Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Goin' Back to Indiana

Before heading to Indiana for their Indiana Library Federation conference, I stayed with my friend (and YA author) Christa Desir and her family near Chicago. Dinnertime conversation involved a lot of talk about comic books and graphic novels, which happens to go great with tater tots! It was also nice to catch up with my canine namesake, Asher the Dog.

We get along great, but he knows who had the name first.

The next morning, I went with the Desirs to their church. It was a beautiful sermon, and I also loved the look and sound of the huge pipe organ.

Book-In-Production Hint #1:
a pipe organ plays an important role

That night in Indiana, I spoke to a roomful of librarians, but only after all of our bellies were fully satisfied. At each table, they had a different question posted to help get conversations started. I specifically chose this table because I love R.L. Stine and can't wait for the upcoming Goosebumps movie!

Either I was really on, there was something funky in the green beans, or that group laughs very easily, because I had such a great time giving my presentation. While I do discuss serious things in my talks, I also like to have fun. But when I make jokes, I pride myself on being able to keep a straight face. This time, however, their laughter got to me and I laughed with them several times. (Next time, I'm totally not breaking!)

But as you can see, this was an exceptionally fun group.

Thanks for inviting me to your conference, Indiana librarians!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sleepy Hollow

A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.
Last week, after a great visit with my publisher, I took a day trip to the village of Sleepy Hollow. I'm not going to tell you which classic story was set in Sleepy Hollow, because if you don't already know...uh...well, I have no inoffensive way to complete that statement. But if you like to take literary detours, this area is a must. 

First, I visited Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving (the dude who wrote the unnamed story).

I'm sure he named his estate after its angle toward the sun, but whenever the tour guide said "Sunnyside," it made me think of eggs. But it was a fantastic tour, and learning more about the man inspired me to read more of his work, which I began to devour that very night.

I then went to Philipsburg Manor, referenced without a name in the story, but confirmed to be the location by Irving in a later essay, and watched a restored waterwheel grind corn into cornmeal just as it would have back then. This place is basically a living history museum and worth an afternoon.
His greatest treasure of historic lore, however, was discovered in an old goblin-looking mill, situated among rocks and water-falls, with clanking wheels, and rushing streams, and all kinds of uncouth noises. A horse-shoe, nailed to the door to keep off witches and evil spirits, showed that this mill was subject to awful visitations.

No trip to Sleepy Hollow would be complete (unless you're too cool for this stuff...and you're not!) without spending time at the Old Dutch Church and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favourite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust trees and lofty elms... Over a deep black part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a gloom about it, even in the day time; but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favourite haunts of the headless horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered.

Sadly, the bridge is no longer there. And sadlier(?), I never saw the horseman. But I did see something just as creepy! A tree in the process of swallowing a tombstone.

I located the unassuming burial place of Washington Irving and paid my respects (see, I'm trying not to smile in the photo).

I also sought out the graves of people thought to have inspired characters in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. (Oops! I just told you the title of the story.) For example, Katrina Van Tassel may have been inspired by...Catriena Van Tessel.

And finally...
To pass this bridge, was the severest trial. It was at this identical spot that the unfortunate Andre was captured... This has ever since been considered a haunted stream, and fearful are the feelings of the schoolboy who has to pass it alone after dark... Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen, black and towering.

Time to run, Ichabod!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: HAWAII

The 50 States Against Bullying campaign began October 1st at my alma mater in California. Throughout the 2014-2015 school year, I spoke at one high school in every state, plus the District of Columbia. The tour ended, fittingly, in the last state added to the Union.


Other than Oregon, where we have family, this is the only state where my family joined me on the journey. Since this is the Aloha State, we had to fit in some touristy things, too... swimming with dolphins (but not for me, because I'm too chicken for that)...

...taking a submarine tour...

...and visiting the beautiful Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, which highlights Hawaiian culture and natural history. They also currently host a dinosaur exhibit, which Isaiah loved.

While in Honolulu, I was also able to speak at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival. And that meant there were new authors to meet! At midnight the night before, as people do when surrounded by such tropical beauty, Austin Aslan and I met at...Denny's! His book, The Island at the Ends of the World, is a survival story set on these islands, which I can't wait to read. (Read the book's description on his website. You'll want to read it, too!)

At the festival, I met Lisa Freeman and got a signed copy of her novel, Honey Girl. Ms. Freeman had acting roles in some of my all-time favorite movies, so the autograph was extra cool!

For my speech, I was introduced by Stephanie Wang, Miss Chinatown Hawaii. She founded Bully Free Hawaii USA, making her another one of the very inspiring people I've been so fortunate to meet as an author.

