Autumnal Beginnings and Endings

Thank you so much to all of the teachers and librarians who entered The Mockingbirds giveaway, and congratulations to the winner, Beth S.! Please send me your mailing address: steph AT stephanieperkins.com

I've been having some quiet days. Thank goodness. It's rainy here in the mountains, and the weather is finally cooling. Today I spotted my first pumpkins and mums of the season—on my next-door neighbor's porch!—and the air was chilly enough to require a sweater.

Happy sigh. I love autumn.

I'm dreaming of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup . . . even pumpkin-scented candles. Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Hand-knitted scarves and woolen tights. Red leaves, yellow leaves, orange leaves.

Brown leaves crunching underneath my boots.

(My boots!)

I'm also dreaming about falling in love with writing again. Rediscovering the magic, rolling around in the words, the scenes, the atmosphere. I've been switching back and forth between projects for the last month, and even though everything is interesting, nothing is—to borrow a favorite phrase from Lainilighting my mind on fire.

So I'm trying something new this week. Or, rather, something old.

Instead of running out to buy a NEW fix, I pulled something off my preexisting writing shelf, Naomi Epel's The Observation Deck. It's a deck of creative prompts for writers along the lines of Brian Eno's famous-ish Oblique Strategies (designed for musicians, but useful in other artistic endeavors). I'm lazy and don't feel like talking about either, but if you're searching for your own inspiration, both are worth looking into.

But with beginnings, come endings.

Today I learned that my parents' golden retriever Maggie—Doesn't everyone know a golden retriever named Maggie?—passed away. She had a happy, long life, and she was the best dog I've ever known. Intelligent, loving, hilarious. In my last post, I mentioned that high school was difficult for me. I confess, this means I cried often. And every single time, Maggie would come running for me. She wouldn't leave my side until I was calm again.

THAT is a good dog. And a great friend.

The last time I saw her, about a year and a half ago, I had one of those deep, twinge-y feelings that it would probably be the last. I decided to take a picture of us together. It's certainly not an attractive picture! But it makes me smile, because you can tell we are friends.

Please leave a funny dog story in my comments, in her honor. Or tell me what you're looking forward to this autumn. Or both!



I didn't intend for this to become PSA week, but there's one more news story that caught my eye, and . . . I can't NOT talk about it. I promise that I'll return to posting pictures of attractive people with foreign accents soon.

Last night, Robin Benway (Yay, Robin!) tweeted this:

(Why, yes, I do get all of my news from Twitter.)

While this specific sentence was not news to me—Dan Savage is one of my heroes, too*—I was curious as to why he was making headlines again. When I clicked on the link, I was taken to a NYT article called "Showing Gay Teenagers a Happy Future."

It's about a YouTube project called "It Gets Better" that was created by Savage in response to the recent suicide of Billy Lucas, a fifteen-year-old who was bullied by his classmates for being gay. The project is aimed toward LGBT teens in middle school and high school who are suffering from bullying and depression, and it's a collection of videos made by LGBT adults.

Their message is simple: Life gets better after high school.

Now, I was not a happy teenager. In fact, I was a deeply unhappy teenager. And though my problems were minuscule compared to what gay teenagers face, they were still problems. Real, legitimate problems. And the ONE PIECE OF ADVICE that made a difference was when an adult who was not one of my parents** took the time to pull me aside and told me those exact same words:

It gets better.

She told me a story about a girl she knew who was a lot like me, who felt no connection with her peers, who was miserable in high school, and how the MOMENT she left . . . her life got better.

I never forgot it. Those words pulled me through some incredibly difficult years. And you know what? That adult was right. The moment I was out of high school—the day after graduation!—I was a happier person.

"It gets better" is a message I want to shout from the rooftops.

Middle school and high school flat-out suck, for a lot of people. And when you're trapped in it, day in and day out, it's impossible to see your own future clearly. This message, as hard as it is—tough it out, it'll be better later—is crucial. It saves lives.

Did you know that nine out of ten gay teens are bullied? That they're four times more likely to commit suicide?***

Please please please, I am begging you. If you know any LGBT teenagers, send them to Dan Savage's YouTube page and have them listen to Dan and Terry's (his partner of sixteen years) message. Show them the links in the sidebar.

And if YOU are a gay teenager, or if you're ANY teenager suffering from depression, I want to assure you with all of my heart—with every fiber of my whole entire being—that it does get better. I promise. You will have an AMAZING life. I know how horrible school is, how endless it feels, but I assure you . . . it does end. You can move anywhere you want. You'll find friends like yourself, people who understand you, people who will love and support you.

It gets better.

Hang in there.

*Dan Savage is a sex-advice columnist for Seattle's The Stranger. His column Savage Love runs in alternative papers across the country. He provides frank, honest advice for people who can't get it anywhere else. (It's also very, very, very NSFW—not safe for work!) He's the author of several hilarious and inspiring books, and his story about the death of his mother on This American Life (episode: "Return to the Scene of the Crime") is one of the most powerful narratives I've ever heard on radio. I like him. A lot.

**Parents, of course you should also be telling this to your children. And, for the record, my wonderful parents assured me of it frequently! But it makes a difference—A BIG GIGANTIC HUGE DIFFERENCE—to hear this kind of support from someone who (you don't feel) has to say it to you. You know?



Honest-to-Goodness Titles of My First Drafts

Anna and the French Kiss = Really Awesome Novel

Lola and the Boy Next Door = Totally Brilliant Novel

(Third Novel) = Super Best Novel Ever

I have upgraded. Obviously.


