Category Archives: teen writers

My Middle School Marathon (with a high school visit & a book reading thrown in there, too)

Kristien-Paige and I are still recovering from our back-to-back school visits yesterday at Pinkerton Academy & Londonderry Middle school.  Not to mention the fact that we capped off our day with a book-signing at the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford.  But, boy, did we have fun!

I don’t know what they’re putting in the drinking water in Derry & Londonderry, but those kids were all so great!  Amazing questions, lots of enthusiasm.  And as you can see from the pix below, they are totally rocking the Pea Pod!

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Filed under books, movies, YA, writing, favorite books, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, teen writers, writing advice, young adult

On the Road Again

Hopefully, our road-trip will have a happier ending than theirs did.

Tomorrow morning, Kristen-Paige Madonia & I kick off our Road Trip Books Hit the Road tour with two school visits (Pinkerton Academy & Londonderry Middle School) followed by a reading at the Toadstool Bookshop in Milford, NH at 7:00pm. Whew. I’m tired just thinking about it.

Our plan is to rendezvous at the school, but until then, Kristen-Paige and I will be traveling in separate cars.  I live in the middle of nowhere, so I tend to spend a fair share of my time alone in my car.  So, I thought I’d share some of my personal must-haves for those long solo drives.

1. An apple.  I never drive long distances without an apple in my car.  For one thing, it’s the perfect food.  Plus, when you’re done, you get to chuck the core out the window, which is an added bonus (location permitting).  Then there’s  my recent car apple discovery:  even if you leave your apple in the car for a few hours and it gets really hot, it still tastes good! Like a crisp, single-serving, healthy apple pie. Yum.

2. Podcasts.  The Moth, This American Life, the JV Club, Radiolab, Fresh Air. Take your pick.  Oh, and did I mention that I’ll be performing live on the Moth Mainstage in October? Eek! (Details TBA).

3. Hand lotion.  For some reason, I never notice that my hands are dry until I see them on my steering wheel.  And since I’m a pathological multi-tasker, what better place to revitalize my weary skin than while cruising down the highway at 80 MPH. Just kidding.  I only moisturize on back roads. 😉

Hope to see you on one of our tour stops.  And if you haven’t read Kristen-Paige’s book, FINGERPRINTS OF YOU, it’s poignant and beautifully written, with a complex protagonist you’ll come to care about deeply.  One of my favorite reads of the year!

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The Bully in My Head

The topic of today’s blog post (bullying) comes from my involvement with TeamTEENAuthor.  TeamTEENauthor is a group of YA writers committed to speaking directly to their teen readers through essays, personal stories, and videos about age-relevant topics (with a small side dose of public humiliation). In other words, we don’t just want to write for you, we want to talk to you, too.  On the second Wednesday of every month, our fearless leader, Julie Cross, gives us a single word or phrase and we are allowed to do whatever we’d like with it.   The word for July is:  BULLY 

The Bully in My Head

I’ve been on both sides of the equation:  the bully and the bullied.  The details of these incidents aren’t important, though they stand out as some of the clearest memories of my youth.  What’s important is the why.  Why did I, a kid with friends, good grades, two loving parents and a (relatively) stable home, need to make other kids feel bad about themselves?  Conversely, why did I let the kids who teased me get away with it?  Why was I too ashamed to ask my parents or teachers for help?  And the one time I did ask a grown-up to intervene (the principal of my junior high, who did absolutely nothing despite my repeated pleas) why did I accept his utter ineffectualness as an adequate response?

The answer, as best as I’ve figured it, isn’t so much about the outside forces I was exposed to—the compassion and tolerance my parents raised me to believe in, or even the broken “look the other way” culture prevalent at my school—as much as it was about what was going on inside my head, which, I can assure you, was as bad, if not worse, as the taunts of my seventh grade bully.

“You deserve it,” I’d tell my thirteen-year-old self.  “You’re not as pretty as D. or as popular as R., so, of course, no one’s going to try to help you.”

