Jay Asher's Blog, page 3

May 5, 2015

The 50 States Against Bullying campaign began October 1st at my alma mater in California. Throughout the 2014-2015 school year, I spoke at one high school in every state, plus the District of Columbia. The tour ended, fittingly, in the last state added to the Union.
Hawaii!

Other than Oregon, where we have family, this is the only state where my family joined me on the journey. Since this is the Aloha State, we had to fit in some touristy things, too...

...like swimming with dolphins (but not for me, because I'm too chicken for that)...

...taking a submarine tour...


...and visiting the beautiful Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, which highlights Hawaiian culture and natural history. They also currently host a dinosaur exhibit, which Isaiah loved.

While in Honolulu, I was also able to speak at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival. And that meant there were new authors to meet! At midnight the night before, as people do when surrounded by such tropical beauty, Austin Aslan and I met at...Denny's! His book, The Island at the Ends of the World, is a survival story set on these islands, which I can't wait to read. (Read the book's description on his website. You'll want to read it, too!)

At the festival, I met Lisa Freeman and got a signed copy of her novel, Honey Girl. Ms. Freeman had acting roles in some of my all-time favorite movies, so the autograph was extra cool!


For my speech, I was introduced by Stephanie Wang, Miss Chinatown Hawaii. She founded Bully Free Hawaii USA, making her another one of the very inspiring people I've been so fortunate to meet as an author.


But the school that brought this literal cross-country opportunity to a close was Campbell High School in Ewa Beach. Their campus has a Power to Choose Courtyard, surrounded by inspiring quotes.


All of the quotes were beautiful, but I was drawn to the one by Walt Disney, one of my lifelong creative heroes.


In the gym, I first spoke to 7th and 8th graders who walked over from the neighboring middle school. As they arrived, I noticed myself playing with my #ReasonsWhyYouMatter wristband, which matches those that were passed out at each school on the tour. I've worn my same wristband at every stop!


At lunch, I ate and chatted with several students, including members of the Lit Con Club. If this awesome club was around when I was in high school, maybe I would've actually been involved in something!


Then it was back to the gym to talk to mostly freshmen, plus a few sophomore classes.



The following pic was taken by a student during the Question-and-Answer part of my visit. After a few questions, another student shared with the rest of the room how my book helped her through a rough time. And then the other students applauded her bravery! That will remain one of the moments from this tour that will stay with me forever.



Leading up to the Hawaii visit, as the tour began to wind down, I'd been reflecting on what I'd seen and heard since October 1st. I'm still processing it all, and probably will for a while, and this made me reflect on aspects of my own life and what had to line up to bring me here. Being only a few minutes from Pearl Harbor, which I would soon visit with my wife and son, I left Campbell High and drove to Asher Court, a street named after my grandfather. You can read about his role on December 7, 1941 by clicking here.



Along with the wristband, I took another item with me on every stop of the 50 States Against Bullying campaign, but this one no one knew about. The day before that first tour stop was my 39th birthday. When I blew out my candle, I made a special wish concerning this tour. I can't share that wish with you (you know the rules!), but I will say it came true. And the evening after my tour finished, I lit that candle again. JoanMarie and Isaiah helped me blow it out.


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Published on May 05, 2015 03:27 • 85 views

April 24, 2015

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!

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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.



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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.



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Published on April 24, 2015 17:26 • 57 views

April 21, 2015

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!
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.

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Published on April 21, 2015 01:05 • 78 views

April 12, 2015

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.
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Published on April 12, 2015 12:18 • 52 views

April 5, 2015

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
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Published on April 05, 2015 00:05 • 59 views

March 20, 2015

The forty-ninth stop on the 50 States Against Bullying campaign was another Snow Day redo from a several weeks ago.  This, my last state in the "lower 48," was also the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. (No, I'm not smart enough to have memorized that fact. It was a part of my introduction.) There wasn't any snow when I arrived the night before my event, but as I drove to the school the next morning, it began. But it was too late to call another Snow Day, so take that Mutha Nature!

After a long drive and a couple cups of coffee, the first thing I had to do was find the nearest school restroom. I always love seeing notices posted around schools. Every school has their own issues to deal with. At Sussex Academy, apparently too many people eat in the bathrooms.


Whatever!

I spoke to classes from grades six through ten. It's always interesting to speak to a wide range of students because there's always one group that's the most fidgety. Everyone paid attention and there weren't any problems, but one group is always the fidgetiest (which spellcheck says isn't a word, but it also says spellcheck isn't a word, so...) no matter what state I'm in. But I'm not going to call out the middle schoolers because I don't want to embarrass them. And they were all awesome!



(Oops.)

This school does a lot to establish a healthy culture within their walls. Even just recognizing that a school can have a unique and important culture goes a long way toward thinking about how to keep it encouraging. At the beginning of the year, students write positive messages and group them together to create the feathers of a seahawk.


