Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dixieland Jazz Dancin' and Bluegrass Singin'

Last week, my family flew up to Northern California for the Redwood Coast Jazz Festival. JoanMarie went to school at Humboldt State University, so whenever we go to this festival, it also turns into somewhat of a reunion.

Thankfully, halfway through packing for the trip, we remembered that children under two fly free.

Because he's a big boy now, Isaiah didn't want anyone carrying him as we moved from gate to gate during the layover. (Dude, I wish someone would've carried me!)

Something for me to keep in mind back at home, no matter where we take him, it's still the smallest things that he finds the most amusing. Things like walking through flocks of pigeons...

throwing rocks into puddles...

and pointing at seagulls.

At the main music and dance venue, we met up with our good friends Beth and Shannon. (Later, on the way to their house, we mistakenly wound up at a similar address. That homeowner was deeply suspicious of our story. After convincing him that we weren't casing the place, he refused to let us leave until he'd picked us a nice bouquet.)

Although it's hard to tell, Isaiah's actually leading here.

The last couple of nights, we stayed with the parents of our friend Juliana. They had a player piano, which Isaiah loved. And did anyone else not know that some of the paper scrolls include lyrics that roll by so you can sing along? It's the original karaoke!

As a thank you to our hosts who both read a lot, I went to a local bookstore to buy them copies of my books. They only had one copy of each in stock, so I wiped them out! Slightly embarrassed to be buying my own books, I decided to purchase them incognito. But the bookseller kept glancing between the name on my credit card and the name on the books.

"Fine! Yes, I wrote these. But they're for friends, I swear. I'm not just trying to help my sales numbers."

(Though, y'know, it doesn't hurt!)

Then we went hiking in the forest with our friends Dave and Susan. The natural beauty throughout Humboldt is one of the big reasons JoanMarie chose to go to school there.

All packed and ready to leave, we almost missed our return flight when the rental car lady called to say our flight had been cancelled and I'd better not be thinking of driving her car all the way back home. (Not only was I not planning to do that, she was wrong about the cancelled flight.)

The day after we got home, and after only two practices, JoanMarie performed her first gig with a local bluegrass band.

Meanwhile, Isaiah and I slept.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spread the Hope

My visit to West Genesse High School in Camillus, NY was a beautiful experience. Exhausting! But beautiful.

I was brought in by the West Genesee Anti-Bullying Task Force and spoke to six groups of students during the schoolday, which may be my record for the most number of presentations in a day.

I've never been at a school where so many students told me how much they feel supported by the faculty at their school. Even students who said they were bullied knew there were faculty members they could speak with.

In the evening, I spoke in the auditorium to members of the community. And that definitely breaks my record for the most presentations in a day!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Plenty of Room Up Front!

Yesterday, I learned that the paperback of Thirteen Reasons Why made the New York Times bestsellers list for its 39th week. Add that to the 65 weeks the hardcover spent on the list, and it’s been a bestseller for TWO YEARS!!!

To celebrate, I decided to tell you about my most embarrassing speaking gig. (If I had dropped off the list one week shy of two years, you do not want to know what I had planned for this blog!)

The event I’m going to describe wasn’t my very first school presentation. That one was the most uncomfortable! Right before I began speaking, a faculty member marched up to say “I have real reservations about you being here.” (She was not a fan.)

The event I’m describing wasn’t in front of my largest audience, which was my keynote at the SCBWI conference in NYC. That was the most nauseating! Actually, the speech itself was fun, but I’d dreamed about giving an SCBWI keynote for so many years that once it was over, I went up to my room and puked my guts out. (Sorry you had to hear that.)

This event took place during my first official book tour. 13RW had already been a bestseller for a while, so my publisher decided to send me to some bookstores around the country. Now, I do realize there’s no reason to be embarrassed by a small turnout, and that's not the embarrassing part of the story. But I will admit that on my first book tour, with my publisher flying me around and putting me up in hotels, my fingers were crossed. Overall, I did have great turnouts. And I did whatever I could to help! At the time, I think I’d just signed on to Facebook, but MySpace was where I communicated with most of my readers and told them about my tour. Of course, the best way to get people to show up was for the bookstores to promote the visits ahead of time.

I knew things were a bit off the moment I entered the store. The employees looked slightly frantic, as if they had just gotten around to spreading the word moments before I arrived. Whether customers were browsing Self-Help, Sports, or Erotica, they were told “An author’s going to be speaking soon!”

They warned me (several times) that it may be a small turnout. “Today’s the first day without rain in thirty days. People will probably want to be outside. I wouldn't want to be in a bookstore today.”

