Monday, December 31, 2012

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


This post is about angel farts and Christmas carols (and unless angels expel Christmas tunes, they're not the same thing).

Last week, I asked people on Twitter and Facebook Twitter to respond to two prompts. The first prompt:

Favorite Christmas carol. And why. And...go!

37 songs were represented. Tying for 2nd place were Carol of the Bells, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and O Holy Night. I especially love O Holy Night, but my personal favorite is also the one selected by the most number of you.

The second prompt was:

This is important.
I need to know the sound and scent of an angel fart.

Some people questioned the importance, but I'm someone who believes laughter is very don't question it! (But yes, some of the following suggestions may make it into a future book.)

One person offered a beautiful response: "Only true believers in angels can smell and hear their farts."
Two people contradicted each other while discussing the inner-workings of angels: "Depends on what they eat." "They don't fart, because they don't eat."
One person offered an explanation for an absence of sound and smell: "It sneaks up on you - you don't hear or smell it. You sense it. It's mysteriously wonderful. Not a bad thing at all. And then...something really good happens."
One person suggested that I ask David Boreanaz.
And two people claimed angelic reasons for their first-hand knowledge:
Annette Curtis Klause: "I'll be right on over to demonstrate."
Lisa Albert: "Give me a few minutes and I'll get back to you."

True to her word, a few minutes later, Lisa returned: "Okay...I'm back... It sounded like the coo of a dove and smelled like Angel Food Cake mixed with Love's Baby Soft. Do you need to know what I sleep on, too? Fallen eyelashes and feathers."
Here are some other answers left by the weirdos on Facebook and Twitter:
Adele; wind chimes; they're silent; trumpets (if explosive); harps (if a gentle, long release); a baby’s sigh; poof; bells chiming; pfft; a gentle bell chime; a foghorn; a sigh; a harp arpeggio; crackling bacon; a gentle breeze whistling through trees; Rice Krispies; bird wings flapping; an A minor chord; a high C; A B flat; a delicate soap bubble pop; Celine Dion

Celine Dion; honey roses; gingerbread; cotton candy; vanilla; vanilla mint; pine with a hint of vanilla; chocolate chip cookies; fresh baked sugar cookies; sweet and puffy marshmallow; whipped cream; nutmeg; sand tart cookies (her sister calls them “angel turds”); a sulfur blast; fresh rain; that ion-y smell just before it rains; rainbows; baby powder; the gardens of heaven; just heavenly; church (lemon floor polish and wine); fresh linen; fabric softener; lavender; like the moment you first step into Sephora; crackling bacon; White Cloud perfume; donuts; marshmallow crème frosted chocolate cupcakes; wood smoke on a winter night; frankincense; poo

And now you know!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Name Change

It's December. Time to throw out my Writing Tip of the Year!

(I actually don't do this every year, but it sounds better than Writing Tip of the Every-Few-Years-Or-So.)

2012 Tip #1
Always question your first ideas.

The first idea to pop into your head, whether it's an obstacle for your character to face or the solution to that obstacle, is probably your first idea because it would also be the first idea to pop into the heads of many writers. That doesn't necessarily mean it's not an original idea, but it probably means it's too obvious.

Even when a first idea isn't obvious, it can still be problematic. At least, it could be improved upon. I recently rediscovered a file I kept while writing Thirteen Reasons Why. Each chapter in that book is Hannah Baker telling a story about one person at her school. This computer file was a list of those character names.

Names are important. For me, each name needs to sound and feel right in relation to many things. The sound has to match the tone of that character's story. It has to feel right in comparison to other names mentioned around theirs. And the list goes on... As I write, when a new character appears, I need to find a workable name before I can move on. No placeholder names allowed!

When I was almost done writing Thirteen Reasons Why, but before sending it to publishers, I wondered something. What if the names that sounded and felt so right weren't names teens today would hear shouted in their hallways? What if I was plucking names from my high school years? Even though, when I began writing the book, I'd only been out of high school for ten years, name popularity can change fast. (When I was born, Jacob and Isabella weren't in the top five like they are now...for some reason!) And while I didn't want every name to be extremely popular, which would give the book a generic feel, I also didn't want every name to be extremely unpopular. It needed to feel real.

