Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ghost Stories Ink: NIGHT VISIONS

You should always spend Friday the 13th doing something cool and creepy. The F13 that came around last week was my most memorable yet! I headed to Minnesota where Forepaugh's, a restaurant with delicious food and spooky ghosts, was hosting a special party.

My favorite group of paranormal investigators, Ghost Stories Ink, was celebrating a very cool achievement, and their favorite New York Times best selling author (me!) was part of it.

The printouts above were tickets to keep track of your appetizers and drinks, which included beverages that smoked all by themselves.

We were gathered in this perfectly eerie location for the release of the anthology, Ghost Stories Ink presents Night Visions.

These nine stories and several illustrations were inspired by investigations this groups of authors and illustrators have gone on over the past few years. G.S.I. also hosts investigations and creative workshops that anyone can attend, and two of those attendees won a contest and had their stories included in the book.

There were also members of G.S.I. at the launch, of course, who had their short stories and artwork in the book.

Red Balloon Bookshop sold our other books at the party, and sold out of Night Visions!

Other authors/illustrators (either members of G.S.I. or friends) who have pieces in the anthology are Joshua Sterling Bragg, Scott Spinks, and Sammy Sarzoza.

The story I donated to the book was inspired by my investigation with them this past January in Los Angeles. It's titled The Last Supper Club, and I believe it's the first short story I've written. How does it begin? "Connor waits..." And how does it end?


Thank you for inviting me to your Friday the 13th gathering, G.S.I.

Y'all scare me!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

What's the Frequency, North Carolina?

This makes two trips in a row to North Carolina. This one had a lot of hurdles to jump through to make it happen, which is always worth it when you get a chance to meet such inspiring students and great faculty. It began, as most school visits require, with a stop at a coffee shop.

I love how much fun coffee shops have with puns in their names. Brewed Awakenings? One of the best!

The first of the two schools I visited was Jacksonville High School, where I spoke to the entire school over two presentations. First up were the freshmen and sophomores.

Then came the juniors and seniors.

Before leaving J.H.S., I spoke to two smaller groups who had all read Thirteen Reasons Why and were firing great questions at me throughout our entire time together. That was so much fun!

There were also banners and posters up at the school, including a Top 13 list of questions they wanted to ask me during my visit.

Then it was on to Northside High School, where I spoke to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. While waiting backstage to go on, I hung out with the props for their upcoming production of...any guesses?

The organizer of my visit was Ross Friebel.

After the great school day was done, I hopped in Mr. Friebel's truck, along with his wife and daughter, and they gave me a tour of the area. The city of Jacksonville is the home of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, so most of the town is made up of barber shops, tattoo parlors, and pawn shops, so it was nice to see some of the natural beauty in the area.

Jacksonville also has an awesome store (it's a chain, but I'd never seen one) called 2nd & Charles. That was one of the most browseable stores ever! And yes, those are the sides of actual books behind the chairs.

So, what's with the title of this post? While at Brewed Awakenings, Mr. Friebel wanted to know the the first concert I'd ever attended. We had very different answers. His was R.E.M.'s tour for the Monster album (which I own, too). Eerily, when he dropped me off at the airport the next day, the following song came on the radio!

And my first concert?


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mavericks Matter

When a librarian picks you up at the airport in a convertible Mustang with the top down, you know it's going to be a good visit.

When you get to the school (in this case, Marvin Ridge High School in Waxhaw, NC) and the cafeteria is covered with posters saying YOU MATTER and PAUSE; PLAY, and those posters are covered in affirming statements, you know it's going to be a very good visit.

During a dinner with faculty, I was given insight into the many things they've done with Thirteen Reasons Why leading up to my visit, from classroom readings and analysis to community discussions on the issues in my book. That night, I spoke to mostly adults in the school's auditorium.

Back at school the next day, I gave a writing workshop to two groups of students who were selected to participate based on essays they'd written.

In that first group was the fourth student I've met named Hannah Baker, the main female character in 13RW.

Then it was off to the auditorium with my coffee to set up for the first of two presentations.

The sign on the stage was made up of even more positive statements
and spelled out MAVERICKS. It was supposed to say
MAVERICKS MATTER, but they ran out of time.

