Sunday, March 2, 2014

Who's Afraid of A.S. King?


This week, I heard from a good friend of mine who works in secondary education. She was talking to a friend who works in a high school guidance center. My friend's friend seemed shocked that Reality Boy would be allowed in my friend's school (due to possible parent complaints) even though she personally loved the book. I hear this a lot. I'm used to it. People from my generation didn't have this kind of literature when they were in school. (I'll add they also didn't have the Internet, cell phones, cable TV, or crime shows that got much worse than Quincy or Hawaii Five-0.)

But.

A year or two ago, a friend of mine who teaches high school English, and whose school I've visited many times, was talking to a fellow teacher at a conference and she mentioned that I visit her school and her students dig me and the fellow teacher, who also loves my work, said, "Aren't you afraid to have A.S. King into your school?"

Yikes.

Last year I got quietly uninvited to a school because a math teacher didn't like the last book (from another author) that the organizing librarian promoted during a previous reading initiative. The principal got involved. I did not go to that school--an inner-city school that cannot afford author visits and whose students would have probably loved and needed the presentation I give about the "personal suitcase." The librarian had worked so hard on this visit that we were both in tears when the final verdict was given--in quiet code that no school board ever found out about.

I have had my books blocked from school libraries based on a principal reading an Amazon review. (I'm guessing he probably looked for the bad reviews. What do you reckon?)

People have been shocked when I tell them I visit Catholic schools. 
I have no idea why they are shocked. Do they think that Catholics can't relate to books that talk about everything from bullying to genocide? Last time I checked, Oliver Cromwell was quite a bully and wanted all Catholics dead. 

Yet, people never seem shocked when I tell them that I've visited a juvenile detention center or an alternative school. I can't figure out why. Is it because these kids are throwaways? I think e. E. Charlton-Trujillo does a fantastic job of talking about the shortsightedness of this type of thinking already in this article. But still, it seems logical and okay to some people that I would go to talk to the kids they've already given up on. Weird.

When I take all these facts and swirl them around, I can't make much sense of it. What is it, exactly, that these people seem to think is so dangerous? 

Sure, anyone who reads any book is totally allowed to not like it. That's valid and important and if you don't like my books, then I don't expect you to promote them in any way. But these things are being said by either people who actually like my books (or in two cases above, never read them) or who even adore my work. So why the shock? Why the implied fear of me, in general?

Is it the cursing?

I am very aware that some of my characters curse. I curse too sometimes. But I was raised in a no-cursing house and I am raising my kids in a no-cursing house. I do not say, "Dinner is fucking ready!" to my children. I don't even curse when I burn a grilled cheese sandwich. I say "Shazbot." I say "Sugar." I say, "Darn it!" So why do my characters curse? Because some kids curse. All kinds of kids, too. Not just what some people label 'bad kids.' Good kids curse plenty. Calculus geniuses curse. Cheerleaders curse. Top-notch athletes curse. Valedictorians curse. Kids who go to church curse. 

My 11-year-old kid learned every swear word on a shared school bus last year. She was 9 then. She also learned the racial words. You know. The N-word, the Sp-word, the Ch-word, the W-word. Usually, these words were used in conjunction with a curse word. Example: "Those fucking N-words are living off the government." or "Fucking W-words are all illegals and need to go back to Mexico." Etc. You get the picture. Apparently, these children, all of whom go to a private religious school, some of whom were younger than my kid, learned these curse words somewhere and they dutifully taught my then-9-year-old about them by using them in competent sentences in casual conversation on a bus before eight in the morning. 

Luckily, she told me. And I told her what the words meant, why they are offensive and why we don't use them in our house. I assume this process is the same for most parents. Frankly, I'm glad she learned the words when she did. This experience made her a voracious reader of novels about racism and injustice, which has made her the type of citizen that I'd be proud to call my neighbor. Thanks to those kids on the bus, she better understood books like Persepolis, Maus, American Born Chinese, March, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Boxers & Saints, Journey to Topaz, Number the Stars, Anna of Byzantium, and The Resistance series and she is far less likely to hate or tolerate hate. Well played, kids on the bus. Well played. 

