 300 hours of work over the course of 10 weeks. Probably at least a third of that time was spent researching. Even though much of it is never stated on the page, I wanted to make sure I fully understood the ins and outs of what Kirby's family and the rest of their community would be dealing with in the aftermath of the devastating choice Kirby made. I also needed to question my friends and family members about dog ownership (because I've never had one of my own) and read up on present-day yearbook classes (because I was in yearbook over twenty years ago when typewriters and rubber cement were still part of the process).

Courtney Summers, History Lessons

What was your inspiration for writing "History Lessons" in VIOLENT ENDS?

I actually started out with a different idea than the one that became the final story, but I was having a very hard time bringing it together. It just wasn't working out and I was a little too stubborn to admit it. Then Shaun sent his story, The Perfect Shot, to all contributors and when I read it, I absolutely loved it. It's so heartbreaking and emotionally honest and bold. I was particularly struck by one of his side characters, Nate, and I wondered what his story was and then I realized... I kinda already knew. I asked Shaun if I could run with his characters and he said yes, and that's how History Lessons came to be. (Thanks, Shaun!)

What do you hope readers will take away from VIOLENT ENDS?

Violent Ends offers a lot for readers to mull over with each story--which is one of the things I love most about it--but I hope, overall, it gives them an opportunity to consider what they put out into the world; the kind of impact they have on others and the power they have to make that impact a positive one.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, All's Well

What was your inspiration for writing "All's Well" in VIOLENT ENDS?

The Columbine High School shooting in 1999 propelled such tragedies into the national dialogue. At that time, there was a lot of attention placed on profiling prospective young shooters, with an eye toward the bullied and especially counter-culture and imaginative teens. Those on the social fringe.

My debut novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001), included a secondary character, The Flash, who sported a black trench coat. When I was writing the book (before Columbine), it seemed like an innocuous, quirky character tag. Afterward, the question was raised as to whether or not that descriptive element should be removed because the Columbine shooters were originally widely believed to be part of a “trench coat mafia.” The concern was that it would evoke an association that didn’t apply.

I left The Flash as is. I was already concerned about the growing paranoia and profiling being unfairly leveled at teens across the country because of their interests, who their friends were and how they dressed. I didn’t want to rewrite because of what I viewed as an unfounded growing prejudice.

A couple of years later, I mentioned this at a YA book event at the University of Kansas. I explained the context, question and my reasons for the decision I made.

Afterward, a number of teens who had considered themselves unfairly profiled for like reasons rushed to thank me for standing with them—for believing in their goodness and for supporting their desire to express themselves through style as they saw fit.

That experience inspired me to write from the point of view of Ruben, a student who is unfairly feared and suspected in the wake of a school shooting.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Be wary of the commercial pressure to narrowly brand your artist journey. You won’t grow as a writer or find new venues for your potential if you keep pacing back and forth on the same narrow path.

Embrace the short form as an opportunity to experiment. I first tried upper YA, humor, and male point of view through the short story. Those experiences gave me the skills and confidence to later execute the same in novels.

Trish Doller, The Girl Who Said No

What was your inspiration for writing "The Girl Who Said No" in VIOLENT ENDS?

When Shaun invited me to write for VIOLENT ENDS, I said yes immediately without knowing what I was going to write about. But when I sat down to start working, I started thinking about Maren Sanchez, the teenage girl who was murdered by a classmate for turning down his invitation to prom, and the whole idea of a boy feeling entitled to a "yes" regardless of what the girl wants. I also wanted to explore the cult of the "nice guy" and the expectation that nice is enough. It's become a form of bravery, as a girl, to say no and I wanted to explore that.

How long did you work on "The Girl Who Said No"?

To be completely honest, it wasn't until the deadline started closing in on me that I started writing. But when I opened up the blank document, Morgan Castro was there, waiting to share her family and her life. So I just listened and in a couple of days, I had the story that I wanted to tell.

Kendare Blake, Burning Effigies

What was your inspiration for writing "Burning Effigies" in VIOLENT ENDS?

My inspiration came in large part from a school shooting that occurred in Washington this past year, about two hours north of where I live. A boy opened fire during lunch, and killed his ex-girlfriend, two of her friends and his own cousin before turning the gun on himself. For a while there were stories in the media that called him the Homecoming Prince. Apparently he'd felt jilted by one of the female victims. It was all quite disgusting.

Prior to this shooting, I'd wanted to do a story about the cycle of violence, how one act could lead to another through more pain. I wanted to explore how pain could turn outward. But after the Washington shooting I was pretty uninterested in a shooter's motivations. I had zero sympathy for that kid, and, despite the many, wonderful stories in Violent Ends that cast light on Kirby's humanity and his conflict, after the shooting, I have zero sympathy for Kirby. He became drastically less important to me than the lives he took, and the lives he rattled in his wake. So I switched gears and wrote a story about the hate he left behind. Not general hate, but hate of him. "Burning Effigies" became about revenge as much as anything, an exploration of rage when there's nothing to take it out on.

