Rare 7th Grade Photo Sighting

Today I spoke to the fabulous students at Union Middle School in Sandy, Utah. I showed them this photo of me from 7th grade.

I felt all nose–100% NOSE! 
Many years, and a few more nosey experiences later, I was inspired to write My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters.
Thanks again to all the great students, teachers, and media specialists at Union Middle School.  

I’m Not Sorry I Got You in Trouble.

Yesterday I got a 6th grader busted for edgy, maybe a bit above PG-13, writing. But I don’t feel bad.

This month I’m teaching character development workshops to 4th, 5th (ah, such lovely people), and 6th graders at a charter school. I met this smart, err, smart-aleck, kid during recess detention. He’s thrilled to be getting a D- in math. When he cheered his low grade, his fellow detention-mates laughed and hooted. Being smart isn’t cool in the hormonal mess that comprises springtime 6th grade.

I struggled to get this kid invested in the writing exercise. He popped out of his seat, distracted those around him, and wrote banal descriptions of the magazine photo “character” I’d given him. But then he asked me if his character could be in a coma.

“Comas are boring,” I said. “People in comas can’t do much, can they?”
“What about a fake coma?”
“Fake comas are good.”

Later he asked me if his character could have a drug problem that led to a bit of violence. “Sure,” I said.

I live with a 6th grader, and they’re not as innocent as we wish they were. I also know that writing gives us the chance to safely explore themes, figure out experiences, or experiment–and who am I to decide what another person needs to write about? I also appreciated the fact that the PG-13 elements in his writing had natural consequences. It wasn’t gratuitous.

I also knew that his classmates would titter with the glee of the forbidden when he shared his writing. So I made him read last.

I hadn’t been informed about the love affair between the fake coma patient and his nurse. Yet the scene kind of reminded me of A Farewell To Arms. And the nurse got pregnant from the “baby-making” on the hospital bed. Again, natural consequences.

The kid got SO busted by his teacher. But this kid gets scolded ALL DAY LONG.

He doesn’t often have the chance to experience how the power of his imagination, his intelligence, his WRITING can affect others. Ooh, the class went wild for his salacious and dramatic story.

That’s my job as a visiting author–to show kids that their words have real power. He got busted this time. But maybe he’ll also be inspired to become the next Stephen King.

I snuck out of the classroom with a big smile on my face. Mission accomplished!

NCTE, Magic & Many Mickey Mouses

Today I’m shoveling snow, but last weekend I played in the sunshine with many of my favorite author friends in Orlando, Florida at NCTE. My roomie, Lauren Bjorkman, and I also snuck away from conference duties for a little Magic Kingdom fun. Mickey Mouse, here we come!

I started spotting Mickey Mouse everywhere–starting with my breakfast waffle! 

I decided to find other unusual Mickey Mouse products. Hungry?

Enjoy some Mickey Mouse butter on your Mickey Mouse waffle.

I found Mickey Mouse lollipops, chocolates, and pasta. Oh, and lots of kitchen items. 

Pizza cutters, spoons, measuring cups, pot holders… Done eating? Time to play!

Toss your Mickey Mouse baseball around. Or scratch your back. I seriously started thinking that I could replace every item in my house with something Mickey. 

We had a great day–we even rode Space Mountain twice. Zoom!!! Before heading back to the hotel, we treated ourselves to some ice cream–shaped like Mickey Mouse, of course! 

I loved chatting with so many wonderful, innovative teachers during our roundtable discussion. Much thanks to my co-presenters Lauren Bjorkman (My Invented Life), Jen Dutton (Stranded), Janet Fox (Faithful), Cheryl Herbsman (Breathing), Edie Hemingway (Road To Tater Hill), Danielle Joseph (Indigo Blues), Rosanne Parry (Heart Of A Shepherd), and Joy Preble (Dreaming Anastasia). We discussed all aspects of girl characters’ fictional journeys & ways to help readers connect with literature. 

I did come home with a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt… And lots of Advance Reader Copies of books I can’t wait to read.

On my last day, I spotted soap bubble Mickey on the hotel towel carts…

I kind of miss the guy! 

Leave a comment to win one my favorite girl characters with you–Roz from My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman. 
Entries accepted until midnight, December 1, 2010.

Wanna Know Scott Westerfeld’s Favorite Halloween Candy?

