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OXFORD – Eight years ago, depression hit Jeff Erno. A seven-year relationship had ended suddenly. His mother had passed away after years of caring for her. And the northern Michigan grocery store chain where he worked as a manager was killed off by big box competition.
He just didn’t know what to do.
He moved down state and took another retail job, and made himself a bucket list – things he wanted to do before he died. One was to learn a language. One was to finish his business degree. And one was to write a book and have it published.
He accomplished all three. In fact, he’s gone on to publish eight novels and is enjoying life as a successful writer, who is able to manage his writing and can speak Spanish. His latest book is an anthology called “Bullied,” which has seven fictional stories about bullying, told from multiple perspectives.
Erno, who now lives in Oxford Township, is donating the profits from “Bullied” to The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT and questioning youth.
“Bullied” is Erno’s first anthology. He wrote the book after hearing about bullying on the news.
“Last year in the early part of 2011 there was a lot of media attention about the rash of teen suicide, and in particular gay teenagers that committed suicide as a result of being bullied,” he said. “A lot of news and magazines gave the issue a lot of attention. It was all over the internet. It really had an impact on me personally. I know what it feels like being bullied.
Erno said he’d been bullied in school, not explicitly for being “gay,” but because others perceived him as a “nerd” and a “sissy.”
“That was back in the 80s when I was in high school,” he said. “I think that I was kind of nerdy and more on the effeminate side. What people would call a sissy. Religion became a kind of cover. As far as my parents were concerned, my mom thought I was this special kid with a special calling, and that was why I was more soft-spoken and had a tender heart. I was on the shy side and so that fit within that viewpoint,” he said.
“When I got into puberty and realized I was attracted to other boys instead of girls it created a firestorm of guilt. Everything I believed about my faith conflicted with what was in my heart,” said Erno who had planned to become a minister
“At Bible college I fell in love with another student who happened to be a male student. That conflicted with my religion, and I dropped out of college.”
After taking charge of his life and pursuing the things important to him, Erno got his BS in Business Administration from Kaplan University in 2008. The Spanish classes he took helped him get his most recent retail management job, and the efforts put into his writing career have been rewarding.
Published through Dreamspinner Press, Xlibris Publishing, Extasy Books, Fanny Press, and Camel Press Erno’s work covers a range of genres from young adult gay fiction, to male/male romance, to hardcore bdsm erotica.
“Bullied” is unique in that it is not sensual or romantic in nature. While Erno has found cathartic relief in his previous works, “Bullied” gave him the opportunity to write about more painful life experiences.
While there are many books and blogs out in the past year about bullying, Erno’s work is not just a band-wagoning project. He writes with sincerity and insight, and adds to the collective voice of Americans who are telling the world that bullying will not be tolerated, and that victims are not alone.
Erno said he would prefer to leave advice to the experts, but that from what he’s read and experienced it’s the bystanders to bullying that really make the difference.
“What I personally believe is the most important thing is to get the bystanders involved and get them educated. The bully feeds off the energy they get from their audience. So often the other kids are afraid to say anything. The kids go along with it. They’re complacent or they laugh. They’re too afraid to stand up because they don’t want to be the next target. It’s really a matter of educating not just the bully and the victim. You can’t just remain silent. You have to take action.” He also said that it’s important that schools have information and resources, and that kids know they have a safe place.
To find out more about Jeff Erno’s anthology “Bullied,” visit http://www.jefferno.com/bullied.php.