“Our kids are hurting and they don’t know where to turn,” said Mari Mancusi.
Mancusi, author of the Blood Coven series, was just one of many authors to attend the Less Than Three conference on October 19th. Authors, librarians, booksellers, parents and teens gathered for the YA conference centered around rallying against bullying. Founded by Heather Brewer, author of The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series, the conference featured panels on such topics as bullying in school, self-bullying, bullies and LGBTQ and cyber bullying.
The Less Than Three comes forms an emoticon that all Internet users know well: a heart, meaning love. Many of the authors in attendance dealt with bullying when they were in middle school and high school. They found ways to cope and became stronger for it.
Mancusi attended the conference because of the prevalence of bullying in today’s society and the lack of things being done to stop it. Mancusi, who was bullied in middle school, can still recall one “especially cruel” bully.
“He would taunt me about my artwork. Drawing was my favorite past time and I used it as an escape at school. He ridiculed me so much that I eventually gave up drawing entirely. Today I can’t draw to save myself and it infuriates me that I gave him the power to take away something that I loved,” said Mancusi,
Rachel Caine, author of the Morganville Vampire series said that she was both bullied and ignored – and that was just as bad.
“Bullying came with the territory – physical shoving, hitting, name calling. I was once locked in a dark closet by my classmates and left there most of the day until someone heard me calling for help – and I was seven years old,” said Caine.
Caine has hope that the conference will make a difference in the lives of those being bullied.
“I think that if nothing else, they have heard the message that they’re not alone. They’ve seen the face of other people who’ve been through it, survived and even thrived. They’ve met new friends, made new connections and found new tools with which to endure what they’re going through and that’s powerful. Just knowing that you’re not alone is a huge step forward,” said Caine.
For Caine, who has received messages from readers about how her books saved their lives, this is very important. Caine added that readers have contacted her to let her know her books saved their life.
“When they read the books, something reached out and connected with them, and showed them that all strength is not physical – and that surviving is in itself a triumph. I never wrote my books to be about that. It wasn’t a specific message that I was trying to communicate, it’s just what I believe, and it comes through in the books. And in several cases, it’s connected with someone else, and that is truly humbling and amazing,” said Caine.
Cheryl Rainfield, author of Scars and Stained, similarly recalled being bullied and ignored.
“I was bullied in many ways: hit and shoved, laughed at and called names, ignored, threatened, emotionally and psychologically ganged up on, and I experienced some homophobic slurs and unwanted, unasked for touch. Since I was being abused at home I looked like a victim and made an easy target,” said Rainfield.
“Being bullied at school and abused at home meant I had no safe place ever. And because my parents taught me that they would kill me if I talked or if I fought back – and I’d seen them murder, so I knew they could. They were part of cults – I was too scared to talk or to stand up for myself. But what I could do, and did many times, was stand up for other kids who were being bullied, which is something I put into my book Stained. I always felt very protective of others. It was myself that I had trouble protecting,” said Rainfield.
One of the biggest events at Less Than Three was Brewer’s emotional keynote speech, in which she shared her struggles with bullying and attempted suicide.
Caine was glad she packed tissues for the keynote address.
“It was so emotional and thought-provoking that it truly summed up what Less Than Three was about: outreach, strength, love and empathy. I think her bravery in sharing personal experiences really allowed others to open up,” said Caine.
Rainfield added that Brewer is “kind, caring, brave and compassionate and has great strength.”
“Heather’s keynote was incredibly powerful; she moved us all. I love that she spoke honestly about her bullying experience, the ways she coped that hurt herself, and her attempt to kill herself—and also how she reminded us that there are so many of us like her,” said Rainfield.
Another powerful and emotional moment at the conference was when Jordan Brooks spoke. According to Mancusi, Brooks’ story inspired Brewer to create Less Than Three.
“Jordan was bullied and made to feel like an outcast at her school. She found empowerment through books and eventually Heather Brewer and became the inspiration for Less than Three. She was so brave to share her story with the entire group and I am in awe of how awesome she is. Even if she did make me cry a little,” said Mancusi.
The authors who spoke had a big impact on many of the Less Than Three attendees. For Greg Howard, Interactive Marketing Coordinator for CyberBully Hotline – one of Less Than Three’s sponsor’s this year – the most notable moment was Brewer’s keynote address.
“What really got my attention was that she said she didn’t tell anyone about her struggles because she thought no one cared. That theme – the idea of ‘I didn’t tell anyone’ – came up a lot in the other authors’ stories as well. That really got to me because the reluctance to talk openly about bullying is exactly what we’re trying to help kids get over at the CyberBully Hotline. By giving kids an anonymous way to report their problems at school, we give them a pathway to get help and support when they otherwise wouldn’t seek it out,” said Howard.
Christina Ahn, author and blogger at Ensconced in YA, says the most surprising part of Less Than Three was “how honest all of the authors were about their own experiences. I could tell that they really changed the lives of the audience.”
Rainfield hopes those being bullied know they are not alone.
“I want them to know that they are not alone and that things will get better. No matter what they’ve been through, no matter what their pain is, there are other people who understand, and they will find those people. And I want them to know that they don’t deserve to be bullied or hurt, not ever—and it isn’t their fault. If it’s happening to them, I hope they find ways to get themselves safe, to get away from the people who are hurting them, and if they can’t right now, to keep reaching for support,” said Rainfield.