I found a website run by the Social Security Administration, where you can find the top baby names for people born in the U.S. going back to 1879. I figured out the year I hoped my book would be released, then subtracted the age of my characters, checked their birth year on the website, and I didn't like what I saw.

Of the twelve characters Hannah discusses that are given first names, I ended up changing seven of those names. I still liked the sound and feel of their last names, so I found different first names to match with those last names.

Here are all of those names, changed and not changed, in alphabetical order by last name so the order doesn't spoil things for those of you who haven't read it. (But seriously, what are you waiting for?) The first names listed are how I originally wrote them, followed by how that name changed.
  • Travis Bicknell – Brandon Bicknell
  • Marcus Cooley
  • Melody Crimson – Courtney Crimson
  • Katie Davis – Jessica Davis
  • Sam Delano – Zach Delano
  • Harold Down – Tyler Down
  • Carson Foley – Justin Foley
  • Clay Jensen
  • Jenny Kurtz
  • Thomas Shaver – Ryan Shaver
  • Alex Standall
  • Bryce Walker
The character of Travis/Brandon Bicknell ended up disappearing from the book altogether.

Three other major characters had their names changed for reasons having nothing to do with the website.
  1. Early on, Hannah's first name was Anna. I soon discovered three other YA novels about girls named Anna who committed (or may have committed) suicide. That didn't seem fair to girls named Anna, but I really liked the sound of Anna and Baker together. What to do?! I threw an H at both ends of her name and called it good.
  2. Very early on, Clay Jensen was Clay Donaldson, but I didn't like the sound of his name having the same number of syllables as Anna/Hannah Baker.
  3. The teacher and guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, also had a different last name. Thankfully, an early reader of my manuscript reminded me that Mr. Mackey is also the guidance counselor on South Park.
Like I said, always question those first ideas!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

There is No Tampa State

Earlier this week, I gave four presentations at Tampa Preparatory School. All of the freshmen had read The Future of Us, and I did a writing workshop with them in the morning.


During the Q&A, one student reminded me that Tampa State is mentioned in The Future of Us. A fairly big plot point revolves around that school, but until she brought it up, I'd forgotten that our character Emma originally ends up going there for college. Awesome!

And then the student asked, "Did you know there isn't a Tampa State? There is a Tampa University, though."

I stammered. "Um...uh...yes, of course. I mean, I think we knew that. And we must've had a reason."

During lunch, I called my co-author, Carolyn Mackler. "Yes, that was intentional," she said. "If we ended up writing a sequel, we knew there'd be several scenes set there, and we might need our school to have a different set-up than Tampa University." "Oh, right," I said, "just like Josh and Emma live in Lake Forest, Pennsylvania, which isn't a real town." "Exactly," Carolyn said.

See? I knew we had a reason!

And then I gave a writing workshop to the seniors, who had all read Thirteen Reasons Why.


(Thankfully, in that book, I don't name a city or state where any part of the story takes place!)

During the last period of the day, I gave a presentation to the entire school. While they filed in, I took a photo. Scenes like this make me laugh. I still get stagefright before I speak, but I know my pre-published self would faint if he knew I'd one day be speaking in front of groups like this. And he wouldn't believe it if I told him I actually enjoy it!

Friend and local author, Greg Neri, then took me to the University of South Florida (not a fictional school!) to visit their library's Ted Hipple Special Collection. That collection of thousands of YA novels includes "[s]igned first editions, manuscripts, authors' working notes, and page proofs" that "provide a window to explore the genre's creation."

Here I am with Greg and the Special Collectors (my name for their rock band), including Dr. Joan Kaywell. Ms. Kaywell later interviewed me for a video anthology they're putting together.

The collection already has a first edition of Thirteen Reasons Why and several of Carolyn's books, and now they have The Future of Us.

