Naming a Prison After Your Real-Life Bully, and Other Forms of Writers’ Revenge

Photo by Timothy Eberly/

In honor of the annual YALLWEST young adult book festival in California tomorrow (!!!), here’s a post I wrote three years ago but didn’t have the courage to publish.

When bullying made headlines recently, I thought to myself, “I’m lucky I didn’t get bullied in school.”

But after digging deeper, I realized I was kidding myself. I had been bullied.

By my high school boyfriend. By college roommates. By bosses. By my ex-husband.

So when I read about the 2015 YALLWEST book festival session, “Revenge: Bullies & Brats,” I attended to hear how others dealt with bullies during their teen years. The panel consisted of Ava Dellaira, Love Letters To The Dead; Daniel Ehrenhaft, YA editor and ghost writer; Alyson Noel, Evermore; Greg Boose, The Red Bishop; Alan Sitomer, Caged Warrior, and Robin Benway, Emmy & Oliver.

Moderator Tahereh Mafi, author of the Shatter Me series, started with the question, “Sometimes bullies are in our brain…Do you use writing as a cathartic process?”

Definitely,” said Alyson Noel, author of more than 20 novels, including Art Geeks & Prom Queens. “It’s certainly really cathartic for me.”

Noel was severely bullied from third to eighth grades; she also remembers a boyfriend’s mother being mean to her. She used the woman’s personality traits in one of her novels, and cringed years later when the mother emailed her to apologize and say, “I bought all your books!”

Emmy & Oliver author Robin Benway went the opposite way, using qualities of people she knew for a best-friend character. “When I write boy characters now, they’re really nice. I’m writing books for the girl who doesn’t have anyone to talk to.”

Benway shudders at the thought of re-living her middle grade years because they were “so horrible.” Ironically, the girl who made fun of her now works for a local anti-bullying program.

I haven’t forgiven her,” Benway said. “I should move through that sometime.”

Ava Dellaira, who recently finished the screenplay for her novel Love Letters To The Dead, found that writing the book helped her process her mother’s death: “I definitely use writing as a form of emotional exploration.”

Best-selling ghostwriter and editor Greg Boose, author of The Red Bishop, was bullied in eighth grade. He remembers being miserable. “I wrote what I should have said, could have said.”

Alan Sitomer, California’s 2007 Teacher of the Year, said, “Part of growing up is dealing with people who aren’t nice to you.”

Sitomer’s worst enemy was all-too-familiar. “The greatest bully in my life was my own father,” he said. “The person who is supposed to love and care for you teaches you to hate yourself.”

He teaches his young daughters a different lesson, and believes books can help parents. “YA is the most exciting genre right now.” Daniel Ehrenhaft agreed: “I feel like I’m always learning from YA.”

One of Sitomer’s most popular books, Homeboyz, about gangs in Los Angeles, features a character who goes to prison. And the name of the prison? “I named it after the guy I hated.”

The audience laughed.

I’m certainly petty enough to exact revenge in fiction,” he said.

Mafi asked the authors to give one piece of advice to readers who have been bullied.

Sitomer: “Talk about it with someone you love and trust, and read fiction…You have more strength than you think.”

Noel: “It gets better.”

Dellaira: “Wait for waking up tomorrow.”

Boose: “When you get to 30 or 35 years old…time will heal a lot.”

Benway: “Fight back. You’re worth defending. Fight like hell.”

Katherine Valdez appreciated her dad teaching her boxing when she was a kid. She found words to be a more powerful weapon later in life. Read Secrets of Best-Selling Authors at and say hello on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, Medium, and Zathom.


  1. Excellent post, Katherine. Bullying is such an important issue in our society and has been for a long, long time. The one thing I’ve learned is that young bullies tend to be victims as well, often bullied by someone older including siblings and parents. It’s a vicious cycle.

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