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It’s Real! (Well, Some of It)

A Word about Bullying

Mellie is “round” and I was ridiculously scrawny, but like her I was a nerdy only child more comfortable with adults than with my peers. Starting about the fourth grade, I gradually became more and more of an outsider. This sometimes meant I got picked on, and sometimes physically. Nobody ever held my head in the water fountain, as Mellie’s classmates did to her, but I do distinctly remember being hauled around the girls’ bathroom by my hair.

Back in those days, we thought we were supposed to deal with this stuff on our own. My method, like Mellie’s, was to pretend that a) nothing was happening, b) whatever might be happening was beneath my notice, and c) anything I deigned to notice certainly didn’t hurt. It would never have occurred to me to tell an adult what was going on.

Fortunately, the human race evolves. Nowadays, we acknowledge that chronic bullying happens and we know that it shouldn’t. If you are being bullied, it seems like everybody and his mother has advice for you. But here are a few tips adapted from the web site KidsHealth.org. (Click on the link to see all of their advice.)

  1. Avoid the bully if possible. Sounds wimpy, but it’s not. It’s just smart.
  2. Bullies are looking for a reaction. If you can, ignore the bully. If the bullying starts, try not to show your feelings.
  3. Act brave, even if you don’t feel that way. (Pretend enough and it becomes real.) Stand up for yourself and tell the bully to stop.
  4. Go places with a buddy, which can protect both of you from harassment.
  5. Do whatever you can to feel good about yourself: Get more exercise, watch less TV, take more showers, get a haircut, whatever.
  6. MOST IMPORTANT: Tell an adult what’s going on: your parents, someone you trust at school, or even the crossing guard. Bullying works best in secret, so it’s a great idea to get people talking about it.

And remember… this phase of your life won’t last forever. It gets much, much better.

I have long been an expert on small persons with wings. As I’ve explained elsewhere on this site, when I was growing up in lovely, seaside Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, fairies lived in the stone wall in front of my house. My friends and I spent many happy hours out there on the sidewalk decorating the fairies’ palaces, which looked like rocks to the less insightful.

Since fairies had a track record there, it seemed like a good idea to set this book in Beverly Farms, except that I renamed the town after an island. A lot of the street names are the same as they are in real life. I dedicated a couple of schools to childhood neighbors who wrote books. (One of them had a dragon in his attic.)

Important Mellie-esque Trivia: In 1907, Beverly Hills, California, was named after Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, apparently because then-President William Howard Taft spent vacations in my Beverly Farms. I first read this on Wikipedia, which you take with more than a grain of salt. But then I read it six or seven other places on the Internet, so I guess it may be true.

Many years after I left Beverly Farms, I met the delicate, ladylike creature who would become Mellie’s winged friend Durindana.

Living in Maine, I had quit my job at the county newspaper in order to write my first book, THE UNNAMEABLES. I missed the fellowship and distraction you find in a newsroom, so I joined a private on-line forum of Harry Potter fans called The Leaky Marauders. For fun, we did role-playing with characters we’d made up. Mine was a hapless, obnoxious, overdressed fairy who lived in a pub chandelier. I became extremely fond of her, and when THE UNNAMEABLES was finished I decided to write a book about her. This turned into SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS.

Important Mellie-esque Trivia: The Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, which was the palace of the French kings from 1682 to 1789, features seventeen large chandeliers and twenty-six small ones. Altogether, they hold a thousand candles.

I can’t for the life of me remember why I decided that Durindana and her fellow Parvi were connected with Charlemagne (742-814), a French king who became the first Holy Roman Emperor. There are lots of tales about him and his pals. Some of them supposedly were written by one Archbishop Turpin, whom I chose as Mellie’s ancestor. In one tale there’s a ring that you put in your mouth in order to see through enchantments. I liked the idea of seeing through enchantments. Also, I had inherited a moonstone ring that seemed like it would suit the purpose, although I had no intention of putting it in my mouth. Before long there was a big Charlemagne factor in SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS.

Important Mellie-esque Trivia: A famous French poem called The Song of Roland, written around the end of the eleventh century, tells the tale of the Battle of Roncevaux in 778. That’s when Charlemagne’s knights Roland and Oliver die, to the great grief of Archbishop Turpin. Charlemagne faints when he hears about it. It’s not a very politically correct poem these days, because the French are fighting the Saracens, who were Muslims. On a cheerier note, Roland dies by blowing his horn so hard his brains leak out his ears.*

More important Mellie-esque Trivia: Charlemagne’s actual name was Charles. “Charlemagne” means “Charles the Great” in old French. His father was Pepin the Short, who died of dropsy. “Dropsy” isn’t a real disease, but means a person swells up with fluid. Pepin may have had congestive heart failure, which does make you sort of watery.

When I was a kid, I got to the library by walking past the Tunipoo Inn, which sat high above the sidewalk so that its cellar door was at street level. The bar in the cellar was open all day and all night, it seemed, and the customers sometimes hovered at the doorway taking in air. As I trotted off for the library, my nervous mother would shout, “Cross the street before you get to the Tunipoo!” I dutifully did, although I practically tripped over myself keeping an eye on the place from across the street, eager for a glimpse of the forbidden.

The upstairs part of the Tunipoo looks nothing like the inn in SMALL PERSONS, and I can say with my hand on my heart that I never saw the inside of the Tunipoo bar. But the two inns have a similar location in relation to everything else in town. And I like to think they have similar histories.

*Seriously. The exact quote is:
Now Roland feels he is at death’s door;
Out of his ears the brain is running forth.

(Translation by Dorothy L. Sayers, an English scholar who also wrote murder mysteries.)