With messages like this tormenting me, it’s no wonder I went through life angry and scared.   When a child comes from a dysfunctional family, it’s easy to understand why he or she feels the need to lash out, to find release by preying upon the weaker kids. Or why the kid who’s been beaten down by life comes to see herself as the powerless victim. But I came from a “good” family who supported me.  The problem was, I was being bullied constantly—by myself.

Even through high school, college, and beyond, when the bullying by and of others had thankfully ceased, I was still beating myself up on a regular basis—playing the roles of both bully and victim.  The sad thing is, this kind of negative messaging isn’t all that uncommon.  How often do we carelessly put ourselves down for saying or doing “something stupid,” or insult ourselves for the way we look in a bathing suit, or the bad grade we got on a test?

Recently, my eight-year-old son struck out at his little league game and was bemoaning his quote-unquote failure on the car ride home.  “I’m terrible at baseball,” he announced, as if this were an irrefutable fact, even though he was one of the team’s big hitters, and this was the first time he’d struck out all season.  As a mom, it was easy for me to reassure him that his very critical self-assessment wasn’t true, that even the best hitters in major league baseball strike out at least half of the time, that we all have off days.  I try to teach him to be kind to himself, instead of beating himself up about it.  But it took me years to learn how to give that same kind of compassion to myself.

Today, I’m proud to say that I practice self-compassion on a regular basis, which means forgiving myself when I quote-unquote fail, and loving myself, not in spite of my perceived inadequacies, but because of them.  I recently had the good fortune of reading an advance copy of SKINNY, by Donner Cooner, the much-lauded young adult novel due out this fall, in which a 300-pound fifteen-year-old girl named Ever goes through a risky gastric bypass operation in order to silence the negative voice inside her head (which she’s named Skinny).  Ever survives the surgery, but much to her dismay: so does Skinny.  Which makes Ever realize how little her actual appearance had to do with the negative way she thinks of herself, and how much it has to do with Skinny’s constant criticism.

My point is—bullying is a complex topic, and it’s important that we give kids the tools to deal with it and bring awareness to it in our schools, our homes, and our communities.  But I don’t think the problem will ever really stop until we learn to stop bullying ourselves.

Below are links to the blogs of other TeamTEENAuthors who’ve written about bullying today.:

Julie Cross–TEMPEST


Janci Patterson–CHASING THE SKIP

Jessica Corra–AFTER YOU





And here’s a link to a great article on the differences between self-compassion and self-esteem and why self-compassion may be more important.

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Fiction and Movies and Blogs, Oh My!

Just got back from a whirlwind trip to NYC for Teen Book Fest, (where my speaking engagement didn’t exactly go as planned) then Portland, Maine for the Chidlren’s Film Festival (where my speaking engagement went better than planned).  But both trips were full of unexpected book & movie-related delights along the way.

Delight #1 – A visit with my publisher.  Once again, my lovely editor, Alexandra Cooper, gave me the official Simon & Schuster tour, where I got to meet all of the people in Sales, Marketing, and Publicity who are working hard to make REUNITED a success (presumably, they’re publishing other titles, too).

When I got off the elevator at Simon & Schuster, there was this. Not bad company, eh? Though I hear they gave Whaley champagne. 😉

Delight #2 – Authors & BBQ – Though our Teen Author Fest event didn’t exactly go as planned (insert loud throat-clearing here) I did get to enjoy a wonderful lunch with a gang of great authors including:   Leanna Renee Hieber (author of DARKER STILL), Lauren McLaughlin (author of SCORED and the CYCLER series), Kody Keplinger (author of THE DUFF and SHUT OUT), PG Kain, (author of the COMMERCIAL BREAKS series) and Gwendolyn Heasley (author of WHERE I BELONG and the forthcoming A LONG WAY FROM YOU).  A definite highlight of my trip!

