Why I chose to write a retelling of Beauty and the Beast

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Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairytale. Partly because I’m such a romantic, and this story has all the feels. But mostly because I love the heart of the story. It’s one I can relate to. I know what it’s like to be the beast. To be someone who is uncomfortable in her own skin. Someone who feels like her outside doesn’t match her inside. Someone who is shunned, teased or misunderstood. Someone who is judged unfairly by how she looks.

In elementary school, boys would sometimes refer to me as a dog. In high school, I liked a boy who told me he would like me back if I didn’t have such a big nose and if I wasn’t so overweight. It was weird because when I looked in the mirror I didn’t see what others saw. I saw someone I was proud to be. I liked my nose, my body, my face. But the more people laughed, whispered and teased the more I didn’t. The more I despised it.

As an adult, I’ve learned to embrace who I am and how I look. But it took a long time. It wasn’t an easy road. As a society, we put a great emphasis on outward appearance. We judge and tease when someone looks a way that we don’t like or don’t understand. We’re also a culture that judges and teases things we’re fearful of. I think these two things go hand-in-hand, primarily with teenagers. It’s not that the child is fearful of someone who is deemed ugly or unpopular. It’s that they’re afraid if they don’t go along with the teasing they’ll be deemed ugly or unpopular.

Even adults are guilty of this – putting their need to be accepted and liked above the need to simply love one another. Our desire for comfort and acceptance often trumps our need to reach out to someone else. But Beauty and the Beast is a story of hope. It shows us that by simply loving someone they can be transformed. Love is a powerful thing. So is kindness.

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I’ve always wanted to write a retelling of this story, but it’s been done so many times I wasn’t sure I could add anything to it. Then one day I dreamt up Layla and Jasper, and I knew I had to write their story. At times it was reminiscent of Kyler and Jade in Break Free, and if you’re an avid reader of mine you know they’re my favorite characters ever. I had a blast writing this story. I felt everything the characters did and at times found myself crying or laughing along with them.

It’s a story of hope, of healing and of unconditional love. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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Words can Kill

I should be working on my newest WIP (work in progress) right now, but my mind is struggling to focus. And I know why. It’s because when I dropped my daughter off at school this morning there were cops roaming the campus and a woman holding an anti- bullying poster standing at the entrance of the parking lot.

And these things broke me.

I had a major meltdown as I drove away from my daughter’s school. Not that I didn’t know the meltdown was coming. You see, last week a twelve year old boy who was a friend of my daughter’s committed suicide after enduring years of bullying. My daughter has been devastated. She can’t sleep and she can’t stop thinking about her friend. So I’ve been strong for her. I’ve done my best to answer her questions. Questions no twelve year old should ever have to ask. And my heart has hurt for her.

But this morning my heart began to hurt for him. And now I don’t know how to make it stop. Now I know how my daughter feels. She’s talked a lot about her friend, and she’s described him as happy, fun to be around and kind to everyone. She told me a story about how last year they were in a group together and some boys were teasing another boy in the group. And this friend of my daughter’s stuck up for the boy, telling the bullies to leave him alone. My daughter said he was always like that – sticking up for others, friendly to everyone. I wonder who was sticking up for him.

Bullying is a topic I’m all too familiar with. My decision to write for teens wasn’t one I just stumbled upon. It was a calculated move. One made because my teen years were tough. It was in my teen years that I took a dangerous path, a path that would have ultimately destroyed me if not for God’s unending grace. If not for the fact that he pursued me, loved me unconditionally and saved me time and again. It’s not anyone else’s fault that I made the choices I did. In fact, the only person I can blame for my choices is myself. However, my self-esteem had taken a nose dive in high school. I wasn’t bullied exactly. Not the way I’m sure this boy was bullied. But I was teased starting as young as elementary school. And in high school I had girlfriends whom I trusted and cared for who dumped me with no explanation. They just stopped calling, stopped returning my calls, started ignoring me. It happened multiple times with multiple groups of people. And I was called ugly by a lot of people, sometimes behind my back but often times straight to my face. There was even a boy who told me he’d like me if I wasn’t so fat and if my nose wasn’t so big. From that day forward I hated my body and my nose. I never felt good enough or pretty enough or popular enough.

Fast forward to when my son was in fourth grade and he started being bullied. He would come home from school most days in tears. Kids were bullying him both verbally and physically and it ripped my heart out. I never wanted my child to go through what I had and yet what he was going through seemed worse.

My son has always been the most adorable boy in the world. I know I’m biased, but seriously, when he was little I couldn’t go to the grocery store without someone stopping me to tell me how cute my kid was. And they were right. He has the most amazing coloring with his brown eyes and red hair.

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But the thing that really drew people to my son was the fact that he was an old soul. I have often called him my eighty year old son. He has always spoken like someone much older. Even as a two year old he’d have full-blown conversations with people in the grocery store as if he was an adult. He’s witty and quirky and intellectual. It’s what makes him special. But it’s also what makes him different. And different is what kids pick on. Different is what kids don’t understand. And it’s why he was being bullied so bad. Luckily we were able to fight back and the bullying stopped eventually.

But then my daughter hit third/fourth grade and she started being bullied. People who were supposed to be her friends were calling her ugly and making fun of her clothes and hair. Her bullying I could relate to since it was more close to what I’d gone through. Still it was awful. And it didn’t make sense. My daughter is so beautiful it’s ridiculous that anyone would call her otherwise. e & k

 

But that’s the point, isn’t it? My daughter isn’t ugly – the other child’s behavior is. Just like I wasn’t ugly – my body was and is beautiful and so is my nose. There’s nothing wrong with how I look. There was something wrong with the boy who called me ugly. He was the one with the problem, not me.

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And the kids who teased my son were wrong about him too. They just couldn’t understand his uniqueness. But it’s that uniqueness that will serve him well in life. It will be the reason he soars, the reason he reaches amazing potential.

I write for teens because I want to remind them of how precious they are. I want to give them hope. I want to give them a voice.

CUTS RUN DEEP deals with suicide and the message of acceptance and kindness is very clear. Words can hurt. Words can kill. And for what? At what cost? What is the reason for it? Age can no longer be an excuse for hurting others. Kids are killing themselves. We need to teach our children the importance of words. And it starts with how we talk to one another. As adults we need to show our children how to behave. There is no reason to talk ill of anyone or put anyone else down. We are all different. It’s what makes the world go round. Not everyone is like you, and it’s okay. Let’s learn to embrace each other’s differences, to love ALL others. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful world if we could all do this?

I certainly don’t want the alternative. It pains me to live in a world where sweet little kids are killing themselves. Where people use their words like swords to slice open another person. What is wrong with us? It’s sickening.

I’ll close with the words of a character in CUTS RUN DEEP because it is said better than I could say it:

Do you ever think about where you go when you die? I never used to. I figured that was something I could ponder when I was an eighty year old man pushing around his walker. However, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

It’s weird to know you are responsible for someone’s death. I mean, I know I didn’t shove the pills down the guy’s throat, but I might as well have. My words started the chain of events that led to his suicide.

If only I could go back in time and take it back, but life doesn’t work like that. We don’t always get second chances.

It’s true. We don’t always get second chances. So think about that before you speak. Think about that when you talk to your kids. Be kind. Be loving. Be the person you want your kids to be.

Be the change we so desperately need.