Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!!!

The following is my annual Easter re-post.

Every so often, a reader will tell me their impression of something I wrote in a way that deepens my own understanding of my own words. Someone in Florida once told me how a decision one of my characters made helped her illustrate a sentiment she'd been trying to get across to her friends.

Here's what she told me:

In the past, I've had to help friends realize that life goes on even after you've made a poor decision. Not because you move on or get over it, but because you grow as a result of it. You build something new, something with a higher purpose, using what you've learned as one of your bricks.

When I read that, my heart leapt! Since there was no way I could say it any better, I immediately knew I'd be using her words in future speeches (and blog posts).

So what does this have to do with Easter?

One of the most beautiful ideas surrounding this holiday is that we're all given an opportunity to make corrections if we find ourselves traveling down a road we don't want to (or shouldn't) be on. In fact, we're given that opportunity to change every day. Every second! But sometimes we need a calendar to remind us.

Refresh. Repair. Rebirth. Whatever you want to call it...

Renewal is a wonderful blessing!

Easter 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014


When I forget to take a lot of pictures at speaking events, it's a sign that I'm enjoying and appreciating the moment. But it's really irritating afterwards! I recently had events in three states, almost back-to-back, and here's a recap of those trips (with far fewer photos than I wish I could share with you).
In Sacramento, California, I spoke at a regional conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, an organization that continues to play a huge role in my career. I gave a talk on adding suspense to any story, did a pro-panel that included Dan Yaccarino, and gave a morning keynote presentation in the room below.

The above photo was taken during the keynote of Nikki Grimes. When I first met Nikki at a convention a couple years ago, it was one of those moments when I couldn't believe someone whose work I respect so much already knew who I was. This conference was a wonderful opportunity to spend more time with her, and hopefully there will be more chances in the future.

In attendance were locals Mike Jung, Emily Jiang, and Naomi Kinsman, three authors I've been fortunate to meet over the years. One day, I'll need to put together my own conference, inviting writers who inspire different aspects of my own writing and that I know I could learn from. And the three of them will speak there. (I haven't asked them yet, but I know they'll do it. Right???)

Next up? Northern Kentucky University.

I always get nervous before speaking at an event open to the public. What if no one shows up? (One benefit to speaking at a school during school hours: The students have to be there!) So when a public event is well attended, it's awesome!

After I was done speaking, I learned that Jasmine Warga was in the audience. Jasmine has her debut novel, My Heart and Other Black Holes, coming out next year!

After this event, I attended another event at KSU: an open mic reading hosted by the school's literature magazine. With another writer there, I read from Thirteen Reasons Why. Then, something I never thought I'd do, I read the very first picture book manuscript I tried to get published, called Stop, Easter Bunny, You Forgot Something! The other writers in the room laughed in all the right spots, including the parts that weren't originally supposed to be funny. And I'm actually very happy they felt comfortable enough to laugh along with me!
I had some free time in Kansas, so I took a walk through the Creation Museum. It was interesting. A little different than what I saw when I attended the American Museum of Natural History.

From Kansas, I flew to Montana for the annual conference of the Montana Library Association. It was immediately obvious why the librarians chose this hotel in Billings.

But I didn't have time to slip down the slide when I first arrived. Why? Because I had to play my first game of Bunco! I remember my mom regularly having a bunch of women over while I was growing up so they could play Bunco. I don't remember my mom or her friends wearing crazy hats, though. And I don't remember them raising scholarship money by having people sit at the same table as me. But that's probably because my mom and her friends weren't Montana librarians!

I gave a talk on writing "gritty" literature and how books like mine can be used at schools or libraries. I then gave a lunchtime keynote, where the audience was great and the dessert was delicious!

Thank you for hosting these great first visits to your states, Kentucky and Montana. I'll be back soon!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lake Placid

When I first became an author and spoke in a place I'd never been, I always stayed an extra day to check out the town. The school or library hosting me would pay for the hotel nights needed for my visit, and I paid for the extra night. It didn't matter how small the town, I always found something beautiful and unique on my Days of Exploration.
Eventually, especially with a young son at home, I stopped staying those extra days. While I've absolutely loved every town I've visited, I leave some places kicking myself that I didn't stay that extra day.
Lake Placid, in New York, is one of those towns. The downtown was so quaint, and the surrounding area was so beautiful!
I flew into Albany and then had a 2.5 hour drive to Lake Placid. When I need to rent a car, I usually pick something small and fuel efficient. But I checked the weather the night before I left sunny California, and I thankfully was able to upgrade to something a bit heavier because it snowed the entire drive.

