Sunday, February 7, 2021

What If Girls Were Taught to Lift One Another Better From an Early Age?


What if girls lifted girls?

Might everything be different?

This simple question has plagued me for a long, long time.

In high school, I was badly bullied by other girls. In repeat instances.  I was threatened, physically harmed and slut-shamed before I'd ever even "lost" my virginity. For two years of high school, I lived in daily terror.

To this day, I honestly don't know why.

Were they jealous? 

Did I appear too self-confident or aloof?* 

Was I unwittingly cruel to them first? 

Did I play a role in my own torture? Did they, too, play a role in their own simultaneous pain?

You can read more about that if you'd like to know the specifics HERE.  

**I'm also making the original Google Doc I drafted for that feature public with this link and invite you or your readers to have a conversation with me about all of this any time with me there. **

Some of the girls who were cruelest to me are lovely, kind women now. Perhaps a few are not. One of them is dead. I wept, not celebrated, when I learned of this. Of course. Of course. It only cemented what I believe, my best guess as to why girl-on-girl cruelty perpetuates itself, decade after decade:

We were all suffering, and being cruel to me helped them avoid their own insecurities and pain.

Sometimes, when I see photos of teen me,
my heart breaks for me

But what is the source of those insecurities? What if WE -- girls, women -- had a LOT of power in reducing and undermining those insecurities and pain?

I've been reading and thinking a lot about Evan Rachel Wood these days, and her brutal painful story. Maybe I read something that triggered the connection, about women blaming her, but I can't stop thinking about the connection to my book JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME and what I was hoping to say by that story.

Let me first state unequivocally, that what happened to Wood and seemingly many others, is the fault of a man, of men, of a system of patriarchy and toxic masculinity, and what we continue to allow men to get away with. Period. End of story.

I know, I know. How is there an "and" after you said, "end of story?"

Because. Because two seemingly contradictory things can exist and be true at the same time. They can.


Whatever the book jacket for JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME says, to me, it is a story about girls judging girls, girls not standing up for girls, and what often happens when they don't.

It's about a story about an insecure, scared teen girl turning wholly to a boy who isn't particularly good for her when her best friend deserts her.

When the other girls around her judge her and turn their backs. Kudos to the Booklist reviewer who got this in their review when they wrote, "Perfect for readers who love coming-of-age stories and who understand the value of female community."
Yes. YES!!! That.
There is value -- and, more than that, huge POWER -- in the female community.
Girls need girls.

Women need women.
And too often we still fail to lift one another up and support one another.
I know this because I talk to teen girls all the time. They tell me how they are judged, bullied, deserted by other girls. I ask the question when I visit schools. We talk. Or they listen.
It's always the same: Those who are bullied cast their eyes down.
Those who do the bullying cast their eyes away.
I see this over and over again. And I always implore them: "You don't have to be friends, but support one another. You don't have to hang out. Just don't tear one another down."
I don't tell people what my book is about. That is up to the individual reader, of course. The book jacket says what it says. People will take from the story what they take. And very few even know the book exists.
But if you read it with your daughters, have a conversation.
If you read it with your students, have a conversation. If you want to have a conversation with me, we can also have one HERE.

I can't help but think how our lives might be different in the face of this one simple change.

Because of my relationship with girls -- because of the harm girls did to me in middle school and high school, and, yes, into college --
I put all my efforts during those years into relationships with men: friendships and otherwise. Because. Because.

A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

My truth is, it took me well into my forties before I trusted women again, until I allowed myself to find any value in those relationships at all. To trust female friendship.

For sure, I am the better for it.
My female friends are beyond important to me. They lift and buoy me.

And I trust I am worthy of them in return.

I believe women's lives - and our willingness to speak up in the face of bad relationships, and, yes, abuse - might be very different if girls and women learned to support one another better from an early age.

We still do not.
At least, too often, we do not.

I know this from personal experience. Still. To this day. And I believe our lives would be very different if we could.

p.s. Please note that JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME is upper YA/crossover to adult. The book contains language and sexual situations. * Yes, this is something someone told my dad once. Read that again. I appeared too self-confident and aloof. Those two things could not be further from the truth of how I felt.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Scavenger Hunts - The Perfect Distanced Activity, Indoors or Out!



How I loved scavenger hunts as a kid! And my kids loved them too! So it's no surprise that, eventually, I wrote a children's book that centered around one, the book that came to be known as SEVEN CLUES TO HOME.