How long did you work on "Burning Effigies"?

Not terribly long, once I had the concept down. Alice and her band of delinquents revealed themselves pretty easily, perhaps because I had a lot in common with them in high school, so they figured I wasn't a snitch. According to my only somewhat reliable calendar, I worked on Burning Effigies for about a week, probably three long sessions of actual writing, and a few more sessions of polish before sending the first draft off to Shaun.

Steve Brezenoff, Miss Susie

What was your inspiration for writing "Miss Susie" in VIOLENT ENDS?

As soon as Shaun approached me about this novel in 17 voices, with its truly provocative hook, I began brainstorming story ideas, but nothing I could come up with seemed quite right to me. The fact is, I wanted my story to have tremendous distance from the event central to the novel. At the same time, I’d been toying with the idea of trying my hand at a creepy short story starring a girl of middle-grade age—that is, 8 to 12. It occurred to me—probably in the shower, which is where most things occur to me—that though the main character in my story was far too young to be a YA protagonist, she might be someone who lived on the periphery of Kirby’s life, even years ago, and that became the initial idea for “Miss Susie.” When I sat down to write it, it came very naturally, right down to the playground interspersed throughout.

How long did you work on "Miss Susie"?

All told, before the minor edits done with Shaun later on, I worked on the story for about four or five hours, and I was pretty happy with it right away. Tweaks and edits weren’t more than an hour’s work after that, I’d say.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I almost always listen to music when I write, often a playlist specific to the project I’m working on. My last novel, GUY IN REAL LIFE, had a playlist of primarily heavy metal and Bjork. In working on my current revision, a fantasy novel, I’m listening mostly to Soviet-era classical music.

I most often work at coffee shops. I’m at one right now. My full-time job is taking care of my almost-seven-year-old son and my not-quite-two-year-old daughter, so whenever I am able to get away and steal some writing time, I do, usually out of the house since the house is a cacophony most of the time. That said, I wrote “Miss Susie” for VIOLENT ENDS in my home office after the kids had gone to bed. I don’t know if I intended to do so much in that one sitting, but Susanna Byrd turned out to be the kind of main character I didn’t want to walk away from once I’d met her.

Beth Revis, Violent Beginnings

What was your inspiration for writing "Violent Beginnings" in VIOLENT ENDS?

Before I was a published writer, I was a teacher. Wait--no, my inspiration comes before then. It goes back to the year Columbine happened. I was in high school. And suddenly, everyone was afraid. I will never forget the moment when I realized what had happened, and that it could have happened in my school. I knew kids like the attackers. I knew kids like the victims. It was thousands of miles away, but very close to home.

I carried that fear around when I became a teacher. Every year, the school system showed us a video of a (staged) attack, showing things to do to minimize the damage. And every year, I got choked up. It could happen. There was never really a question of that.

And every year, we went through the motions. We had shooter lock-down drills. When I was in school, we had tornado drills, and we laughed and joked as we hunched beside out lockers. No one laughed and joked during the shooter drills. There was fear in the silence.

My story came from that perspective. Not a victim, not even someone present during the shooting--but a part of that universal fear, that universal sorrow, that universal longing to understand why?

Tom Leveen, Survival Instinct

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

The first attack Zach suffers from her father was harder than the later one. There was so much to *not* say, so much to *not* show. I had to know what was happening while writing the scene in such a way that the reader could take away whatever he or she needed to take away. It's a wrenching scene for me to read, nevermind write. But then I love the gaming sequence, where Zach is shown in her element a little bit, surrounded by people who really do care about her in ways her dad obviously does not. That was a lot of a fun to do.

How long did you work on "Survival Instinct"?

I think this story took about a month or so all together. There was a lot of back and forth as I tried to get the voice right and figure out the best way to portray all the characters and still work within the framework of the VIOLENT ENDS story.

What do you hope readers will take away from VIOLENT ENDS?

The first thing I hope readers take away from VIOLENT ENDS is that there is always more to the story. That's a theme I work with a lot in my other novels, such as PARTY. Then there's the practical issue of speaking up when something doesn't sound or feel right, and of learning how to listen and reflect back to people who we talk to that we are really hearing them. Finally, I hope readers take from these stories that all of us, each and every one of us on the planet, home, and school are valuable and loved.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

An acting teacher once told me, when I tried to take a shortcut in preparation for a scene we were working on, that "You can't be an actor if you don't read the play." He was right. Likewise, you can't be a good author if you don't read a lot and don't spend a lot of time in bookstores and/or around other authors. Apprentice authors -- anyone who hasn't been published yet -- should be on local independent bookstore email lists and going to as many author events and signings as possible, even outside their genre. It is a great way to get exposed to people who are in the business, and that especially includes the employees at the bookstore! They are as much a part of publishing as big name editors and publishers, don't neglect them as you work on your writing career. They are the ones who will hand-sell your book to customers if they like you and like your work.

