Friday, April 24, 2015

50 States Against Bullying: ALASKA

On my journey up to Alaska, I stopped in Oakland, CA to participate in a heartbreaking yet affirming and inspiring fundraiser called "We Are Here: A Benefit to Raise Hope and Awareness for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion". The event was prompted by Gayle Forman's novel, I Was Here, which was inspired by the events surrounding Suzy Gonzales, who took her life at age 19. Suzy's parents also shared their story with us that evening.

In between our talks, The Bayonettes played beautiful music.

Early the next morning, I flew up to Alaska, the fiftieth stop on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign.

Hold up! The tour is not over yet. Along with the states, I visited a school in Washington, D.C., but 50 States and 1 District Against Bullying was too much of a mouthful. So there's still one to go!

Before officially adding Alaska to the tour, I gave a workshop to the local SCBWI chapter about adding suspense to their novels. If you've seen me give this talk, you know it requires the help of another author who happens to be terrified of specific types of candy. What does that have to do with suspense? A lot! But I can't tell you unless you attend one of my workshops.

Are you in suspense now? That's because I've got this thing mastered!

In Alaska, I used Jolene Perry's irrational fear of M&M's as my example.

Then I went to the Anchorage Museum, which tells the fascinating and changing story of the people who call this home, and how heavily the environment plays a part in their lives. Miniature scenes depicted how Native Alaskans lived in various regions.

Newspapers proclaiming Alaska's entry into the U.S. were displayed, as well as the compelling history of the Alaska pipeline.

In the children's area, always the most fun area of any museum, I took my first infrared selfie.

Finally, it was school time. I spoke at West Anchorage High School, and was welcomed by a large banner and the school librarian, Stacie Cox.

The students, as usual, were wonderful to speak with. But, the entire time, part of me was freaking out on that stage because there aren't many places to perform in Anchorage, so I was giving my anti-bullying talk in the same place Led Zeppelin played!

All around the school, students had filled out and posted cards describing why they matter. Reading their reasons is one of my favorite parts of visiting schools on this tour.

Their words get me right where it counts.

Then I had lunch with several students who won a "Reasons why I want to have lunch with Jay Asher" contest. One of the students, Ariella, did a project on teen suicide that inspired her to create a club on campus called You Are Not Alone. (When I was in high school, I joined the ski club but didn't know how to ski and didn't learn for another ten years.) The room where we ate, the classroom of Temperance Tinker(!), was so cool. She even had a record player next to the classroom toaster(?), and she let me choose the music.

One student, unbeknownst to me, was sketching me as I answered their questions. She then filled the page with things I said during our conversation. For example, "I wanna form a punk band called The Wet Koalas."

After that came a beautiful drive to Girdwood. I mean, it was so beautiful. Everywhere I looked!

Unfortunately, I never got to see any beluga whales. My 4-year-old would have been so impressed by that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Disneyland for the Very First Time (Again)

Before having our son, JoanMarie and I went to Disneyland every year, usually around the holidays. We even went while she was pregnant, but were waiting for the right time to bring Isaiah for his first time. It was a very important decision. So this past weekend, since I was already going down to southern California, we thought...why not!

Of course, the first thing our garbage truck obsessed son had to do, even before getting our tickets, was marvel at the number of garbage cans. Here he is, after grabbing one of the cans, dumping it into his hopper. 

We bought a park-hopper pass and started the day in California Adventure. The Ferris Wheel offers a great overview of the park.

Isaiah was most looking forward to meeting some of his heroes: the Disney princesses! The first, and most important, was Anna from Frozen. When we walked around the corner and saw her, he was starstruck. And JoanMarie and I got choked up.

Slowly, she lured him closer.

And then the embrace that almost never ended.

There was a very fun Frozen sing-along, and Isaiah helped conjure the frozen fractals all around.

Over in Disneyland, there were more princesses to meet-n-greet-n-hug, like Cinderella.

Rapunzel brought a silly grin to Isaiah's face, and it was like watching two old friends hang out.

An unexpected bond formed with Merida, from Brave. Isaiah hasn't seen that movie, but he was completely head-over-heels in love. Everyone around us could read the look on his face, and she finally asked, "Do you have a crush on me?" and he looked her in the eyes, smiled, and said, "Yes."