So, if it's the cursing that makes some adults squeamish about my books in schools, then why do they project that fear when referring to me, the author? Do they think that my author visits, my assembly programs, or my classroom workshops involve some sort of inappropriate material? Do they think that 40+ schools & libraries per year pay me to come and talk to their students because I'm scary? Do they think my keynote event speeches are akin to Lenny Bruce in his later years? I know enough adults to know that many adults also curse. So, I'm thinking that adults are smarter than this. No, it can't be that they think I will curse or will promote cursing when I go to a school. So I'm guessing it isn't the cursing.

Maybe it's sex.

I don't really do sex in my books. I can't write a sex scene to save my life. And I didn't have sex in high school (not like it's any of your business) so I can't really feel what that feels like, so I find it hard to write about it. That said, I know that the average age American teens first have sex is about 17. And I know 14 year olds have sex. And probably 12 year olds, too. And hell no, I'm not all that comfortable with that, but it's happening, right? I mean, 1 in 4 kids in America has been sexually abused or raped by the time they get to be a senior in college. So...yeah, I don't write sex scenes, though some of my characters have had sex or talk about it. But find me a high school student who hasn't talked about or thought about sex and I'll hand-deliver you a home-baked muffin. Seriously. And to those writers in my field who do write sex scenes, I say kudos to you. Especially to those who are writing sex-positive and consent-centered sex in teen fiction. I can't do it because I'm just not good at writing it. Just like the 1960's-sex-ed book that I read as a kid to learn about the birds and the bees, my scenes usually stop at heavy petting or just go vague. 

Even listing these things is making me feel ill. As if there is certain subject matter we can't share with teens...while we are happy to watch CSI-whatever right in front of them.

So what's left?
Violence? My books have a little of that. Sure. So does life. Next.
Death? Seriously. Death is part of life. Just ask Forrest Gump. Next. 
Empathy toward others? Or tolerance toward those who are different to the reader? Um. Not sure how that's scary. But this has been suggested, so I'll list it. Adding: See Eric's comment for more on this. It's brilliant.
Abuse? My books don't touch on this in a full-on way, but again, that's life. Why wouldn't we talk about this? CSI-whatever talks about it all the time.
Drugs & alcohol. Yes. My books do touch on this a bit. I once had an adult contact me on Twitter to say she got to page 11 of Please Ignore Vera Dietz where Vera pulls out a bottle of vodka from under her car seat and she tweeted something like, "A.S. King promotes teen drinking and driving! Not reading the rest of this book!" Shame. She could have actually learned that the book was not at all what she thought it was. Then again, it seemed she was looking for a reason to stop reading and I'm glad she found one. 

Bullying? Yes, my books have this. And so does every school in America. And every workplace. 

Reality? Truth?
I'm thinking that might be the problem. 
I mean, real reality. You know--where life is sometimes hard and parents aren't always perfect and school sometimes sucks and college decisions seem pointless and sex is a possibility on a Friday night the same as smoking a joint, drinking to excess, or getting into a fight or studying for SATs. I have yet to write about stealing a car, but hey, that's a Friday night possibility as much as considering committing suicide, and I've written about that, too. 

Last year I talked to thousands of teenagers in their high schools. When I talk, do you know what I talk about? I talk about making smart mistakes. Do you know why I do that? Because I meet a hell of a lot of teenagers who are afraid of making mistakes. 

One of my presentation slides reads: EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES. 

That's what I tell them. I tell them that making mistakes is universal. We all do it. And I tell them that making a mistake is not a reason to give up. Do you know how many teens need to hear this? Judging by the letters I get from classrooms all over the country: A lot. I'm guessing that might be because someone somewhere along the line gave them the impression that they should be perfect. 

So I tell them that they are not perfect. I tell them that like me, they are flawed and will make mistakes. And I tell them that maybe, like me, if they think about their own mistakes (and the mistakes of others, through, say, reading fiction) and figure out why they made them, that maybe they can be the lucky ones who learn from their mistakes and go on to make smarter and smarter mistakes. 

I also ask them to look into their pasts and I ask them what they're lugging around with them--that personal suitcase--and I tell them that this baggage, we all have it. And then I explain how to unpack and repack that suitcase in order to survive real life and be happy. 

I know. Super scary stuff.
A.S. King Wants Students to Live Happy Lives--Film at 11!

My books are on school and state reading lists all over the country and have won state awards and national awards. I get letters every week from students who read my books and find themselves in them. "This book changed the way I look at the world." I also get letters every week from adults who read my books and find themselves in them. "I wish your books were around when I was in school." 

