Thursday, May 29, 2014

Words Matter

Words have power. They affect how others see us and influence how we see others. When we speak with easy clich├ęs about serious issues (“Suicide is selfish. “), it’s a good indicator of how much we’d like to ignore an issue or believe it’s something it isn’t rather than consider its complicated causes or imperfect solutions.

That’s why these new “homeless meters” that popped up downtown disgust me. CHANGE FOR CHANGE / HELP THE HOMELESS / HANDOUTS DON’T HELP / FEED A METER, NOT AN ADDICTION. The first two lines sound so optimistic! And if that’s all they said, at least it would sound like we’re trying. Then you realize, wait, why are they placed in the most common spots homeless people ask for money? Thankfully, at least the city and business leaders are honest in interviews, saying part of what they’re hoping is that it’ll get transients out of downtown. And the money does go to causes that help the homeless. Of course, we already know how to give to those causes. So that’s where the meter designers decide to give an additional…slap.


Really? Ever? Because if I was homeless, I guarantee that a handout would help. A lot! So why do the meters say it won’t? Oh. Right. Homeless people are addicts. All of them. They are! Except that’s not true. You can admit that, right? Not every homeless person is an addict. But when we’re told HANDOUTS DON’T HELP / FEED A METER, NOT AN ADDICTION, that what’s being said. Great! Because now we can feed the meters and sweep homeless people out of my sight while also avoiding buying them drugs (and they are all on drugs). And that’s great because we all need more encouragement to be more selfish and judgmental.

But I get it. Some of them are addicts. Many of them? I don’t know. Maybe. But I can always walk on by without giving them money, which I usually do. (Well, I usually did. But then I was so disgusted by the inaccurate reasoning and untrue words of these meters, I now give more handouts with bigger bills.) How about, since there are so many places to buy food downtown, instead of meters, we post signs asking people to bring a homeless person a meal instead of giving money directly? HA! Just kidding! We already admitted that’s not the full agenda.

But at the very least, c’mon, don’t post one of these meters in direct view of the Catholic mission. I realize the sidewalk isn’t part of the church, but this makes it even tackier. Apparently even that guy who wears the big hat in Rome sneaks out of the Vatican from time to time to feed the homeless. Of course, I guess he wouldn’t have to do something that risky if they installed these meters where the homeless gather. Or, y’know, if he didn’t genuinely care without judgement.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rochester's 9th Annual Teen Book Festival

Last Thursday through Saturday was one of the most fulfilling three days of my author career. It was hectic, yet inspiring. It began with a presentation to 6th and 8th graders at A.D. Oliver Middle School in Brockport, NY.

This was followed by lunch at Brockport High School.

If you've been there, and you've read any Carolyn Mackler books, it may feel familiar. That's where she went to school, and where she visualizes a lot of her scenes taking place as she writes them (such as the track scenes in The Future of Us). And even though we're good friends now, I felt a little "celebrity stalker" when I drove by the home where The Carolyn Mackler grew up.

While having lunch with some students, I got to experience my first high school fire drill in over twenty years!

(The word selfie was not in the dictionary during my last drill.)

Back at the middle school, I spoke to the 7th graders.

And I signed a Hello Kitty backpack (my first autographed Hello Kitty item in four-and-a-half years)!

Back at Brockport High, about to begin speaking, I noticed the podium was a gift from the Class of 1996. 1996? That's the year in which Carolyn and I set The Future of Us.

I know!!!

The next day was spent mostly at Rush-Henrietta Senior High in Henrietta, NY. Their library had a display of my books alongside non-fiction books dealing with some issues presented in my work.

I met a student who looked exactly like the guy on the cover of A.S. King's Everybody Sees the Ants

During lunch, we had cake, and everyone was kind enough to avoid eating my name. Isn't that sweet?

The library has a column where authors and librarians leave handprints. I found the perfect spot for mine, just below my mentor, Kathleen Duey.

I then spoke at the Ninth Grade Academy, which was one of the most enthusiastic audiences I'd ever spoken in front of.

Saturday was the day of the 9th Annual Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival. Thirty-one authors were set to appear, though a few couldn't make it because of flight cancellations, which was very unfortunate (for them and us). The rest of us were picked up from the hotel in limos. When we arrived at the event, some of us stayed in the limos and some of us jumped into the back of a pick-up truck for our grand entrance.

Jonathan Auxier, A.S. King, Andrew Smith, E. Lockhart)

And it was indeed a grand entrance! Screaming readers welcomed us, and we were led into the building by a marching band.

