Suicide prevention: How one writer learned she wasn’t helpless to help

Deaths in recent years of high-profile individuals, including former NBA player Tyler Honeycutt, chef/traveler Anthony Bourdain, fashion icon Kate Spade, and funnyman Robin Williams have amplified conversations about suicide.

Yet, suicide isn’t a get-out-of life tool that only celebrities employ. Nearly 45,000 people in the U.S. killed themselves in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And youth, ages 10 to 24, committed about 10 percent of annual suicides. It is the third-leading cause of death for this age group.

Still, knowing the statistics didn’t prepare me, at least not emotionally, for a recent interview.

Seemingly Simple Task

While reporting a story on bullying, it made sense to talk with someone who understood the anxiety bullying roused. I wasn’t sure there was a student out there willing to share their story, but one 18-year-old stepped up and offered his story.

A recent high school graduate, he told me he began being bullied by family members at a young age and that bullying carried over into middle school. Kids insulted him because of his nice clothing, because he was intelligent, because he was an athlete. They called him fat, though at the time he was only a little overweight. They called him gay, although he is not.

This young man didn’t cower from his bullies, he fought. But he also started cutting himself. By eighth grade, he said, he was suicidal.

I stopped typing. Wait, what? Surely he’s not still suicidal, I thought. But how can I be sure? I mean, this story is about bullying not about one kid’s current mental health. Backburner, I thought. I would come back to this later. Just ask the questions you’re meant to ask and then ask him later. Do. Not. Forget.

The young man told me how racial stereotypes perpetuate bullying even among teachers, how his grandmother was growing spiritually and helping him to grow and learn how to better fight his battles as well and about a school counselor he called an angel. “She was my light when I was in the dark and felt like I didn’t have anyone to run to,” he said.

Finally, I asked, “Are you suicidal now?” Obviously, he’s going to dodge the question or tell me to mind my own business, I thought.

But he didn’t. He said, “I’m not going to say it has not crossed my mind, but it has. I am financially unstable. I am by myself, and I’m not receiving enough hours at work. I’m stressing because college is right around the corner. Hoping scholarships and financial aid will come in.”

My heart started racing. Now what? What do I do? Is there a check list? I started surfing the web while he told his story, doing my best (and failing) to also be an active listener.

Afterward, I told him he was courageous. Because he is. Imagine telling a stranger — a writer nonetheless — that you suffer from anxiety let alone telling them you have been contemplating suicide.

Secondly, I told him to get out a pen and write down the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Then I found the numbers to a counseling in his community and one at his new school and asked him to take those down. He seemed pleasantly shocked that I would even care.

Thirdly, I told him God loves him. Because He does. (“We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19) And he cried.

I know now I did not do all I could have done (while writing this, I am thinking and learning of more things I can do now). Neither do I know if the little I did will keep this young man from harming himself in the future.

However, I do know I’m tired of reading social media posts, watching news stories, and hearing friends talk about a loved one’s suicide and feeling as if there’s nothing I can do to help. We can all play a part.

Suicide-prevention: Need to know

Link has curated an anthology of poems about identity, including works by Richard Blanco, Lucille Clifton,  T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich and more. Though labeled an anthology for teachers, the collection may intrigue poetry connoisseurs from myriad backgrounds.

An anthology of poems on Identity for Teachers:

Click here for more from the Wildemere Publishing series on identity.

Love your writing? Get an editor.


In a folder marked TO DO/READ, I came across a yellowed Wall Street Journal article about “Joy Luck Club” author Amy Tan and her nearly 12-year pursuit for the perfect editor. Whether or not you are an Amy Tan admirer, the WSJ story is a moving portrait of a writer and her relationship TheJoyLuckClub with her editors. The newspaper also provides vignettes of enduring relationships between other authors (Franz Kafka) and their editors.

Why this is worth sharing

The proliferation of self-publishing has many young writers — and those using too many magic mushrooms — believing it does not matter whether they have an editor. Let me assure you, it does.

Fan girl would be the best way to describe my behavior the first time I met (name removed to save embarrassment). I praised his work until he blushed. Clear and concise, his elegantly written columns also evoked emotion. Soon, I became the editor tasked with reviewing his raw copy. The emotion was buried beneath incomplete, disorganized thinking. Turns out I wasn’t just a fan of the columnist’s work, but of his editor’s.

One of the benefits of being arts and entertainment editor at a large metropolitan newspaper was the hundreds, if not thousands, of books publishers sent each year in hopes for a review. A considerable number of those were advance copies and among them were uncorrected proofs. Read one uncorrected proof and one’s belief that highly ranked authors are infallible dissipates.

