Tuesday, October 21, 2014

50 States Against Bullying: VIRGINIA

My tenth stop on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign was Centreville High School in Virginia. When I approached the school, I saw this sign over the entrance.

The Great Gatsby! Since I was driving to my next stop instead of flying, my schedule was up to me, and I was all set to extend my stay in this town to see this play. Turns out, this is their homecoming theme. Which is a great theme! But I was kind of looking forward to an evening at a high school play.

Inside the library, more #ReasonsWhyYouMatter notecards were on display with uplifting proclamations of what makes students at this school unique.

My presentation took place after school, so there were community members and students from other schools in attendance, which I always love.

As I was driving to my next stop, I passed so many museums. I love museums! So next time I'm in the area, I need to fit in some Tourist Time.

Unfortunately, the traffic to my next stop was crazy, and my tummy was rumbling because I hadn't eaten since breakfast. Fortunately, I was sent to my next hotel with a nice helping of homemade pot roast from the Centreville librarian! Unfortunately, my didn't have a microwave. Fortunately, this stuff tastes great at room temperature!

High school librarians rock.

Monday, October 20, 2014

50 States Against Bullying: NORTH CAROLINA

For the ninth state on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign, I visited The O'Neal School in North Carolina, speaking to students in grades 8-12. There were trees everywhere at this school, making the campus and its surroundings absolutely beautiful.

Even the statues were flipping out over the trees!

Yes, I considered adding myself somewhere within that sequence of statues for a photo-op, but then I considered the fact that I would probably hurt myself. So I didn't.

Meanwhile, inside the school, students had begun mounting #ReasonsWhyYouMatter cards to both sides of this board. Reading through these notes has becomes a great way to focus myself before I begin speaking with the students.

Giving a speech using Powerpoint, as I do, helps calm the nerves. This way, hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of eyes aren't constantly just on you.

Of course, if you get on a roll and skip over a topic, it becomes obvious once the wrong slide pops up. But I recovered from this mishap, which is thankfully rare. And, at the end of my talk, I even got my first standing ovation!

Signing books and chatting with students and teacher afterwards often turns emotional, and that was very true at this stop. While the stories shared could be heartbreaking, it is also inspiring to see people so willing to open up. That's always been a hard thing for me to do myself, so I never take these moments lightly. In fact, I feel like I learn from each one of those students.

But not all moments included tears. For example, I got to meet Miss North Carolina Junior High School America!

After my school visit, I had a bit of  time before heading to the airport, so I headed to...The Country Bookshop! This store provided books for my school visit, and was also a great place to browse (like I said, it's a bookshop). They recently began having visiting authors sign a tabletop in their store, which I did. While I signed it, the table was also being used for a meeting between the store's book buyer and a sales representative from another publisher (not mine, so they shall remain nameless...but easy to figure out). When I mentioned that I wrote the forward to one of this publisher's recent releases, Positive, by Paige Rawl, the bookseller brought her store copies over for me to sign.

So if you live near Southern Pines, go grab these books. Plenty of people have copies of Paige's memoir signed by Paige herself, but no one has a copy signed by me!

Now that I've flown on to the next state, I totally regret chickening out of a picture with those statues.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

50 States Against Bullying: GEORGIA

The eighth state on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign brought me to Mill Creek High School in Georgia. I left the hotel a bit early so I could grab a salted caramel mocha before I began speaking to help me wake up. (Well, that's how I justified it. It was really because I can't get enough of that deliciousness!)

When I first entered the school library, I saw a bucket of cards. Students were encouraged to consider why they matter and express that to the rest of the school. They then posted the cards on a wall.

The bucket was nearly empty.

Students Jessica and Andreea introduced me to the rest of the students, beginning with a recitation of "Soul Alone," the poem Hannah wrote in Thirteen Reasons Why.

The book signing in the library turned into an opportunity for wonderful discussions with students, as well as some tears and hugs. I also had the chance to meet Will Walton from Avid Bookshop. Will's debut YA novel, Anything Could Happen, comes out next year!

He assures me that the website linked to above is a work-in-progress.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

50 States Against Bullying: MISSISSIPPI

When I began travelling as an author, it felt like such a cool opportunity to check out parts of the country I'd never been to. Thankfully, seven years in, it still feels just as cool! When people ask what my favorite cities have been, Oxford, Mississippi is usually the first town that springs to mind. It's just so Southernly beautiful.

So I was thrilled to find out I'd be returning there for my seventh state on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign.

First, I had coffee with The Amazing Jill (she goes by Jill, but I don't think she minds my nickname for her) from Square Books, as well as The Amazing Jill's niece and adopted niece (niece's friend). The niece and adopted niece drove 5 hours to see me speak. Which, until yesterday, would've impressed me. (Okay, it still impressed me, but it was an even bigger honor!)

Then I stopped by the Oxford High School library to sign a few books before I gave my presentation. That's where I first saw the 50 States Against Bullying bookbag!

Personally, I think I need a 50 States Against Bullying coffee mug.

Here are the students, entering their very new gymnasium to hear me speak.

Something fascinating about public speaking is never fully knowing what's being heard. I can look out at hundreds of faces and feel good that I'm keeping them engaged, but I also hope it's more than that. And then, afterwards, some students may come up and let me know they definitely heard what I was trying to say. Those moments are what is making this tour far beyond what I'd hoped.