So why, when chatting over a casual cup of tea on a random morning, would anyone say, "Aren't you afraid to have A.S. King into your school?"

My mother worked in schools and in school administration for years. I understand what goes on intimately. I do not like that teachers--those trained best to teach and run their own classrooms--are not at the top of the decision-making pyramid when it comes to what and how they teach. I do not like that at all. Teachers, teacher trainers, and teaching students who I know (my husband included) know how I feel about these things. One of the coolest administrators I met actually participated in a community read of Please Ignore Vera Dietz and invited me to Skype into her office one day while students were there. It was a fantastic experience. It was refreshing to see a superintendent getting involved in reading and reality. Our discussions that day serve as proof that not all administration is bad or limiting. But this is a rarity and I think we all know it. So we'll move on.

I've worked on library boards and know that some patrons think that 'cleansing' the stacks of anything they deem inappropriate is a good idea. We also had a problem once with a political weeder--someone who likes to remove publications based on political ideals he or she thinks are wrong. People are weird.

I know parents. I know parents who say, "I loved your book and can't wait for my teen to read it!" And I know parents who say, "I loved your book but I'd never let my teen read it!" I also know parents who tell me at signings, "My child can read at a high school level. Yes, I know she's 10, but she loved [insert popular YA book here.]" I do my very best to explain to this third type of parent that age recommendations are for mature (teen) content and that maybe they should read the book with their child, just in case any questions come up. They often tell me they don't have time to read for pleasure and that their child will be fine. I trust them. I have to. It's not my job to censor their kid's reading the same as it isn't anyone's job to censor what my kids read. 

I don't know about you, but quiet censorship freaks me out. It's the censorship that's spoken over tea, over lunch, at random times when we are not prepared to answer because we are caught so off-guard that we really only think about what was said on the plane home. Last year I was asked to be on a censorship panel as an "expert." I had to reply and say I was not an expert at official challenges. So far, my books haven't had an official challenge as far as I know. Instead, I get embarrassed looks from  dedicated librarians who whisper, "My principal won't let me have that one in the stacks." I have quiet un-invitations. I have quiet conversations with saddened teachers who tell me that a colleague said, "But you're not going to actually give that book to students, are you?" I get quiet letters from devoted teachers who apologize for not being able to share my book with a student who needs it because of a fear of losing their job. Ah quiet. It is usually an indication that something really important is being withheld. Like the way we whisper cancer.

My favorite response to certain books is: "This kind of thing doesn't happen in our town!"

I heard this once in response to Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Here's a funny fact: I based the creep in PIVD on a real guy named Eddie Savitz. Savitz had haunted me for years after his story came out in the early 1990s. But when the book came out, I got all sorts of letters asking how I knew about "Big Bill" or "Teddy Bear" or other towns' creeps. I got more than 10 of these letters just in the year the book came out. None of the letter-writers knew that creeps other than their own town-creeps existed. But creeps happen. All over the place. If you watch the TV news you hear about them every single day. Check your state's online database. I bet you have a creep living near you. 

But not in your town. I get it.
Drugs and alcohol also don't happen in your town, nor does teen sex, violence, or swearing. Or death.
Fantastic. If there really is a town like this in America, I am happy about that. Really truly happy. 
But are your teenagers going to stay in that town forever? Don't you want them to go to college? Or go out in the world and do stuff? And don't you want them to be prepared for all of these real things that happen all the time in real life? Don't you want them to know that they will make mistakes? Don't you want them to learn how to make smarter mistakes? 

Fiction can help. I write my books for one reason, whether they are for adults or teens. I write to make readers think. I write to widen perspective. I write to make readers ask questions and then answer the questions or start conversations. And I write sometimes to give voice to the throwaways, of which our society has many, but we usually hide them because we are still uncomfortable with what we see as our own mistakes. Make sure you say that in a whisper. Throwaways.

As a parent, it is certainly up to you what your child reads, just as it is up to me what my child reads. We can control this at home. No doubt. But the one thing we cannot control is time. And as time passes, our children will become adults. I know my child would make a good neighbor. She knows what hate looks and sounds like. She knows how to speak her mind and she knows she makes mistakes because we make her own those mistakes. I know that one day, when she is your neighbor, she will help you shovel your sidewalk of snow if you need help. I know she will babysit your kids responsibly and play a patient game of Scrabble with them. She will make them brush their teeth before bed. If she reads them a bedtime story, it will most likely be Dr. Seuss or a few Shel Silverstein poems. 