Before I left, I got to hold a stone tablet with cuneiform writing that's over 3,000 years old!

Back at Tampa Prep, I gave an evening presentation. In the audience was Alicia Thompson, author of Psych Major Syndrome, who reminded me that I included her book in this list.

Also in the audience was the English Department Chair, Stephanie Cardillo, who was responsible for putting this visit together, and bestselling author Michael Connelly. (Their noggins are circled in green.)

Thanks for a wonderful visit, Tampa!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My So-Called Life-brary

Yes, the title of this post is cheesy. At least I'm not one of those people who doesn't realize he's cheesy. Oh, I realize it! But that title was the only way I could tie together the coolest elements of my trip to Burr Ridge, Illinois.

Some of you may already know of the influence My So-Called Life had on my approach to storytelling, especially while writing Thirteen Reasons Why. The tone of that show was constantly in mind while writing that book. I played the soundtrack repeatedly to set the right atmosphere. There's even a subtle tribute to MSCL after one of the party scenes.

So I was so excited to share the same in-flight recycled air, from L.A. to Chicago, with Tom Irwin, the man who played Graham Chase!

My first speaking engagement was at Hinsdale South High School. When I first arrived, I was shown a very cool poster designed for the library.

Then I spoke in the auditorium. I always love hearing what students come up with to introduce me. Sometimes, as was the case here, they give 13 reasons why they're excited to have an author visit.

Then I spoke at Burr Ridge Middle School.


I always enjoy the Q&A portion of presentations, especially when someone asks a question I've never been asked before. For example, a question about the number of times Clay "hurls" in my book!

In the evening, I spoke at Indian Prairie Public Library.

After my presenation, students accepted awards for entering the 7th Annual Write-On Cool Compositions Contest. Andrew Salgado gave the awards for songwriting, and I gave the awards for short story and poetry.

Thank you, Sarah, for organizing these wonderful events (and letting me steal some of these pics!).

Of course, I couldn't leave the area without grabbing a Chicago dog at the airport.

Yes, I tried to add Chicago dog into the title of this post, but I couldn't make it work. And yes, that disappoints me very much.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I Want to Be a Paperback WINNER!

* Did you see the title of this post as a parody of a Beatles song? If not, I totally wasted all that mental energy on nothing!

On October 16, to celebrate the paperback release of The Future of Us, I asked you to tell me which book you'd like to see made into a movie. I also wanted to know a song you think should make it onto the soundtrack. The randomly selected winner will receive autographed paperback and hardcover copies of the book.

And the signed books go to...

Alexandra Trebek!

Ms. Trebek wants to see John Green's Looking for Alaska made into a movie, and the soundtrack should include the song "She's So Mean" by Matchbox Twenty.

Why "She's So Mean"? According to Ms. Trebek, it's because...

  1. it's such a good song
  2. I think it (the lyrics) describes Alaska. I feel like you can dissect every lyric in this song & relate it back to Alaska. Also, I can totally see the girl in the music video being Alaska.
Great song. Great book. Great combo!

(For those of you who chose songs for a Thirteen Reasons Why movie, I'll pass the selections along to the producers!)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

THE FUTURE OF US: Paperback Release Contest!

The paperback edition of The Future of Us is out today!

A quick Google search of "The Future of Us" shows that practically everyone is talking about it:
  • The uncertainty surrounding the future of US tax breaks for wind energy projects has...
  • ...Johnson was strong, fast, and talented, exactly what the future of U.S. soccer was supposed to look like.
  • Can America lead? The presidential debate and the future of US foreign policy
  • Is This Tuna-Bot the Future of US Harbor Security?
(I don't remember a Tuna-Bot in our story, but as long as they're talking about the book, I won't complain.)

To celebrate today's release, Carolyn Mackler and I are giving away two autographed copies of The Future of Us, one hardcover and one paperback. Carolyn and I will sign them both, and you can have them personalized to anyone you want.