Leanna Renee Hieber, Lauren McLaughlin, and I visit the lovely teen room at the Hamilton Grange Branch of the NY Public Library.

Delight #3 – While in the East Village with my friend Chuck, we walked by the inspiring & hilarious Janeane Garofalo, who was rocking red leggings and combat boots, like a total bad-ass.  No photo, but you get the picture.

Delight #4 – In Portland, ME we always stay with my sister & her family.  Recently, my eight-year-old niece created her own in-house library, complete with official library cards, a reference section, and a wide selection of books and videos available for loan.  A family library card cost 35 cents.  Also, there’s a tip jar.

My niece's library, where we took out a Muppets Movie and a Calvin & Hobbes book.

Delight #5 – This is me, leading a filmmaking workshop at the Children’s Film Fest in Portland, ME.  Great kids, well-attended, and I was sooooo happy to see so many girls interested in making movies!

Raise your hand if you want to overthrow the patriarchy.

Delight #6 – Kirsten Cappy of Curious City is also based out of Portland, ME and we spent the afternoon eating sushi & scheming with the uber-cool librarian and all-around Renaissance man Michael Whitaker.  You can see some of our plans for REUNITED here:

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True Teen Stories: Three’s a Crowd

Welcome to Volume 3 of “True Teen Stories,” a blog series which features non-fiction essays from teen writers.  I am incredibly impressed and proud of the writer of this next story, 14-year-old Angel R. of the U.K., author of “Three’s a Crowd.”   It’s not easy to open yourself up to the world, and I think Angel’s bravery and candor will be an inspiration to girls everywhere.


By Angel R., age 14 

I remember sometime last year, lying on my best friend’s bed with my nose stuck in a book as she complained about yet another boy that had ‘broken her heart’. This one only lasted a week. The pair of us, I realize now, must have looked like those cheesy best friends that you see in all the 1990’s movies. Phoebe Smith* and I had been best friends since she stood on my foot on the first day of primary school and, at 13 years a piece, had been through so much together: first bras, first boyfriends, first break-ups, and first periods. You name it, we had been through it together.

It was around this time that my feelings towards Phoebe started to change. We went from being BFFs to me being madly in love with her and her being completely clueless as usual. I think that I’d always had a special place in my heart for Phoebe and, once I discovered it was okay to like girls, finally admitted my feelings to myself. I remember her falling beside me on the bed and asking why she didn’t like girls instead, it would be so much easier. We talked about sexuality for about an hour and both agreed that yes, it was okay to date other girls but no, she and I wouldn’t be doing it anytime soon after all, as Phoebe said “Neither of us are really lesbians”

A couple of months after the ‘bedroom incident’, a new girl showed up at school. Her name was Laura Slough and she was one of these girls that always wears designer clothes and has a giggle that reverberates around in your skull for hours after hearing it, which is why it surprised me so much when Phoebe invited her to hang around with us. Now, I’m all for making someone feel welcome, so of course I played nice.  But as Phoebe and Katy started to grow closer I couldn’t help but get slightly jealous. So, I did the only thing I could think of: not let it get to me. It worked, for the rest of that school year and the start of the next one. Sure, our cozy duo became a trio, but we were all friends and we all loved each other.  Or so I thought.

With the new addition to our group, my feelings towards Phoebe only got stronger and stronger and, I realized as the world was changing around me, I didn’t like boys the way other girls did, I liked girls and I had to face up to that fact and stop hiding it. I was happy with my new, clearer, knowledge of myself and wanted to share it with my friends, after all Phoebe had basically told me that it was okay to be gay and if Laura didn’t like it, well I wasn’t really losing much was I? So I was going to do it one day at school, I managed to get them into a quiet part of the school by telling them I had ‘something important to tell them’ but when it came around to actually saying something I found I couldn’t do it so quickly ran off leaving two very confused teenagers behind me.