While reading an uncorrected W.E.B. Griffin novel, likely penned by another author, I became engaged in the intrigue of one clandestine operation by a team of highly trained spies. And then I became confused. Who was this new man suddenly leading the team? After flipping around the book a while, I realized the man was the same character from the beginning of the novel only his name suddenly had changed.  The story was further complicated when a duplicate (though slightly different) chapter appeared. Eventually, I gave up reading and decided to wait for the final edited version.

“I thought I could write my book and it would get published just like that,” laughed Angela Flournturnerhouseoy, author of “The Turner House,” speaking recently at Trinosophes in Detroit.

While shopping her book, however, she learned agents and publishers wanted more than a few revisions. Flournoy spent months in rewrite mode. To maintain her voice, the author refused to make some changes; however, she conceded to others and confessed that many of the bidden modifications made her novel better. Now she is on tour and experiencing modest success as a National Book Award finalist, finalist for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, short-lister for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize…

No, she did not win the named awards. The point is, Flournoy is critically praised because she is a gifted writer—who had a good editor.

Good editors correct, question, push and praise. They aren’t there to silence the inner Man Booker Prize winner. They are the writer’s guide. They are the voice saying, “You can do better. You are better. Yes, you did it!”

Whether taking the traditional publishing route or self-publishing, get thee to a good editor.

The Force Awakens Another Black-White Buddy Film

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh film in the George Lucas-conceived franchise that went into hyperdrive in 1977 and still has people wishing the force upon one another, already has grossed $1.3 billion worldwide, according to That’s about the dollar amount it would take to rebuild one of the worlds the Jedis, Stormtroopers, Darths, and their minions destroy from one film to the next.

While all of the “Star Wars” films deal with science fiction/fantasy themes of good versus evil, dystopian futures, and family dynamics, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” also joins the continuing spate of black-white buddy films coming out of Hollywood.

(possible spoilers ahead)

In the J.J. Abrams-directed, Disney-owned production of “The Force Awakens,”  older viewers are treated to early “Star Wars” stalwarts Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess (now General) Leia, and Luke Skywalker. However, the stars of Episode VII are clearly Finn, Rey, and Poe.

Finn (played by John Boyega), who is black, is thrust into a life-or-death situation as the gunner for Poe (Oscar Isaac), who is white. Later, Finn comes across Rey (Daisy Ridley), also white, and a similar situation arises.

The Walt Disney Company, which bought the “Star Wars” franchise in 2012, has a successful formula for its films. The main character becomes separated or orphaned from family and then reunites with or reestablishes family. In “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Disney sticks with its primary formula with Han Solo and Rey. With Finn, however, Disney resorts to the formula often reserved for black/white buddy films.

All around Finn are ruthless bad guys and the courageous warriors. But Finn begins as a frightened stormtrooper who deserts the First Order and wishes only to save his own hide. Sure, he eventually becomes a Resistance fighter, but not because he is strong or well trained — though he was a stormtrooper — but because he’s compelled to fight by the much stronger, smarter woman he loves.

Watching the film recently reminded me of a long-ago conversation, as well as a bit of research I once did on creation of the black-white film genre.

You’re OK for one of them

Rick graduated from an all-white high school in an all-white town in Texas before joining the Army. He claimed not to like (derogatory term removed*). Yet he called the African Americans he lived with and served beside “brothers.”

Rick’s story is not a parable. This real person confessed his bigotry to my then-husband and I over a leisurely dinner one night in 1989, the same year “Lethal Weapon II” and “Die Hard” appeared on big screen.

Why the disparity? As Rick explained it, acceptance and even friendship with soldiers of other races is necessary when your life is threatened and you must depend on them as your shield and defense in combat.

“Racial attitudes are improved and stereotypes are broken when diverse groups come together under circumstances that promote meaningful cross-group interaction, such as in the military,” wrote Mary J. Fischer, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, who co-authored a 2015 study with Jacob S. Rugh, an assistant professor of sociology at Brigham Young University.

It started with a fight

Prior to the Vietnam War (1959-1975), African-Americans actors were mise-en-scene — background for affect, servants to demonstrate a character’s status (or lack of), the fall guy, and the fool.

During the war and almost concurrent Civil Rights Movement (around 1955-1965), African Americans became more visible than ever in American history.They appeared in American households by means of television news, emerging for the first time en masse in combat beside white soldiers with whom some created unexpected alliances.

The criminal element

The newly integrated battlefield and the Civil Rights Movement allowed Hollywood to create films with black actors in starring roles. There were provisos though. They had to star alongside a white actor to give the film legitimacy and to attract spending spectators, white audiences.

