Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Twelve Crazy Days Before Christmas

The following story is from a picture book manuscript I wrote years ago. Last year, as a gift, a friend illustrated it and gave it to me as a bound book. I hope you enjoy it!

(click each pic to enlarge)


Friday, September 15, 2017


If you've been a friend of mine at any point over the last four decades, you know that I love Peanuts. My last book, What Light, even included a couple shout-outs to that Charles Schulz creation. Originally, though, one shout-out was much longer, but my editor wisely said, "Jay, don't worry, we all know you love Peanuts."

So now you understand why I completely flipped my blockhead when I was asked to speak at the Charles M. Schulz Museum. This past summer, they ran a series called "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night," which included talks from various authors. My talk was scheduled to close the series. When they originally asked me to speak, it was because of local interest. My Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why, films a lot of its scenes in their area. It wasn't until after I agreed that they realized I'm a member at the museum!

When I arrived the day before my event, I was given an amazing VIP tour. My 40+ years of Peanuts devotion could hardly contain itself! The museum itself was only a short walk from the office where Mr. Schulz drew his strips. And yes, I'm a dork. When they showed me the very spot where he drew those characters, it felt too sacred a space for a selfie. So I waited until after we walked outside.

In the Research Center, employees are essentially Schulz archivists and archaeologists. It's incredible! One document of personal significance and love was this script page from A Charlie Brown Christmas. As you can see, it was almost called Charlie Brown's Christmas. That is such a small but huge adjustment!

I got to see the Magic Box, whose contents I didn't touch and an employee handled with white gloves. Inside were strips Schulz drew for an abandoned series about adults and several Peanuts strips that were never completed.

That night, I stayed at the Schulz guest house, located mere yards from the home Charles Schulz built and where he spent the last twenty years of his life and career. This was my view on a walk down to the main house where I had a wonderful one-on-one conversation with his widow, Jean Schulz. She is an incredibly kind and generous person, and I left feeling like I'd added a new friend to my life.

The next morning, on the day of my talk, this was my view.

At 2pm, the show began.

Before I began, I opened my backpack to set the stage. In front of the podium I placed Charlie Brown, Woodstock, and Snoopy. One childhood location most locked into my love of Peanuts was at my Grandma and Grandpa Salinger's home. They had a large collection of aged Peanuts paperbacks, which I pulled out and read on nearly every visit. Before my Grandma's memorial service this summer, my Aunt Sher handed me a bag. Inside were these three stuffed toys. When she was clearing out my grandparents' home, she found these characters and knew they belonged with me. And before I left my home to speak at the museum, I knew they needed to join me.

During my last night at the Schulz guest house, I finally braved adding an inscription to the guest book of incredible artists who'd stayed there. Most of the visiting cartoonists included a drawing with their message. I'm not a cartoonist, but I wanted to be when I was a child. The strip I spent the most time working on was called Nate the Gopher. So I left Jean Schulz a note, thanking her for her wonderful hospitality, and included my sunglass-wearing rodent. Yes, I grew very sentimental as I drew it, wondering what I would have thought as a child if I knew where I would one day leave this image.

Happiness is this blog post.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Spain, Finally!

Last week, my son took a week's vacation with his grandparents while I went to work in Spain. Spain! I'd never been to Spain before. And since it's the one country in all the world my wife has most wanted to visit, she joined me and took her own week's vacation...while I worked.

Actually, I did find time to see some cool things while I wasn't working, and even when I was working I got to meet incredible people.

The first few days were spent in Madrid. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we rushed to the Prado Museum, which is one of the most acclaimed art museums in the world. I took a lot of pics of my favorite paintings...until I was told no pics were allowed. So while I can't show you the pics I took (even though I may still have them), there were a lot of paintings by Titian, who is one of my favorites. They call him Tiziano in Spain, but it's the same dude.

Then we walked past some beautiful buildings, like the Cybele Palace (home of the City Council), where they proudly declare Refugees Welcome with a large banner.

So many websites and books said a must-see is the setting sun from the Temple of Debod. This was an ancient Egyptian temple, dismantled and sent to Spain as a gift.

And the sunset was everything.

The next day, I met with reporters from seven agencies, one after the other, at the local home of my Spanish publisher. Most reporters spoke a little English, but having an interpreter helped a ton. (The only D I got in high school was during my second year of Spanish.)

That night, I gave a presentation to a full house, with Javier Ruescas interviewing me. Javier is a huge YA author in Spain, and he needs to be translated into English. He's one of my favorite people I've met in my 10-year author journey, so if he gets published in the States, he can tour here and we can hang out more! (But, you know, the most important thing...I more American teens will read his books.)