The school created a detailed unit called Chain Reactions: A Mini Schoolwide Expedition to study how even little things can turn into big issues in both a negative and positive ways. This is discussed using all sorts of teaching areas, from literature to science.


Many students created Found Poems using words and phrases found within Thirteen Reasons Why. It was both inspiring and humbling to read so many of them over lunch. I am such a lucky author!


By the way, I have now committed to memory the state that first signed the Constitution. And you probably have, too!

*fist bump*

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Published on March 20, 2015 12:19 • 75 views

March 19, 2015

The forty-eighth stop on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign was supposed to be my thirty-ninth. You can read what became of that original visit right here (it contains lots of snow, one shredded tire, and absolutely no Rob Zombies).
But, as promised, I came back! If I had more time, I would love to have taken a tour of Mark Twain's home, but I settled for this Lego replica in the airport (which did not include a tour).

When I pulled up to Watertown High School, I looked out at the football field to the remnants of what kept me from speaking here last time. It's almost gone now, but they're expecting more snow tonight. Fortunately, I've already given my presentation. So take that, Mutha Nature!


Near the entrance of the library was a poster highlighting several quotes from Thirteen Reasons Why. It's always fun when people quote the book. Usually I can remember writing and obsessing over that particular phrasing. Other times, I don't remember writing it at all and end up feeling impressed with myself ("I sound like a real author!").


Another board displayed student-chosen phrases about the value of writing and why kindness matters. These are students after my own heart! Our job, adults, is to encourage them to never get jaded.


With a five-plus week delay, it was wonderful to finally speak to these students. They had created a video to introduce me, with thirteen students describing what the book meant to them. As I told you, these people were after my heart!




My visit concluded with a nice pasta lunch with several of the students. And by "nice" pasta lunch, I mean there was an actual chef! Nice, right? When our bellies were full, we got into several great conversations, including one about movies. Whiplash and Perks of Being a Wallflower were specific favorites. And here's the night I told them about that made many of them jealous. Truthfully, it would've made me jealous if I wasn't there. But I was!

(Tee-hee.)


I also love hearing about specific scenes in my books and why they meant so much to a reader. They're often scenes that, had I needed to trim the book, would have been the first to go because I didn't fully understand them myself. Yet I could feel that those scenes were important (for some reason) so I wrote them down. Another thing I love is when a female reader admits they picked up my first book reluctantly, not believing a man could understand things from a teenage girl's perspective. That's something I hear a lot! In fact, many people who don't like the book attribute it to the fact that I'm a dude and couldn't possibly understand. But I guess we all have different philosophies based on our experiences. In the case of the student at Watertown High who reluctantly read my book, I changed her mind. Woo-hoo!

What a beautiful world.

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Published on March 19, 2015 18:54 • 90 views

March 18, 2015

The forty-seventh stop on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign brought me back to West Virginia. I say "back" because I was here not too long ago, but the school had a Snow Day. Amd so...I'm back!
I had so much on my mind when I arrived the night before my school visit, so I needed to numb my brain before heading to my hotel. And since it was St. Patrick's Day, of course, I went to see a movie! (Oh, that's not how you thought I was going to numb my brain? Then you don't know me very well! It's movies, baby.)
I saw Cinderella, which was really good. Very cool visuals. Great acting. And to prove I was there, I took a pic of the screen. (But I did it at the very end, just in case they kicked me out for doing that.)

The next day, I spoke to students in the Capital High School auditorium. A student named Jillian tweeted the following pic of me on stage.

I know you're here to see the students and not me, but I had to share that speaking pic because it's one of the only ones where I'm not making a funny face. So I'm proud of myself for that! (Be proud of yourself however you can, apparently.)

The Capital High students were joined by students from Horace Mann Middle School and Sissonville High School.



After my presentation, I joined some students from all the schools in a meeting organized by the Gay Straight Alliance. They discussed many issues, including the upcoming Day of Silence, an event I first learned of today, but which sounds symbolically powerful. The back of the GSA shirts read:


As the GSA adviser said during her talk, "People that do nothing love to tell other people that what they're doing is stupid." The ensuing conversation confirms my belief that many adults would be served well by going to schools and listening to students discuss the importance of not just speaking up, but how to speak up. I know I learned a lot! While there may not be a perfect way to get a message across, if the message isn't being heard then we should consider why and push that message in a new way. The girl I met today who led the first Day of Silence here did it alone. What she wanted to accomplish, she felt, got lost. People may have listened to the silence, but they didn't hear the message. The next year, she tried a new way to organize the conversation, and hundreds joined her.

Teens inspire me so much!

We are all in this together.


Or, we can be.

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Published on March 18, 2015 12:16 • 65 views

March 17, 2015

The forty-sixth stop on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign was Arkansas. Their motto is Regnat Populus ("the people rule"), But a more accurate motto would be Regnat Razorback, because those piggies are everywhere, decorated in all sorts of designs.