Joy Fonseca is dreading her 13th birthday, dreading being reminded again about her best friend Lukas’s senseless death on this day, one year ago — and dreading the fact he may have heard what she accidentally blurted to him the night before. Or maybe she’s more worried he didn’t hear.

Either way, she’s decided: she’s going to finally open the first clue to their annual birthday scavenger hunt Lukas left for her the morning he died, hoping the rest of the clues are still out there. If they are, they might lead Joy to whatever last words Lukas wrote, and toward understanding how to grab onto the future that is meant to be hers.

Booklist called SEVEN CLUES TO HOME, "a modern day Bridge to Terabithia" and Kirkus Reviews, "a heartfelt tour de force."

We believe it's a sweet, page-turning story about what it means to love, to grieve and to be a friend, a story about holding on to memories even as you pick up the pieces and move on.

May 24th is National Scavenger Hunt day. Scavenger hunts are the perfect physically-distanced activity, indoors* or out. And what better way to engage your readers more deeply with Joy and Lukas's story?! Reach out to me through social media -- or my email -- for engaging book-related activities, including mini book-related scavenger hunts, or ways to connect your readers to this story about healing and hope, including free zooms for classrooms or bookclubs of five or more! ❤

*always wear a mask indoors! :)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

You Should Watch This!

This is the official music video for TRY SO HARD, the third track off my kid's debut EP, HALF FULL, written and performed (and produced by the awesome Frankie Matos) while in quarantine. 

Hey, it's my kid. He's awesome. It's awesome. And we'd love your support. You can stream his music wherever streaming music is streamed (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and more!)

If you liked that, catch the official lyrics video for Staying In. Bot those songs are part of his Half Full EP on Spotify or Apple Music HERE!! <--- Go on! Don't keep reading until you click that link. I'm pretty sure you won't be sorry. 

And if you do, in fact, love it, please follow him on facebook or instagram and, more importantly, share!!! Especially, share with your kids and have them share. It takes a village. If you're reading this, you're my village. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

We All Need to Be Kinder

Since THE MEMORY OF THINGS came out, I've been talking about 9/11 -- an unwitting emotional "expert" of sorts, by way of the research I did, and the story I told.

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I believe my novel -- and others' stories -- on this subject are essential, because kids in desks, K-12, weren't even alive when our country was changed forever that impossibly sunny blue-skied day. They have as little feel for 9/11 and its aftereffects as I had for WWII when I was in school. They don't get it, and they don't care.

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Science has shown that reading literary fiction builds empathy. Just last night, I had a message from a 15-year-old boy in Indiana -- I'll call him C here -- who read my book for school, and something resonated, something clicked. He is going through a rough time.

"I'm a student of [omitted for privacy reasons]," he tweeted to me, "and I would like to say I loved the book were reading in our class i read ahead and finished it and they recommended talking to u. I loved the book wich [sic] is odd because I never read books but I must say that is one of my favorite books."

We exchanged messages for about an hour. About music, about his recent breakup, about life. I offered to send him a signed copy of my book, and a few of my other titles. I just got back from the post office. "We need more kind people," he wrote to me.

Indeed, we do.

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There are hashtags and sayings forever associated with 9/11: We're all in this together. #neverforget.

But are we? Have we?

We have a virus -- a pandemic in this country-- that has already killed nearly 200,000 people. Science and medicine have told us masks help. Masks work. Distancing works. And yet, day after day we are flooded with images of those who refuse to even try to help. Worse, those who harm those who try to help.

I know not everything after 9/11 was peace, love and harmony, that Islamophobia and conspiracy theories arose, that here and there, looters took advantage.

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But mostly, there was an overwhelming sense of shared historic grief, a sense of urgent connection. A sense we were responsible not only for ourselves, but one another.

On a small scale, we've sure seen that since March. In our healthcare workers, our essential workers, and our educators, now, who continue to put their lives on the line for us every single day. But as a nation? It's heartbreaking, and I can't help ask myself the rhetorical question: What has changed?

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Not everything is political. The fate of our neighbors, our friends, the fate of strangers, all matter.

We are all human. Our kids need us to rally TOGETHER. Not for a political party but for humanity.

Our healthcare and essential workers need us.

Our educators need us.

That boy, C? He reminded me of another male student, this one I'll call M, from Kansas, I "met" via my book a few years back who I stayed in touch with simply because of a story. My story about 9/11, and a time our country was in trouble. And we all came together. A story about one kid who finds his way through grief to cope, and in doing so, learns how to step up and be a better person. That boy, M, just messaged me two nights ago to tell me he graduated high school and is headed off to the marines.

