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.

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