Interview with Patricia Marie Budd
Hell Hounds of High School
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (7/11)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar is pleased to interview Patricia Marie Budd, who is here to talk about her new novel “Hell Hounds of High School.”
Patricia Marie Budd was born and raised in Saskatchewan, Canada. She lived in Japan where she taught English as a Foreign Language for two years. In her early twenties, she studied mime in Toronto, Ontario and then later in life renewed her interest in physical theatre by studying with Phillip Gaulier in London, England in 1996-97. Her current residence is in Fort McMurray, Alberta where she has been teaching High School English since 1991.
For Patricia, writing is a passion. She has been writing since early childhood when, in grade five, she wrote a short play and performed it for her peers. The controversial quality of her writing was evident even then as her teacher shut the show down. Much of Patricia’s writing has been theatrical in nature, having a one act play produced in The Rhubarb Festival’s Special Event in 1984. She has also participated in a number of play writing labs under the tutelage of Sharon Pollock. In 1998, she was a part of the Alberta Playwriting Committee. Lately, she has shifted to writing novels, including “A New Dawn Rising” about slavery in Georgia in the early 1800s and her second novel “Hell Hounds of High School,” partially based on her teaching experiences.
Tyler: Welcome, Patricia. Thank you for the opportunity to interview you today. For starters, I love the title of your book. Will you give us a brief summary of what the book is about and how you settled on such an intriguing title?
Patricia: Every teacher has at least one class that is more notorious than the rest. For me this was a grade twelve English class. These boys were insane! In fact, out of a class of twenty-eight, I had only two girls. They were both very quiet and sat apart from the rest of the class. I remember one girl asking me how I could stand this class. Ironically, I loved them. They were the greatest challenge of my teaching career to date. At one point, I told the boys they were hounds from hell. They laughed, thinking that was the greatest thing they’d heard. On another day, I sat down at my computer as soon as the bell rang and wrote the line “The boys were playing the penis game today.” That became the embryo that would one day grow into Hell Hounds of High School. I have a number of these boys as Facebook friends today, and we still laugh about that class.
Tyler: Patricia, dare I ask what the “penis game” was? And do the boys know you’ve written a book about those experiences?
Patricia: Ah, the penis game. It is a fun little verbal volleyball game between two boys. It begins with one boy whispering the word “penis,” and then his friend says the word one octave louder. The two boys volley the word back and forth in this manner until one of them gets caught saying it by the teacher. When the unlucky boy gets caught and tossed out of the classroom, the other fesses up and leaves with him! These boys are aware of their antics spawning this novel. Both boys own a copy! : D
Tyler: Most books that center around high school are written for young adults, but your book sounds like it’s more about the teachers. Whom do you consider to be your reading audience?
Patricia: I often joke and say this book is for anyone who has ever hated a teacher and for any teacher who has ever hated a student. Actually, my audience is inside that jest: high school students and teachers!
Tyler: Will you tell us a little about Mrs. Bird and what kind of a teacher she is or wants to be when she first begins to work at the school, and how does that view change?
Patricia: Mrs. Bird, like most first year teachers, comes into the profession filled with blind optimism: “I’m going to make a difference”; “The students are going to love me”; “I’m going to be the cool teacher” and so on. That bubble bursts real fast. For many, it is on the very first day of “real teaching”—i.e.: not as an intern but in front of your very own students in your very own classroom on that very first day. Students are like wolves; they can sniff out a first year teacher, and the first thing they do is test you. They want to know what your limits are; how far they can push you; which button makes you go nuclear; etc. And they will push you as far as humanly possible. I remember that first month being on edge every second of every day, even on the weekends as all I could think of was how to produce a lesson plan that wouldn’t explode in my face.
So Mrs. Bird survives the fire (but not before hitting rock bottom) and emerges a much stronger educator than even she could have imagined. She no longer looks to be the “favorite teacher,” but rather, the teacher who can educate her students; the teacher who can ensure students learn the curriculum and pass; the teacher who aids our youth in developing into unique individuals aware of their role in society and not just automatons pooped out by the educational institution.
Tyler: That makes sense, Patricia. As a former teacher myself, I know how important it is to get over wanting to be liked. Can you share with us what is the “rock bottom” that Mrs. Bird hits before she makes this transition in her teaching career?