Entering Lake Placid at night was kind of eerie. I knew the Winter Olympics were held there in 1980, but I didn't know most of the structures built for that event were still up. So when two ginormous silhouetted "things" appeared above the trees, it freaked me out! It didn't look like a factory. It looked like where you'd launch something into space. But as a NASA buff, I knew there wasn't a launch site in Lake Placid.

Turns out...they were ski jumps.

I spoke to the students of Lake Placid High in the morning, and they were a lot of fun!

I spent the rest of the day in the school library, where students and classes came throughout the day for informal chatting. We discussed books, writing, my teen years, and I may have leaked some Thirteen Reasons Why info that I wasn't supposed to leak yet. Thankfully, those students promised not to tweet anything. And they haven't!

When I was in high school, I took two semesters of Creative Writing. I wasn't any good at it, and I'm thankful I didn't know that at the time. Sadly, most schools have cut their elective writing classes. So I'm always thrilled to find schools like L.P.H.S. that found ways to keep those classes. In fact, one of the classes that joined me in the library studies nothing but Crime Noir literature. How specific and awesome is that!?!?

In the evening, I spoke on a panel about suicide prevention. The CYC helped bring me to Lake Placid, and any community that has a group like that is extremely fortunate.

The Bookstore Plus sold my books during my events. In the little downtime I had, I made my way over there and I picked up three books: a novel set in Lake Placid, Sugar and Ice, by nearby author Kate Messner; a book about the Miracle on Ice, The Boys of Winter, which took place in the hockey arena built right next to the high school (and I mean, right next to it!); and Champ, about America's own Loch Ness-type monster. So that's one fiction book, one non-fiction, and one non-fiction about something fictitious...or is it?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ben Davis High School

I'm sick. And I blame the guy sitting beside me on the flight home from Indiana. He kept talking at me, even with my earbuds in. Talking at me, even while I was reading. Talking at me, even though I pretended to play games on my phone now that we're allowed to do that!

So I blame him.

But my author visit to Ben Davis High in Indianapolis was still great! I was one of many authors there for their first Literacy Conference. Soon after arriving, I went out to dinner with several people on the faculty. I sat beside Sam Bracken, who wrote My Orange Duffel Bag. That is one inspiring dude who cares so much for his readers, as well as people who aren't his readers.

Not that I don't! I do. I'm just pointing out his awesomeness.

Not that I'm saying I'm awesome. I'm not saying that! I just...oh, never mind.

I was supposed to speak in the auditorium to all ninth graders and all students from the connected middle school. But because of Cold Days (not Snow Days...Cold Days), the middle school students couldn't come.

So the freshmen had to rock the place on their own!

Then I spoke to two individual tenth grade classrooms. Most of them had read Thirteen Reasons Why, which made for some great Q&A.

I love when traveling allows me to meet people I've interacted with online for years, and they seem like people I'd get along with. Mike Mullen is one of those guys!

Kids Ink Children's Bookstore sold books throughout the day, which was the first time I saw the floor display for my 50 States Against Bullying tour. There are still a few weeks for your school to apply for a visit, so have your school librarian visit here.

I wasn't able to hear Saundra Mitchell speak because our events were at the same time, but I was able to get a couple of her books signed! The other authors in the photo below are Gene Luen Yang, Eliot Schrefer, and Jason Reynolds. Gene, Eliot, and Jason spoke at a dinner, and the three of them made probably the best author combination I've heard. The differences in their topics, all conveyed with such passion, was fascinating.

Next up? I'm visiting Lake Placid, NY. And I will be better by then. I'm not letting that airplane-talker keep me down!

Monday, March 10, 2014

New York City to Los Angeles

To kick-off the nomination process for stops on my upcoming book tour, I flew to New York City last week. I gave a presentation at one school while schools across the country watched online. Of course, flying from California to New York with snowstorms approaching, everyone (including me) was nervous about whether I'd make it on time. I couldn't miss it!
Thankfully, I made it.
Before speaking at the school, I went to my publisher's office to have brunch with some of the many people who continue to have so much excitement for Thirteen Reasons Why (which is almost 6.5 years old now!).

Then I filmed a few videos that will be posted online in the near future. Like I always do after recorded interviews, I'm now thinking, "Why did I admit to that?" for a few of the answers.