How do you enter? In the comments section of this post, tell us the name of a book you'd like to see made into a movie, and also tell us the name and artist of a song you think would be great on the soundtrack. You don't have to, but we'd also like to hear why you think it's a great match. Is it the tone? The lyrics?

For example...

Carolyn and I recently read a draft of the screenplay for The Future of Us, and it was hilarious! Yes, it's a bit early to put too much thought into the soundtrack, but it's also fun, so...whatever! As you may or may not know, our book focuses on two teens in 1996. It also deals with who they become as adults. Our publisher showed us the song 1996 by The Wombats, which sounds like a good match to me!

We'll randomly select one person to win both books and announce the winner Thursday morning. So submit your entry by midnight (PST) on Wednesday. There's no need to leave your contact info with your entry, just check back on Thursday and we'll tell you how to get that info to us.

Good luck, have fun, and rock on!

*It may take some time your comment to appear. But don't worry, it will appear! I've been getting a lot of spam in the comments recently (not of the yummy SPiced hAM variety), so I have to use the comment moderator.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Everyone Hail to the Pumpkin King

This weekend is the 2012 Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Fest! Unfortunately, I won't be there.


I was there for the most exciting event leading up to PumpkinFest: the pumpkin weigh-off! Maybe that sounds hokey to you, but one of my favorite books deals with that world of competitive pumpkin growing. But my family didn't drive to Half Moon Bay for a weigh-off, we were there for a wedding. I didn't realize they were even having a championship weigh-off until we checked into our hotel, so it was a purely unexpected bonus to be able to see, firsthand, what I'd read about in a book that I love.

And that's what we were truly there for.


Specifically, the love between our good friends, Bethany and Edmond.

Isaiah was the only kid at the wedding, and I ended up taking him out to  the beach during the ceremony because he kept shouting "Yay!" anytime anyone did...well...pretty much anything. Did you open your purse? "Yay!" Sneeze? "Yay!" (He's a very encouraging kid.) But we returned in time for photos and to explore the surrounding garden with his mommy.

The reception was held at a place near a huge lawn for Isaiah to run around on.

He only stopped running when an airplane flew overhead. Being near the airport, we got to see a lot of lowflying planes!

And the next day? Pumpkins! Huuuuuge pumpkins!

That book I mentioned earlier is Backyard Giants by Susan Warren. It follows growers through one season, detailing every step, as they hope to bring the heaviest pumpkin to one of several weigh-offs around the country. It's an exciting read full of passion, competitiveness, and science. So to just happen to be in town for a weigh-off?


The first big pumpkin we saw weighed came in second, weighing 1,521 pounds.

The level of care given to every detail of growing these things (from seed selection, to soil enrichment, to pruning, and watering) is intense. It muse be nerve wracking to watch a forklift come and lift it out of your truck on its way to the scales.

Here's the eventual winner, at 1,775 pounds, still sucking water into its stem.

Before heading home, we stopped by a pumpking farm that had so much more than pumpkins: a train that drove us through a miniature Old West town, a haunted house, hot dogs!, childsize construction equipment...

...and a petting zoo, which provided for one of my favorite photo sequences.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The U.S. Paperback Edition!

Release date: October 16, 2012
Pre-order date: Now! Pre-order it now!!!

Saturday, October 06, 2012

On Being a Wallflower

On Friday, to celebrate Banned Books Week, the college in my hometown hosted Stephen Chbosky, the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He also wrote and directed the movie based on the book, now opening across the country to amazing reviews.

I'd never met Mr. Chbosky, but was looking forward to hearing him speak.

The auditorium was packed. Every seat was taken. Many people had to stand against the walls, and not because they were wallflowers. (Sorry, but you have to agree that I almost had to go there, right?)

The two most comfy seats in the room were reserved for Mr. Chbosky and his interviewer, Victoria Billings, a journalism student at the school.

I love hearing authors speak. Some are hilarious, while others are mostly serious. (Mr. Chbosky was a nice mix of both.) But as long as the authors are sincere, I always leave inspired.