"Wow, congrats! That's hard," I wrote. "You must be proud. And brave." We messaged on for a bit and soon enough I wrote my heart: "Please find a way to be tough. . . and also kind and accepting. A hard juggle."

"I will," M responded with a purple heart. "Thank you."

#NeverForget #WeAreSTILLAllInThisTogether #Nineeleven #Kindness #SharedHistory #literaryfictionbuildsempathy

Monday, June 15, 2020

Book Releases in the Time of Covid (and a Few Clues to Reader Love)

I've spent a lot of time lying on the ground these past months, lying where I'm planted.

Maybe it's metaphorical.

Maybe I'm just exhausted like many of us, from the constant upheaval, both political and pandemical.

If that's not a word, it really should be.

I, myself, live here in NY on LI, a hot spot. In fact the hottest of the hotspots, in a way you never wanted to win that title. And I've spent most of it sick with an undiagnosed respiratory thing that seemed sprung from a 24-hour virus the first week in March...

For sure, it's taken a toll on me. I've aged several years in these past few months. I know many of you will nod along.

 As much as we've all suffered, I can't help feel that, much like after 9/11, those of us in NY and NJ have lived through something slightly (or majorly) different than the rest of you. For months, the world here was out of a sci fi movie (and still is), empty and quiet and terrifying, everything shut down but essential workers.

Doctor friends told horror stories. They slept away from their families. Pop up ICU's filled formerly public spaces. Our daily death numbers were in the thousands. Now as the virus spread has finally slowed and states have begun to open back up, I don't take any of it lightly. My kids are still here. My parents are still here! My friends are still here. And I'm finally starting to feel better myself.

And yet, people close to me were not that lucky. People close to me have lost their people. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and friends. My sons have lost icons, people in their prime who shouldn't have been cut down. And don't get me started on the rest of the news. . . 

As the country opens up, so much of it carelessly, I don't know how many of us here in NY feel capable of weathering another round.

And yet.

In the middle of it, some silver linings. Here in the northeast, spring sprung. The environment has rebounded some. People have taken to the streets in record numbers to decry ongoing police brutality and blatant racism. 

My son in the rainbow mask at a local protest. 

The open water swim season has begun, and I feel well enough to finally swim.

In the middle of all of that, I had not one but two book releases. Maybe I don't have to tell you how hard it is to be a midlist author releasing books into a covid/quarantine abyss.

I write literary young adult (and now middle grade!) fiction. School/library is my most supportive audience (and purchaser). Yet these books came out to a nation of closed libraries and booksellers.

It hasn't been pretty. JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME, a book I worked on for over the course of a decade, came out in early April as EVERYTHING shut down. Few library districts have picked it up. Few non-trade reviewers even covered it. SEVEN CLUES TO HOME came out in the midst of protests and unrest on the day of George Floyd's funeral. Even the best self promoter with the most hardened heart would be hard pressed to shout out their books in the middle of these far greater things that need our attention.

And yet.

And yet.

This is my career. My livelihood.

And barely at that.

Like many of us, I have been struggling to find both balance and salvation. Like many of us, I have been struggling to make sense, struggling to map a future, struggling to do better in a world that often seems to tell me my better will never be enough. When I'm already pretty damned good at telling myself that.

But even in the book biz, there have been silver linings. Our local Barnes and Noble just opened and I decided to stop in, trying to brace myself for the reality that, by now, JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME might already be gone from its shelves. If it ever even found its way there in the first place.

Instead, I found it here:

It took me five books to find one of my titles displayed with the big names like this.

And SEVEN CLUES TO HOME has gotten some incredible reviews including Booklist who called it a "modern-day Bridge to Terebithia" and Kirkus who called it a "heartfelt tour de force."

You can see (and share!) the official trailer for the book here:

If you are a parent, educator or a librarian reading, my co-writer Nora and I have been doing a ton of work to connect young readers not only to the story but to the outside world around them. In an age of physical distancing, we've created a bunch of fun activities, our favorite, a series of book-related mini-scavenger hunts we hope our readers enjoy. 

 I'll share the hunts below. And, remember, the point of these hunts is to have fun! Creativity, fresh air, and flexibility are encouraged, perfection, not so much.

So, for example, if it says to find a dolphin or peacock, they don’t have to be live ones -- though big kudos if they are! Instead, they can be paintings of them, or versions embroidered on a pillow, or even clouds shaped like one!

