Today we’re taking a fun approach to a serious subject: school bullying. Author Clay McLeod Chapman turns the bullied kids into heroes in his book The Tribe: Homeroom Headhunters. Clay is here to talk about what inspired this story. First, let’s meet the man behind the words:
Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the rigorous storytelling session The Pumpkin Pie Show. He is the author of rest area, a collection of short stories, and the novel miss corpus. From time to time he’ll even write for his geek gods Marvel Comics and Fangoria Magazine. He teaches writing at The Actors Studio MFA Program at Pace University. Visit him at: www.claymcleodchapman.com.
by Clay McLeod Chapman
Always bite your bullies. That’s my advice. When you’re backed into a corner and all else fails—simply sink your teeth into the closest limb and hold on for dear life…
Okay—so maybe that’s not the best advice. But when I was a puny kid living in Roanoke, Virginia, my best line of defense against my neighborhood tormentors was to nibble and gnash like there was no tomorrow.
We all have our own stories about being bullied. Some have more than one. Some are short stories, some could make a whole novel. Two novels. Ten.
So what if there was a book about of confederation of friends who have banded together after being badly bullied? What would their story be?
The seeds for my new novel THE TRIBE: HOMEROOM HEADHUNTERS (Disney/Hyperion) were planted in my head as early as 6th grade. I have to come clean and confess something up front—I was never honor roll material. Me and math were never pals. If there was a window in class, my attention went right out it. I was a daydreamer and my grades totally showed it.
One of my fantasies took place directly over my head. Sitting at my desk, I would look up at the fiberglass tiles along the ceiling and wonder if there was anyone scurrying around on the other side. Whenever my overactive imagination got cranking, I’d conjure up a crew of kids crawling around the ceiling. They’d follow me from class-to-class. If I ever needed help with a math equation, I could peer up to my imagined hovering buddies for a little arithmessistance.
Back then, there were a pair of towering teenagers on my block who had instituted a daily routine of torturing me every day after school. One would bear hug me from behind, pinning my arms in place and lifting my feet off the ground, while the other would deliver a steady dose of pot-shots to my stomach. After the final bell rang and I was released from school, I had the long hike home to prep for my inevitable beatdown. Dead man walking. There was no telling where they might pop up, but as soon as they did, there was no escaping. They were faster, they were older, and they were always waiting for me. Unable to outrun them, unable to fight back, I simply assumed my human punching bag-position and did the only thing a kid of my diminutive stature could do…
I chomped down on the forearm of the bear-hugging thug. Hard. He screamed, releasing his grip around me—but now I was the one who wouldn’t let go. This creep held his arm out at his shoulder along with me clamped down on it, dangling in the air by nothing but my teeth, like a trapeze artist suspended over the heads of a stunned crowd.
I broke the skin. Me—this runty elementary schooler. Once my persecutor was finally able to shake me off, I remember him shrieking down the street.
Did I do that?
Less than thirty minutes later, there was a knock at our front door. My mom answered, only to discover this kid’s own mother standing on our porch and looking none too happy about it, demanding to know whether I’d had my rabies shots or not.
I got grounded. But you better believe that was the last time those two punks ever laid a hand on me.
With the constant taunting I’d get after school, I imagined what I would do if this make-believe gang of kids living in the ceiling were to invite me to join their ranks…
Would I? Could I?
I never discovered any misfits living in the overhead crawlspaces of my school, but I held onto the notion of their existence for years—the simple what-if of them—so, decades later, when I had an opportunity to sit down with a children’s book editor and spitball new story ideas with her, my imaginary clan quickly returned to me.
I called these kids The Tribe—and a new trilogy of middlegrade novels was born.
In comic books, every super hero—and villain—has their own origin story. Everybody knows Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider and Batman witnessed the death of his parents…
So what’s the Tribe’s origin story? For HOMEROOM HEADHUNTERS, I imagined a secret society of runaways that have turned their middle school into their own home. They love school so much, love to read so much, that even though they were constantly harassed, teased and taunted as students, they chose to embed themselves inside the one place that has always made them the happiest—while standing up for those students who are still in school, suffering under the oppressive pummelings of their bullies.
Think of them as a modern version of The Boxcar Children. An even more mixed-up Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Imagine if Lord of the Flies took place in the hallways of your own school.
Who bullies the bullies? THE TRIBE—that’s who!
School is in session, and today’s lesson is how to stay alive. Spencer Pendleton better take notes. He’ll have to learn the Law Of Claw and Fang to survive not just the bullies, but those who bully the bullies: the Tribe, a group of academic headhunters who don’t play by anyone’s rules except their own. They live off cafeteria food and wield weapons made out of everyday school supplies. They’ve made Greenfield Middle their hunting ground… and they’re looking for new blood.
With a darkly candid sense of humor, author Clay McLeod Chapman reveals the wilder side of middle school, where students embrace their inner animal and go native.
Find more information on: http://thetribebooks.com
All of Clay’s books are available on Amazon. Here’s a look:
I hope you’ll take the time to connect with Clay and explore his fictional world.
Have you ever been bullied? Maybe you’d like to join Clay’s Tribe!
Thanks for reading.
Tags: Books About Bullying, Childhood Bullies, Childhood Bullying, Children's Book Authors, children's books, Clay McLeod Humphrey, Fangoria Magazine, Homeroom Headhunters, Marvel Comics, Middlegrade Novels, Miss Corpus, Novels About Bullies, Rest Area, School Bullies, School Bullying, short stories, The Actors Studio, The Pumpkin Pie Show, The Tribe