I spoke to the entire school over those two presentations. Both groups had great questions. Some questions were actually more personal comments, often greeted with applause by the other students for their openness.

I heard about that type of openness happening in classrooms as students shared reactions to the characters and issues in my book. Some of those discussions included tears, often by the students listening to other students speak. One of the best statements I've heard in my eight years of doing this was when one teacher apologized to another for not being more encouraging about the school-wide activities inspired by my book. Understandably, he was nervous about how the subject matter would be handled and taken. But after seeing the reactions of the students, and how they participated in my visit, after decades of teaching, this was his favorite day.

Openness and empathy are so powerful.

Then I spoke to the second group of essay winners.

This was another visit that required me to sit in my hotel room for a while after, and then take a long walk outside, to let myself fully appreciate what these amazing students and teachers shared with me during my short time with them.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

One Book, One Community - OHIO

Last weekend was a busy and beautiful one. It began with the wedding (thirteen years in the making) of my brother, Nate, and his new bride (my new sister!), Sarah. They had an outdoors autumn-themed wedding. When you walked from your car to the ceremony, you went down a leaf covered path, past pumpkins, lanterns, and hand-painted signs that retold their story. If you arrived as early as the wedding party, you may have seen my son (one of the two ring bearers) give each pumpkin a hug.

And here is the magical couple!

Early the next morning, after partying late into the evening, I flew out to Ohio for a One Book, One Community event. Why? Because I wrote the book! New Philadelphia chose Thirteen Reasons Why for their community read, hosting several events leading up to my presentation that made for a wonderful visit. They had school and public discussions surrounding the book and its topics. They held a book trailer contest, where the students of the winning trailer earned a visit from me to their school. So my first stop in town was Buckeye Career Center!

One thing I've really enjoyed during my author visits is getting to see the many creative ways communities educate their students. BCC has over thirty vocational tracts students may choose from. Here are some of the students who came to hear me speak...

...including a Hannah Baker. Her name badge even proves it!

I then had time to stop at an awesome used bookstore, Books-N-Things, where I bought just enough merchandise to barely squeeze into my carry-on luggage. They even had an entire section of Christmas books, which I'm a sucker for.

In the evening, I spoke at the Kent State Tuscarawas campus.

But before I spoke, the winners of the top three book trailers received a signed book and prizes.

This was a very fun group to speak with, laughing easily, oohing and aahing on cue, and asking great questions.

The autographing part of the evening was one of those inspiring and slightly overwhelming times of being an author that send me back to my hotel with so many profound emotions that I need to decompress by reaching out to author friends and then taking time to let it all soak in. These are the times I feel both unworthy and completely grateful to be in this position.

One of the notes I was handed included a line I can repeat right back to so many of the people I meet at these events.

Of course, it was also very cool to sign so many books handed to me in this condition!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!"

The title of this post is the final line of Fareweel to a' Our Scottish Fame, a poem by poet Robert Burns. It seemed an appropriate note to begin this photojournal of my recent week in Scotland with my wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and her boyfriend.

Here we are, arriving at the gate to our house in Inverness.

me, Adam, Gypsy, DonnaJo, JoanMarie

Inverness is an amazingly beautiful city to walk through, day or night. This is taken from the bridge over River Ness.

And check out this amazing used bookstore, Leakey's Bookshop!

Growing up (meaning, from birth until now), I've been fascinated by monster legends. When I learned a trip to Loch Ness was on the itinerary, I nerded out! Any good book on the Loch Ness Monster will include a photo taken near Urquhart Castle. And now I was there!

And on the Loch Ness by Jacobite boat tour, I saw him!

From the front window at our house, I did some editing of an upcoming book while looking out at a castle. It was an inspirational and magical view. In fact, another writer wrote a fairly popular seven-part children's book series in Scotland. And, for at least a few of those books, she wrote them while looking out at another castle. But more on that later! Here was my view.

We then hopped a train to Pitlochry and hiked to the smallest distillery in Scotland. I'm not a big fan of alcoholic drinks, especially alcoholic drinks that taste like alcohol...(shudder)...but I love the history behind things that other people are connoisseurs of. The Edradour Distillery had a great tour, and the free sample they gave while describing the distillery's background made my face and body go like this: shudder!

And here's a cool group shot on a rare sunny day.