Honestly, I have just as much fun speaking in front of five people as 1,000 people. And just in case we got lucky, the store had set up about eighty chairs in the middle of the store. There was also a microphone next to a large speaker so anyone sitting in the very farthest seat (we'll call it seat #80) could hear me.

So how many people showed up? Four. Two teenage girls and their dads. Thankfully, they all sat up front. They’d arrived a few minutes early, and we all had a great time chatting before I officially began. But when it became obvious everyone was already seated, an employee introduced me.

She’d recently been online and found some facts about me and my debut novel. My book, she told the audience, had most recently won a work-in-progress grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. And yes, while my book had indeed won that award, that was back when it was still a work…in progress. Since then, 13RW has won several awards, though I actually do get embarrassed when people mention them in my introductions. But this intro felt like she was saying “The last time his book won anything, it was well before anyone had a chance to read to the end.” Next, the mini-audience was told that the blog of a New York City children’s librarian had me listed as one of the Hot Men of Children’s Literature. Yes, that was also true, though the librarian’s definition of hot had little to do with looks. But I was getting ready to speak to two teenage girls. And their dads were right there! It would’ve been best to leave the Hot Men talk alone.

With that intro out of the way, I began to speak. I obviously had no use for the microphone since my audience was about as far away as a cashier taking my order for a McRib sandwhich.

Then an elderly lady shuffled into the seating area. (By elderly, I mean she had two iconic tennis balls stuck to the bottom of her walker.) And she decided the perfect place to sit was in seat #80. Way in the back! Way to the left!

I smiled, and she shouted back, “I can’t hear you! Speak into the microphone!”

Not wanting to ask her to drag her fuzzy tennis balls closer, I turned on the microphone, then took a moment to figure out where to stand so the feedback would stop screaming at me from the large speaker to my right. When things got moving again, not two minutes passed before the lady got up and shuffled away.

The two girls and their dads didn’t seem to notice that we were back down to four. And maybe, I convinced myself, they think the seats are slowly filling up behind them! So, to avoid breaking their concentration, I continued using the microphone for the rest of my presentation.

And I’m positive all four of them could hear every word I said.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Doritos, Tacos, and Donuts, Oh My!

When I arrived at my hotel in Naperville, Illinois, I didn't rest up for my next day's school visit. I looked up the nearest Taco Bell. I needed to try, on the day of its release, the new Doritos Locos Tacos. Yes, a taco with a Doritos shell!

Though it was freezing out (read: freeeeeeezing!), I found an address only 1.5 miles away and decided to walk there. But when I arrived...

Gold? Gold? I wanted to have my fingers orange-dusted! I didn't bring any gold!!!

Thankfully, local writing friends Cherie Colyer and Katie Sparks took pity on me and drove me (in a heated car!) to get my crunchy goodness.

The next day, I spoke at Naperville Central High School. But before I gave my presentation, I chatted with these students while chomping on donuts.

Here's my view from the stage where I gave my presentation.

I began that presentation with the two photos from the beginning of this post. I didn't want anyone else walking miles in the cold to get their delicious tacos. (What can I say? I care about teens!)

Thank you, Stacey (YA librarian!), for these shots from the audience.

One guy left his copy of Thirteen Reasons Why at home, so I signed his copy of Romeo & Juliet.

I remember when I read that book in high school. A love story that ends in suicide? Why would anyone write a book like that???

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Big Sur / Little Boy

Before my Spring Speaking Season kicks into high gear later this week, my family drove up to Big Sur to spend a few quiet days and nights in nature. Along the way, we stopped to stretch our legs, and Isaiah had his first experience with a rollie pollie stretching its legs on his fingertip.

From bugs to trees and rivers, everything is so much more magical if you choose to see it (again!) from a child's perspective.

JoanMarie and I are always excited to show off our outdoorsy skillz to our son. But sometimes the ground's too wet, or the wood's still too wet, or... Oh, whatever. We just couldn't get the fire to stay lit!

But the main reason we drove up the coast was so Isaiah could spend some time with his extended family. Here he is getting a quick tour of the campgrounds by his Auntie Sydney.

Along with Sydney's boyfriend, Aaron, we began our trek up Buzzard's Roost.

Before heading home, I taught Isaiah the fine art of tossing rocks into a river and saying "buh-LOOP!" when they hit the water. (Skipping stones will come later.)

Of course, if a nearly-fifteen-month-old is throwing rocks and you say "Isaiah, look over here!" a rock may come dangerously close to buhlooping your camera.