#spiritday interview with Alec Belle, youth author

Spirit Day is important because it allows people from all walks of life to stand in solidarity against bullying, but it is equally powerful in the stories of trials and triumphs that emerge from LGBT youth and allies connecting on social media. Youth voice is so important, and today it is projecting loud and clear.

Alec Belle is one such youth, and he has many stories to tell. Alec is an online high school student at Massachusetts Connection Academy, a self-published author of a compelling novel, and an LGBT youth who stands strongly against bullying, using his writing and social media to share his stories with others and raise awareness.

Alec’s first novel, Before I Break, is about two high school juniors, Cyril and Avery, who forge a friendship without knowing one another’s ‘secret’—that Cyril is homophobic and Avery is gay.

Alec has been sharing about Spirit Day, and so we thought we would ask him a few questions about the projects he’s working on and what influences his writing. Read on, and then check out his Goodreads account, or find his first novel here!

 

 

We read your bio on Goodreads, and are curious about your online high school. Can you tell us more about it? What is it called, and why did you decide to attend school online?

I attend Massachusetts Connections Academy.  It is a flexible and free public online school that anyone can attend and for the past two years it's been very beneficial to me.  I first decided to start online school two months into my sophomore year in South Carolina because I was struggling with depression and social anxiety.  As an attempted suicide survivor, I felt as though I wanted to focus on my education without being in the midst of high school drama and so far it's been really helpful keeping me motivated for my writing.  This year, when I began my junior year, I was going to attend a regular high school again but decided for the sake of my writing and the flexibility that I needed, I would attend Massachusetts Connections Academy. 

How did you get the idea for your first published novel? It sounds like it would appeal to a wide audience.

When I was attending regular high school, I was sitting in my Spanish class one day when a question popped into my mind:  "What if a religious, homophobic straight guy and a gay guy became friends accidentally, not knowing the truth about the other?"  At first, it seemed like a silly idea but then within ten minutes, this flood of characters came into my head and I knew I just had to write it. Now here I am a year later and "Before I Break" is out for the world to see.  It feels pretty great knowing that I could write about such an important topic and prevent similar situations from happening.

What resources do you go to when you need to make sure your writing is true to life--for example, how do you decide how you will write about suicide and homophobia? Do you follow particular websites, read novels with similar topics, or connect in other ways?

Suicide and homophobia hit very close to home for me so there wasn't much research in the process.  Of course, when I first came up with the idea to write "Before I Break," it was going to be written from the gay character, Avery's, perspective.  I later changed it to the straight character, Cyril, because I felt like Cyril had more to offer and would make the point I was trying to get across to people.  The book is not a "gay" book.  It's a book about love, friendship, betrayal, hate, intolerance, and discrimination.  Cyril offered a better outlook for that.

We saw on Twitter that you are having a book signing today. Where will that be, and how do you plan to incorporate the mission of Spirit Day into your discussion?

My book signing today is at an LGBT Drop-In Center at a place called Safe Homes in Worcester, Massachusetts.  It was actually a coincidence that my signing fell on this day because when I booked it, I had no idea that today was Spirit Day, so when I found out a few days ago, I realized it'd be a great way for me to incorporate topics of bullying and suicide.  I plan on sharing my experience as a victim of bullying and my story as a suicide survivor.  I made it through a lot and I plan on speaking from the heart.

What does Spirit Day mean to you, and how do you spread the word about bullying?

I have never participated in Spirit Day in the past, but when I heard about it this year, I knew I had to do it.  I have participated in other events, though, like the Day of Silence.  For me, Spirit Day is about embracing who you are and seeing how far you’ve come.  There were times a few years ago where I would have said that life wasn't worth living, but now I've been doing my best to make my life my own, no one else's.  I use Twitter and my personal, author, and book fan pages on Facebook, plus my blog, to help spread the word.  

Since you are an online student, what are the main ways that you interact with other young people?

I participate in a youth group at church and they've been very supportive of me and my journey as an author.  Other than that I don't get out much because I just moved to Massachusetts in May, so I haven't made many friends.  I hope with all of my upcoming events I can meet some amazing, supportive people.

We think literature is so important, because it allows us to empathize with other people's experiences, as well as allowing us to share our own realities. Why do you write? How do you decide what to write about?

I write because it's kind of like breathing to me.  When I'm not writing I'm either twiddling my thumbs thinking about writing, dreaming about writing, talking about writing, or doing other writing-related things.  Writing is my life and is a vital part of who I am.  I couldn't see myself as anything but an author.  As for deciding what to write about, my ideas kind of come to me out of nowhere.  I conceived the idea of “The Forbidden Darkness Chronicles” when I was in seventh grade and I was on a hayride.  Now that part doesn't come into play until way later in the series.  And the idea for "Before I Break" came to me out of nowhere as well.  It's almost as if the stories just come to me, and when I'm writing it's like the characters take over, so when I finish I even surprise myself with some of the things that end up in the books.  

We haven't read "Before I Break" but it definitely looks like an important, relevant topic. Can you share a powerful quote from your novel with us?

The most important and powerful quote to me from "Before I Break" is something that Cyril says at the end of the book to Avery:  "You taught me that this world isn't about gay people being accepted by us, but rather us being accepted by you."  There's a big change in Cyril by the end and that quote stands very true to me.  He believes that homophobes are the real ones who need acceptance for the terrible ways they've treated the LGBT community and Cyril knows in his heart that it's possible for anyone to change.

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