People who know me are reading this blog post. People who really know me. My mom and dad will read it eventually, because they read my blog. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the least scary person you will ever meet. (Unless you're from Pennsylvania Gas and Electric and you ever come to my house to sell me cheap electricity again after screwing me over last month for $400--then you should be scared.) 

My books? Are not anything to be afraid of. 
I mean, unless you're afraid of real things that go on every day. 
I mean, unless you're afraid of kids knowing more about reality than, you know, CSI-whatever. 
I mean, unless you're afraid of an adult whose sole purpose on planet Earth is to empower people to be the very best they can be no matter what hand they were dealt or no matter how heavy their personal suitcase might be.

I'm that adult and I own it. 
If I'm scary to you, then okay. I'm cool with that.
Most teachers I know also have this same goal: to empower students to be the very best they can be. And many of those teachers know that this also scares some people.
I have no idea why.

This isn't about administrator's rules. Those are real and I know in every job, there are rules that dictate what you can do, even if you want to do more. I am so grateful to teachers and librarians all over the world who share young adult books with their teens. And I stand with those of you who are tied by your administrations into this uncomfortable atmosphere of occasional quiet censorship. I know you don't want it. I'm sorry you have to deal with it as well-trained and educated professionals. I don't want you to lose your job and really appreciate the things you do to steer your students toward the fiction they might need when they need it. Thank you. 

When I look back at me at 12 years old, in 7th grade, I see that Paul Zindel's books saved the me that finally fought hard to come back. That's the me you know now. 

The me in between (from 12.5-17.5) was a strange sort of throwaway kid. Bad grades. Bad habits. Bad attitude. I gave up on everything, and the minute I did, so did most of the teachers. But some still knew that deep down, I was a thinker...and I can bet they were wondering what I was thinking while I chose that in-between me who would rather smoke in the bathroom and get detention than study when I was in high school. 

Here's what I was thinking: I can't wait to get out of this bullshit place and be myself. 

And maybe that's what makes me scary.

I don't know. 

What I do know is: I was a throwaway kid in the eyes of my 8th grade guidance counselor (who spelled cello "chello") and in the eyes of many who came after him. And I knew high school had an expiration date and all I had to do was survive until the expiration date was up, so I could then be happy. 

And, in the words of Reality Boy, once that time came, it was all "Fuck this shit. Let's grow beards."

Translation: Thank God that's over. Now, let's grow up.  

So I grew up.

And when I entered the real world--the one with awful bosses, crappy paychecks, regular sexual harassment, people who wanted to control me, drug addicts, alcoholics, bad friends, bad drivers, bad doctors, keg parties, your-list-here--I was better able to make smart decisions and learn from my not-so-smart decisions because I'd read about characters who made mistakes and who recovered from those mistakes. Well, that and my parents, who had never once lied to me about the real world. 

When, after graduating college, I went to a mansion party with a 60-year-old businessman who'd promised we'd talk about a full time job (I'd interviewed with him prior to this), I was grabbed and groped and forcefully kissed by a different 60+ year old man who may or may not have been a high-ranking official in Philadelphia government, I knew to get the hell out of that swanky mansion and drive the hour home. 

I was 21 years old on the day of that party. On my way home, I stopped at a friend's house and bawled my eyes out. I was embarrassed, yes. Grossed out, certainly. But most of all, I was afraid that my parents would be mad at me for leaving the party because they had been hopeful about the job from this businessman.

I'll never forget the laughter that night. My mother laughed so much as I told her and my father, through tears, what had happened. They laughed to make me feel better, yes. They laughed because they wanted me to see the humor in this sick and twisted world. They laughed because they wanted me to know it wasn't my fault. They laughed because up until then, they had prepared me for the real world and I'd left the party and I was safe at home, and not still at the party getting roofied and god-knows-what-else. They were, in a word, relieved. 

I know why people want their children to remain innocent. I have a six-year-old. She is adorable. She loves unicorns. She loves dressing up like a princess and she has no idea that the real world exists and so far no harm has come to her and it's a beautiful thing. It really is. We read Freedom Summer together and she knows the evil of racism even though she hasn't experienced it yet. But she will. And when she does, thanks to books like Freedom Summer, she will be repulsed. 