Find and take a photo of each of the following items (it’s okay to be creative!): 

  1. A white envelope with a name on it;
  2. A guitar;
  3. A pizza parlor;
  4. Carved words or numbers in wood;
  5. A dolphin
  6. A pie (or pi).
Hunt #2: BE THRIFTY 
Find and take a photo of each of the following items (it’s okay to be creative!): 

  1. Something bejeweled or bedazzled;
  2. A “so tiny dog that looks like a rat;”
  3. An old-fashioned toy that winds up, claps, or spins;
  4. A hat with a feather;
  5. A peacock . . . or peafowl ;)
  6. A constellation.

Find and take a photo of each of the following items (it’s okay to be creative!): 

  1. A tackle box or fishing rod;
  2. Someone telling a short, dumb joke (video);
  3. A gazebo;
  4. A big juicy worm;
  5. A heron or other seabird;
  6. A lighthouse.

Find and take a photo of each of the following items (it’s okay to be creative!): 
  1. A painted rock;;
  2. A heart-shaped tree;
  3. A “whale’s eye” shaped knot in a tree;
  4. A bus shelter;
  5. Some sort of hole;
  6. A rainbow.
Find and take a photo of each of the following items 
(it’s okay to be creative!): 

  1. A red box or container
  2. Heart necklace or other heart-shaped jewelry 
  3. M&Ms, Skittles or other candy you could plant as “seeds” 
  4. A potted plant - real or artificial
  5. A cloud formation that clearly looks like an animal or object
  6. A love note, or handwritten note from a friend.

In fact, I'll run my own personal-three book giveaway here. Through the end of August, if your child reads SEVEN CLUES TO HOME and completes all five mini hunts, have them email me a photo of them holding a copy of the book, as well as photos of the objects they found, and I'll enter them to win a package of three signed copies of my books and a skype/zoom or google hangouts conversation with me (if they want it!). They can email me at (if you email and don't get a response without 48 hours, it means your email somehow did not get to me!) They can also tag me on instagram @gaepol and share their scavenger hunt photos there with me! Sending love out to the universe and to all of you, Gae

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Mental Health & Coping

I'm not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV.

So why do I seemingly so often write about mental health? About characters struggling with mental health?

Because I'm human.

In fact, when IN SIGHT OF STARS, my first book that really centered around one boy's struggle with his mental health/state, got classified (by a publishing INDUSTRY needing to label how to shelve things in a bookstore) as a book about mental illness, it surprised me a little.

I hadn't written a story about a kid with mental illness (nor had I NOT written that story. . . ).  I simply wrote a story about a boy -- this boy, Klee -- who had one-too-many hard things pile on him and felt like he couldn't cope anymore.

Who fell apart.

Who broke temporarily.

And who, then, found a way -- WITH HELP -- to pull himself back together for the time being.

All things I had experienced or witnessed as part of my journey as a human.

In my newest book, JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME, my main character's mother, most visibly, struggles with her own mental health. Her diagnosis would likely skew toward more definitive mental illness, but she has not yet been fully diagnosed.

In that story, I try to show how hard it can be to get a grasp on some struggles, and how it might affect the child of a parent struggling. But it is without judgment.

My goal is always to give my characters room to suffer, and even to break, and the hope -- and room -- to heal again.

The world is harder than ever (ya think!?!)

Even without a country divided and a pandemic, I believe we all have, or will, face mental health challenges in our lives at one point or another, and the more we talk about our struggles, the more connected we are, and the more able we will be to reach out for help and heal.

That's why my friend, and world's best virtual co-hugger, Cheryl Rainfield, is asking us all to band together tomorrow, Thursday April 23rd, to let others know there is #NoShameInCoping, that it's okay to #ShieldYourMentalHealth, and to #ReachOutToConnect. 
Learn more about Cheryl HERE.

So, let's all #ReachOutToConnect !!!

There is no shame in needing help. There is no stigma in falling apart. There is #NoShameInCoping

And you have every right to #ShieldYourMentalHealth 

Please know there are good and skilled people out there who care and want to help. They can and they will.

I know. I've met them.

xox gae

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A Little Obsessed with Kerouac . . .

 Me, in front of Gunther's Tap Room in Northport, NY
last summer. Photo credit, Rick Kopstein

In the coming weeks before the release of my fifth novel, JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME, I'm going to share both tidbits about the story and the writing process, and about the eponymous author, Jack Kerouac, himself.
Though some will clearly go into my novel wishing to find more about Kerouac, the title should be a bit of a tip off. It is NOT a book about Kerouac. Rather, like me, my MC is not a huge fan of Kerouac's -- though for very different reasons. . . Though Kerouac, himself, does appear in a pivotal scene in the book.

