Friday, July 18, 2014


Yesterday, I returned from my first writing retreat. Hardly anyone knew I was attending because I wanted to have this experience without the inevitable added pressure of, "Did you feel creative? Did you write a lot?" I've learned that there's only one thing that severely stifles my author brain: expectations.

But inspiration began the moment I stepped off the plane in Jackson, Wyoming at sunset.

The next morning, I drove to the Idaho cabin where seven YA authors would be gettin' their write on!

A cabin with its own waterfall right outside.

A cabin with a view like this!

Here's our host, Wendy Toliver, being interviewed by an Idaho station that did a story on us. The reporter who interviewed us was a lot of fun and asked great questions.

That first evening, during dinner, an intense storm blew through. Heavy rain! Hail! Clouds that wrapped around us, eliminating our view! Lightning! Wind that threw patio furniture, shattering a glass tabletop! Flickering lights!

And then, a rainbow.

We wrote at tables...

...or on the patio (once the furniture was put back in its place)...

...or at a downstairs desk...

...or sitting in a chair incorrectly (but comfortably).

And here we all are, the first seven attendees of the Cabin 'n' the Words YA Writing Retreat.

Here is the news report I mentioned earlier. Of course, as usual, they got my stats wrong. No, I don't know where they got that number. Yes, it was a running joke during the rest of the retreat. And yes, that made it worth it!

So, did I feel creative? Did I write a lot?

To both, I can answer...yes.

But even better, I made some truly wonderful, sweet, and inspiring friends.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

ALA 2014 - Las Vegas

It's been a few days since I returned from the American Library Association's annual conference. Physically, I've recuperated. But the inspiration and emotional high I get from hanging out with librarians, the brilliant people at Penguin, and other authors is still raging!

I wasn't expecting to attend this year, but I was invited to co-host an event organized by the Class of 2k14, a group of debut middle-grade and YA authors. I was in the Class of 2k7 (the original!), so this was a huge honor. But I was also excited about sharing the stage with Josephine Angelini again. Two years ago we were on an extremely fun author panel in Ontario, California.

But this time we were in Vegas, baby!

The 2k14 event was a Mid-Grade vs. YA trivia smackdown. On each chair was a bag o' swag for participants to take home. In the photo below are the teams clustered together to come up with answers to our questions. Winning teams got additional swag bags!

And here I am with the 2k14 graduates!

Afterward, I headed to the Penguin booth for a booksigning of my own. Here are the beautiful people at the front of that line!

As I walked the convention floor to grab signed books for myself, I also grabbed a pic with these three amazing authors.

It was my first time meeting Adele, my first time having an actual conversation with Mo, and Jacqueline is one of my favorite people to run into at these things. But y'know, we're all authors. It's not a big thing to chat with such respected book creators. We see each other as colleagues. Really, it's no big deal.

Okay, that's a total lie. While talking to them, I'm hoping I come off as part of the crowd, but I still feel like someone's younger brother who got invited to the party just so he won't tattle to the parents.

Being Las Vegas, I had to gamble. So I put one dollar in a slot machine, lost it, and really didn't see what the fuss was. So instead of losing more money, I grabbed a cab (which cost much more than a buck) to take me down to the Gold & Silver Pawn...otherwise known as the home of Pawn Stars!

Then I grabbed another cab to take me to the Luxor hotel and casino. The last time I was there was 1995. That's when I took a tour through their King Tut exhibit, which was my first audiotour, and at the conclusion I decided to one day write a book with that audiotour structure (cassette tapes instead of chapters; a recorded voice as one narrator and the thoughts of someone listening as another). It's a very lucky location for me!

Hmm... I guess I should have bet another dollar there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Debut Author Q&A: BETHANY NEAL

release date: June 10, 2014

What if your last kiss was with the wrong boy?

Cassidy Haines remembers her first kiss vividly. It was on the old covered bridge the summer before her freshman year with her boyfriend of three years, Ethan Keys. But her last kiss—the one she shared with someone at her seventeenth birthday party the night she died—is a blur. Cassidy is trapped in the living world, not only mourning the loss of her human body, but left with the grim suspicion that her untimely death wasn’t a suicide as everyone assumes. She can’t remember anything from the weeks leading up to her birthday and she’s worried that she may have betrayed her boyfriend.

