Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Several months ago, I was asked to take part in a literary festival in Estonia. I quickly checked my calendar and said, "Yes!" And then I quickly went online to figure out (literally) where in the world I was going. I mean, I knew a little about Estonia, but in case you didn't know, there are so many countries in this world! And this gave me a great opportunity to dig in and learn some more about this part of the globe before heading over.

The time difference is ten hours ahead of where I live in California, and so much further north. When I got to my hotel, it was already 5:30pm, which meant there were only several more hours of daylight.

Above, the city of Tallinn looks very modern, which it is. After all, Skype was invented in Estonia! Sadly, for a country with a history much older than the U.S., most of its historical buildings have been destroyed over the centuries by the many countries who have occupied this area. But what has survived is beautiful.

The following pic was taken on my second day, after driving to the city of Tartu for my first event. The people who helped organize much of my trip include Triin Toomesaar (executive director at KiVa), Annika Aas (librarian), and Tiiu Vitsut (from the U.S. Embassy).

I was one of three speakers at the opening ceremony of the 13th Tartu International Literary Festival Prima Vista. (13th. I know!) But before the speakers began, they had a very weird...but also cool (but very weird)...artsy thing going on with a man in a bathrobe who sang and flipped through an atlas while another man played the piano and a synthesizer. And all of this happened while a green flame burned on top of a cart, of course. It was very Northern European and very cool...but weird.

I was asked to follow that up with a few minutes talking about whatever I wanted, though it should fit this year's festival theme: Mystification. I was followed by Eugen Ruge, a writer from Germany. He was followed by Viktor Yerofeyev, a writer from Russia. And then the festival was underway!

We exited the room so that it could be made a little less atmospheric, and then I spoke to an audience about Thirteen Reasons Why. While I spoke, a handful of attendees wore headphones so a translator sitting in a nearby booth could translate my words into Estonian.

I didn't know it, but the Estonian publisher of that novel was in attendance! So this is the guy originally responsible for me being invited over.

These two women brought up their Estonian copies of my book to sign, which were my first autographs in that edition.

And this reader brought her Russian edition to be signed, which was also a first. And this particular Russian  cover I actually had never seen.

Then I was given a tour of the city. Apparently there are several of these rectangular yellow art structures around town, which you can swivel to frame things like they're on a National Geographic cover, such as this leaning building.

That night was the Mayor's Reception in the Town Hall, where I received a signed thank you letter from the mayor himself. But no one else was taking selfies with the dude, and my shyness got the best of me. But now I'm kicking myself for not getting a pic with him!

The next day, we drove to the University of Tartu Narva college. The first thing that caught my attention were the bathroom signs. They weren't signs at all! They were lights beamed onto the floor from the ceiling. Why? I don't know! And that's awesome!!!

As I told the students in Narva, if I had known while writing this book that it would one day bring me to speak at a college in Estonia, introduced by U.S. Ambassador, James D. Melville, I probably would have puked. But that happened! (The speaking, not the puking.)

Narva is so close to Russia, about half of the students here listened through headphones as my words were translated into Russian.

This reader had me sign the first version of this Russian edition.

The history of Estonia is fascinating. Seriously, look into it! They've only had a few decades of independence in their long history, most recently gaining it back in 1991. Because of Narva's proximity to Russia, and the majority of its citizens speaking Russian as their first language, most things are printed in both Estonian and Russian, such as these posters for my visit.

How close is Russia? In the following pic, I'm standing in Estonia, and the castle across the river is Russian. That's pretty close!

For my last event, I went back to Tallinn. At the Apollo bookstore, I spoke on a panel about bullying. As I've found while travelling throughout the United States, and my previous foreign visits to Germany and Canada (yes, Canada counts as a foreign visit!), this is an issue that's been around forever, but people around the world are just recently deciding it's not something we should tolerate anymore as "a part of growing up." And I believe this is an internationally beautiful and unifying thing!

I also got to meet, for the first time, a translator of one of my books! Liisa Raudsepp did such an amazing job on the translation, she was even nominated for a major award.

Thank you to everyone I met in this beautiful country. You, and your history, have truly inspired me.

Sing on, Estonia!

Monday, April 25, 2016

One Week in Kentucky

A great week speaking in Kentucky began with an airport run-in with Cliff from Cheers. I mean, Hamm from Toy Story and Mack from Cars. I mean, John Ratzenberger!

In my li'l rental car, in which I swoop through areas where I'm speaking to see as many local oddities as I can, I caught a distant ark being built. This isn't being built for a flood, but as a duplicate to one used during a well-known Biblical flood in an attraction called Ark Encounter. Still, if it starts raining a lot, I know where I'm heading!

But I was brought into Kentucky to speak, so I headed to the Grant County Public Library in Williamstown and was given one of the coolest handmade gifts!

Some attendees were in their seats long before I was scheduled to begin. And if you really want an author to feel special, that is precisely how you do it!

As the following road sign proves, if there's anything Kentucky is known for besides horse racing, it's bourbon.

Every few years, I'll take a sip from a shotglass to see if I've finally acquired the taste buds for "adult" beverages. The answer is always an instantaneous "No!" Still, I wanted to check out some of the nearby distilleries due to regional curiosity. But before driving out to any of them, I did more of what I was there for. This time, the seats were filled at Bardstown Middle School.

Their questions were great, which is always the sign of a school that encourages students to think for themselves and think outside the box. Although, when I was leaving, I did catch a couple students trying to escape.

The coolest distillery I visited while in Kentucky was for Maker's Mark. They do everything by hand here, including printing their labels on this press.

If you've ever seen their bottles, they're distinctive because of the dripping red wax on the neck. I learned that those drips are trademarked! Here's what it looks like when the wax-less bottles arrive, get dipped, and then set back on the conveyor belt.