Each author was given a bag of pins with our faces on them to hand out. A late-addition to the author crew was Amber Lough, my sister-in-agent. Since she didn't have her mug on a bag of pins, she beautifully turned one of mine into a mirror-image of herself.

I have no idea how many teens attended this massive literature rally, but this pic shows the people right in front of me. It doesn't show the packed stadium seating on both sides.

This is when each author partook in an event called Truth-or-Talent, hosted by Charles Benoit. A lot of people who hear me speak have told me I don't seem shy, but I am. I guess I'm just a good actor! My stomach, brain, heart, knees, and sweat glands hate me for agreeing to speak so often. And while I do enjoy it once I begin, the anticipation is agony. So waiting to hear my name called for this was excruciating! And really, what talent do I have beyond writing? I wasn't sure! But the night before, two authors were rehearsing "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. And that's why I teamed up with Amber Lough and Alethea Kontis. It was the perfect opportunity to display my fabulous impersonation of seaweed.

Then Greg Neri was called upon. He was planning to beatbox to "Come and Get It" by Selena Gomez. For for some totally unplanned (*wink-wink") reason, he decided to call me out to perform with him. As I said into the microphone, "I do seaweed. I don't sing!" But that day, I sang in front of the biggest audience I've ever sung in front of before (or ever will again).

Each author gave three presentations throughout the day. My first speech almost turned into a fire code violation, so we had to ask a bunch of people to come back later. And yes, I would be happy to be called Jay "Fire Code Violating" Asher!

Finally, we came to the ginormous autographing party. Mostly books were signed, but we also autographed shirts, bags, phones, and I had the opportunity to sign the inside of a girl's glasses.

Afterward, I couldn't travel to Rochester without visiting the beautiful and eerie Mount Hope Cemetery, the final resting home of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. Before the gates closed, I had time to locate one of the two.

The next morning, I got in a final chat with (Uncle) Terry Trueman, Joelle Charbonneau, and Alex London, before heading to the airport.

My trip to Rochester is severely incomplete as described in the post above. I had so many more beautiful moments with authors I'm always happy to see or that I met for the first time. I had great conversations with so many readers, and the librarians and teachers who drove me around and hosted me at their schools are all people I hope to see again.

So yes, I'll definitely make another trek to a future Rochester Teen Book Fest!

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Canton, GA

Shortly after arriving in Georgia, I went to dinner with two English teachers and four students from the school where I'd be speaking the next day. I ate one of the best steaks I've ever had, which means no A-1 Steak Sauce required, and I also autographed my first straw wrapper. (I know, you'd think that after being published for 6.5 years, I'd have signed a dozen by now! But no, this was the first.)

And a very short while after dinner, I had a sheriff's officer run my license while he kept one hand on his gun. (Again, another first for me!)

During dinner, we'd got to talking about ghosts. (Definitely not a first for me.) I mentioned that I like to go on ghost tours during my travels, and someone mentioned Canton's own haunted site, a place known as Hell's Church. That's not the real name of the church, which is still in use, but a dismembered body was apparently found there in the 80s. Soon after, of course, people began claiming the place was haunted. Ghost hunters even come out to explore! So I had to see it for myself, and since Dennis Jolley (the teacher responsible for bringing me to town) had never been to Hell's Church, he offered to take me.

We got lost because we couldn't find an address, just odd directions online that told us to take turns at forks in the road that we never saw (they must've been converted to sporks). But eventually we found it. And it did look creepy with no streetlights around, and surrounded by a dark forest, and...

...then we noticed a car shining three bright lights at us. Two were headlights, the other was a spotlight. The car doors were open and the sheriff's officers instructed Dennis to get out of the car. They wanted to know what we were doing there. Sadly, the church has had its unfair share of vandalism. But once they realized we weren't out there to do anything with vandalism, drugs, or whatever else two dudes drive way out there to do, they filled us in on some really eerie stuff that's happened there.

But back to the real reason I was in town.

If you like reading, Cherokee High School is the school for you! As part of a senior project, students design tiles for books, which are then set into the hallway ceilings.

Beautiful, right? I know!

I had the opportunity to speak to every student at the school over three assemblies.

Notice the disco ball beside the projector on the ceiling? Sadly, that wasn't used for my introduction. (They didn't even use a fog machine!)

Between the second and third assemblies, I had lunch in the library with about 120 students. For nearly two hours, I ate half of my food because I was doing Q&A the entire time. I've never had that much time to answer so many great questions, and it was wonderful!

Also wonderful? The display they made for my visit. It was so cool!

And yes, I know what you're thinking.

But no, I have no idea why there isn't a book or a movie called Hell's Church.