Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Twelve Crazy Days Before Christmas

The following story, to be told over the 12 days leading up to Christmas, is from a picture book manuscript I wrote years ago. I finally decided to post it here for all of you, and a friend agreed to draw me an elf for each day. Every morning, the latest installment will be added to the bottom of this post.



by Jay Asher
illustrated by Julio Desir

12 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

11 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
baking sugar cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

10 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
taking Dasher flying,
baking chocolate cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

9 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
rolling snow for snowmen,
taking Dancer flying,
baking ginger cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

8 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
washing Santa's undies,
placing eyes on snowmen,
taking Prancer flying,
baking shortbread cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

7 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
trimming trees with white lights,
sewing pants for Santa,
sticking carrots on the snowmen,
taking Vixen flying,
baking oatmeal cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

6 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
charting South America,
trimming trees with tinsel,
testing belts for Santa,
pressing buttons on the snowmen,
taking Comet flying,
baking pecan cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

5 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
tying bows on every doorknob,
mapping North America,
trimming trees with popcorn,
shaking crumbs from Santa's jacket,
draping scarves around the snowmen,
taking Cupid flying,
baking peanut butter cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

4 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
drinking apple cider,
tying bows around the windows,
charting all of Europe,
trimming trees with pinecones,
buffing Santa's boots,
sticking stick-arms on the snowmen,
taking Donner flying,
burning several cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

3 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
playing toy pianos,
drinking cocoa with marshmallows,
tying bows around their ladders,
navigating Asia,
trimming trees with angels,
knitting socks for Santa,
handing shovels to the snowmen,
taking Blitzen flying,
baking gumdrop cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

2 days before Christmas the elves were running 'round
checking off the Nice list,
playing on toy drums...PA-RUM PUM PUM PUM,
drinking lots of eggnog,
tying bows on holly,
planning for Africa,
watering the trimmed trees,
ironing undershirts for Santa,
placing top hats on the snowmen,
shining Rudolph's red nose,
baking chocolate mint-chip cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

1 day before Christmas the elves were running 'round
watching all their watches,
double-checking who's been naughty,
singing Christmas carols,
drinking lots of pots of coffee,
tying bows around each other,
searching for Australia,
fixing broken tree lights,
helping Santa find his mittens,
dancing with the snowmen,
waking up the reindeer,
eating milk and cookies,
and loading up the sleigh with lots of toys.

And on the night before Christmas, when the sleigh flew away,
the elves went to bed for twelve wonderful, well deserved days.
Merry Christmas

Sunday, November 24, 2013

More Thankful

I live in a part of California that rarely gets too cold. Even in the evenings. Even in winter! But I'm sure it would feel so much colder if I had to be outside all night.

Last night, my family had some friends at our house in the evening. While we invited everyone over so the adults could hang out and our children could play together, we also ate dinner. But for all of us, dinner was going to happen whether we ate it here, at a restaurant, or in our separate homes.

With the holidays approaching, I try to take extra time to notice all that I have to be thankful for. It becomes even more obvious when I read letters from groups seeking donations, which  arrive much more frequently this time of year.

So now I'm looking at the websites for some of these organizations. What they do is beautiful. It's necessary. I'm thankful these groups are out there even if my family never needs to use them. I'm thankful they're there because "never needs to use them" is never guaranteed. So why am I telling you? It isn't that I don't think you already know about these groups. You may already donate to them or volunteer your time with them. I've helped some of these groups myself. But for some reason, it's giving me a lot of joy right now to learn even more about them. If reading this prompts you to research similar groups in your area, and then you feel some of what I'm feeling right now, that'd make me even happier!

And yes, as I learn more about what these groups provide, it's making me want to help more. It's making me want to be even more thankful.

Here are some of the places I've been learning about:

Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County
The People's Kitchen of San Luis Obispo
Prado Day Center
Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thank You, Pittsburg High School

Last week, I flew to Kansas to attend...

Pittsburg High School (home of the Purple Dragons!) became the second U.S. school to put on a staged production of Thirteen Reasons Why. There have been a couple European shows, but I haven't been able to fly across the Atlantic for those.

Before I pulled into town, the students had their debut performance for the entire freshman and sophomore classes. That evening, before their first public performance, I surprised the cast backstage. I told them not too get too nervous because I wouldn't be in the audience until the following day.

Before the seats began filling up that night, I took a tour of the stage. I love the minimalist design for this show, where most of the actors stay on stage the entire time. The character of Hannah speaks to the audience as she makes her recordings. We hear Clay's thoughts as he listens. And throughout, as they move into scenes, other characters unfreeze, and we watch what happens. Other than Hannah, all of the characters wore or carried something symbolically red.

Below, you can see different levels of the set: a bed, a swing, the rocketslide, and three projection screens displaying the title. The locations may change by simply flipping the blanket over or adding a bookrack or two front car seats. The screens displayed different still images, creating backdrops for certain scenes.

The next morning, I attended the performance for juniors and seniors. I sat in the front row, possibly more nervous than the actors. This was my book! My story! And while I had faith that they'd do it justice...well...what if they didn't???

They did.

Because of their acting choices, I could let go of the fact that I was watching something I created. It was now theirs. And they were brilliant. They were the characters. By the time we reached the final few scenes, I will admit to a few tears wanting to fall. (But then I thought, "I wrote this! I can't cry over something I wrote. People will think I'm conceited!")

That cast broke my heart with their performance, and I was honored to have it broken.

After the show, I spoke to two different groups of students at the school, and then at the public library in the evening. Then I went back to the school to watch the public stream in for that night's show.