We walked down to the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elizabeth Irwin High School (which is a mouthful, so thankfully they refer to it as LREI) for the webcast.

The students I spoke with in person were great. And I'm glad they were there! We had a back-up plan to do the webcast from the Penguin offices, with people from Penguin acting as my audience, if there was a snow day in NYC, but it all worked out. The front row in this pic is mostly made up of people from Penguin and School Library Journal (co-sponsors of this event).

The webcast will be posted on the SLJ site soon, and I'll link to that here when it's up.

It's weird being in such a large city where I have several really good friends, but having so little time to see any of them. I did get a chance to make a loop through Central Park with Carolyn Mackler, though. Here I am munching on goodies from Magnolia Bakery, a shop that gets a shout-out in our book, The Future of Us. In the background is Belvedere Castle, a location in one of Carolyn's previous books.

Before leaving, I had a delicious dinner with a few of my favorite people at Penguin: Carmela Iaria, Jessica Almon, and Ben Schrank. (If you're from Penguin and aren't in this photo, you should've been there. Because you're one of my favorite people, too!)

Back in California (you'll notice the clothes in the following photos don't look as warm), I was invited to participate in a stop on Lauren Oliver's book tour. Lauren was an editor at Razorbill when they bought Thirteen Reasons Why. When she became an author herself, I gave a quote for her first book, Before I Fall. And now she's promoting her eighth book, Panic.

Meanwhile, I'm still working on book three.


Before the event, I got to meet up with my good friend, now a Razorbill author herself(!), Romina Russell. Her book, Zodiac, comes out this December.

I got to the bookstore early, but not as earlier as I was hoping because of the L.A. Marathon and a cab that never showed up. I always like to take a sneak peek at how many people are sitting in the audience about 30 minutes before we begin.

But this time, I wasn't sneaky enough. You got me, Romance Bookie!

The chairs filled up nicely.

As someone who doesn't take selfies often, I'm somehow ending up with two selfies in this one blog post. And while Ellen's selfie at the Academy Awards (which I watched while in NYC!) broke Twitter with its massive retweets, I'm certain the crowd in ours reads much better books.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Atascadero, CA

I'm always happy to speak locally, and I got a chance to do that earlier this week at Atascadero High School. While I've travelled all over the country to speak, and even outside the U.S. a couple times, this was absolutely one of my favorite visits.

No, it wasn't because I got to sign two foreheads. Although, that was cool (usually, I only get asked to sign one forehead per school...if that!). The reason I loved this visit was mostly because the students in Ms. Hogan's Honors English classes had all read Thirteen Reasons Why.

I spoke to three of her classes, with each period lasting about 90 minutes. I wasn't required to stay the entire time, but because the classes had all discussed my book before the visit, they all had more than enough questions to keep me there.

And that's what made it fun! Their questions were extremely insightful, wanting to know my feelings about certain things that happened in the book and my thought process behind certain scenes.

When I speak to professional writers I rarely get this level of questioning, which gave me an opportunity to explore some new aspects of putting together a story.

Then I spoke in the school library...after eating a yummy salad provided by the district librarian, Ms. Bell, who also organized this visit. Before I spoke, though, we saw a great anti-bullying student video and heard from a Peer Helper at the school. (By the way, this school has a Wellness Center. Does the high school in your community have a place like this? Because it should!)

Thanks for being a great audience, Atascadero. Thank you for your great questions. And the stories some of you shared privately will stick with me forever.

Thank you.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Red Carpet Fantasies: Part III

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I get very excited to watch the Academy Awards each year. Not just because I get to eat my traditional pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby, but because I'm also a movie freak! (This year, I'll watch the show from a hotel room in NYC. Thankfully, this should keep me from stressing about the live webcast I'm doing the next day.)

One of my not-so-secret fantasies is to one day write an Oscar-nominated screenplay. Something just as exciting would be to have one of my novels turned into an Oscar-nominated adapted screenplay.

If either one of those things happen, hopefully I'll get the chance to walk down the red carpet. Of course, the question then becomes What will I wear? Or What shall I do with my hair?

So, with the help of InStyle's Hollywood Makeover, I decided to try on some hairdos of the nominated actresses of 2014...

Amy Adams for American Hustle:

Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine:

Sandra Bullock for Gravity:

Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle:

Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave:

Julia Roberts for August: Osage County: