Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pop-Tart Quiz

If you like Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts, how do you eat them? Yes, how? Because apparently there is more than one way to enjoy a Pop-Tart.

The other night, my wife and I were in the kitchen. She finally noticed the small box of Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts I’d snuck into the shopping cart at the last minute. She opened the box, pulled out one of the silver packets, tore it open, lifted out one of the Pop-Tarts…and bit it.

“What are you doing?” I said. “That’s not how you eat a Pop-Tart.”

She didn’t respond because she was chewing.

“It’s called a Pop-Tart for a reason,” I said. “You drop it in a toaster and, when it’s done, it pops up.”

She told me they were just as good at room temperature, then she bit off another chunk.

Okay, here’s one of my quirks: I’m a rule-follower.

  • Don’t open a board game you’re only kind of familiar with and start playing. You know it’s not going to make sense at some point. So read the rules first!
  • If you have the right-of-way at an intersection, don’t be polite and wave me on, because when I finally trust you and start inching forward, and you inch forward because it took me so long to trust you, we’re in a mess. You should’ve just gone. You had the right-of-way!
  • And Pop-Tarts should be toasted!

But my wife is smart. She knows me. So she checked the directions on the box. And as she handed me the box, her lips slid into a very one-sided smile.

While Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts are fully baked and ready-to-eat right from the pouch, if you prefer them warmed, please follow these instructions:

If you prefer them warmed???

Okay, maybe they’re good “right from the pouch” (though I refuse to try them that way…they’re not called Pouch-Tarts). But does anyone else find it odd that “if you prefer them warmed” is mentioned after eating them at room temperature?


Either way, before my wife checked the directions, we made a little wager. So if I don’t immediately respond to your e-mails or phonecalls this week, I’m probably cleaning the bathrooms.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fall 2009 Children's Books

I recently devoured the Fall 2009 Children’s Books issue of Publishers Weekly. These seasonal issues are the closest I get to recreating the childhood joy of scanning the Sears catalogue at Christmas time. I would spend hours flipping through those slick pages, figuring out which of the newest toys to mention in my letter to Santa.

Based on their brief descriptions in PW, here are the upcoming (or recently released) middle-grade and teen novels which most caught my eye:

Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman. A high school underdog’s tarot card readings become strangely accurate.

As You Wish by Jackson Pearce. A teen falls in love with the genie sent to grant her three wishes.

Claim to Fame by Margaret Peterson Haddix centers on a young TV star who can hear whatever anyone in the world says about her.

DupliKate by Cherry Cheva. An overscheduled teen starts seeing double: suddenly there are two of her.

The Espressologist by Kristina Springer centers on a matchmaking barista who links up her friends based on their coffee orders.

Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev centers on a girl who lives in a magical theater inhabited by characters from every play ever written.

Ex-mas by Kate Brian. Two teens embark on an unexpected vacation when they learn that their younger siblings have gone off to save Santa.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown. Valerie’s boyfriend opens fire in the school cafeteria, killing students who were on a list she unknowingly helped create.

I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb. A boy discovers it’s easier to make a fortune and dominate the world than convince his classmates to like him.

Legacy by Tom Sniegoski. A teen discovers his deadbeat father is actually a superhero.

Mirrorscape by Mike Wilks launches a fantasy series about entering another world by stepping into a painting.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey tells of an orphan who is an assistant to a doctor specializing in monster hunting.

Nelly the Monster Sitter by Kes Gray, illus. by Stephen Hanson, introduces a girl who “monster sits” after school.

Powerless by Matthew Cody. A boy learns that his friends are superheroes who mysteriously lose their powers when they turn 13.

Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson. Leigh’s psych textbook helps her through the trials of freshman year in college.

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund offers a fantasy about killer unicorns and the teenage girls who must hunt them down.

School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari. Four kids are sent to an exclusive summer school to overcome their phobias.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. Sam spends his summers as a human and winters as a wolf.

The Stone Child by Dan Poblocki. Characters from mystery novels begin to show up in a boy’s life.

Three Witches by Paula Jolin. Three teens have their own reasons to summon a boy after his car goes over a cliff.

The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow by Tim Kehoe, illus. by Guy Travis and Mike Wohnoutka. A boy who creates his own toys has a chance encounter with an eccentric toy inventor.

