Friday, October 29, 2010


Soon after flying into Harlingen, Texas, I went out to dinner with a couple of high school librarians. There, I was introduced to one of the best cheeseburgers I'd ever had the pleasure of making disappear. The next day, I lunched on a scrumptious BBQ sandwich with English teachers. For dinner, I had a chicken-stuffed and deep-fried avocado. The next day, I joined a school's book club for lunch where we shared some amazing Mexican food. They even made the tortillas right there! That night, some spicy and delicious BBQ.

My stomach absolutely adored this week.

But in between all that good eatin', I also did a lot of speakin'.

First, I spent the day at Med Tech. This school was just oozing school spirit. They had a specific theme every day this week. During my visit, they were raising awareness and money for breast cancer research and prevention. As you can see, almost every person was wearing pink. Usually a lot of pink, including in their hair!

In the above photo, you can see some of the Thirteen Reasons Why displays the students made. Here's one which photographed particularly well.

I must say, I've visited a lot of libraries while traveling around to discuss my book, and the three school libraries I visited on this trip to Texas were on the tippity-top of the tippy-top tier. It really is amazing what they've got going on here.

During my second day, I began by speaking to students at the Gateway Library. This included one of the best Q&A sessions I've ever had. I probably could've stayed another hour and still been fielding questions, which would've been great. But, of course, we had to eat!

Before I feasted on catered Mexican food with members of the book club, everyone went around dropping notes of encouragement into the personalized paperbags of the other students. Yes, just like in my book! They even made a bag for me, and I think I may have received the most notes. Woo-hoo! (Not that it was a contest or anything...)

I presented a writing workshop that afternoon at Biblioteca Las Americas and I'm really upset that I forgot to take pictures because so many of them were dressed up for Halloween. There was even a Penguin! I also figured out a way to toss a sliced banana at students in the library and get away with it. All you have to do is pretend you're teaching them a lesson about storytelling. Seriously, with this job, you can get away with practically anything if you work it right!

The poster which led people to that writing workshop and the following presentation was my favorite event poster ever. While at Med Tech the previous day, one of the librarians took a close-up photo of my shoes while I was speaking. They blew up that photo, added text, and wa-la!

That evening, I spoke at the Parental Involvement meeting. I discussed the importance of making sure issues such as the ones presented in my book weren't swept under the rug. In fact, we need to do a better job of bringing those issues out in the open so people aren't afraid to talk about them. It was the largest group I'd ever spoken to about such serious issues, but I had some of the most honest conversations with parents afterward, which made the night end beautifully.

And then some dude asked me to sign his chest.

Friday, October 22, 2010

In the Wright Place

Walt Disney, Charles Schulz, Lucille Ball, P.T. Barnum, and the Wright Brothers. When I was a child, those were the people I was most fascinated by. I read everything I could about them and based as many school reports as possible around them.

This week, I had the chance to spend a few days in Dayton, Ohio, the home of the Wright Brothers. I love it when speaking gigs match up with places like this!

But when I first flew into town, I grabbed a rental car and drove down to Cincinnati. There, I stopped by a Joseph-Beth Booksellers and signed a whole bunch of my books, which they'll be distributing to several of their stores. So if you're near a J.B.B. and want an autographed copy of Thirteen Reasons Why, you may find one there very soon. I also grabbed a coffee with local illustrator Tara Calahan King.

How awesome was Ms. King? She gave me a signed copy of Odd Velvet to give to Isaiah when he's born!

The next day, I woke up early and went straight to one of the bicycle shops (now a museum, of course) once owned by Wilbur and Orville Wright. It was in these shops that the W. Bros. built and tested many of the parts that made it onto their gliders and flyers.

With time running out before that evening's speaking gigs, I drove to the Huffman Prairie Flying Field where the majority of the first powered flights took place. There, you can see replicas of the garage/hangar where they stored and repaired the flyers, and the metal pyramid contraption which gave the flyer enough speed for takeoff.