After the interview and Q&A, it was time to stand in line for an autograph. The line wrapped around the room in a circle, literally beginning at one end of the autographing table and finishing at the other.

Some people around me knew I was also a "banned author" and said I could cut to the front of the line. I told them that wouldn't be fair to everyone else, which was true. But also, I found myself imagining a scenario where I did squeeze my way to the front. I would tell Mr. Chbosky that they let me cut because I wrote two books called BlahBlahBlah and YadaYadaYada (not their actual titles), and he'd say, "Oh, really? I've never heard of them. Good luck with your writing!"

And that would crush this sensitive author's soul.

So I stood in line until it was my turn...

And he totally knew who I was!!!

Seriously, I hope I never get used to this.

If you haven't already done so, go read his book! And go see his movie! I'll be doing the same on the day it comes out here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Jaypocalypse in Missouri

On Monday, I spoke at the high school and public library in Jefferson City, Missouri. But first, on the night I arrived, some teachers and librarians took me ghost hunting. (They apparently knew I'd be into that sort of thing. I'm not sure why they knew that, but they were so right!) We took a ghost tour of the old Missouri State Penitentiary, which opened in 1836.

Creepy, right? The gas chamber was even creepier! They allowed us to sit in the chair within the chamber, but I'm happy to say I finally discovered something a little too creepy for me to partake in.

We spent a lot of time exploring the cells, learning about the famous criminals who were housed well as some who "never left." Mwah-ha-ha!

As book dorks, we were fascinated by the literature left behind.

The guide let me hold and monitor the device that detected jumps in levels of electromagnetic energy. In order to hopefully catch a ghost on camera, she suggested that we take two or three pics in the same location so we could compare them later. That way, it'd be easier to notice anything unusual, such as puffs of mist moving around us. Here I am holding the energy detector in...what else?...cell 13.

Here's another in a series of pics taken in the same spot. And while I'm still not sure if I fully believe in ghosts, it looks like we may have captured this shot.

It was homecoming week at Jefferson City High, home of the Jays. The theme for the week? Jaypocalypse!

They also had signs declaring Jay Pride, which I allowed myself to think was entirely due to my visit.

Hey, don't bum my happiness!

Here are some of the students who came to hear me speak, a mix of entire classes and students who asked to be excused from class to attend, which always makes an author feel good. (Jay Pride Forever!)

And here's the rest of that group.

It's hard to tell in the above photos, but the homecoming theme of the day was Mayhem Monday, where several students dressed funky. In the first group shot above, near the middle of the very back, it looks like someone is raising her hand to ask a question. She wasn't. But I kept almost calling on her doing the Q&A.

Hair's the source of all my confusion (and no, I didn't misspell the first word in this sentence).

Then I took a tour of the Missouri capitol, which had some great exhibits. They had a few paintings done in a perspective that changes as you walk by. Notice how far the bridge extends to the right side of the painting.

And now look!

 Creepy, right?

After my recent trip to Germany, I gained a new respect for miniature recreations of historical events. Here's the Battle of Island Mound, the "first Civil War engagement that involved African-American troops."

The capitol had busts of famous figures from Missouri, including one of my idols, Walt Disney. What am I whispering in his ear? None of your business! But he obviously thinks it's a great idea.

While I forgot to take photos at my next event, a workshop at the high school where I discussed my thoughts on writing suspense to about 40 students, I left inspired by their interest and questions. I can easily imagine a few of their faces appearing as busts in the Missouri capitol one day. (I know, that was overly cheesy. But I couldn't think of a better way to end that paragraph and my flight's about to board so I don't have time to be too creative!!!)

In the evening, I also forgot to take a photo of the people who came out to hear me speak at the public library, including a group of students who traveled on a bus from a nearby college. But everyone there was...awesome? (See, that's what you get if you don't want cheesy.)

I did get a pic of the high school faculty who helped organize my visit.

And here I am with the librarians from my evening presentation.

Missouri, thank you for showing me a great time!

(See, cuz Missouri's the Show-Me state. Still too cheesy? Too bad! My flight's boarding!)