Wish You Were Dead by Todd Strasser. High school students mysteriously disappear after being mentioned in a blog.

Does this list say anything about me?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Meet the Writers: a B&N interview

On my recent visit to Illinois, I filmed a Barnes & Noble Meet the Writers segment. I had already done three radio interviews that day, two from a phone and one at an NPR station. I didn't know the B&N interview was going to be filmed until I was already on my way to the studio.

That was probably for the best, though. I would've obsessed over it if I knew about it too far in advance. (Although, I probably would've shaved, too.) But the host was great, which made the interview fun.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SCBWI '09: Days 3 & 4

This year I kept my camera stowed most of the time and concentrated on just relaxin', helping out where I could, and getting to know people.

'Twas nice.

Someone I really enjoyed getting to know was Holly Black. She's one of the modern-marvels in this biz, so I had no idea what to expect. But she's just so...wonderful! Very kind. Always ready with a warm smile. It makes me happy to know that there are so many kids and teens out there who love her.

Here she is (far off in the distance) giving her keynote speech...

During lunch, I enjoyed the traditional rubber chicken meal (it actually wasn't that bad, but it's been a running joke at this conference for years) with some good friends. That's Rita Crayon Huang to the left of the empty space, Greg Pincus to her left, Ann Haywood Leal to the right of the empty space (which was where I sat, by the way), and several other cool tablemates.

I was really looking forward to the final keynote speech, delivered by Kathleen Duey. Ms. Duey has been a mentor of mine since 2000 (you'll find her name listed at the back of Thirteen Reasons Why as one of my inspirations). That's when I attended my very first SCBWI conference, and I was lucky enough to have my manuscript critiqued by her. It was my very first professional critique and I was so nervous and so full of hope. Ms. Duey nominated that manuscript for the Sue Alexander Award, which it won, earning me a free trip to NYC to meet with editors. So it meant a lot to watch someone who's been so important in my life and career giving this closing speech.

This year, for the first time, I sat on the other side of the table and gave critiques (or, as they refer to them, "manuscript consultations"). During each 30-minutes session, I tried to remember how I felt during my first critique, as well as each one I've had since. There was something about the "coming full-circle" aspect of this conference that made those critiques my favorite part of the four days. I enjoyed my time with each writer, and I hope they got a lot out of our visits.

And best of all...I got to nominate someone for the Sue Alexander Award! I knew how special it felt for me to get nominated, so I was bubbling with giddiness at the chance to do the same for someone else. In fact, I went up to the staff in charge of critiques and told them to let that author in early if she was waiting. Because I couldn't wait anymore!

Sometimes I get way too excited over these things. But...oh well!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

SCBWI '09: Day 2

At any Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators National Conference in L.A., Day 2 is most remembered for one thing. The party! This year, the theme was The Blue Moon Ball.

I went as Austin Powers, and here are some of the other true blue attendees (and no, I have no idea why I thought "serious face" was the way to go)...

Varian Johnson:

Thalia Chaltas:

Paula Yoo:

Linda Sue Park:

Richard Peck:

Tomorrow, it's back to attending writing workshops...and dressing in comfortable shoes!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

SCBWI '09: Day 1

My camera wasn't working.

Sure, that's the reason I failed to take many photos during Day 1 of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators National Conference. (Truth is, I had so much fun talking to so many fascinating people that I kept forgetting to take out the camera until everyone had moved on to another conversation. D'oh!)

Some highlights of the day:

1. At the beginning of every conference, each faculty member walks on stage, steps up to the microphone, states their name, then says one word. Any word! Ellen Hopkins and I walked up together. She introduced me. I introduced her. Her word was Banned. My word was Books.

2. I met Holly Black! She's very cool. She's great to chat with. And she's Holly Black.

3. The embarrassing highlight of today took place in Richard Peck's workshop on Setting. Near the end of the workshop, he gave us a writing exercise. He gave us two opening sentences and we had to supply six more sentences. As people were writing, I noticed Mr. Peck glance at me. Did he recognize me? No, I doubted Mr. Peck knew who I was. But maybe... And then I had the unsettling feeling that he might call on me to read. But I'm a slow writer! I couldn't just write six lines and read them out loud without spending an hour editing each line! Or was I just being paranoid? "Okay," Mr. Peck said. "Who would like to hear what Jay Asher wrote?" It felt like the entire room began clapping. Mr. Peck looked directly at me and I had to admit the truth. "My brain froze. You intimidate me!"