I want to love Kerouac's books more than I do. I've delved back into some of his works, post-writing mine, for this book release. At the moment, I'm slogging through the middle of Big Sur. His writing is inarguably extraordinary. Still, I fall in the school of being, first, breathtakingly enamored with his talent, then grow slightly lost or bored in his ramblings, and find myself craving a bit more hardcore editing.

Having said that, I am fascinated by his life, and the fact that he lived for a while in Northport, NY, very close to where I live, makes him feel all the more real and relevant to me. And the closer I get to my release date, the more I find myself reading him, and drifting around the internet and beyond to catch glimpses of his life. I will share some of that with you in coming weeks.

Inside Gunther's Tap Room, in front of the eponymous author.
photo credit, Rick Kopstein
No doubt, Kerouac was both a talent and a tortured human being, never clearer than in this Newsday piece from July 2000 that was covering an exhibition/retrospective being held in that town.
From Newsday staff writer Ariella Budick, printed July 13, 2000:
EVEN AMONG Beat aficionados, it is a little-known fact that Jack Kerouac spent six years, on and off, in Northport, Long Island.
Celebrated during his lifetime as "King of the Beats," Kerouac retreated to a shingled Victorian at 34 Gilbert St. in 1958, the year after the publication of "On the Road."
His rapid rise to fame-he was heralded as the gifted spokesman for a disenchanted generation-yielded to an equally precipitous decline that, by the time he moved to Northport, was in full swing. An exhibit at the Northport Historical Society, devoted to Kerouac's sad years in the sleepy village he briefly called home, details the impact the writer made on Northport and the less significant impact Northport seems to have made on him. It is a tightly focused show, designed for two quite specific, and necessarily limited, sets of viewers: Northport history buffs and steadfast Kerouac disciples.
Kerouac moved to Northport with his mother, whom he called Memere, the constant companion of his adult life. Memere, conservative and Catholic, thoroughly despised Kerouac's New York friends, whom she judged a noxious influence. She particularly loathed Allen Ginsberg for his Jewishness and his homosexuality, even threatening at one point to report him to the FBI for engaging in anti- American activities. She also sent angry missives to William S. Burroughs, who remarked, "My God! She really has him sewed up like an incision." Indeed, one of Kerouac's reasons for moving to Northport was to put some distance between himself and his cosmopolitan friends.

"By all accounts, Kerouac spent his Northport years in an alcoholic haze, 
playing pool at neighborhood bars. A series of depressing photos capture him, 
overweight and falling apart, clowning pathetically for the camera."

By all accounts, Kerouac spent his Northport years in an alcoholic haze, playing pool at neighborhood bars. A series of depressing photos capture him, overweight and falling apart, clowning pathetically for the camera. His inspiration was hopelessly stalled: The many books he brought out during these years were all written earlier, when publishers had been unwilling to consider his work.
Even so, Kerouac's presence seems to have made an impact on some young lives. George Wallace, the exhibit's curator, has enshrined testimonials from a small sampling of Northport's (then) youth, attesting to Kerouac's extraordinary influence: "He made me a thinking person," says Carol Watson, who was 15 when she first met the unstable author. Although the exhibition text informs us that Kerouac did not particularly appreciate attentions from fawning young fans, he enthusiastically joined them in juvenile high jinks. One incident, we are told, involved police chasing the aging Beat and a group of young boys out of an abandoned Gold Coast mansion, after which Kerouac fell asleep, drunk, in the woods.
Kerouac became increasingly conservative- even xenophobic-as he grew older and more isolated. He rabidly supported the Vietnam War, and his growing disenchantment with erstwhile Beat friends and their "anti-American views" sometimes sounded like paranoia.
"Somewhere along the line I knew there'd be girls, visions, everything," Kerouac rhapsodized in "On the Road"; "somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me." But this sometime son of Northport died in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1969, of severe hemorrhaging brought on by alcoholism. The critic Seymour Krim did not mince words:
"He died lonely and isolated like a hunched old man at only 47 with a comic strip beer belly, and faded, gross, ex-good looks, full of slack-lipped mutterings about the 'New York Jewish Literary Mafia.'"
The Northport tribute makes him hardly more appealing.
Ariella Budick, STAFF WRITER, July 2000

If you'd like to preorder a copy of JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME, you may do so through links here:

More soon!

- gae