So I took him on the rockets in Tomorrowland to bring him back closer to Earth.

The ride he asked to go on twice was Ariel's Undersea Adventure, but he seemed most in awe on the Jungle Cruise.

Finally, after spending over ten hours in the parks, it was time to head home.

Disneyland is called the Happiest Place on Earth. This was definitely one of my happiest days on Earth.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Small Town, Big Lighters

I've said this before, and this is a good time to repeat myself, but one of the most gratifying aspects of traveling to speak is finding fascinating people everywhere I go. I'm rather shy, and I'm horrible at small talk, but some people know how to make impromptu conversation easy for anyone. I get nervous whenever I find out a stranger is picking me up from an airport and driving me a good distance away (in this case, 90 minutes), but this drive was only the first of many fun and thought provoking moments on my recent trip to Bradford, Pennsylvania. We talked about UFOs and social inequality and movies and farms and I actually looked forward to my return trip.

Until then, there were many more things to experience. First, I had dinner with some of the organizers of my event and four students who won dinner with me via an essay contest. Their parents were there, as well, and we had great conversations about literature. Our photo even found its way into the local newspaper!

The next morning, I spoke to 3rd through 8th graders at St. Bernard Elementary/Middle School. That's right, the students went all the way down to 3rd grade. I tweaked my presentation slightly, but those 3rd graders asked some of the absolute coolest questions. They were so into it! And they thought I was hilarious, so that's another plus.

I then spoke at Fretz Middle School, where most of the students had read at least one of my books (not so at the elementary school...which is probably an okay thing). One of the older students created the following piece of art on a canvas, which I then signed for her.

Before my evening presentation, I had time to visit the Zippo/Case Musem. Zippo is known for its lighters, and Case for its knives, and while I'm not an aficionado of either, I am a great appreciator of people who are aficionados of things I'm not, and I believe that is the most I've ever used aficionado in a sentence. It was a great museum, tracing the impressive history of both companies. Plus, they had a Zippo car!

The people who invited me into their community organized a V.I.P. tour of the museum, which was an unexpected honor. I listened intently and oohed and ahhed respectfully over both brands, but the thing I really loved was this contraption.

Love these things!

They also gave me an employee discount in the store! Even though neither of us smoke, I bought one lighter that reminded me of JoanMarie and one for myself.

My evening talk took place in Wick Chapel at the University of Pittsburgh - Bradford. You never know how many people will turn out for things like this, especially when it's raining, but the place was packed. I was especially pleased about that because, before I spoke, those in attendance heard school psychologist Sarah Schreiber talk about "Building Kinder Communities" and cyberbullying. (How is it that we forget community continues online?) Cyberbullying is something I'm so glad I never had to experience in high school. Occasionally experiencing and witnessing it as an adult is hard enough.

A group of middle school book club members presented me with a poster describing "Thirteen Reasons Why We Love Jay Asher." As I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation, things like this always amuse me. When I was in middle school, girls couldn't come up with even one reason!

Other students presented me with a very pretty collage of quotes from my book and beautiful quotes about kindness.

I am one very lucky author with some very inspiring readers.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Happy Easter!!!

The following is my annual Easter re-post.

Every so often, a reader will tell me their impression of something I wrote in a way that deepens my own understanding of my own words. Someone in Florida once told me how a decision one of my characters made helped her to illustrate a sentiment she'd been trying to get across to her friends.

Here's what she told me:

In the past, I've had to help friends realize that life goes on even after you've made a poor decision. Not because you move on or get over it, but because you grow as a result of it. You build something new, something with a higher purpose, using what you've learned as one of your bricks.

When I read that, my heart leapt! Since there was no way I could say it any better, I immediately knew I'd be using her words in future speeches (and blog posts).

So what does this have to do with Easter?

One of the most beautiful ideas surrounding this holiday is that we're all given an opportunity to make corrections if we find ourselves traveling down a road we don't want to (or shouldn't) be on. In fact, we're given that opportunity to change every day. Every second! But sometimes we need a calendar to remind us.

Refresh. Repair. Rebirth. Whatever you want to call it...

Renewal is a wonderful blessing!

Easter 2015