I'm not sure why the brothers didn't make the hangar a tad wider so they didn't have to disassemble their flyer each night, and I don't think they had this access ramp back in the day.

When the concrete weight dropped inside the pyramid, it zipped the flyer down the slender "runway".


Large white flags create a loop around the field so you can walk the same path as the first successful round-trip flight.

Before my speeches, I had the opportunity to hang out with Kristina McBride, author of one of my favorite recent YA novels, The Tension of Opposites. I was asked to blurb this book a long time ago but didn't get a chance to read it before it came out. I finally picked it up several months ago and could not put it down (always a good sign), so future editions of the book will include my blurb.

Here's the wonderful trailer for The Tension of Opposites:

The story takes place in Centerville, Ohio, and many of the images in that trailer were shot in the actual locations mentioned in the book. It felt surreal to walk through some of the locations with Ms. McBride as my guide.

My first presentation at the Washington-Centerville Public Library was just for students in 6th through 12th grade. Later in the evening, I gave a presentation open to anyone, where I spoke about my book as well as the issues of bullying and suicide.

Here's a nice photo of students from the first presentation. Lovely bunch, I must say!

Between the presentations, I was taken to a delicious dinner with three of the librarians responsible for getting me to Ohio and Ms. McBride. Have you ever noticed how locals are often the last people to check out their town's history? Well, in my limited time, I've already seen more of the historical sites around Dayton than any of these ladies!

(And now I'm going to check and see what's considered historical where I live so that if you come visit me, I can say, "
That? Of course I've seen that!")

Shelly, Sara (future YA author), my floating head,
one very awesome poster, Kristina, Elaine

Early the next morning, it was time to begin the journey home.

I'm not going to blame food poisoning on the Wright Brothers, but I wonder if they ever thought barf bags would be a fixture on future airplanes. Why do I bring that up? It doesn't matter! And I wonder if they ever used the exact phrase "Flight Canceled" when one of their flyers was broken. Why do I bring that up? Just because!

Thankfully, there's still the good ol' fashioned train around when you need it. And while the view looking miles down can be inspiring, so can the view looking straight across.

But what was the view I liked the best?

The one of JoanMarie waiting for me to finally get back home.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Of Mice and Baby Boys

JoanMarie and I were down in Southern California recently for two big shindigs. First up was our annual fall/winter visit to The Happiest Place on Earth.

This time, we were joined by my bro, Nate, and his girlfriend, Sarah...the FastPass king and queen.

The whole park was decked out in a Halloween theme. And since Halloween is one of the most awesomest holidays around, it made the park doubly fun. The tree below reminded me of The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite books of all time, and one which JM and I are reading together right now.

With Isaiah joining us this year, the Storybookland ride was about as crazy as we got.

But it was actually really nice to take our time walking around (stopping at virtually every restroom) and munching on pickles (three dollar pickles, I might add...but worth every penny!).

Here's our annual photo from the Buzz Lightyear ride. Unfortunately, the computer swapped our scores. JM beat me, as usual. You can tell by our faces who's the most competitive member of our family.

Then it was on to my Aunt Sher's for JoanMarie and Isaiah's first baby shower!

The cupcakes were homemade and delicious. The diaper-cake below wasn't edible, but I have a feeling the diapers were about as delicious as they're ever gonna be.

I stayed out of the way until the ladies called me in to act out the scene they'd created in a baby shower version of Mad Libs.

It was early in the morning in the year 13 when JOANMARIE felt her water break! “HOLY TOLEDO,” she yelled, “JAY, it’s finally time to go to the hospital!” She was SILLY, but she knew everything would be okay. She was right. After arriving at the hospital in BIG SUR and after 23 hours of labor, a HAIRY baby was born. The new parents were so SLIPPERY! The nurses wrapped the newborn in GREEN fluffy POOP. After being checked out by Dr. JOHNNY DEPP, they were finally allowed to take home their precious bundle of TRAMPOLINE. It wasn’t long before they realized that the baby would be waking them up at all hours and demanding BELLY BUTTON milk and creamed KALE. They also got used to the ROTTEN smells that often came from the diaper.