4. I had lunch with several of The Tenners and a few teen bloggers. Can you read what Catt wrote near her right shoulder? (I shook her hand twice!)

The teen bloggers gave each author a book-specific goodie bag. Mine looked like a cassette tape!

Inside each bag were several things they knew we'd like (based on perusing our blogs). I got some Silly Putty, Jolly Ranchers, smoothie-flavored gum, and...

...a King Tut headpiece.

5. I went to dinner with Lisa Yee. Talking with Lisa while eating lasagna is a great way to end the day!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cereal, Orange Juice...and a Couple of Tears

The other morning, I received an e-mail from a teacher. It was longer than a simple "Loved the book!" message, so I printed it out without reading it and headed downstairs. My wife was pouring herself some orange juice. I grabbed a bowl of cereal, then we sat down for breakfast.

I began reading the letter out loud, and about half way through I stopped. My voice had caught and I needed to catch my breath before I continued. When I looked up, JoanMarie had tears welling up in her eyes.

Some days begin so beautifully.

(I received permission from the teacher to share her words with you, though I changed any identifiable details.)

I teach high school American Lit. (and History), so when I saw your book at the bookstore, I had to read it. Bullying was a hot button issue in our district, but getting the students to understand why it’s so important to stop was difficult. One of my favorite students ever, Amanda, was my aide and after I read the book, I gave it to her--hoping she would get what I got out of it.

Amanda is a tough girl with a difficult home life. She isn’t a “bully,” but she isn’t always friendly either. After reading your book, Amanda told me that she was never going to be mean to another person again because she never knew who else was being mean to that same person. She also apologized to a former classmate that she had teased the year before. She said that because he always laughed along, she assumed he didn’t mind, but after reading Thirteen Reasons Why, she realized maybe he did mind, or heard it too much from everyone. After that, Amanda wouldn’t let me “be mean” to any of my students, either. She’d whisper, “Remember the book! Be nicer!”

Thank you.

You presented a unique, not overly dramatized book about teen issues and gave me a way to help make my student a more caring person.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

On the Road: Massachusetts & New Hampshire

It was the final day of my book tour. Two states in one day!

I flew into Boston and was taken to Framingham, Massachusetts for a signing at Barnes & Noble. That's where Maddi helped me out by reading the words of Hannah Baker.

Thank you, Maddi! You were a lot of fun to read with.

Then it was off to another Barnes & Noble in Manchester, New Hampshire. On the drive over, my body must've realized there was only one stop to go because it started to shut down. For the first time on this tour, I fell asleep in the car. I was completely out! Thankfully, I didn't have to walk very far to get inside the store because they saved us a spot right in front.

And yes, I know I look tired in that photo. But as usual, the moment the seats began filling up, the adrenaline kicked in and I couldn't wait to start yappin'.

Thank you, Julia, for being the ninth and final Hannah on my tour. You ended it superbly!

Once again, thank you to all of the previous Hannahs for agreeing to appear on my blog. Otherwise, I know I would've received a ton of e-mails like, "What happened to the Hannah in [insert state here]? Did she mess up? Did you laugh at her???"

No, everyone did great!

And to read on the flight home, I bought two books.

The night before my visit in New Hampshire, Carrie Jones had a signing at the same store (Carrie and I were both members of the Class of 2k7). She signed some extra books before she left, so I grabbed one! I also grabbed the first installment of my buddy Jarrett J. Krosoczka's brand new Lunch Lady series.

And here's me reading from Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute at my own booksigning.

In fact, I know of two more Lunch Lady copies that sold simply because I told my audience about it. Seems it would only be fair if Jarrett read from Thirteen Reasons Why at his next booksigning, doesn't it? (Elementary school kids don't seem to buy many copies of my book, so that would introduce it to a whole new market!!!)

I'm flying back home tomorrow, but these past nine days have been a dream come true. I've been having a lot of fun meeting my readers face to face. And I know it's all because of you that Thirteen Reasons Why has become a success. At every stop, you told me that you made your friends read the book, and your teachers, and your parents. You are the reason why Penguin decided to send me on the road.

Thank you for coming to hear me speak. Thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts about my book.

Thank you.

And JoanMarie, I'll see you tomorrow!