DAKOTA DUNES | Pam Mostek can still remember the English teacher she had in the ninth grade.
"Miss Dickinson said literature was more than just words printed on paper," she recalled. "Literature had impact when it encouraged the reader to look behind the curtain to see how a character really ticked."
That advice resonated with Mostek during her career as a teacher and principal. It became especially important when she began writing "Rat Boy: The Bullied vs. The Bullies," her first full-length novel.
The 182-page "Rat Boy" may be purchased at online book retailers like Amazon.com.
"I had written short stories in the past but 'Rat Boy' represents my first attempt at long-form writing," she said. "Instead of being intimidated by the length, I tried to write the book as a series of chapters representing a self-contained short story."
This worked for the episodic "Rat Boy," which tells the story of Beemer Fravel, a seventh grader who is being bullied at home by his callous dad and, at school, by a heartless classmate named Vinney.
Also, Mostek knew that Beemer, a boy born into a less-than-ideal family, couldn't be taken at fact value.
"Beemer is not the type of character you think he was at the beginning of the book," she said. "Look behind the curtain and you'll see the real Beemer."
Why did you want to write a book about bullying?
"For too many students, being bullied is a part of life. Whether it is physical, emotional or, nowadays, cyber-bullying, it has no place in our schools. Unfortunately, it still is, though."
Even after so many anti-bullying projects, bullying still exists. Why is that?
"Kids being bullied fear retribution and the people who witness bullying may not want to get involved."
Yet Beemer had a few advocates in his corners. There were people in his life who were willing to look behind the curtain so to speak.
"Freddie, the school janitor, was always there for Beemer. The school principal saw potential in Beemer. Birdie, the manager of the motel where Beemer's family lived, was good at drawing him out when need be."
That's important since middle school-aged students are old enough to make some decisions but sometimes neglect the big picture, right?
"It's been my experience that the life of a middle school student is an exercise in extreme behavior. When you're up, you're at your most passionate. But when you're down, it can be devastating."
What's next? A sequel for "Rat Boy"?
"Some day, I might write a continuation of 'Rat Boy,' but not now. Off and on, it took me five years to write 'Rat Boy' and I need to take a breather from the characters. However, I'm almost finished with my second novel.
That sounds exciting. So, what do you do for fun?
"I enjoy spending time with my husband Charlie and our two terriers Sami and Spanky. I also like painting, quilting and reading."
What have you been reading?
"Jamaica Kincaid's 'A Small Place' (a 1988 nonfiction book about growing up on the Caribbean island of Antigua) as well as a biography on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Historical novels and memoirs have long been favorite genres for me to read."