In reality, Jane Lynch couldn’t be less like the character she plays on Glee. Sue Sylvestor is the oft mean-spirited high school cheerleading coach from hell. Lynch is a mild-mannered comedic actress and now, author. She did, however, spend some time as as a playground agitator as a child, which inspired her to write the children’s book Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean with consult from her then-spouse, psychologist Lara Embry.
She and Embry were casually discussing their own childhoods when they came to the same observation about themselves as young girls. “We both admitted that we were kind of bullying. Especially when we were younger,” Lynch told BuzzFeed. Despite what their childhood behavior would suggest, both women admit they were actually just trying to make friends. “We found this the easiest way to do it because it works. Bullying works on a level. You get to be part of the group. The catch is, you’re never really equal. People are afraid of you. You inspire fear more than you inspire companionship.”
The book is gorgeously illustrated by Tricia Tusa, and Lynch is excited to praise the vision of Marlene that Tusa brought to fruition. “We wanted her to look awkward. She has a bow that’s way too big for her head. She’s got freckles and long limbs and she’s just a goofy kid. [Tricia] nailed it.”
In the book, the turning point for Marlene comes when another kid stands up to her. Big Freddy, another student, doesn’t challenge her to a fight or say mean things, he just points out what every other kid has failed to realized about her — she’s just not that scary.
“There’s always one advanced soul,” Lynch says. “Just one of those kids who wants everyone to get along and has the wisdom of someone beyond their age. They can see into the heart of the person doing the bullying. ‘You’re not that mean and you’re not even that tall. Why don’t you just be friends with us?’ And it works.”
After her confrontation with Big Freddy, Marlene attempts to change her behavior with other kids, and mostly succeeds. It’s acknowledged that there is some backsliding, but Lynch says that was absolutely intentional. “We’re not going to turn her into a cardboard cutout of the perfect child. She still makes mistakes, like we all do, and she has to re-learn the same lesson over and over again. But she’s had the big epiphany. And that’s the important thing.”
In fact, Lynch believes that children who are bullies often show the signs of natural giftedness in leadership. She believes that while it’s important to correct the actions that victimize other children, it’s just as important to foster the awakening of something else in the child who bullies. There is a very positive trait — especially for girls — hidden beneath all of that overly aggressive demanding.
“She is who she is. This is a little girl who is a bright light and is probably going to run a corporation someday,” Lynch said. “We don’t want to tell her that who she is at base is wrong. She has great leadership skills. Her natural gift is that she’s great at leading. She loves to be in an authority position. She just needed some redirection. Now, she’s just going to be a great boss who takes into consideration people’s individuality, and their feelings. But ultimately, she’s not going to change her stripes.”
You can preorder Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean here. Available everywhere September 23rd!