We both got a bit misty eyed at various times, especially when our new stroller was rolled out. We can already picture pushing Baby Isaiah through crowded stores, knocking customers out of our way.

And while this onesie definitely expresses Mommy and Daddy's sentiment, it's good to know Isaiah's already got a lot of self confidence!

Monday, October 18, 2010

13RW is 3YO Today!!!

Since books can't eat cupcakes, I got to eat the whole thing!!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

In the Magazine Aisle Today...

I'll admit, I enjoy skimming magazines and finding out which celebrities have the best tastes in literature. And in the latest issue of OK! Weekly, I think we found our winner!

In this fill-in-the-blank survey, the 9th bit of info Selena revealed was...

Great choice, Ms. Gomez. Great choice!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Psycho Circus is In Town

JoanMarie and I attended our first murder-mystery party this weekend. It's something we've both wanted to do for a long time, but never having been to one, we didn't want to organize the first one ourselves. Thankfully, that didn't stop some of our friends from throwing their first murder-mystery party.

The theme was...

Everyone was given a character with a motive. I was the Strong Man and JoanMarie was the Fortune Teller. Isaiah made up his own character and came as the Circus Peanut. He's so funny!

(I won for Best Costume, cuz that's how I roll!)

The Ringmaster greeted us and ushered us inside. But soon after everyone arrived, the Ringmaster was eaten by...or fed to...a lion.

So who did it? It could've been anyone. We all had our reasons. We all had the means. But I won't give away the killer's identity because this is a murder-mystery party you could be invited to in the future, and then that wouldn't be fair, now would it?

I will tell you that he or she is one of the faces within this cast of circus freaks.

Thanks for a great evening, Christian and Deborah! Since you hosted this party on 10/10/10, maybe we'll host our first one on 11/11/11.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

No, I wasn't feeling nice when I wrote this

I haven’t spoken much on this blog about my personal feelings regarding suicide and bullying. Everything I want to say, I figure, can be found within my book. I also haven’t commented on the recent “bullycide” cases in the news. Each time I almost say something, I find an article written by someone saying the same thing, but much more eloquently.

Today, I’m throwing eloquence out the window.

I just read an article in the latest issue of Newsweek, From Lockers to Lockup by Jessica Bennett, and it irritated the heck outta me. It mostly deals with the specific case of Phoebe Prince in South Hadley, Massachusetts. After Pheobe committed suicide, several of the students who bullied her were charged with various crimes. It’s a complex situation and I’m not even sure where I stand on all the legal issues. But the legal issues aren’t what disturbed me about this article.

Let’s begin with a quote from South Hadley’s superintendent, Gus Sayer. While these are Mr. Sayer’s words regarding the bullies, they fit very nicely into the arc of Ms. Bennett’s article.

“These are nice kids, regular kids. They come from nice families. They were headed to college.”

Okay, can we at least be honest about the basics? Bullying is not what nice people do. Nice people, by definition, treat people nicely. Yes, everyone goes through phases. Hopefully these teens were not on the path to remain bullies their entire lives. But at the time Phoebe killed herself, they were not going through a “nice kid” phase (no matter how they acted around the superintendent).

What about regular? When you’re bullied, yes, it can feel like the whole world’s against you. But in truth, the majority of the students are not calling you a slut, threatening to beat you up, or throwing things at you from a moving car. The “kids” who are doing that are not the norm. They’re not regular.

The law (and the media) may assess the world in black or white, but the players in the case don’t fit into neat categories. Phoebe suffered a terrible tragedy, but court filings have since revealed she had her own demons, too. She struggled with depression, self-mutilation, had been prescribed Seroquel (a medication to treat mood disorders), and had attempted suicide once before.

I love when members of the media call out the rest of the media for not doing a good job assessing the situation. It’s often someone trying to call attention to the “real” issue, which only they have the guts to articulate. Unfortunately, Ms. Bennett says nothing new in her article. Plenty of articles (yes, in the media!) have pointed out Phoebe’s history of suffering.

