In November of 2010 I saw Hanson for the first time. Hanson was my favorite band as a teen -- I loved them, I wrote fanfiction about them, I wrote about the band regularly in the journal that I shared with friends.
I was on the way out of Antones in Austin (a legendary blues club), ears still buzzing from one of the best rock shows ever, and I turned to my boyfriend and said, "I wish my teen self could have been here. I'm going to write her a letter on my blog tomorrow."
So I did. And when I asked other authors if they'd like to join me in a blog experiment where we'd all write letters to our teen selves, the response was overwhelming. Miranda Kenneally offered to help me manage the project and thank God she did, because I never could've done it by myself. By December we had a blog set up on WordPress and authors scheduled into the spring of 2011.
And we're still scheduling. It's a phenomenon. And I'm delighted. Obviously, it's cool to see your idea explode this way. But it's even cooler to see kids respond to these letters, to know that they feel less alone. That they laughed because "OMG that's so true!" That they feel encouraged to seek help.
When I met Hallie Warshaw of Zest Books at the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans in 2011, it was one of those serendipitous moments in the publishing world. I wanted to get a few Zest Books authors to post on the blog, and she recognized a project that would be great for her company. I texted Miranda and she contacted her agent, Sara Megibow, and in some grand whirlwind of fate and mutual awesomeness, a book deal came to be. The book hits shelves on October 30, I'm planning events, I'm doing interviews for the blog tour -- and it's still pretty unreal.
Already, in the first two weeks of the blog tour, I've been blown away by teen reviewers talking about how the letters in the Dear Teen Me anthology came to them at a perfect time. I've seen it spark letters to their 11-year-old selves, to their adult selves. I've seen it open conversations on Twitter and Facebook. And I am so overwhelmed to see kids (and the adult readers, too!) react this way to something that was not too long ago a very humble "What if?"
I think the most unreal part is the amount of talent we have in the book. Choosing the authors was probably the hardest part of putting the book together. We invited every author who had posted on DearTeenMe.com to put their names in the hat, so to speak. We made this epic spreadsheet for Zest Books about every author, their books, their social media and how we knew them. We also invited some of our other favorite authors, like Ellen Hopkins and Joseph Bruchac and we were able to get in touch with folks through Zest and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt who were interested in the project. We were, as they say, spoiled for choice. The blurb for the book says it's filled with enough insecurity to fill an auditorium. If every interested and talented author were included in the book, we'd have been ready to fill a stadium. Texas-size.
Miranda and I spent many late nights with these letters. It was important to us to see a variety of subjects as well as cultural and socioeconomic diversity within the authors. We wanted the letters to tell a story. We recruited graphic novelists, and we recruited authors with quirky styles. We made sure that we had cheerleaders and math nerds and tough girls and gay kids and kids who dealt with illness and intolerance and isolation and abuse. We wanted humor and we wanted tragedy. And, man, we got it!
And I have to say, when I envisioned the book, when we were first all on one of those crackling conference calls with Hallie and Sara and Miranda and me, talking about how we wanted everything to look, well, I can't imagine this book being any other way. The color pictures. The little Q&A sections. I told Team DTM that I wanted it to read like somewhere between a teen magazine and a PostSecret book. That's what we got. Zest did an amazing job and it was absolute kismet that we all found each other.
I hope readers feel that sense of kismet when they read the book. When kids read Jessica Lee Anderson's letter about being too busy for her own good, or Mitali Perkin's letter about her first kiss, or Cheryl Rainfield's letter about escaping her abusers -- I hope they feel like someone gets them. When they read Tom Ryan's letter about coming out, Kekla Magoon's letter about growing up biracial and bisexual, P.J. Hoover's letter about body issues, and Geoff Herbach's letter about a break dancing mishap, I hope they feel like these are grown-ups who get it, and that there are others out there like them. I hope kids read letters from their favorite authors -- Lauren Oliver and Elizabeth Miles, Tom Angleberger, Nancy Holder -- and realize that these authors went through it all, too.
We remember. We remember so hard. And we hope that when you're done reading the letters that relate to you, you'll read the other ones and realize that the guy next to you in science class, the girl busting her ass leading the dance squad, the kids smoking just off of school property between periods, the trombone player in the band -- those people aren't as different from you as you think. Maybe you could even be friends.