In the Hot Seat with Jay Asher

” I wanted to see if you are able to attend the 9/12 SLO Nightwriters meeting? It promises to be a good one and your input would be invaluable – which I and others would greatly appreciate it if you can make it.”

When I got this email from my publicist, I had no idea what I was getting into. I imagined a meeting, like before, where I’d help critique various pieces of work. But when I arrived and was asked to put my name on a slip of paper, I was confused. Then, Susan explained that the names were going into a can to be pulled out randomly during the meeting for a hot seat session with Jay Asher.

Public speaking has always been my greatest fear so I tried not to let my shy side take control and give me a panic attack as I took my seat among other Central Coast writers.  Over the next hour, names were called as I focused on calming my breathing for when my turn came.

“Laurie Woodward,” my publicist, Brian Schwartz announced.

Go for it. I told myself, holding my recently published Artania high as I giddily approached the hot seat.


Jay w - Laurie-4Jay chuckled as we said hi. As soon as I looked in his kind face, my nerves calmed.  I’ve known Jay for years, since well  before either of us were published. Long ago we were both attendees looking for agents at various writers’ conferences and other events in California. Long before his Thirteen Reasons Why became a New York Times bestseller and Netflix series. And he has always been good people. Unassuming. Humble. Accepting.

Jay looked over his list of questions and asked, “What sort of a writing schedule do you have?”

I sighed. That was easy to answer. “I get up every day and write for at least an hour. No matter what. That way I get to start the day in my head.”

Then he asked me to describe my book.

And I froze.

“Umm. Artania is where all art is alive….” I stuttered my way through a confused explanation, kicking myself for not remembering my pitch.

I saw the sympathetic faces in the crowd. Feeling sorry for me. And I realized that these people were no threat.

I took a deep breath and imagined speaking to a group of parents or my students. Thought about Artania’s theme.

“I believe that we all have a special part of ourselves,” I said turning to the audience. “Our artistic side. For some, like you, it’s writing. Others it might be painting or dance. But each is absolutely unique. And what I try to do in Artania, is honor that beautiful part of us.”

Jay w explain


Like all writers do.

Even when they’re in the hot seat.

Bullying Burns

Burning Memories Video

Does your skin burn from invisible tattoos? Those bullying scars that continue to pierce your psyche? Are there times you look in the mirror and only see what others had hissed? Dog. Freak. If you’re like me and heard the daily taunts, felt the rising welts from rubber bands, or the swelling cheeks after meeting fists, then you might want to purge those memories.

“How?” You ask. “I don’t have a laser to remove every inked memory.” Counseling helps, I’d answer. As does a healthy life of purpose. Finding friends who really get you makes a difference. Surrounded by others who accept you just as you are, will help those marks to fade.

But sometimes all those things are just not enough. We need more.  Such as the Burn the Bully happening at the 2017 Cuesta College Writer’s Conference I participated in recently.

The event was sponsored by Thirteen Reasons Why author, Jay Asher,  whose New York bestseller chronicles the tragic suicide of a teen that has been bullied. Since it’s release ten years ago, Jay has been a champion for the voiceless victims of bullying  speaking nationwide to teens to help them navigate through the pain.

This ceremony  was intended to both raise awareness as well as be a coming together to heal from the scars of bullying. It was open to the public and participants wrote the name of a bully on a strip of paper and placed it into the fire pit. The fire and name burning was meant to release the bully and the memory to ash. Afterwards, volunteers gave hugs and affirmations.

It was strange. As I watched decades old wounds go from paper to flame, a lump grew in my throat. For a moment, when the fires grew, those words licked at my skin. But then, as the blazing bonfire waned, the pain dissipated with every wisp of smoke.