Adam, DonnaJo, Gypsy, JoanMarie, me

We had something called "high tea" at Culloden House, which is a beautiful place with a beautiful walled garden. I drank my tea with...wait... I just realized I ordered coffee and drank coffee at a high tea. That's awesome! (I'm such an American.) Anyway, I drank my coffee with my pinkie raised, which felt utterly appropriate.

The Culloden House had a cool, detailed chess board that displayed the long battle between the Scottish and British, which is talked about everywhere. I'm not a big fan of battles and wars, but sometimes they provide the inspiration for really cool, detailed gameboards.

We stopped by the Clava Cairns for a drizzly stroll through the prehistoric cemetery. At least, that's what archaeologists assume it was. You see, it's prehistory, which means the people back then didn't think tourists would care about what in the world they were doing with all those stones. But we're pretty sure it's a cemetery. Or something ceremonial. When you find a pile of prehistoric rocks, it's probably one of those two things. And it's always cool to look at!

The next few days were spent in Edinburgh. If you're a frequenter to my blog, you know that I often take haunted history walking tours when I visit cities. Adam, JoanMarie, and I went on the Cadies and Witchery Tour, which was one of the most entertaining tours I've taken. Not only was the guide a great storyteller of dark Edinburgh history, they periodically had another cast member appear in various guises to add to the craziness.

Another incredible walking tour was the Literary Pub Tour. They have two cast members, Clart and McBrain. Clart is fascinated by the debauchery of Edinburgh's literary superstars, and McBrain is a "tourist" who would like to clean up the story a bit. We roamed the city, stopping in several pubs for a break, which for most people meant a drink or two.

McBrain and Clart

For the final castle on this trip, we went to Edinburgh Castle. Inside a small chapel, St. Margaret's, the oldest surving building in the city, JoanMarie took a picture of me taking a picture of Adam taking a picture of a stained glass picture of William Wallace (a.k.a. Braveheart).

Previously, I mentioned a writer who wrote some fairly successful books in Scotland, which was inspired by many places around Scotland. The first book was written in a coffee house which later became a Chinese buffet and is now a cafe. But she wrote the next few books in the back room of a cafe that's still there, The Elephant House. I'm speaking, of course, about J.K. Rowling and the phenomenon known as Harry Potter. 

Of course, I had to eat a meal in that back room, which overlooks Edinburgh Castle. Talk about inspirational!

JoanMarie went into the ladies' room, where fans leave messages, and I'm just going to hope and assume the owners are okay with that.

One more tour on our Scotland trip...The Potter Trail! Another wonderful and enthusiastic guide took us to places related to the series. Ms. Rowling took many of the names for her characters in Grayfriars Kirkyard (a.k.a. a cemetery). For example, the man known as "Scotland's worst poet" was William McGonnegal. Ms. Rowling would sit at a bench beside this grave and brainstorm. creating characters such as Minerva McGonagall.

Since I was editing a book on this trip, in such an important literary place, I did some name-taking from Grayfriars, as well. Beside the grave of Scotland's worst poet is one for a woman with a first name that matches a character in my book. I didn't originally give my character a last name, but now she has one!

Right behind the wall where that bench used to be is George Heriot's School, which was the inspiration for Hogwarts. Students at this real school are actually divided into four houses! See? Write what you know!

Also in the kirkyard are the graves of father and son, Thomas Riddell, changed to Thomas Riddle for anagram's sake in the series. (All these inspirations have been confirmed by Ms. Rowling herself.) And yes, this is me pointing a magic wand handed out by the guide toward the Riddell tombstone.

The tour ended above Victoria Street, which may look to you a lot like Diagon Alley.

After all of this witchcraft and wizardry and pub crawling and haunted history, we took in a church service at the beautiful St. Giles' Cathedral.

Outside, we finally saw and heard a kilt-wearing bagpiper!

Before heading home, I noticed the bookshelves at the bed-and-breakfast where we stayed had been altered a bit from the day we arrived. A book was conveniently placed face-out near the table where we ate breakfast.

Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation
by Robert Burns

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam'd in martial story.
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
An' Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England's province stands-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro' many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane -
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!
O would, ere I had seen the day
That Treason thus could sell us,
My auld grey head had lien in clay,
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak this declaration;
We're bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!