Blythe Woolston, The Second

What was your inspiration for writing “The Second” in VIOLENT ENDS?

The school is over a hundred years old. The worn wooden steps creak, and there are ripples in some of the window glass. I spent my days sitting in the halls outside the classroom door. My autistic son was re-entering school after time away; he was in the fifth grade, depressed and suicidal, but we were moving forward. I was on hand to provide support during emotional meltdowns. That’s why I was there the day of the bomb drill.

We practiced fire drills when I was a kid. When my oldest son entered school, post-Columbine, his teachers taught him how to hide quietly in the classroom in case of intruders. Now my younger son was learning what to do if there was a bomb threat.

I helped shepherd kids down the stairs, over the playground, across the street, and into a church designated the school’s emergency sanctuary. Our progress to safety was painfully slow. A student wanted to go back for his new lunch box. Teachers had to figure out the buttons on the secure-channel walkie-talkies provided by the police department. And five-year olds dressed up in princess gear and camo were learning how to live in a terrible world.

That was half my inspiration as I wrote “The Second.”

The other half?

I grew up with guns. There was a gun rack in the hallway outside my bedroom door, and wild meat made up a significant part of our dinners. Guns were ordinary objects. Like chainsaws or hay hooks, the rifles could be dangerous if misused; there was never any doubt about that. My family didn’t belong to the NRA; their gun-ownership wasn’t ideological, it was practical.

A lot of families here in Montana still live that way. I'll tell you straight up that those families can feel misrepresented and downright offended when conversations about gun violence turn into conversations about guns. I wanted to let those families speak; that’s why Reba and her parents are part of Violent Ends. They are responsible people. They love one another. They don’t want to live in a terrible world where children are murdered in schools. We have that in common, all of us. And I think it will take all of us—cooperating—to make the world safer.

What do you hope readers will take away from VIOLENT ENDS?

A brilliant thing about this collection is that it doesn’t treat violence like a simple matter. The stories reveal the complexity and uncertainty of the problem we are all facing. I hope that readers will think about the past, present, and futures Violent Ends reveals—all those perspectives, all those possibilities. Then I hope readers will do what they can to prevent the seeds of violence from growing in the world. If each reader makes a personal choice to do better, to be kinder, to pay more attention to the suffering of others I believe we can save lives.

Delilah S. Dawson, The Greenest Grass

What was your inspiration for writing "The Greenest Grass" in VIOLENT ENDS?

My experience in high school centered on being an artsy outcast, and during that time, I developed a (now embarrassing) contempt for popular kids. The cheerleaders seemed effortlessly thin, beautiful, popular, happy, and rich, which was the opposite of how I felt: overweight, unfashionable and ugly, ignored, depressed, and lacking in the worldly hallmarks of greatness. In writing THE GREENEST GRASS, I wanted to reach deep and try to understand the kind of girl I would've maligned. If I'd seen Lauren in the halls at my high school, I would've thought she had it all and was perfect, and as an adult looking back, I wanted to explore the struggle under that facade. What demons might she have been facing, feeling just as alone as I did? And what kind of person could bring out Kirby Matheson's pity and a sense of caring?

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

I didn't know I wanted to be a novelist, and I didn't write my first book until I was 32. I want to tell other writers that it's never too late to start. You don't need an MFA, you don't need to live in New York, you don't need friends in the business, you don't need to quit your day job and dedicate yourself to writing, and you don't need to be a certain age, gender, race, or size. Getting traditionally published is about hooking the reader with a compelling story--and that's it. All of the resources that I used to write my first book, query agents, and sell books to major publishing houses are on my website, here: For Writers. And I regularly blog on the topic of writing and inspiration here: Blog. And I'm on Twitter if anyone ever has a question about writing (or anything!) that takes 140 characters or less.


Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson, Neal Shusterman, Brendan Shusterman, Beth Revis, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and many more
Simon Pulse
Released 9/1/2015

In a one-of-a-kind collaboration, seventeen of the most recognizable YA writers—including Shaun David Hutchinson, Neal and Brendan Shusterman, and Beth Revis—come together to share the viewpoints of a group of students affected by a school shooting.

It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.

But this isn't a story about the shooting itself. This isn't about recounting that one unforgettable day. 

This is about Kirby and how one boy—who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before—became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.

Each chapter is told from a different victim's viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he'd become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.

This is a book of perspectives—with one character and one event drawing them all together—from the minds of some of YA's most recognizable names.

Purchase Violent Ends at Amazon
Purchase Violent Ends at IndieBound
View Violent Ends on Goodreads

Have you had a chance to read VIOLENT ENDS yet? Are you anticipating how these different perspectives reveal larger parts of the narrative? Is there a story you're especially looking forward to reading?

Thoughtful reading,

Jocelyn, Shelly, Martina, Erin, Lisa, Susan, Jen, Sam, Lindsey, Sandra, Kristin, and Anisaa

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