Almost every reporter asked if there was a difference between American and Spanish readers. I thought a lot about that when I had the chance to met so many teens at my book signing. The stories they shared with me (without aid of a translator) were very similar to those shared with me back home. And the smiles and occasional tears, those were identical.

The next day, I did six more interviews, including two at radio stations. My voice was mostly shot from the previous day, but that wasn't a problem as long as the interpreter could hear me (actually, by then, he could probably answer for me).

The next day, we flew to northern Spain and drove to Aviles, a small and completely charming town that was hosting a massive book festival called Celsius 232.

When I travel to other countries, I love to visit their cathedrals and old churches. In this town, I found a church built just twenty-something years before the Pied Piper (according to legend) rid a town of rats a mere 1,200 miles away in Germany.

In fact, you can read all about that legend this October 31st when a very cool graphic novel comes out!

Each night of the festival, they showed a movie on a humongous inflatable screen in the plaza. That first night, they screened Zootopia.

The next morning, after another handful of interviews, there was just enough time to take a taxi to Playa de Salinas (which sounds way cooler than Salinas Beach).

Back at the festival, Javier interviewed me again, this time with a different interpreter. This guy does the Spanish translating for the Academy Awards, which makes him extremely cool in my book. I mean, he's already cool because he speaks two languages, but that makes him extra extremely cool.

With my wife in the audience, we did something that hasn't been done before. You see, the poem in Thirteen Reasons Why, called "Soul Alone," is actually a song JoanMarie wrote when she was a teenager. After sharing that info with the audience, my wife left her seat and joined us onstage...

...and sang.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

The following is my annual Easter re-post.

Every so often, a reader tells 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 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 this 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 2017

Friday, April 07, 2017

13 REASONS WHY: A Netflix Premiere

It's been a full week since you've been able to watch the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. And it's been a week and a day since the red carpet premiere, so I'm just now barely starting to begin to come down from La La Land, and thought I'd share a bit about that magical experience.

My book's journey to the screen began  when I met Selena Gomez and her mom, Mandy Teefey, for a sushi dinner. They impressed me immensely with their passion for my book, their understanding of the characters and message, and their ideas for adapting it.

Fast forward eight years, and it finally happened! While those years saw several false starts, the end result makes all of us feel it happened exactly how it was supposed to happen.

The day before the premiere, my wife and I drove down to L.A., directly to the Paramount Pictures lot.

That's where the premiere would happen, but first we acted like giggly tourists as guests on a studio tour. Joining us were the equally giggly Kristen Pettit (she edited Thirteen Reasons Why) and Peter Emmerich (he created the map inside the book). In the distance behind us is the Hollywood sign!

Our hotel was across from Capitol Records, with another distant view of the Hollywood sign.

And in the other direction, a much closer sign of our show!

The next afternoon, the day of the premiere, several of my guests came to our room where three hair and make-up stylists made the women premiere-ready.

From left to right in the picture below are Nate Asher (brother), Sarah Pinon (sister-in-law), Kristen Pettit (editor), Romina Russell (YA author), Mary Weber (YA author), Laura Rennert (literary agent) JoanMarie (wife), me (, Elyse Marshall (publicist), Trey Pearson (musician), and Ben Scrhank (publisher).

When we got to the premiere, the red carpet festivities had already begun. You could take photos next to the beautiful Mustang from the show, as well as blue lockers from the hallways of Liberty High.

JoanMarie and I walked the red carpet, where more cameras were pointed in our direction than ever before. That's Derek Luke (Mr. Porter) to my left!

One of the people I feel blessed to know because of this journey is the beautiful person and wonderful actor who drove that Mustang, Christian Navarro (Tony).

If you've read interviews I've done about writing the book, you may know that the TV show My So-Called Life had a big impact on me. When I found out Wilson Cruz, who played Rickie Vasquez on MSCL, would play a lawyer named Dennis Vasquez on my show... Well, the full-circle elements of this project have been incredible.

This entire thing would not have happened as wonderfully as it has for me if not for the dedication of my literary agent, Laura Rennert, and film agent for Thirteen Reasons Why, Sean Daily.

Other YA rockstars in attendance, pictured with Romina and Mary below, were Ransom Riggs and Tahereh Mafi...

But there was also a rockstar rockstar named Courtney Love!

Then we all headed into the theater...

...took our seats...

...and watched the first episode of a project lovingly handled by so many talented people.

I could not bmore grateful for what all of these people have achieved.


Thank you.