I sat in front again, hiding my camera down low, but I just had to snap a few shots!

Here are Hannah (Bailey Bennett) and Justin (Jack Patterson) as she walks by him at the second party.

Here is Clay (Jack Warring) speaking with Tony (Mark Weaver), discussing how Hannah recorded the tapes.

And here is Clay remembering the final words Hannah said to him after they bumped into each other in the hallway. (This is where the tears began.)

Here's Clay sitting in the rocketslide, listening to Hannah's final recording.

And here was our final image of Hannah before the stage went black.

I know!

I was in awe of these students.

They called me onto the stage and presented me with a large Thank You card, which everyone wrote notes in. Yes, I choked up a little on stage.

Greg Shaw directed this show, and it was a blessing to meet this guy. Everywhere I went in Pittsburg, people told me how much Mr. Shaw meant to their community.

Here I am with Bailey ("Hannah") and Jack ("Clay"). It was an honor to meet their parents that evening and see the well-deserved pride they had in the two of them.

Bailey even quit her afterschool job to dedicate herself to pulling off that amazing performance. If you've read the book, you have some idea of all the lines she had to memorize!

To read a local news article about the show, check this out.

And to the cast and crew at Pittsburg High School...

Thank you.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Washington Swings

This past weekend, I flew up to Seattle and then drove to Yakima for the 2013 Washington Library Media Association conference. In the morning, I gave a presentation to a roomful of librarians eating breakfast. The talk went great (partly because a librarian with a full tummy is a happy librarian).

Then I gave a talk called Let's Discuss What's "Appropriate" in Teen Novels. This gave me a chance to speak about how it feels to be a banned author (hint: it sucks), and thank librarians for often being the first line of defense to make sure teens have access to books that some people refuse to see value in.

After the conference, I drove back to Seattle to hang out with one of my very favorite authors, Cat Patrick. Cat drove me to Ballard, where we stopped at the corner of...

Why'd we stop there? Because on that corner is the park where the cover of Thirteen Reasons Why was shot!

It was eerily cool to see that swingset in person.

While we got the angle slightly wrong, which is why the background's different, I'd say I got the pose down pat!

We took some other pics on the swing, but I don't think they would've worked for the cover of that particular book. Maybe for a prequel?

We then searched the tiles made by children on the concrete wall surrounding the play area to find one that best fit the novel.

This is what we found...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

From Orange to Ohio

Last weekend, I drove to Southern California for the Big Orange Book Festival. Before my YA panel, I was able to listen to Richard Paul Evans speak. That dude has one of the best self-publishing stories with his first book, The Christmas Box. It was also personally interesting that Mr. Evans spent his early childhood years in Arcadia, CA, which is where I lived until eight grade.
Maybe I should write a Christmas book!

Then I spoke on a panel with David Iserson and Bruce McAllister. (David and I are both published by Razorbill, which almost makes us brothers.) I love speaking on panels! One, there's nothing much to prepare. But mostly, it's fun to hear how other authors view the same issues.

At the booksigning, I had to take this picture of my picture being taken by a phone decorated with a winking Selena Gomez.

After being home for a day, I flew to Ohio, where I spoke at two public libraries. First, I spoke at the Austintown library in Youngstown. A few schools bussed students in for my morning presentation, which made me breathe a sigh of relief. (I must admit, I wondered if the librarians who organized the event realized I was speaking during school hours!)

While I've signed several male foreheads in the past, I was finally asked to sign my first female forehead!

At noon, I spoke at the public library in Poland. (I must admit, I wondered if the librarians realized it would take more than an hour to get from Ohio to Poland. Apparently, Poland is a country and a city.)

The local NBC affiliate interviewed me and a few students before I began speaking. You can watch that report here.

For dinner, I ate with winners of a contest where they had to list 13 reasons why they wanted to have dinner with me. (I'm so thankful my publisher came up with the title of my first book. Otherwise, these students probably would've only had to list 10 reasons.)

People came from as far away as Pittsburgh that evening! Unfortunately, the photo of this group is dark. But trust me, they're all beautiful.


Now I'm home for a day, and then I fly up to Washington to speak at a library conference. But the night before I speak, I'm hoping to make a very cool stop somewhere...which I'll tell you about later!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

13RW Cover: The Origins

Don't judge a book by its cover. Unless it's an awesome cover! Then hope the story lives up to what first attracted you to it.
Thankfully, I loved the cover for Thirteen Reasons Why the moment I saw it. But I've always been curious to know more about the photo it's designed around.

The designer (not the photographer) was Christian Fuenfhausen. The final concept, though, wasn't his first idea. First, he worked around the story's cassette tapes.

Then he worked on several versions using a swing.

The photo that made its way into the final concept was found through Getty Images. What Christian discovered needed work to fit my story, but he saw something (because he's brilliant!) that he knew could be tweaked into something perfect. And while I'd heard about this image, I'd never seen it.

Until now!

Over the summer, at the national SCBWI conference, writer and illustrator Dana Sullivan approached me, saying he knew the guy who took the original photograph. Would I like to get in contact with him?

So I emailed back and forth with the photographer, Ryan McVay. Oddly enough, about the same time I began writing Thirteen Reasons Why, he was taking several photos with several models at several locations throughout Loyal Heights Playfield in Ballard, Washington. (You can read about the time I visited that park by clicking here.)

Here's the photo he took that caught Christian's attention...

Thank you, Ryan, for taking that photo with no idea how it would one day be used. And thank you, Christian (once again!), for turning that photo into the perfect way for readers to initially judge my book.

Now check out Ryan's website. The look on the girl who came to represent Hannah Baker is a look he captures well!