Speak Loudly + The Mockingbirds Giveaway

I wasn't going to blog about this, because so many authors much more eloquent than myself have already written about it, but . . . I have a handful of readers who are NOT in the YA community who might not have heard, so this post is for them.

It's also for every single one of my friends who has been raped.

Here's the story: Two days ago, in an opinion piece in a Missouri newspaper, a university associate professor named Wesley Scroggins challenged three books, one of which was Laurie Halse Anderson's groundbreaking novel Speak. In the most simple terms possible, the story is about a girl who is raped and loses her voice.

And the guy who wrote the opinion piece has the nerve to compare the rape scenes in Speak to "soft pornography."


Here is Anderson's response:

"The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying. It gets worse, if that’s possible, when he goes on to completely mischaracterize the book.

Some people say that I shouldn’t make a big deal about this. That I am giving him more attention than he deserves. But this guy lives about an hour and half from the school district that banned Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN this month.

My fear is that good-hearted people in Scroggins’ community will read his piece and believe what he says. And then they will complain to the school board. And then the book will be pulled and then all those kids who might have found truth and support in the book will be denied that. In addition, all the kids who have healthy emotional lives but who hate reading, will miss the chance to enjoy a book that might change their opinion."

Not only is his comparison despicably vile, but HE'S COMPLETELY MISSING THE POINT OF THE BOOK. That we need to SPEAK UP about rape. If this book goes on to be officially challenged or banned, it sends a message of silence to rape victims. Which to that I say:


Here are some actions suggested by Anderson that we can do to help:

"Please share your experiences with SPEAK; your own response to the book, or the way you’ve seen it work in a school setting . . . please share links to your blog in [Anderson's] Comments. But then, please speak up to the people who can make a real difference in Republic, MO.

You can submit a letter to the editor of the News-Leader.

You can write to the superintendent of the Republic School District, Dr. Vern Minor, or to the high school principal, Daren Harris.

You can comment directly to Scroggins’ opinion piece."

I'm also buying a copy of Speak for every public library in my county that did not already own one. (Five new copies on the way!) AND this whole thing is making me think of another brilliant, compassionately written novel about rape, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney.

"Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way—the Themis Way. So when Alex is date raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps her, or enlist the Mockingbirds—a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.

In this honest, page-turning account of a teen girl's struggle to stand up for herself, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that if you love something or someone—especially yourself—you fight for it."

Here's an actual quote from an email I sent to a friend just last night: "I love Daisy's book. It's about rape, but it's NOT depressing. It's a story about healing, about regaining power and being happy and comfortable with relationships and sex again. And . . . there's a seeeeriously cute boy in it!"

(Ha ha! I can never resist mentioning a cute boy. And, yes, as you can guess by the title and cover, it has an awesome connection with To Kill a Mockingbird.)

It's my favorite YA contemporary debut of the year. By far. Unfortunately, The Mockingbirds won't be released until November 2nd, but:

If you are either: (A) a librarian or (B) a teacher with a library in your classroom, please leave a comment on this post to enter to win a pre-order of The Mockingbirds for your public collection.

Make sure to mention that you're a librarian or teacher in your comment, so I'll know you're officially entering. I'll draw a winner at the end of the week.

And finally, here's a video of Laurie Halse Anderson reading a poem called "Listen" based on the letters she's received about Speak:

Have a great week, my friends. Speak loudly.



Three Things I've Been Doing This Month

(1) Watching Gilmore Girls and Friday Night Lights.

Last week, ABC Family started airing them back-to-back from their first episodes. I've seen several episodes of GG at random, and I've always enjoyed it, but I've never found the time to make the full seven-season commitment.


And FNL is one of those shows that writers always love (even writers who hate football!), so I felt like I should try it. And . . . yeah. It's as fantastic as everyone says it is. And every episode has made me cry at least once.

I'm loving them both, but I love Gilmore Girls a *little* more, because it's a world I actually want to live in. My favorite TV shows and movies and novels are always the ones that I wish were my own life! And come on, coffee at Luke's? Sookie's magic cooking? The Gilmore house? The twinkle lights downtown? I'm experiencing serious lifestyle lust.

If you're like me, and you're late to the game, I give both shows my highest recommendation. But I give Gilmore Girls, like, my highest recommendation plus.

P.S. Please don't put any spoilers in my comments. I only know a teeny handful of things that happen in later seasons on these shows, and I'd rather things stay a surprise. Thanks!

(2) Turning my upstairs hallway into a library.

It's beauuutiful and a longtime dream fulfilled. Guys, I have an entire bookcase JUST for young adult literature now! Pictures forthcoming, once Jarrod and I have accessorized the space a bit more.

(3) Pacing the black and white tiles of my kitchen at 3:30 a.m. and obsessing over writers who are smarter and/or more productive than me, which seems to be pretty much everyone these days, but especially one writer who shall remain nameless, who if I could write ONE SENTENCE like Nameless Writer, I'd never want for anything again, except that's a total lie, because I want to write ENTIRE BOOKS filled with these sentences, because if I just wrote one sentence, it'd probably be cut, because my critique partners would be like, "What's this brilliant sentence doing in your novel? It doesn't sound like you. You should cut it," and then I'd never even see the sentence go to print, so basically I am screwed, and why is everyone so much better than me???

This also accounts for the lack of blogging.


Outbox Confessions

Email I sent to a friend at midnight:

Writing is THE WORST.

Email I sent to her an hour later:

Actually . . . it's not . . . too bad.