But what is the point of even bringing that up? Well...

Yet they couldn’t have known how badly the stunt would end….In the case of Phoebe Prince, the answer of who’s to blame might change if you knew that she had tried to kill herself before the epithets, was on medication for depression, and was struggling with her parents’ separation.

Here’s the thing. That’s precisely why bullying is so dangerous. Bullies never truly know the people they’re bullying (unless they happen to be bullying themselves). Everyone has different thresholds and different histories. Whether you bully a depressed person or a non-depressed person, you’re still trying to make a human being suffer. That’s your intent. And in Phoebe’s case, they were very successful in making her suffer. But maybe this case is different. Maybe these bullies would’ve backed off had they known Phoebe’s “demons.”

After all, that’s what nice kids do when they discover a person’s weaknesses.

School bullying can be devastating, but social scientists say it is no more extreme, nor more prevalent, than it was a half century ago…Today’s world of cyber bullying is different, yes -- far-reaching, more visually potent, and harder to wash away than comments scrawled on a bathroom wall. All of which can make it harder to combat. But it still happens a third less than traditional bullying…

Let me get this straight. Cyber bullying is far-reaching, more visually potent, and harder to wash away, but it’s no more extreme than traditional bullying?

Let me put it another way. Traditional bullying is not as far-reaching, less visually potent, and easier to wash away…making it easier to combat.

So your point was…?

Look, if the article’s own calculations say cyber bullying is one-third less common than traditional bullying, that means it’s as common two-thirds of the time. 66%! And if cyber bullying is so much more extreme (despite an attempt to say more does not equal more), then that’s a huge problem.

The reality may be that while the incidence of bullying has remained relatively the same, it’s our reaction to it that’s changed: the helicopter parents who want to protect their kids from every stick and stone…

If you don’t agree with the other side, ridicule them! (After all, that’s what nice people do.) Apparently, not only is the other side afraid of sticks and stones, they’re afraid of every stick and every stone. In my opinion, it’s the responsible parents who do try to protect their children from sticks and stones. But they also realize that some sticks and stones will get through. Then it’s their responsibility to help their children learn from, and cope with, those bruises.

Massachusetts’s anti-bullying statute defines bullying as repeated behavior that, among other things, “causes emotional harm” or “creates a hostile environment” at school. If it were applied to the real world, wouldn’t most of us be bullies?

No, Ms. Bennett. Most people do not repeatedly cause emotional harm or create hostile environments. The fact that you think it’s normal for people to be like that is interesting, though. Troubling, but interesting.

Good job, Newsweek.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Feelin' Minnesota

When I first began traveling to promote 13RW, I used to stay in every town at least one extra day to sight-see. No matter how small the towns were, I hated the idea of arriving, speaking and signing books, then flying out. Staying an extra day was such an amazing opportunity to check this country out!

But the homesick bug has been biting me hard and no matter how much fun I have while traveling, I love returning home. I haven't stayed an extra day in a long time.

When my plane began its descent into Minnesota, I immediately knew it would've been nice to stay an extra day. Trees here do something they don't do a lot of in California. In the fall...they change colors! And I can't tell if the trees are surrounded by lakes or the lakes are surrounded by trees, but it's absolutely beautiful. I'll never forgot those last several minutes on my flight here.

And the people? They're so nice! And their accents? Adorable.

But I was here to work. I gave two presentations at their regional SCBWI conference. Here's my view during my speech on how to turn any book into a page-turner.

One of the best parts about any writing conference is meeting, or catching up with, other writers.

Steve Brezenoff and Loretta Ellsworth.

Anne Ursu.

This is Ms. Ursu's second photo
with a
New York Times bestselling author.
The first author? Barack Obama.

Susan Marie Swanson.

Ms. Swanson wrote The House in the Night, which won the 2009 Caldecott Medal. And that became my future son's second autographed book.

That boy's going to have quite a collection!