I decided that the easiest way to do it would be over MSN so, during our 6pm scheduled chat I was almost forced into it by Laura. Here’s a snippet of that conversation: 

Phoebe: Or vegas! Wat bout u Ang do u wanna go vegas wiv me?

Me: I’d love to go with you Phoebe.

Laura: Oh, ang. Wat u wanted to tell us?

Me: Oh, right. Um, it doesn’t matter?

Phoebe: Go on babes, tell us

Me: Well, its kinda important.

Laura: Just spit it out!

Me: I’m gay.

Laura: WAT? Wind up rite?

Me: No, I’m being serious. I’m in love with another girl

Phoebe: I don’t know what to say baby o_O

Laura: hows bout: thats gross! Wat girl would wanna kiss u?

Me: Phoebe?

Phoebe has signed out

The conversation continued (via text now) with lots of swearing and derogatory names thrown at myself, mainly by Laura but a few coming from the girl I love too.

The next day I walked into school with my head held high even though I could hear the gossip about me spreading like wildfire through the hallways. I came face to face with the two girls that had haunted my dreams the previous night and, looking me straight in the face, Laura simply spat on my shoe and told me that if she saw me again she would do it in my face. I looked to Phoebe for support, but she just linked arms with Laura and spat on my shoe as well. I knew in that moment that letting Laura into our duo was the worst mistake of my life so far.

A few weeks later, after avoiding both girls in the hallways, Phoebe was announced to be on a long holiday, visiting family in Australia apparently. But Phoebe doesn’t have any family in Australia, so I am not certain why she is really gone, but the one thing I am certain of is that when she returns, I am going to talk to her alone.  Because, let’s be honest:  three’s a crowd.

*Actual names have been changed

About the Author:  Angel is a 14-year old girl. She has been in girlguiding for 10 years now and currently helps at both a Rainbow (young girls aged 5-7) and a Brownie (girls aged 7-10) unit, she also helps at two local charity shops (British heart foundation and Scope). In the little free time she gets she likes to listen to both classical music and the top 40 whilst writing the several novels she has on the go. She, one day, aspires to be a primary teacher along with publishing several of her own novels and leading Rainbow, Brownie and Guide (girls aged 10-14) units during the week and at the weekend continue to volunteer at local charity shops.

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True Teen Stories: Glass Houses and Shattered Bonds

Welcome to the second installment of my blog series “True Teen Stories” featuring non-fiction essays from teen writers.  For the record, I’d just like to say how impressed I am by the work I’ve received thus far.  One of the greatest challenges for new writers is the ability to write honestly.  That doesn’t mean every word the author chooses must in fact be the definitive truth, only that it represents their truth (or, in fiction, their character’s truth).

Today’s story, “Glass Houses and Shattered Bonds,” written by fifteen-year-old Emily T., does just that—detailing the unraveling of a friendship without cynicism or pretense.  When I first read Emily’s story, I was struck by how familiar it felt to me, and to the friendship break-up I had back in high school.  Sadly, I think it’s probably familiar for many girls. But by articulating those feelings in writing, Emily might just be able to get through this difficult situation with more clarity, instead of, say, waiting 20 years to write about it in a YA novel.  (In case you didn’t know, REUNITED is about a friendship break-up.)

Emily T., age 15, is an aspiring writer from Staffordshire, England.  In addition to writing, her interests include fashion design and punk rock music.

Glass Houses and Shattered Bonds

By Emily T., age 15

At the very beginning of primary school, I had one best friend, Amelia. Amelia is my oldest friend and vice versa, and though we shared a strong bond of friendship, near the end of primary school this friendship grew to include identical twins Lana and Elena. The four of us were inseparable, but the problem (according to Lana and Elena), started during our first year of high school when another new friend, Sandra, joined our group.