I am repulsed by many facets of the real world teens have to live in now. I am also very aware that my repulsion has nothing to do with its existence. It will exist whether I am repulsed or not. 

And so I write about it.
It's that simple.

If that makes me scary, then I'm proud to be scary. But I don't think I'm scary at all. I'll shovel your sidewalk if you need help. I'll make you a big pot of spicy corn chowder if you're sick. I'll read Dr. Seuss to your kids and I will make them brush their teeth. And if one of them doesn't understand something about the real world--say, racism--and they ask me about it, then I will buy your family Freedom Summer for Christmas and if you feel like sharing it with them, then I bet you'll have a great conversation after you read it. And I bet your relationship will be all the better for the honesty you share. 

Lying never helped any relationship improve. 
Whispering never cured cancer. 
And some throwaway kids become adults like me...if someone somewhere along the way gives them a voice. Fiction does that. Vonnegut did it for me. Zindel. Heller. Rushdie. Twain. Steinbeck. Hemingway. Dahl. Salinger. Golding. Orwell. Lee. They all did that for me. 

But they were quietly censored too. Over tea. During lunch. At random times. 

So maybe it's a big club?

It's scary out there. I know it. I turned on the Olympics so I could watch with my kids and I had to turn it off because the the commercials for prime time that NBC aired--images of frightened, pained children, guns, and violence--were not something I wanted my kids to see. But if I mentioned that I was going to watch the Olympics with my kids, I doubt anyone would say, "Aren't you afraid to watch the Olympics with your kids?"

I've swirled all of this stuff around all day and I can't make sense of it.

Except this part: hiding things from teenagers is a known fail. Teenagers already know what we're attempting to hide from them. They probably know a lot more than we do about the reality of being a teenager today. They're a lot smarter than most people give them credit for. Contemporary young adult books are not going to tell them anything they don't already know. The people who know this best are teachers and teen service librarians. I only wish the rest of the adult world would catch up.



Monday, February 3, 2014

Greetings from the Cave.


Deep in the revision cave a semi-hygenic creature lurks, wearing a pair of sequined camouflage slippers with pink fuzzy accents and pompoms. Last week it wore a scientist's lab jacket to work until Thursday. This week, it is over-wearing its favorite blue, white and black flannel shirt. It drinks far too much chamomile tea with honey. It is a caffeine-free beast who may or may not have stood on a table at some point over the weekend and said, while holding a small axe, "I AM QUEEN! I HAVE AN AXE! DO NOT VEX ME!"

These are the things you miss when you don't follow me on Twitter.

I am a revision machine. I fear this trend will continue.
And so, I will keep this blog short. But there are random pictures with bonus screenshots you may not want to miss after the boring news part.


RANDOM NEWS

I forgot to tell you that Reality Boy was a New York Times Editors' Choice the weekend after Christmas. Go Gerald.

Reality Boy also made the Best Fiction for Young Adults list. A lot of really great titles on this list.

There was a really fantastic interview at YALSA's The Hub, where the awesome Julie Bartel asked me some questions and the stars kinda aligned and I found some good answers. I want to point you to it. Click here.

Then today, I found out that Reality Boy made the YALSA Quick Picks list.

All around good week for the creature in the cave.

RANDOM PICTURES


Here is Gerald with some of his bling at ALAMW.
Photo cred: Michael The Awesome Bourret
While we're here, a huge shout out to all winners
at the ALAMW conference in Philly.


I am posting this in order to remind you that:
YOU MUST BUY AND READ GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE  BY ANDREW SMITH.
Look, I know what you're thinking. You think Drew's my friend
and that I'm asking this because of some weirdo writer bond we have.
Not true.
You just have to read it.
It's the best damn book I've read in a long time.
I urge you, adults and teens and whoever likes a good read, to buy it.
Unstoppable corn, man.
It comes out Feb 11th. 

BONUS SCREENSHOTS

It's time to empty my screenshot folder again and ask you what the hell is going on. Remember, I don't actually click on these. I just try to guess what the hell is going on when they appear in my sidebar.


This is news.
Or what passes as news.
Or kinda-news.
And this list is just awesome when read in order.
I have to ask: Who is this Dr. Oz and what is going on here?
Does Dr. Oz also think Photoshop is better than a facelift?
And age is supposed to show, dammit.
And the woman on the right does not look 40.
And the woman on the left is gorgeous. 