Yesterday I got all dressed up as my most klutzy self and headed to the Provo Teen Lit Fest.

Scott Westerfeld started us off with an inside look at how text and illustrations merge in his Leviathan series. I’m always curious to see what doesn’t make it into the book.

I loved spending the afternoon talking books and writing with teens, as well as chatting with author friends.  We mostly talked candy. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCXyDkuYl5A

I’m a Reese’s fan myself. Leave a comment telling me your favorite Halloween candy & you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of either Uglies or Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (your choice!).

Contest ends, Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at midnight.

Adventures In Author Visits!

Last week I traveled to the Northwest for a series of author (and family) visits. I had a wonderfully fun, wonderfully exhausting week–and it only rained every time I happened to be driving 70 miles per hour on the freeway. Yikes! Here are some other highlights:

Powell’s–one of my favorite bookstores ever! I taught a workshop for teens and tweens who like to write with author Anne Osterlund. This is a monthly event–authors mentoring students. Check the schedule!

We had a small, but enthusiastic group. And I got to fulfill my dream of signing my books at Powell’s. Plus, I had lots of fun visiting with my Portland family members and the next day I went bookstore hopping with author friend Rosanne Parry. We visited the big Powell’s and Annie Bloom’s (they have a bookstore cat–I LOVE bookstore cats!). I also added a few more books to my already heavy suitcase.

After a night in Olympia, Washington hanging out with my mom & brother-in-law, I rode the ferry to Lopez Island to do school visits at Lopez High and Lopez Middle School. Much thanks to the lovely folks at Lopez Island Library.

I had so much fun getting to know the fabulous teens of Lopez Island–lots of creative, funny, and nice people! (*waves* to MacKenzie & Kevin.) I showed them how I’ve added real life experiences from my diaries to my novels. And I made fun of one of their favorite teachers–my brother! (My sister-in-law is an amazing teacher too!)

Other Lopez highlights. Eating. Mmm. Galley hamburgers. Vortex burritos. Collecting rocks on Agate Beach, watching the seals at Shark’s Reef. And a post-school visit first: my brother convinced me to allow him to winch me 30 feet up a sailboat mast so that I could string a rope for him. Let’s just say that the thigh master has nothing on a sailboat mast as the wind picks up…

In other adventures, I spent the day with my five-year-old nephew, Quinn, at preschool. We were driving to school, rocking out to Taylor Swift, when I noticed flashing lights behind me. Oops! 35 MPH in a 25 MPH zone. As I’m trying to talk my way out of a ticket, apologizing, explaining, apologizing, my nephew calls out, “My dad got stopped by the cops too!” I started laughing, but I still weaseled out of the ticket. Phew! (My brother hadn’t been so lucky.)

A half hour later I got busted at preschool for suggesting that my stuffed squirrel karate chop Quinn’s stuffed squirrel. Oops! Karate stays at The Dojo, even for stuffed animals, on Lopez Island. But Quinn now thinks his Aunt Syd has some serious street cred!

Next I headed to Seattle–and lunch with my high school friend Amy. After spending a week reading my high school diaries, full of serious boy craziness, I thanked her for putting up with my seventeen-year-old self! We had a great Greek lunch near her office in the shadow of the Space Needle. How cool is that?

The next day I spoke at the WLMA (Washington Library Media Association). Just before my talk, I ran up to my room to brush my teeth, comb my hair, and look over my PowerPoint one last time–only to discover that my computer claimed that my presentation was corrupted (my HS diary isn’t that edgy!). The only presentation accessible was one geared toward 4th grade Girl Scouts. Quickly I scrambled to add a few slides. And the presentation went fine, but not exactly as I’d hoped. Next time I’ll remember to actually use that flash drive I carry with me!

I also had a great time visiting with old Whitman College friends: Margy and Roz are librarians, and Royce Buckingham writes great boy books (we took the same English classes in college–and never imagined this day!). I also loved hearing Sherman Alexie read the first chapter of his sequel to The Absolutely True Dairy of a Part Time Indian (it’s SO good) and listening to Alyson Noel’s publishing journey (she’s so charming!).

Oh, and if you haven’t sang karaoke with eleven librarians at midnight in an airport hotel lounge, well, I’m just saying, all that hush-hush stuff about librarians? Rumors, all rumors. Librarians are a blast!