Before heading to the airport, I had to stop by the statue of William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury). An inside source told me that some of Faulkner's relatives don't like the statue. They find it offensive to see people place Santa hats on its head, or watch babies crawl on it, or whatever else people do. When I said that Billy F. probably would've been flattered by the statue, I was told he probably wouldn't. Apparently he could be a cranky dude.

But he seemed rather chill to me.

In fact, he didn't bat an eye when I placed a #ReasonsWhyYouMatter wristband on him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

50 States Against Bullying: ALABAMA

It was supposed to take three flights to get from my home to the sixth state on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign. But it only took two flights! Well, two flights and one very long drive.

I flew from my home airport to Los Angeles, and from Los Angeles to Houston, which looked nice while descending.

But then they began delaying my flight out of Houston. And delaying. And delaying. And then…cancelled.

Cancelled? The last flight of the day was cancelled? I had to be at an Alabama high school the next morning at 8am! So I called the booking agency. There were no flights that could get me anywhere near where I needed to be until 10 hours after I was supposed to speak, which didn't seem very logical. So I rented a car. A truck, actually, and at 10:15pm I began a 7.5 hour drive from Houston, Texas, through Louisiana, through Mississippi, and into Alabama. I got to my hotel around 5am, slept 1.5 hours, and then went to Fairhope High School, which is beautiful!

It was easy to figure out where I was speaking.

Before the school announced that I would be visiting, they had students create art pieces depicting 13 of anything. (For example, someone cut-n-pasted 13 photos of Ryan Gosling.) The pieces were up all over school, finally collected around two big red numbers.

Entering into the theater today, students were greeted with artifacts from a bygone (but totally awesome!) era.

I spoke in the theater to two groups of students, and the majority of them had read Thirteen Reasons Why. Many of them had already discussed it in classrooms or in book clubs.

After my presentations and book signings, the booksellers from Page & Palette took me to a delicious lunch (after I perused their bookstore, of course).

And now I'm sitting in the airport on my way to state number six.

The flight, they say, is slightly delayed.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

50 States Against Bullying: MISSOURI

The fifth state on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign was Missouri, which brought me to Festus Senior High School.

Two students spoke before my presentation. Olivia recited sections from Thirteen Reasons Why, doing an amazing job! How amazing? By the time I hopped on the airport shuttle, another student (who, it’s important to note, had not read my book) sent me an email:
I came into school today, thinking “YES! I get out of class today because we have some stupid assembly!” … When Olivia began reading a section of your book, I stopped what I was doing, blocked everyone else out, and started to listen to what she was saying…
Thankfully, the student ended her email with “I am thrilled to read your book…” So I guess it turned out to be a good assembly. (Or, at least, not as stupid as originally thought!)

Then another student, MaryBeth, introduced me. She was the perfect person to do that because she’s the reason I was there! Over the summer, she sent a message to Penguin expressing why she wanted me to stop at her school during the tour. Obviously, what she said was impressive because the person at Penguin organizing my stops called her on the phone, unaware that MaryBeth was not a nominating teacher or librarian. So when school got back in session, MaryBeth went to the principal and told her that she may have happened to sort of kind of booked a speaker for their school. And because the principal is awesome, she said, “Great.” I love students with initiative!

Olivia and MaryBeth

So the first leg of this tour began with the Tigers at my old high school in California, and ended with these Tigers in Missouri.

I then had time to answer several questions from the students, which were intelligent, insightful...and mostly new! Afterward, during the booksigning, I had some of the most heartfelt conversations with students in my 7 years as a published author. As I sit in the airport, I'm still processing all that they told me, and feeling grateful for their openness.

On one hand, you have people who consider Missouri to be in the South. On the other hand are those who call it the Mid-West.

But beginning next week, there's no confusion, the states will clearly be in the South.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

50 States Against Bullying: ILLINOIS (Part 2)

Before we began organizing the 50 States Against Bullying campaign, I booked school visits at Fenton High School and Blackhawk Middle School in Bensenville, Illinois. Because I do most of my own booking and am not the most organized person, I forgot to tell my publisher about this visit until they'd booked yesterday's school visit as the Illinois stop. So I got to stay in Illinois an extra day! Which was fine by me because Illinois is my second-home as an author. Outside of my home state of California, this state brings me back more than any other.

The students and faculty of Fenton chose Thirteen Reasons Why as their One Book read for 2014. Thankfully, I didn't have to ask for one of these awesomely designed shirts!

Since I had more time to speak during the assembly at this school, I combined the 50 States presentation with my usual author talk, which went really well and was a lot of fun.

Before speaking at the middle school, which occurred after school hours so community members could attend, I hung out in the Fenton library where classes shuffled in and out for a few hours of Q&A. This gave us a lot of time to really explore the themes in the book and my storytelling decisions. I even got asked a question that stumped me! (But I'm not going to tell you the question, so your're going to have to stump me yourself.)

This school did many art projects around my book. Some students drew self-portraits, which were then hung on a wall so other students could attach positive words via sticky notes. Several 12-sided objects (dodecahedrons!) were individually created, with each panel depicting different elements of the book.

And these triplets created a 3-D model of the city in my book!

I am constantly surprised, overwhelmed, and honored by my readers. Any by the people like Ms. Rodriguez (and the many incredible teachers I met today!) who help organize events like this.

And now, onto Missouri...!