First thought: There are millions of women out there who wish
to all gods there were secrets in order to repel men.
Next thought: If a guy is so easily repelled by whatever these
three things are, then why would anyone want to be with him anyway?
Think childbirth.
Next thought: What use is a repelled man in real life?

Oh hold up.
So now Barbie getting older is a female behavior?
No wonder they used to call us hysterical.
I AM QUEEN! I HAVE AN AXE! DO NOT VEX ME!

See you on the other side.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Glory O'Brien wants you to see her cover!

I am writing this on Saturday, but you won't read it until Monday. Any inaccurate details about the weather are due to this time lag. All you weather buffs out there can just calm down...

I am presently in Vermont teaching at VCFA or Vermont College of Fine Arts. If you've never heard of the place, you should know that they have many amazing MFA programs including Writing for Children and Young Adults, which is the program I'm around for.

That was an awful sentence, but I don't care. I just traversed pure ice for cafeteria eggs and bacon. Bonus: I get to drink as much orange/cranberry juice as I want. From now on I want you all to call me "Captain Vitamin C." Say it with vigor. CAPTAIN VITAMIN C!

Also, in using my Yak Trax for the first time, I learned that A. they really work, and B. if one doesn't wash one's hands after using said Yak Trax, one can accidentally put rock salt in one's mouth, and C. rock salt tastes disgusting.

So. You're here for the cover reveal and so am I.

Before I reveal the cover of GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE, I'd like to kvetch about my own title. There is a word with two apostrophes in it. One word. Two apostrophes. And I'd like to apologize to anyone who might have to type said title because it's awkward. Sorry.

But it's her history of the future, and her name is Glory O'Brien, so since apostrophes give ownership, we're stuck. Here's an interesting fact about me. My biggest grammar pet peeve is the misplaced apostrophe--usually used to pluralize a noun. There was a restaurant down the road from my last house that read, "Tuesday nights: $5 Bloody Mary's" and every time I drove by that sign, I would yell, "Bloody Mary's WHAT? What does Bloody Mary OWN?"

Shoot. I went off track.
So the cover.

Really, first you should know about the story, so here's what the back of the ARC says:


WOULD YOU TRY TO CHANGE THE WORLD
IF YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD NO FUTURE?

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities—but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way...until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

***



Note to all people who have hair like the model in the above picture: I want your hair. I've always wanted your hair. If I'm to believe what I've heard about people and hair, you've probably always wanted curly, unruly hair like mine. I will never understand why we want each other's hair, but it doesn't erase the fact that I want your hair. 

So there you have it. 
I hope the rest of your week is awesome. 
And I hope to never taste rock salt again. 
And I hope Bloody Mary finds her five dollars. 


Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 Recap in Obscure and Not-so-obscure Pictures

Well, 2013 was a fine year all around. I got to see so many students and educators and librarians in so many schools/universities/libraries/conferences/festivals. I got to write a book or two. I released four, I guess, if we count the paperback of Ask the Passengers and anthologies Losing It and Break These Rules. Reality Boy saw great reviews, four of them starred, great articles in the Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, and then there was that boss article in SLJ about partnering with schools and libraries to do community reads. I saw foreign sales in Spanish and two in Korea. And then last weekend's NYT review by John Green, and then, this week, discovering that Reality Boy got a FIFTH star in LMC, Library Media Connection magazine. 
"King offers a compelling look at possible long-term effects of reality shows. With snippets of Network Nanny episodes interspersed throughout the novel, readers clearly “hear” Gerald’s silent scream for help. An emotional and difficult read, this story is also thought-provoking and ultimately optimistic."--LMC (starred review) 
On a more personal side, I moved, sold a house (finally), and I now work at Vermont College of Fine Arts as a faculty member in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program, which is a great program and a fabulous experience. I went to the beach and saw a friend I hadn't seen in too long. My kids are a year older. I guess that means we are, too. 

The following pictures are the ones I never shared but always wanted to. Some are serious. Some are funny. Some may make you wonder why I am posting them, but that's what captions are for.



I did a year-long writer-in-residence at Conrad Weiser High School last year. On one of my visits to the school, I found myself surrounded by these silhouettes. Below is a close-up of what the paper says inside. 

As a V-Warrior and a lifelong survivor advocate and activist, seeing these messages in the halls of a high school warmed my heart. Especially during a year of many awful stories like Steubenville.
Want to do this in your own school? Do!
And don't forget to include the guys.
And please don't forget to talk about consent. 

I'm only adding this because it's a reminder of how EXCELLENT Addendum Books in St. Paul is.
Photo cred: Addendum Books.


Ms. Heather Brewer hanging out with a very large cat in Arizona in March.
Birthday weekend in Arizona FTW. 


This is what me finishing a book looks like.
This is Glory O'Brien's History of the Future and will be on shelves in early October 2014.


It's the night before the Vagina Monologues.
What has two thumbs, two computers, and no time for sleep?
This girl!

Only if you read Reality Boy will you understand that this picture shows just how far I go in the name of research.

Random sign.
My interpretation: Three men can go up. Three men can go down.


This is me and my awesome editor Andrea Spooner in NYC for the April Author Carnival.
Big editor love.
She is the coolest.

Texas Library Association. April.
Matt de la Peña and Lisa McMann are my spirit animals. 

You saw this picture before. It is Mr. King and me on our way to the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.
We are in a stretch limo and are pretty surprised by it.
At this point, I not only didn't know I was going to win, but I had no speech and had no idea I had a chance to win.
But then, later that night, I did win.
And so, this picture has become the visual reminder of one of the bigger highlights of my life.
Topher took video of my speech. It's fuzzy and a little shaky.
He was crying a little, I think, because he has watched me write books for 20 years and never got to see something like this. That or his shoes were too tight. You choose.
I never planned on sharing the video, but I will now in case you feel like watching it:


Random fortune.
I think this stands as my favorite of 2013.
EPIC FAN ART.
Student from Philly (I think & forgive me/correct me if I'm wrong) was wearing a Jimi t-shirt.
I explained that I am a Hendrix pervert and soon after I received this in the mail.
THREE SIGNS:

This is a sad sign.

This is a confusing sign.


This is an adorable sign.
I am sparing you the 12 pictures I took of pee on toilet seats in 2013.
But the mere fact that I have 12 pictures of pee on toilet seats is proof that some people are raised by wolves. 


This is my car without a working brake system, up on a lift getting fixed.
I took this picture 30 minutes before I had to leave for this:

Mr. King in May, graduating with lots of bling. This was the halfway point.
Three more semesters and he will be a secondary English teacher, which is what he always wanted to be.
Twenty six years ago, he told me that.
Let this be proof that you are never too old to do what you want to do.
Also, let it be proof that my mechanic from the above picture is a miracle worker.

With permission from kid #2, I post FIRST TOOTH moment.
Blood and all. 

So, look. If you are a human being, you should see the doctor sometimes.
I know for me, that was difficult for years living inside a health system that I couldn't afford.
There are millions of us out there who aren't looking after ourselves 100% because we can't afford it.
But more specifically, I want to talk about lady parts.
GUYS! Don't leave! Read on. This is important because you have man parts that will also one day need looking after, and there's a good chance you might one day live with someone who has lady parts!

Ladies, you have to go to the doctor and make sure your lady parts are okay.
I wouldn't be here today writing this blog had I not gone for an annual pap smear in 1991.
I would be dead.
Thankfully, I am not dead and in 1991, there was a place for women like me--working our asses off, but still uninsured and unable to afford things like this.
I know none of this is your business, but if it helps one person get to a doctor, then I'm happy to share it.
ANYWAY.
Now, I am over 40 and I have to go for mammograms and ladies, if you're over 40, you have to do this too.
It sucks. SUCKS. But it's important.
I went for my first one 3 years ago. It's been a pretty bumpy ride ever since. 6+ more special diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds, and this picture is of me in June, going for a biopsy that turned out to be fine.
Did I have to pay out of pocket due to a high deductible and did it cost a lot? Yes. (Still paying it off.)
Was it worth it? Yes.
What use is money if one is dead?
So: this exceptionally long caption is for a good cause.
Humans: go to the doctor. Make sure your parts are okay.
More on healthcare in a minute...

Oh. And when you go to the doctor, make sure you remind the staff that you appreciate them.

This is Vermont College of Fine Arts. Isn't it gorgeous?
This was during my first residency in July.
Can't wait to see it in two weeks all snow-covered and icy. 

