Sunday, June 26, 2016

In Orlando

Last week, I flew to Orlando for a couple of publishing events. It would be my first time to exclusively promote my upcoming novel, What Light, which I was very excited about. Coincidentally, some very special people happened to be visiting Orlando at the same time. My cousin Cindy's daughter was competing in a volleyball tournament. They live in California, several hours south of where I live, so we met up on the other side of the country. Another cousin, Michelle, lives in Florida a few hours from Orlando, so even more of the family was able to get together. 

A couple years ago, I posted about a YA writing retreat I attended. I wasn't able to attend their retreat last year, but this year they held it in Orlando. Though I couldn't hang out with them as much as last time, I did meet up with the authors for dinner. Kristin Harmel brought make-up bags for everyone, featuring our latest book release. But I've been using mine to carry Sharpies for autographing.

Visiting Orlando so soon after they were hit by horribly violent acts, there was a somberness that--rightfully--crept into conversations. Those attacks weighed on me heavily leading up to my visit, so I went to the makeshift memorials at these sites. Among the flowers, photos, crosses, and candles where Christina Grimmie last sang, a fan taped a handwritten note to a window about the inspiration in Christina's voice, as well as the life she lived.

I drove a couple librarians to the site of the Pulse tragedy. People were crying and praying, in groups and alone. The air was so hot and humid, and the terror of what happened in that small building behind the fence was crushing.

Conversations about these events continued throughout the week, but the publishing world also pushed forward.

At the ABC Children's Institute, part of the American Booksellers Association, Penguin held a dinner for several independent booksellers from around the country. To celebrate the upcoming releases of The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz and What Light, the menu was styled as if we were dining at Jay & Adam's Evergreen Tavern.

Most of my Orlando events were later in the week at the American Library Association conference. One event was a pizza party attended by many authors and a whole lot of teens. Each author sat at a table-o-teens for several minutes to discuss their latest books, and then moved to the next table-o-teens where the pitch was repeated. During that time, the teens dines and the authors attempted. This is what I'd been able to eat after a few rounds.

My first official signing of What Light was thrilling! I'd been brainstorming and working on this book for over a decade...and now people get to read it! The signing line, which wrapped beyond where I could see it, gave me goosebumps.

Later, when Greg Neri tried to steal my man-purse (I mean, Sharpie container), my wrist held strong!

There were several restrooms marked for men and women around the convention, but this was the first event where I've seen a couple opened as gender-neutral. I was curious as to how people would react. Truly, it was kind of beautiful to see people notice the sign, shrug (if they offered a reaction at all), and head on in to take care of their natural business. After the nearby Pulse tragedy, it felt like an especially huge deal. After having lunch with my author friend Amber Hart and gonna-be author friend Tori Kelley, we wanted to get a pic at the entrance to this ALA awesomeness.

It's always flattering when people fanboy and fangirl while getting an autograph. Myself, I did plenty of fanboying at ALA. I's Anne M. Martin! Not only is she the author behind The Baby-Sitters Club series, but she's bringing one of my favorite series back-to-life. While I read about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle growing up, today's kids will get to read those same books, but also new ones about her niece, Missy Piggle-Wiggle.

I finally got to meet a friend of some of my author friends, Amy Lukaviks, who writes creepy and scary books. That--be prepared!--is a bucket-list genre for me, too.

I also got to meet a man whose commentaries I always enjoy, Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book. If you don't read Roger, you should!

PIP (People In Publishing) always laugh at me for assuming other PIP won't know who I am. But, whatever! It makes it that much more exciting for me when people do know who I am. Simply asking for a selfie for this blog post, I had a couple of those exciting moments when I met Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket)...

...and Kwame Alexander.

Actually, I already knew Kwame knew who I was, but only because of a freak-out fanboy moment I had earlier on Twitter.

Dude. I mean, just...dude!

I took part in another table-hopping pitch fest, but this time with librarians and many more authors. Check out all these story-scribblers!

For my final event before heading to the airport, I had a book signing at a table next to Grace Lin, which allowed me to get another great book signed for my son.

The advance reading copies I came home with, though the authors weren't in Orlando to sign them, were How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather, The Best Man by Richard Peck, and One Was Lost by Natalie D. Richards.

Books I had signed and personalized to me were Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson, Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley, Poppy Mayberry, the Monday by Jennie Brown, The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz, The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles, Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid, The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics, The Homecoming by Stacie Ramey, and The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat.

Books I had signed for my son were Whoosh! by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate, Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather by Grace Lin, Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin and Annie Parnell, and Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton written and illustrated by Don Tate.

Monday, June 13, 2016

WHAT LIGHT: Dear Readers

When my publisher was putting together the advance copies of What Light, I asked if I could write a letter to introduce the book to the booksellers, librarians, and anyone else getting an early look. They also added a photo that I took at one of the farms I visited while researching the story.

Here's what it looks like in the advance copies:

And here's what it says:

"...make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with light."

Dear Readers,

     Since the debut of my first novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, the themes of hope and forgiveness have been at the center of my interactions with teens. Many have told me they finally felt understood within the pages of that book, even if it could never reflect all parts of their lives. Others, while they could appreciate the book, didn't see it as a reflection of their experiences. A novel about their lives, sadly, would not get hailed as "a brave, honest look at the teen years." So, after a recent book tour that had me speaking to such a variety of students in all fifty states, I felt drawn to explore hope and forgiveness again, but in a new way.
     The story of What Light has been glowing in my mind for a long time. I read a newspaper profile about a family with a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. Every year, they hauled the trees south and sold them on a lot where I live in California. The part of their story that stood out most concerned their children. When not selling trees, they attended a nearby public school or hung out with friends. When the holiday was over, the whole family went back home. Two sets of friends? A defined timeline? There had to be a story there! But it would take about a dozen years before I found it.
     I continuously brainstormed and took notes even after I began work on Thirteen Reasons Why. That book describes the suicide of someone who lost hope in the future and was unable to forgive the past, though hope and forgiveness are found by someone left behind. If I were to address those themes a second time, I wanted to bookend them in an uplifting story about love.
     I looked closer at my notes for What Light and saw that potential. It would let me revisit many similar issues, but through different lenses. Love rather than hurt. Overcoming rather than succumbing. Forgiveness--especially the forgiveness of self--rather than guilt.
     I wrote this book for the teens I've met who've had too many dark days but hold on to hope that things can get better. And I wrote it for the teens I've met who have mostly good days but who still encounter sadness and difficult decisions.
     It is a story I've wanted to share for a long time: What Light.

With gratitude,
Jay Asher

"...behold this night
Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light."
--William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

You can find out more about What Light, or pre-order it, by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Author Events: June 2016

Where you can find me in the next few weeks:

June 10
Barnes & Noble
(open to everyone)
98 Middlesex Turnpike
Burlington, Massachusetts

June 12
Barnes & Noble
with Mary Weber and K. Makansi
(open to everyone)
894 Marsh Street
San Luis Obispo, California

June 16
(open to all teens)
North Central University
Minneapolis, Minnesota
evening keynote (open to everyone): 7pm

June 22
(for booksellers)
Orlando, Florida

June 25-26
(for librarians)
Orlando, Florida

Plus, a video I love about six
awesome upcoming books!
(Mine, What Light, is the last one discussed.)

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!