It all happened because of my fifteenth birthday party. As we all know birthdays are on a set date, they don’t just randomly change with each coming year. So as a normal person would do, I arranged for my party to be on the weekend of my birthday, (as my birthday unfortunately usually falls in the middle of the school term). I invited all my friends two weeks before the intended party and all was well… up until one week before my party, when Lana and Elena informed me that they had been invited to another party a month before I had told them the arrangements for mine.

Which was fine, if they’d been invited to that one first and had said yes to it, then that was fine I couldn’t just expect them to change their arrangements because that wouldn’t be fair on them. But of course, it did upset me slightly, considering they had known me for so long and had been to every one of my parties and as I’ve said before, birthdays don’t change. So not wanting to have a party without them, I graciously changed my arrangements for them, putting my entire family out, as we were supposed to be going away for weekend. But not wanting to be alone on the weekend of my birthday, I invited Amelia and Sandra over to my house for a sleepover as they weren’t going to this other party and would be doing nothing either.

Next thing I know, Elena is standing behind me saying that she and Lana will still be able to come on the original date and asking when to drop their stuff around. Usually, I wouldn’t have cared, but considering it felt like they were ditching my arrangements for someone else’s, I didn’t think it was right for them to just expect to be invited to my consolation do. So for the first time ever, I stood up for myself and said that the actual party was next week, but there was no point them coming to the sleepover as they would have missed most of it anyway by the time they got there.

This, of course, caused world war three amongst the group. They weren’t talking to me and I wasn’t talking to them. The entire week before my birthday I walked home ranting to Sandra, who patiently listened to me before we parted ways. But as soon as I was alone the tears came. I spent the entire week before my birthday feeling miserable.

Two days before my birthday, they said they wouldn’t be coming to my party because it would be too awkward between us, I of course tried to convince them otherwise but they weren’t having it, they even got their mum involved in the text conversation, painting them as the victim. This brought the total number of people in the text conversation to three against one. At this point, I could too have got my mum involved, but considering she gets paid to argue it would have been the kiss of death for the friendship. So I was outnumbered and I ended up apologizing for something that was completely irrelevant to argument and making up with them. Or so I thought…

However during the next day of school, I was sitting between them in one of our classes and none of us were talking; I was having a hard time stopping myself from breaking down into tears. Fortunately, I had to leave the room to do a job for the teacher but Elena was asked to come too. Once outside of the room, I broke down into tears and said, ‘I thought we’d sorted this out.

To which her reply was; “Why are you crying?” asked in a tone which said she couldn’t have cared less; which to me said if she really didn’t know then maybe it wasn’t worth fixing.

It was such a stupid argument, but I’d like to think it changed me for the better. Throughout this time I found out who my real friends were.

I’d like to think things got better between us from there, and for a while, they did. Until one day Lana ran off crying and Amelia went to comfort her, leaving me, Sandra, and Elena sitting awkwardly together.

Feeling fed up with the on-going argument, I arranged to meet Elena and Lana alone one day in town to discuss where we were as friends.

After spending an hour and a half going round in circles, I learned that they blamed Sandra for the friendship falling apart and wanted it to go back to just us four. Me, Amelia, Elena and Lana. When it was my turn to speak, they did what they always do and didn’t listen as to what I had to say, instead choosing to talk over me, then walking out on me, claiming they felt as though they’d gotten nowhere. Which effectively they had, because they hadn’t listened to what I was trying to say.

I still speak to Elena and Lana, seeing as they are in all my lessons, but it’s not the same. They’re not the same. I partly agreed with them when they said they wanted to go back to how it was in primary school, just not the part without Sandra. If they could go back to being their primary school selves, not repeatedly snapping at me, making me think I have to be careful with what I say when I’m with them; not being so paranoid as to what I do and who with; and less spiteful e.g. not talking to me in attempt to show me how they feel; as I can say for fact I would never do that to them. Then maybe they may be more fun to hang around with.

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The Elements of Style (Rap Video remix)

Do not join independent clauses with a comma.

But I love it, it’s cool. 
I don’t care if you wanna.

made by students at the Columbia School of Journalism




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True Teen Stories: What happened to friends till the end?