This was a message scrawled on the side of my wardrobe in my dorm room.
I travel a lot. I hear a lot of babies on planes in my travels.
I have kids, and so I have had babies on airplanes.
So my take on this is: Whoever wrote it will one day discover that the opposite is true.
There is a special awesome beach with free drinks for people who bring babies on airplanes. 

And since I am not one to write on wardrobes,
I want you to imagine a speech bubble from the panda's mouth that says, "What about pandas?"


I didn't go on vacation this year. But I DID get to go to the beach for 2 days.
Hello ocean! Hello sand!

Me and my posse. We will kick your ass.


SO THEN SCHOOL STARTED. 

Dear college bookstore who made this flier: Those are marijuana leaves.
You may have meant to do this. If so, kudos to you.
If not, oops.  

Birthday glasses! Kid #2 says hello.
Correction.
Kid #2 says HELLO!


Remember my awesome crocheted squid by Kim from Mercy HS in Rochester?
Here is her newest addition to my office.
The crocheted ninja. Thank you, Kim!
Which reminds me, I will be at the Rochester Teen Book Festival in 2014. Check my tour dates. All info is in there. I'll be presenting with Andrew Smith and will be suitably stoked to be there, as always. Best darn teen book festival in the USA. 


This year I moved a lot closer to my local independent bookstore.
I used to be 45 minutes away. Now I am 3 minutes away.
To say that this bookstore positively impacts my life would be an understatement. I wouldn't live here if they were not here. My kids wouldn't go to the schools they go to, and my life would be completely different were it not for an email I sent in mid 2008 asking if they might be interested in meeting me and reading an ARC of The Dust of 100 Dogs.
That book was their best-selling book of 2009.
They are also your connection for any signed or personalized books of mine.
This is Todd and Sam, and they are the heroes of Aaron's Books in Lititz, PA. They are my #1 supporters and I can never thank them enough. But they are very modest and say that they are just "doing their job." I say poppycock. They are special, wonderful, exceptional and I love them.
Come see them sometime. Also, there is a chocolate factory just down the road.
And a pretzel factory.
Mmmm. Chocolate, pretzels, and books.

BUMPER STICKERS THAT ARE JUST WEIRD.


This is a panda...um..doing it with another panda. 

I saw this one two blocks from my house.
I have NO IDEA why anyone would want to advertise this on the back of a car.
I have no idea what else to say except: WTF?


FILE UNDER: WORDS THAT NOW MEAN SOMETHING ELSE.

Postal is probably not the word to use here.
"Post Office Customer" would have probably worked better.
Unless they actually mean that people who have gone postal, who are also customers, can park here. 


This is me in front of Violet, my 1997 Dodge Neon.
I loved that car. This was the day I traded it in for a car with headlights that work.
Headlights are good.

I'VE BEEN WRITING A NEW BOOK.


This book I'm writing has something to do with helicopters.


It also has something to do with quality letters. 

HERE'S THE BOOK I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2014.

This book is the best book I've read in decades.
Look for it in February 2014.

This has something to do with the above book.
It's also graffiti I found a mile from my childhood home when I was driving through earlier this year.
Made me happy when I saw it.



This isn't a political statement.
This is a human being statement.
I knew applying to the Marketplace for health insurance options was going to require patience. After all, I lived most of my adult life in a country that had a universal healthcare system and I understand that these things take time.
My case was kinda exceptional. About 40 calls. Six applications filed in total before I could actually get results.
A lot of these "the system is down at the moment" pages.
For most people, it is not this difficult.
Each time I called, there was no wait on the phone. 99% of those who answered were courteous and wanted to help me get through the process and succeed.
And yesterday I finally finished and enrolled after 3 months of working on it between touring travels.
And do you know what?
In 2014, I will have $350 extra dollars a month with which to feed my kids.
AND I will actually have a plan that COVERS MEDICAL EXPENSES.
It will take years for this system to get into place and function well, so expecting miracles out of the gate isn't realistic. If you haven't done it yet, or are waiting because you're scared, just do it. Have patience with it. Try to understand it. Try to remember the end result for your family and forget the politics.
TWO RANDOM PICTURES FOR 2014:

Let there be more roller skating!

If I squinted at you at all in 2013, or didn't recognize you until I got closer, I apologize. I finally got new lenses.
I can see you now. And you look great!

Happy New Year to all of you! 
May 2014 be the year of transporters. 

Photo cred: Wikipedia