While these films opened doors for African-American actors, they also fabricated other constraints. Black actors, in addition to being cast only as criminals, police officers, and military grunts, portrayed the blessed primitive to white actors’ ruined sophisticate characters or the comic/minstrel to the serious actor.

The groundbreaking, Academy-Award winning “The Defiant Ones” (1958), starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, is an early example of a film with a black-white, criminal-character scenario.

But there was nearly a ten-year gap before the next black-white buddy film emerged on big screens. It was then that roles for African-American film actors regressed with the rise of Blaxploitation films. Pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, excessive violence, and a “gotta get mine” ghetto mentality that still seeps into film-making typified this genre.

Everyone can’t be tough

“Firefox” (1981) and “First Blood” (1982) were among some of the first post Vietnam white male buddy films, but it wasn’t until the 1987 release of “Lethal Weapon (“Off Limits” follows a year later) that African-American characters without a criminal background joined the party. Still, the black character had a bit of a coward in him.

While both stars, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, portray veterans and police sergeants, filmmakers emasculate Glover’s Roger Murtaugh while portraying Gibson’s Riggs as a super-tough (though ruined) hero. The film opens with Murtaugh’s family celebrating his 50th birthday; other officers are commenting (with feminine flair) on how he looks without his beard, and when he suspects that Martin Riggs (Gibson) is a criminal and proceeds to detain him, he is thrown to the grown; then he says, “I’m too old for this.” Throughout the original and its sequels, as Riggs performs dangerous feats, Murtaugh screams like a child not like the trained officer he is.

Primitives, sophisticates, minstrels, and actors

Will Ferrell, bottom, and Kevin Hart in "Get Hard." Photo by Patti Perret - Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Will Ferrell, bottom, and Kevin Hart in “Get Hard.” Photo by Patti Perret – Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

It was in the ’70s, just after the official end of the Vietnam War, when the black-white buddy film zipped to the forefront of film culture. Unfortunately, it came with familiar racist undertones.

Kicking off the bi-racial genre were “Silver Streak” (1976) and “Stir Crazy” (1980), starring Gene Wilder (the ruined sophisticate) and Richard Pryor (the blessed primitive and minstrel). Pryor plays the fool who uses streetwise smarts to teach Wilder’s innocent straight men how to survive. Pryor isn’t the only African-American actor known for playing the fool and the blessed primitive.

Kevin Hart recently joined the scene playing the fool. This year, he starred alongside Will Ferrell in “Get Hard,” a film with a similar relationship premise to the Wilder/Pryor films where Ferrell assumes Hart’s character understands prison and can teach him how to survive.

Here, though, Ferrell plays a far greater fool. But Ferrell’s James is an educated, white-collar executive, while Hart’s Darnell is a cash-strapped car wash attendant desperate enough to play the minstrel despite his ignorance of street smarts or prison.

Eddie Murphy alone starred in at least 11 black-white buddy films, where you can often find him singing or scamming. Thankfully, Disney — so far in its takeover of “Star Wars” — hasn’t taken up that part of the playbook. May we never see a singing, dancing, shucking, or jiving Jedi.

So what?

That said, I have to make my own confession: I have been the first in line at some of these prescribed black-white buddy movies whether violent or comedic. Some, like “Get Hard,” are annoyingly funny. And if I dig through my old VHS tapes, I can probably find a few copies of “Lethal Weapon.”

Yet, that doesn’t change my disappointment when yet another formulaic film hits theaters, makes a bundle, and keeps black actors spinning in the same suffocating quagmire.  It says a lot about our interests when we spend $1.3 million on quick laughs and mind-twirling special effects when there’s only a little story fit into a big template.



*This essay originally used the actual derogatory term for a black person because I chose reality over politics. I’ve never known a bigot to spew, “N-WORD!” However, there are those who have had the word flung at them more times than they can count and don’t need to see it in my blog post.


©Leslie and Wildemere Publishing LLC [2016]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is to Leslie Green and Wildemere Publishing LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Inside the writer's mind… Or the reader trying to get inside the writer

In university, literature professors often asked us what the author was thinking. This would infuriate one classmate, who would become one of my closest friends. She would exclaim, “How can we know! He’s dead! No one can know these things.”

Inevitably though, the question would appear on an exam as if we indeed could look into the mind of long-dead, now-revered novelists, short story writers, and poets. Years later, I find myself looking at book jackets for some indication of the author’s persona. What could have happened in her past to make her kill this character in such a brutal manner? How could he craft such a rich, loving life for a little girl?

Now Tim Parks, in “The Writer’s Shadow” on The New York Review of Books site, has posted a thoughtful blog looking at the manner in which we readers try to learn writers. Read on: