By Darcie J. Gudger
Author of Spin
- Nothing like rubbing shoulders with teens to create characters. When did your lead characters come to life for you?
Back in 2001 when I was a special education teacher at a local high school, I was on lunch room duty. All of a sudden, the name “Kisrie” popped into my head. At that time, a teacher in the building had been falsely accused of hitting a student in class. As I heard the kids spread rumors about what happened (a disgruntled student started the whole thing to get him fired), the plot for SPIN came to light. Then I started writing. As I wrote, Kisrie and Wendy revealed themselves to me. Then, over the course of the past 13 years, they evolved. Of course, being a color guard instructor for 15 years and spending countless hours with teens each week, year-round kind of helps.
- What is your leading lady’s main problem? How did that develop as the character came to life?
Kisrie’s main problem is that she bought into the victim mentality. Bullied all her life, she embraced the lies that defined her as weak, worthless and ugly. Her feelings drove her inactions when faced with a critical decision to stop vicious rumors about her uncle. Career and life destroying rumors. Through the lens of a victim, she chose self-preservation and hoped the situation would work itself out over time. All actions, or in her case, non-actions, have consequences. The pain of those repercussions drove the change in her character.
- How do teens evaluate the importance of fitting in with the crowd?
I don’t think they take the time to evaluate the importance of fitting in. The pressure to conform is intense. It becomes more or less a survival instinct. Kids who don’t comply from the beginning learn very fast that being different, or standing out in anyway results in isolation and bullying. Even in the earliest of grades, an onlooker can see the kids standing on the playground, backs against the school wall, tracing designs in the dirt with their toes while the others chase, laugh, climb and cartwheel around.
- Do Christian teens have more confidence in themselves and their future than other youths?
I wish I could say yes. But the reality is this. Christian kids in public schools feel like they have a target on their backs. Their entire belief system, world-view, and values are scorned and flat-out forbidden in the classroom and the hallway. The media attacks Christianity. The culture derides it. For a teen to self-identify as a Christian, or be pegged as a Christian by peers is a social death-sentence. They are called haters. They may even be forced into sensitivity trainings to wipe out their beliefs. They are told to distrust their parents and trust the system. And I am not sure the church understands this and gives the kids the kind of support they need to endure real persecution. Youth leaders had a different experience in school. Social media did not exist. And, they have been in “the bubble” of Christian college or seminary for a while.
The honest truth? Our teens are on the front lines of a culture war. Think about it. Where does societal worldview come from? The education system. K-12, and then college is even worse. I have seen way too many Christian teens cave to the pressure and conform, go undercover, or worse, give in to depression and suicide.
- Where does this confidence come from—the kind that endures and creates long-lasting friendships?
This confidence should come with a deep, trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. And maturity is a factor as well. Teens are still… teens. They are in a developmental stage where they are trying to figure things out. And who do they tend to turn to first? Peers. We adults would like them to turn to us, or their relationship with Christ. We want to blissfully assume they do this naturally. But again, what kind of pressure do they face day after day? It is not safe to be a Christian kid in a secular milieu. They live with that fear over what will happen if people find out? Sure, there are exceptions to this. There are vibrant, fearless confident Christian kids, but they are a minority. Most are undercover. Take the characters in my book. Kisrie, Jacque and even Tammie do what they can to remain undetected or unobtrusive.
Christ following adults need to come along side teens and show them how to endure a vicious environment. Model for them how to navigate and stand up for what they believe in when there is a hefty price to pay. We need to be with them as they face the forced brainwashing and ridicule by people in positions of authority, or even peers. Knowing WE know how hard it is for them every day will give them confidence they need to stay on course. Praying with them as well as for them, teaching them to study the Bible – really dig in, will build God-Warrior habits that will last a life time.
- You discovered you didn’t fit your first chosen career and it resulted in health problems. What do parents need to know about teen emotions to help them find their niche in life?
“You can be anything you dream!” is spewed at kids day in and day out. It’s a lie. Make sure the teens in your life know that. Teens know when adults are being honest and when we are trying to make them feel good. False hopes create false expectations which when dashed, are devastating. Get to know, really know not only what your kid is good at, but what they are passionate about. Now not all passionate pursuits are career-worthy. But, they can be hobbies. Real conversations about economy and future outlooks are critical. Many people try to hide the dismal economic realities from kids today and allow them to chase whims at great financial cost. And here’s a real unpopular opinion – don’t send them away to college right away after they graduate. Give them time to work, earn money and figure out what kind of viable job they are willing to do for years to come. Some kids need extra time to figure out their path in life. There is no rush. There is no hard and fast rule that college must happen at 18, a degree by 22. I learned the hard way that when I make plans and timelines, they blow up. And it’s ugly and costly.
- Are young people today concerned about finding and being in God’s will and plan for their lives?
Kids are focused on one thing – which path will lead to a job? They are concerned with how they will survive in the world once all the schooling is over. Finding God’s will would be nice, but practicality takes priority with many teens today. Funding for college is harder to get than in generations past. Once it is obtained, the loans… oh the loans… they never seem to go away. And then, there is the question I have been wrestling with myself… even now as a published author… what exactly is God’s will? Is there ONE THING out there for me? Or, does God give me choices and let me figure things out?
Here’s what I think about God’s will in the present after much prayer and study. God gives us free will. He gives us gifts and talents. We are supposed to develop those and use them to His Glory. If we do that, no matter the circumstances (good or bad), we are in His will. If we use them for hurting others, or getting in the way of another person’s faith journey, we are not in His will. Or, if those things are contrary to His Word, well… not His will.
I have spent a lot of time breaking this apart – especially since I have “failed” at almost all of my pursuits, there were a LOT of them. I have spent a lot of time beating myself up for “being out of God’s will.” Why? Was I? Why did I think that? Why did I spend so many years in deep depression thinking I missed the God’s Will Express? Americanized theology tends to teach us that financial success and a life of ease means we are in God’s will. If life is hard, and poverty has us in a choke-hold, we must be out of God’s will. The Bible speaks to the contrary. Financial blessing was what God used in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament things were different. Blessings came in persecution. Blessings came through hardship. Blessings were NOT material! The focus is on the eternal. The rewards are in heaven. God’s will for us all is this. Conform to His image. Become Christ-like. Period. What that looks like is different for each person. Doctor, lawyer, road sweeper, nurse, social worker, stay at home mom… but it will involve refinement. And that hurts. Let’s be honest with kids about that and prepare them so it is not such a shock to the point they throw faith away.
- Do most have goals connected with their faith?
It depends on the teen and where they are. I would guess most teens in public schools are trying to survive until that one day they graduate. Their goal is survival. Teens out of high school, teens who are in private school, homeschool and youth group may have goals connected with faith.
- How are teachers, even youth leaders and Sunday school teachers, equipped to help youth in their emotional journeys?
I can’t say for sure they are.
- What part does God’s Word play to give them hope and peace?
God’s Word should play a part to give teens peace. But many are not going to just go and seek it on their own. Remember, they are trying to survive a nasty social ecology. Teens need adults mature in faith, to come along side them and guide them. Every teen wants a Yoda. A Gandalf. A Haymitch Abernathy. The Bible tells older believers to come along side younger ones and mentor them. That cannot be done in large groups. It needs to be 1:1. Taking solace in God’s Word is a discipline. Disciplines take time to become habit. And habits can fail if there is no accountability system. With a mentor framework in place, God’s Word does have everything all teenagers need to find REAL hope and peace.
- How do the characters in your book find joy and peace?
The characters in my book are on a journey. A long one. Kisrie starts to find it when she seeks God for answers. She also has the wisdom of her father and the modeling of Christ-like behavior from her aunt. Then the support of her friends. Her faith is quite shallow in this book. But as the series progresses, it will deepen. And who knows? Maybe Kisrie’s faith may become a change agent for Wendy.
- Does the humor in your writing stem from your experiences in the classroom?
School is a funny place. Teens are funny people. I was telling one of my guard kids the other days that they are my favorite because they love to be goofy and laugh. Some of the material does come from things I’ve seen in the classroom, on my guard teams, and in the hallways. But I do have quite the imagination.
Author bio:YA author Darcie J. Gudger loves teenagers. Aside from making up stories, she is the director of the award-winning color guard program at Evergreen High School where she teaches students to throw things, catch things, and dance with them. To music. Wearing costumes. She holds a masters degree in education from the University of Colorado. Whenever she gets the chance, Darcie escapes the city with her husband and son into the pine-scented Colorado Rockies.
Sophomore Kisrie Kelley longs to fit in. Instead, she’s always been a misfit, a fact her nemesis Wendy won’t let her forget. At least she’s got color guard and photography, right? She almost feels normal when she’s out on the field performing or behind the lens. Truth be told, they’re the only reasons she even shows up at school, though her professor mom thinks they’re both a waste of Kisrie’s time. Add a serious affinity to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that has her battling the bulge and a pestering “prodigy” little sister who thinks she’s a bush baby, and Kisrie’s contemplating moving to a different planet. The stakes are raised even higher when she overhears Wendy plotting against Kisrie’s English-teacher uncle all over a stupid grade! Should Kisrie snitch and risk Wendy’s wrath? Ever since elementary school the young beauty queen has bullied Kisrie as if it were an Olympic sport. Who’s going to believe Wendy’s story anyway? Everything spins out of control as vicious rumors fly and lives are on the line. Only the truth can set them all free, but will it be too late?