Patricia: I’m not sure I want to give too much of the book away. I will give a hint, though. When I first started my teaching career, a fellow colleague pointed out to me that teachers, priests and police officers are the three careers with the highest rate of alcoholism! It didn’t take long for me to concur with that assessment based on observation and a bit too excessive experience.
Tyler: In your marketing pieces for “Hell Hounds of High School,” you mention that Mrs. Bird has to deal with self-entitlement as a teacher. Can you give us some examples of self-entitlement?
Patricia: Children today are raised to know their rights. I am not saying this is a bad thing. What is missing, though, is the fact that our youth are not being raised to know their responsibilities. This equation adds up to individuals demanding education be given to them rather than something for which they must work and earn. Knowledge does not come via osmosis; nor can we plug into a computer as is done in the movie “The Matrix.” In order for children to learn and grow, they must work. Work does not come easy to the self-entitled. Perhaps the best example of the self-entitled mentality I can think of is the news article referred to in the final chapter of “Hell Hounds”: that of university students who expect to be given a B for simply showing up to class. This is the mentality we are raising and presenting to the work force today.
Tyler: Amen, Patricia. I had that experience too of students thinking just coming to class meant they should pass. What have you, or Mrs. Bird, learned and implemented as a way to solve this issue with students?
Patricia: I wrote my book for starters. In many ways this book is an attempt on my part to raise awareness as to the downward spiral education is heading in. In the classroom, I do everything I can to encourage my students to learn, and I try to involve the parents as much as they are willing to let me. Most importantly, I must never give up hope that what I have to offer students is helping them to learn—to want to learn for their own sake as opposed to for my sake or the sake of others.
Tyler: Several students are main characters in the book. Since we have limited space, is there one in particular you would like to tell us about?
Patricia: Gregory McGregor. He is Mrs. Bird’s Nemesis, as she is his. He is the highly intelligent student whom teachers want to shake and ask, ‘Why are you doing this to yourself?’ You should know better—you’re smarter than this. Unfortunately, some teenagers make choices that demean them rather than aid in their future growth. As an educator, I think students like this often leave you feeling impotent.
Tyler: As a teacher yourself, I imagine much of your book is based on your own experiences. Will you share with us if any of it is autobiographical? I assume all the students depicted are fictional?
Patricia: All the characters: teachers, parents; administrator; students and counselor are fictional. I tell my students (who I wish to honor in this book) that there is a drop of blood of every student I have ever taught in this book but no one character is real.
I have used much of my own experiences as a teenager inside this book. Much of Mrs. Bird’s youth belongs to me when I was in high school, as do many of Mary’s experiences. I also studied mime and perform the gorilla routine described in the book seven times a year. I never tell my students about my mime background; they tell each other and every class every semester begs me to do this routine for them. I also perform a wicked robot that the kids absolutely love! Before I got married, my students used to call me Gava-tron (my maiden name being Gavigan).
Tyler: What response have you received about the book so far from your coworkers or students at the school?
Patricia: They love it! : D Both students and teachers can relate to this book. It is not just for kids or just for teachers. We work together in the trenches. Both students and teachers know what the classroom environment is really like.
Tyler: The title suggests a bit of frustration perhaps from the teacher with the students, but the book has a comical side as well. Will you tell us a little about the comedy in the book—I imagine high school has its share of comical as well as frustrating moments?
Patricia: The title is often misinterpreted to mean students are the Hell Hounds when in fact all the individuals involved in high school are at one time or another the Hell Hound: teachers; students; parents; administrators. There are no innocents in this book because there are no innocents in the real life classroom. As for the humor, it is how I find the high school environment: bizarre. If orchestrated properly, it can be a wildly fun, educational environment. If played poorly, it becomes an erroneous cacophony. One thing educators and students must always remember though is that “fun, fun, fun” does not always equate to good education either. There are times when hard work is involved, and that is when the song and dance ends.
Tyler: Your marketing pieces also state “discover why dedicated people at a revered institution don’t always have all the answers.” What do you mean by that? What prevents teachers and principals from having the answers or perhaps helping students as much as they would like?
Patricia: We only see the student inside the classroom. We do not live inside their homes. We do not experience the supportive parent, the frustrated parent, the abusive parent, the drunkard or stoned parent. In some cases, we may never learn what the world outside of the classroom does to these people. Try as hard as we might, there will always be circumstances beyond the educators’ (teachers, administrators, counselors) control. The only place where we can really do anything for our students is inside the school, whether it be in the classroom, the gym, on the stage, etc. We must open our arms, our hearts, and our minds to our youth. That said, we cannot “give” them their education. We are there, ideally, to teach our youth how to become lifelong learners. Ergo, we need to teach them how to teach themselves.