There, I gave an NPR interview in the morning, then met up with local YA authors Kate Hart and Karen Akins for coffee, followed by a trip to the Clinton House Museum. I love getting few extra hours in a town to check out its history and culture. Every place has something! This museum is the house where Bill and Hillary Clinton first lived. In fact, they got married in the living room.


As a previous resident of this house, Mr. Swanson invented the chicken pot pie as we know and love it in this very kitchen! That American achievement is commemorated on the refrigerator, and that's why I think we should change the saying to "...as American as chicken pot pie."


From there, I drove to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. I'm always amazed when I get to see an art piece I've seen in books or studied in school in real life. It almost feels unreal, like it must be a forgery. This museum's current exhibit is filled with such treasures, such as this one by Mark Rothko, which is called Orange and Yellow. (Someone should tell the gallery they hung it upside down.)


This sculpture by Emma Marie Cadwalader-Guild, Free, became even more powerful the more I walked around it.


A family favorite has always been Mary Cassatt.


Since my son loves When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden, I had to take pics of works by its two artistic inspirations, though they didn't have any of Picasso's cubist works on display.



That evening, I spoke at the Fayetteville Barnes and Noble.


The event was a fundraiser for the Arkansas Crisis Center. As I say in every speech, these organizations are one of the most beautiful things our society offers. Make you sure you know the ones in your area.

There were faculty members from Fayettevelle High School, where I would visit the next day, in attendance. But introducing me was Mayor Lioneld Jordan. I had never been introduced my a mayor before! I was quite excited (especially since, from what I read online, he seems like a cool dude), but when he presented me with a Key to the City? That. Was. AMAZING!!!


The next morning, I arrived at the high school for a meet-n-greet with faculty, as well as a chance to dip into some Dunkin' Donuts. Why were these donuts green? Because it's St. Patrick's Day, of course! (But on any other day, do not eat the green donuts. Let's just say, lesson learned.)


I spoke to the entire sophomore class, and these students provided me with some of the most touching moments of my entire career. The abundance of hugs after my presentation was beautiful, but some of the things they opened up about can do nothing but humble a guy and make him feel honored to have earned that trust simply by writing honestly. It's an honor I never take for granted and I will feel grateful for forever.

One of the most beautiful yet simple expressions of caring that I've seen involved two students who stuck around to share their experiences with me. While I was speaking with one, the other stood a few feet back but could hear what was being said. The second student finally spoke up. "I know we haven't been friends in a while, but you can always talk to me."

And that's what this has all been about.



Plus, a couple students went out the night before and bought rings for all three of us.

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Published on March 17, 2015 14:34 • 66 views

March 11, 2015

The forty-fifth state on my 50 States Against Bullying campaign was...

...really foggy! But I eventually found my way to West High School in Iowa City. (In case you didn't know, that's in Iowa.)


The first thing I noticed upon entering the school many were posters and displays for something called Behind the Mask. This is a student created group helping to erase the stigma around mental health issues. As their Facebook page says, "Whether you're battling, supporting those who struggle, or just curious, join us!" There can be no understanding or help without first acknowledging an issue exists. Stigmas keep too many people from discussing the very things we need to talk about. So once again, I'm tremendously inspired by the students I'm meeting on this tour.


I was also tremendously happy to see this Post-It in the school librarian's office!


When I arrived at the auditorium where I would be speaking, the school orchestra was practicing for that evening's performance. They were so good! Even though they left the stage before any other students arrived, I pretended they were my opening act, which made me feel like a total rock star.


And it was a huge honor to be introduced by Ryan Hansen, the student who created the school's Behind the Mask group.

At the end of each presentation, but before I answer questions, I like to take a picture of the audience to help me remember each visit (as well as share their beautiful faces with you!). This time, after I took the photo, someone said they weren't ready. Apparently I was supposed to count to three. And sometimes I do! But I didn't know it was a necessity. So I took a second photo. Unfortunately, that one turned out too blurry, so I'm using the first one. And yes, I can totally see the person who asked for a retake. She was right, she's not looking at the camera.

Tee-hee.

In the audience, all the way in Iowa, was a person I met years ago at a birthday party for a mutual friend in California. Shayla Shader's dad actually went to high school with my wife!


After the presentation, I had lunch with several students, teachers, and librarians. We had a great conversation, finished it off with delicious cupcakes, and I get so excited every time I see a copy of my book with lots of colorful Post-Its marking passages.


Before leaving, I was given a t-shirt for the school's now defunct Quidditch team. Based on the interest in my new shirt, I get the feeling there may be a new gathering of the Broom Shakalakas. (They also gave me a shirt for my son!)


Thanks for a great visit, Iowa. And if you're keeping track, yes, you're the first school to make me use the name Post-It two times in one blog post. (Or, does that now count as three times?)

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Published on March 11, 2015 10:25 • 88 views