Before my talk at the Nelson County Public Library that evening, I had dinner with a few librarians. Joining us was the mother of a girl who ended her life last year as a seventh grader. This bracelet remains on my wrist as I type this, and will remain here until it wears out.

Then it was time to do my speaking thing!

The next day, I began my journey to Bowling Green, which should have taken an hour and a half. It turned into an all-day adventure as I kept finding road signs luring me to amazing destinations. For example, the land once owned by the following family.

The Lincoln's lived here for the first two years of Abraham's life. They drew their water from this very spring!

Another stop brought me to Hidden River Cave. The next tour didn't leave for a couple hours...unless I didn't mind tagging along with a class of fifth graders. Of course I didn't mind! They made the whole experience much more interesting. And loud! But interesting.

When I arrived in Bowling Green, all of the teen and children's authors who had arrived for the following day's Southern Kentucky Book Festival were hanging out and having a grand ol' time. But I didn't join them. Why? Because I didn't know about it. Why? Because I wasn't invited. Why? Because the event organizers were told I wasn't into that sort of thing. What? Why? Because that's what the person who arranged my visit told them!


For most events I attend, the organizers approach me directly, and sometimes my publisher arranges events. Other times, a booking agency will contact me to see if I'd like to do an event they're working on. Often times, I say yes. The agency takes 20% of whatever I make, as they should. After the event, they'll usually tempt me to sign with them exclusively in exchange for more gigs. Every time, I say no because I like working directly with the venues, and I don't mind making less money per visit if that means I get to meet more readers.

If you've ever contacted me directly about setting up a visit, you know that if you hire me, I'm yours for the entire day. If you want me to speak four four times during the day, plus have lunch with select students, and then speak at a library in the evening, that's great. That's why I'm there.

But at this event, apparently the Book Fest was told I would only speak one hour on Friday and then I would sign for only one hour on Saturday. Meanwhile, the rest of the authors spoke several times throughout the two days, and when they weren't speaking, they were sitting with their books from 9am to 3pm to autograph books for any readers who wanted them.

And I, apparently, don't go for that sort of thing.

Why was this said by the booking agency? Maybe they thought it made me ("their" author) seem important. Maybe one of the other authors brought to the festival by this agency (there were three of us) had demanded this in their contract, and maybe the agency didn't want to make that author look bad. I don't know! Yet...

Either way, I didn't know about any of this at the time, so while the other authors gathered to hang out, I was probably watching YouTube videos in my hotel room. And then, later in the evening, when my friend Katherine Howe arrived, we attended a delicious event called Taste of Bowling Green. Local restaurants showed off their edibles, and a kick-ass band played. We also stepped into a photobooth to document the evening. Do either one of us look like author divas? I don't think so!


The next morning, I arrived at the festival at 9:30am, That's thirty minutes after they opened, which was thirty minutes before my presentation. That's when I noticed all the other authors sitting at tables, ready to sign their books. And that's when I began to question why I wasn't invited to sign books throughout the entire festival. And that's when my jaw began to drop.

So I went and gave my presentation...

,,,and afterwards, I promptly went to the table where my books were stacked and I sat there until 3pm like the good author that I am.

You know who has great readers? I do! You know who else has great readers? Shannon Messenger. One of her readers brought a lot homemade cookies based on her books. 

Who's that making a face at my cookies? Another author who has amazing readers, Alecia Whitaker. One of her readers brought her senior portraits to the festival, and each picture included books by her favorite author: Ms. Whitaker. While this was my first time meeting Alecia, I had so much fun with her as my seatmate that I will now refer to her as my Sister-From-Another-Mister. The first book I bought at the festival was Wildflower. And yes, of course I had it signed!

An author I'm always happy to see and hang out with while traveling is Phil Bildner. His shirt, in Arabic, reads "Love Conquers Hate". That matched perfectly with my purple shirt, worn in tribute to Prince, who passed away the day before.

I got to meet author M.D. Payne, and found out that he's the husband of the person at Penguin who organized last school year's 50 States Against Bullying campaign. 

A book I've been looking forward to reading, The Serpent King, was written by Jeff Zentner. And now, I own a signed copy! Even better than that, Jeff taught me a new way to eat apples, from the top down, which makes it possible to devour core-and-all. So weird! And so cool!

I also had a great time discussing the fun of co-authoring books with the co-authors of the Doon series, Lorie Langdon and Carey Corp.

The second day of the conference, the organizers were able to squeeze me onto an author panel discussion, which is something I love to do (despite what they had been told). I even got to pose for my first selfie-stick photo with many of my fellow festival authors.

Thanks for a great week, Kentucky!

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Doors of Perception

Last week, I spoke at Royal Palm Beach High School in Florida. (I know, sometimes being an author requires you to drag yourself to a place called Royal Palm Beach.) RPBHS was in the midst of week-long events and discussions based around Thirteen Reasons Why. So I'm guessing that's why they invited me!

One student asked me, "Is it weird to think that a whole school is doing this around something you wrote?" Yes, it is. It's very weird!

And it's one of the most amazing things an author can experience.

Students designed book-specific bookmarks, which I've already given a prime spot in my office. But I'm going to assume none of the students ever used the bookmarks while reading 13RW...because they couldn't stop reading it!

Another student designed this poster in the library.

The office door in the library was full of positive notes left by students and faculty.

Then it was time to speak to an audience where so many of the students had already read my book.

During lunch, I dined on Chipotle (they donated everything!) with a group of students wearing shirts designed for this week. These students were chosen from a larger group of students who had created projects--posters, displays, wordles...--dealing with my book.

Then...time to speak again!

Before I left, I was taken on a tour of decorated classroom doors that won a school-wide contest.

Doors, man! I've never been so emotionally moved by...doors!!!