Tyler: The high school in the book is a Catholic one. What difference does that make as opposed to being a public school? Did you feel at all like you had to censor yourself a little because you were writing about a Catholic school?
Patricia: Actually, no to both questions. In Alberta, the Catholic School System is a part of the public school system. It is not a private system. As for censuring myself—I chose to use letters and dashes for swear words and that’s about it. No bars holding, kids swear a lot today and it makes no difference whether it is in a Catholic school or a public one.
Tyler: Patricia, a lot of your writing and interests have revolved around theatre in the past. What made you decide to start writing novels as opposed to plays?
Patricia: I don’t really know. My first novel started out as dialogue and I assumed it would be a play, but it just wasn’t working. I decided to try something different and turned it into a narrative, and suddenly, the storyline and character development took off. Now that I have ventured into novel writing, I love it!
Tyler: Do you foresee now taking the finished novel and turning it into a play?
Patricia: This book could work as a stage play, but it would have to be quite different. The opening act—hmm? I’d have to think about how to introduce all the characters on stage. It’s one thing to set up characters via exposition and past events in a book, but I’d have to think about how to do that sort of thing on stage—or, how to change the beginning so it could work on stage. I think it would be interesting to work with someone else on the creation of a stage play. Getting another person’s perspective on this would be cool. Actually, if I could, I’d love to see this book as a film script.
Tyler: Patricia, I have to ask you about that play you wrote in fifth grade that I mentioned when I introduced you. What was so controversial about it that the teacher shut it down?
Patricia: The play was called “The Fight.” It was about two little girls who planned a fight after school in the play yard. I just wrote what I saw and felt about being asked to “fight” after school. I also just wrote what I heard students saying when they fought—which, even in the early seventies was not very good language. My students swore and said words that were descriptive of male and female body parts. Needless to say, my teachers were not impressed. Even back then, I wrote it like it is, and that is not always a safe thing to do. But life is not something we can hide from. We live it and we need to learn from it. This is why good literature, art, music, is so very important. It is the responsibility of every artist honestly to mirror life for man to learn from.
Tyler: Patricia, your first novel was about slavery in Georgia. Will you tell us a little about that book? Since you’re from Canada, what made you interested in American slavery?
Patricia: When I was in grade eight, my sister gave me a copy of “Roots” to read. For the first time in my life, I was completely absorbed by a book so much so that when I finished the book, I immediately turned back to page one and began re-reading it. My oldest sister was also influential in getting me involved in many of the ’70s rallies against injustice. Fighting against man’s inhumanity to man has been forever instilled in my make-up.
Now, why exactly I began writing about slavery is interesting in and of itself. In the late ’90s, early 2000s, Fort McMurray was picking up pace. Life was getting so fast that a part of me just wanted to escape so I began imagining life as far back in time from this technological insanity. I began fantasizing about living in the southern U.S. back in the eighteenth century. It didn’t take long for the cynic in me to scoff at this pastel world I was inventing. I reminded myself about slavery. At that point, I began questioning what life as a slave must have been like and suddenly I had an idea worth working with.
Tyler: Do you have plans to write any more books?
Patricia: I am currently working on my third novel. Like the first two books, it is slow going. Working full-time as a teacher, working full-time as a writer and now full-time as a salesperson means one novel takes a minimum of four or five years for me to produce. My third book, already over two hundred pages into the first draft, isn’t even close to being done—or even begun.
Tyler: I hear you there, Patricia. There’s never enough time to write and marketing takes time away from it. Thank you again, Patricia, for the pleasure of getting to interview you. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information may be found there about “Hell Hounds of High School”?
Patricia: Thank you for interviewing me. I appreciate the opportunity provided to share information about my book with your readers.
My husband, Simon Budd, designed my website for me after I produced my first novel. On it I post upcoming events like readings and signings, reviews, news articles, videos, and interviews. I also offer readers an opportunity to order signed copies of my books through PayPal as well as providing links to the iUniverse bookstore, Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.
Thank you again for the interview, Patricia. Best of luck with “Hell Hounds of High School” and all your future writing projects.