But the school that brought this literal cross-country opportunity to a close was Campbell High School in Ewa Beach. Their campus has a Power to Choose Courtyard, surrounded by inspiring quotes.

All of the quotes were beautiful, but I was drawn to the one by Walt Disney, one of my lifelong creative heroes.

In the gym, I first spoke to 7th and 8th graders who walked over from the neighboring middle school. As they arrived, I noticed myself playing with my #ReasonsWhyYouMatter wristband, which matches those that were passed out at each school on the tour. I've worn my same wristband at every stop!

At lunch, I ate and chatted with several students, including members of the Lit Con Club. If this awesome club was around when I was in high school, maybe I would've actually been involved in something!

Then it was back to the gym to talk to mostly freshmen, plus a few sophomore classes.

The following pic was taken by a student during the Question-and-Answer part of my visit. After a few questions, another student shared with the rest of the room how my book helped her through a rough time. And then the other students applauded her bravery! That will remain one of the moments from this tour that will stay with me forever.

Leading up to the Hawaii visit, as the tour began to wind down, I'd been reflecting on what I'd seen and heard since October 1st. I'm still processing it all, and probably will for a while, and this made me reflect on aspects of my own life and what had to line up to bring me here. Being only a few minutes from Pearl Harbor, which I would soon visit with my wife and son, I left Campbell High and drove to Asher Court, a street named after my grandfather. You can read about his role on December 7, 1941 by clicking here.

Along with the wristband, I took another item with me on every stop of the 50 States Against Bullying campaign, but this one no one knew about. The day before that first tour stop was my 39th birthday. When I blew out my candle, I made a special wish concerning this tour. I can't share that wish with you (you know the rules!), but I will say it came true. And the evening after my tour finished, I lit that candle again. JoanMarie and Isaiah helped me blow it out.

Friday, April 24, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: ALASKA

On my journey up to Alaska, I stopped in Oakland, CA to participate in a heartbreaking yet affirming and inspiring fundraiser called "We Are Here: A Benefit to Raise Hope and Awareness for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion". The event was prompted by Gayle Forman's novel, I Was Here, which was inspired by the events surrounding Suzy Gonzales, who took her life at age 19. Suzy's parents also shared their story with us that evening.

In between our talks, The Bayonettes played beautiful music.

Early the next morning, I flew up to Alaska, the fiftieth stop on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign.

Hold up! The tour is not over yet. Along with the states, I visited a school in Washington, D.C., but 50 States and 1 District Against Bullying was too much of a mouthful. So there's still one to go!

Before officially adding Alaska to the tour, I gave a workshop to the local SCBWI chapter about adding suspense to their novels. If you've seen me give this talk, you know it requires the help of another author who happens to be terrified of specific types of candy. What does that have to do with suspense? A lot! But I can't tell you unless you attend one of my workshops.

Are you in suspense now? That's because I've got this thing mastered!

In Alaska, I used Jolene Perry's irrational fear of M&M's as my example.

Then I went to the Anchorage Museum, which tells the fascinating and changing story of the people who call this home, and how heavily the environment plays a part in their lives. Miniature scenes depicted how Native Alaskans lived in various regions.

Newspapers proclaiming Alaska's entry into the U.S. were displayed, as well as the compelling history of the Alaska pipeline.

In the children's area, always the most fun area of any museum, I took my first infrared selfie.

Finally, it was school time. I spoke at West Anchorage High School, and was welcomed by a large banner and the school librarian, Stacie Cox.

The students, as usual, were wonderful to speak with. But, the entire time, part of me was freaking out on that stage because there aren't many places to perform in Anchorage, so I was giving my anti-bullying talk in the same place Led Zeppelin played!

All around the school, students had filled out and posted cards describing why they matter. Reading their reasons is one of my favorite parts of visiting schools on this tour.

Their words get me right where it counts.

Then I had lunch with several students who won a "Reasons why I want to have lunch with Jay Asher" contest. One of the students, Ariella, did a project on teen suicide that inspired her to create a club on campus called You Are Not Alone. (When I was in high school, I joined the ski club but didn't know how to ski and didn't learn for another ten years.) The room where we ate, the classroom of Temperance Tinker(!), was so cool. She even had a record player next to the classroom toaster(?), and she let me choose the music.

One student, unbeknownst to me, was sketching me as I answered their questions. She then filled the page with things I said during our conversation. For example, "I wanna form a punk band called The Wet Koalas."

After that came a beautiful drive to Girdwood. I mean, it was so beautiful. Everywhere I looked!

Unfortunately, I never got to see any beluga whales. My 4-year-old would have been so impressed by that.