Today, I am very excited to kick off a semi-regular event on my blog called “True Teen Stories,” featuring guest posts from aspiring young writers.

To start, I’ve asked teens to write non-fiction essays about their experiences with friendship break-ups, road trips, loving a rock band, and dealing with ex-best friends—all topics I explore in my forthcoming young adult novel, REUNITED.

Charlotte Nissan, age 13, has the honor of being the inaugural TTS guest poster, and I am so proud to present her candid and eloquent essay, “What happened to friends till the end?” 

In addition to being a writer, Charlotte enjoys running and playing guitar.  And did I mention she’s only 13!   Wowza.  I know this essay will speak to so many teenage girls out there.  Enjoy.

What happened to friends till the end?

By Charlotte Nissan, Age 13

Okay, so you might think I’m shallow or jerkish or mean in general, but I’d had enough. Seriously, for once I was completely utterly done. It was too much work, to console Katelyn on her dating life or to censor Dilly’s potty mouth and rants about her ADHD and depression (I almost think she made that up, she’s one of the most excited, happy people I know). The only reason I hung out with them because they were Mag’s friends… but even in the days before the breakup, it became awkward to hang out with her. They were obnoxious, dorky (like the lowest smudge on the food chain of middle school), and loud, very loud. And I was done with them. I just needed to get a chance to separate myself, so when one came I took it. Ashlee was that chance for me.

She was popular, friendly, outgoing, and I enjoyed hanging out with her. I did it more and more, until it became the norm to sit at her table. But my friendship with Katelyn, Dilly, and Mag was still hanging by a fraying thread. They weren’t about to let me go that easily.

So I did some stuff I’m ashamed of, nothing big, of course, but still shameful.

The Friday before Halloween, Dilly invited me over and when I explained my situation to Ashlee, she agreed to come to so I could finally finish what I had started.

We arrived at Dilly’s multi-million dollar house (I think three to be exact) and were sitting at the foot of Dilly’s bed when her phone buzzed. It was Katelyn on skype. Katelyn had asked the guy she’d been crushing on for the entire school year out and he said no. This was the second time it had happened, first she asked Kaleb, one of the tall, tan, blonde twins of our school out and now Mac. Then a wicked idea popped into my head.

“Dilly,” I said, “she really needs to stop asking guys who are way out of her league out before she gets hurt.”

She agreed, of course she did, Dilly has all the brains in the world, but when comes to other’s feelings, especially those of her friends, she doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together. She grabbed my phone out of my hand and started texting vigorously. Long story short, it started with Dilly telling her off, talking about how Katelyn never takes any of her advice and ended with Katelyn texting billions of apologies back, you could practically hear the tears through her phone. Then Dilly kicked her out of our group of friends.

On Monday, I was shocked to find out that Dilly, Katelyn, and Mag were closer than ever, like they had gone to camp or something and came back holding hands and singing Kumbaya or whatever. It was like Katelyn completely forgotten about what Dilly did to her. Then during gym, Dilly, Katelyn, and Mag came up to me and Ashlee, and asked Ashlee to leave.

“You’ve been acting different since you starting hanging with Ashlee,” Dilly said.

“Yeah,” chimed in Katelyn, “even I noticed it.”

Then Mag came right up to me, looked me in the eyes and said, “We’d love to hang out with you once you stop acting so jerkish, but until then, I never want to see you again.”

I recoiled with phrases like: real friends wouldn’t make me choose etc., but they had enough of me and I didn’t even do anything. So I choose Ashlee, obviously, because she never made me choose.

And it was the end of my friendship between Mag, Dilly, and Katelyn.

It’s pretty awkward now when I pass them in the halls, or the only seat in English is next to Dilly, but I’ll get over it… I hope.

But one thing I’ve learned from this experience is that if a friend is willing to ignore you because you hang out with someone else, they aren’t worth it at all.

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