If Cassidy is to uncover the truth about that fateful night and make amends with the only boy she’ll ever love, she must face her past and all the decisions she made—good and bad—that led to her last kiss.

JAY ASHER: I’d like to begin our conversation as if we happened to bump into each other on the side of the road. So…

Hey! Watch where you’re… Oh, Bethany. How are you?

BETHANY NEAL: Jay! Great to see ya. Wow, I’m glad I picked today as my one day a week to leave the house!

JAY: Now, we’ve been friends for a while online, but really connected when I changed my profile picture to a Garbage Pail Kid. I think it was Jay Decay. And since you love GPKs, you changed yours to Beth Death. We thought it would be awesome if we started a trend! Unfortunately, no one was cool enough to play along. So if you created a new GPK card for Cassidy, the main character in your book, what would the card say and why does that fit her?

BETHANY: Unabashedly Cassidy. Her picture could have her posing with a mallet, bashing her own head in because she’s so sick of not being able to remember how she died. Brains could be flying everywhere. It would be awesome—I mean, gross. That would not be so super hilarious that I’d stick it on my locker door. 

JAY: I thought it was hilarious, and I’m sure intentional, that you can rearrange the letters in MY LAST KISS to SLIMY TASKS. With my books, the titles always end up different (and better) than what I first came up with. Was this always the title for your book?

BETHANY: Hm, yes, I always intended to title my first book so it was an anagram for SLIMY TASKS. That was very integral to my creative process. I’ve heard stories about authors having to submit long lists of alternate titles to their publishers, but I lucked out and got to keep my original title. My next book is tentatively titled FOLDED SAUCY. Fingers crossed I get to keep that one too!

JAY: If you were to design the perfect donut, what would be on and/or in it? And by the way, this donut magically has not calories. Also, if you’re on any sort of special diet, the effects of whatever you’re avoiding doesn’t happen with this donut.

BETHANY: I’d actually prefer my perfect donut to make me gigantic, dietarily speaking of course. This mythical donut would contain custard (inside) and chocolate frosting with salted caramel-covered blueberries on top. Oh, man, I’m having an intense Homer Simpson moment over this fictional donut. Mmmm, donuts.

JAY: Your initials are B & N, just like Barnes & Noble. Did that have an influence on you getting into writing? Like, if your initials were A & F, would you be designing clothes that were sold in stores that smelled funky?

BETHANY: You know, I never thought about this, but it makes total sense. My alias is Ariel Eugenides, and I used to do a lot of guest spots on that A & E show The Killing. Mostly dead body stand in stuff, but it was a solid gig.

JAY: Did anything surprise you while writing your book? For example, did the tone change, or a character surprise you?

BETHANY: In the first draft I had a different character as the Big Bad, but after going through my standard character development exercises with this person, I ended up liking them so darn much that I had to cut them some slack. Everything in the mystery kind of hinged on this person, so I didn’t expect that to happen. Nor did I appreciate the rewrites, but such is the job. Now they’re only, like, one third bad. The Medium Bad at most.

JAY: Kind of the opposite of the previous question, is there a part of your book that turned out exactly as you hoped it would from the beginning?

BETHANY: I always knew how Cassidy would die. I had a very vivid image in my head from day one what that would look like. I also took a long time perfecting the descriptions of the covered bridge where it happens. I have this desperate hope that one day I’ll be walking in the woods somewhere and happen upon an eerily identical bridge and flip my lid. That is literally a dream of mine. I’m so weird.

JAY: I read a study that said people who flip ahead to the end of the book enjoy the story more. While I could never bring myself to do that, I can also understand it because those people may let themselves enjoy the journey more. So I thought I’d give you an opportunity to spoil the ending of MY LAST KISS (even though books are supposed to be read from beginning to end!!!). If you’d like…

BETHANY: As a joke, one of Cassidy’s friends slipped radioactive protoplasma into her lip gloss the night she supposedly died, but she’s not actually dead…she’s Spider-Man!

JAY: You know what? I’m so glad we bumped into each other. I hope you enjoy your experiences as a published author!

BETHANY: I'm so glad too. It's always nice to see a friend at the Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake. I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in jolly old England.

by Bethany Neal
is available...

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.