Chelsea Rae Swiggett on Coping with Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia
Feb 27th, 2011 by Liza Wiemer


Chelsea Rae Swiggett




RAE MY TRUE STORY of Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia

Win a copy of her book:

To win a copy of her book leave a comment!If you follow this blog you get an extra entry. Entries accepted until 8:00PM CST March 16. Open to US and Canada residents.  Winner announced: Marynellie 

Rae MY TRUE STORY of Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia


Brave, strong, gutsy –– I repeated these words over and over again as I read Chelsea Rae Swiggett’s non-fiction work for young adults (every parent and teacher should read it too), Rae MY TRUE STORY of Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia. This candid, beautifully written personal history takes a hard look at the impact on how paralyzed a person can be when consumed by fears and absorbed into the hell created by the social interactions in middle school and high school.

Brave, strong, gutsy were words Chelsea would never have used to describe herself in high school. I definitely didn’t see them in her book. But the steps she took to CHANGE are no less than extraordinary. She continues to conquer her fears, live in the moment, and challenge herself to experience life to its fullest.

In the past, speaking in class could bring on an anxiety attack.

Now, Chelsea approaches strangers, even welcomes new interactions.

In the past, traveling anywhere brought horrific fears of death.

Now, she gets on airplanes and relishes in seeing new things.

In the past, going to school was a living hell. She eventually chose to be home-schooled to survive.

Now, she mixes it up with online classes and on campus classes at college.

In the past, Chelsea escaped real life by delving into books, writing reviews for her website – http://www.coffeeandcliffhangers.com/

Now, she still loves to read and review books, but she utilizes this passion to meet others with the same interests. She has a social life, too.

In the past, Chelsea was obsessed with her weight – depriving herself of food. Her self-image was dismal. She was consumed by how she thought others people perceived her.

Now, food is no longer her enemy. More often than not her self-esteem comes from within and not based on how others perceive her.

So how did Chelsea do it? Without a doubt it has been a process, most importantly CHELSEA WANTED TO CHANGE! She faces her fears one at a time. She lives in the moment.

I had the privilege of speaking with Chelsea about her transformation. Here’s what she had to say:

I have had to remind myself to breathe, not to be overwhelmed. The world is not ending right now. I tell myself I can deal with a situation I’m in and can get past it.

I no longer obsess over different things. For example, if I coughed I would worry. Did I cough too loud? Or if fell down and others saw me, I worried about it for weeks. Do they think I’m a klutz? This constant worry was killing me. Finally, I realized no one else was worrying about these things. I saw that everyone messes up and it’s useless to obsess over what other people may or may not be thinking of me.

I realized I needed to just live. I realized there are only so many years to fully understand myself, so I decided to take the opportunity and do it now. What I learned was it’s important to do what you’re passionate about and don’t allow fear to stop you. If you want to travel, you need to travel. If you want to go to concerts, do it. It is important to find a way to live comfortably and follow your dreams. Don’t stop yourself from accomplishing something you want to do. Spend your time with your passion.

One needs to find balance. A person can hide behind their passion and use it as an excuse not to live. For example, I love to read so I used reading to stay away from others, hide from the world. I was comfortable, but wasn’t putting myself out there. I wasn’t living. But I turned my love for reading into a positive. Instead of letting my passion cripple me, I now use it to connect with people. Working on Coffee and Cliffhangers I‘ve been able to connect with the literary community. I’ve met so many amazing people including other passionate readers, book reviewers, and authors. At first the connections were through social networking, and then in person at different book events.

Through authors’ books, I gain insight into their perceptions. Authors put themselves in their work. It’s personal. I appreciate their vulnerability. I love getting into their heads and seeing what makes them click, how they view things. Books have helped me see that I am not the only one who has issues and problems and goals in this world. There have been so many times I’ve got caught up in my own problems. Reading has helped me see I’m not alone.

One of my goals? I would love to be a successful author, to be able to help and connect with authors and readers. It is the most amazing feeling in the world.

I first connected with Chelsea through Twitter where I learned about her website http://www.coffeeandcliffhangers.com/ and about Rae MY TRUE STORY of Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia. It’s been a privilege to get to know her better through this interview. She’s an extraordinary young woman, someone I look forward to meeting in person, hang out with at a book event, or talk with over coffee. She is brave, strong, gutsy – amazing. There will still be challenges – we all have them. But I have no doubt she will face them and turn any fear or weakness or anxiety into a strength. It takes work. It takes courage. It takes action. Chelsea epitomizes these qualities and so much more. She is a role model!

To learn more about Chelsea go to her website:http://www.coffeeandcliffhangers.com/

For more information about or to purchase Rae MY TRUE STORY of Fear, Anxiety, and Social Phobia go to: Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/4f4prgd

Serving our Country – TWO Amazing Young Adults Share Their Experiences
Aug 2nd, 2010 by Liza Wiemer


Richard Kern is nineteen years old, a ’09 graduate of Nicolet High School, Glendale, WI and is a student at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point Long Island, NY – He is currently serving on the Green Dale – heading toward Hyuga Valley around Japan – thanks Jeanne McDonald for this information – and here’s the link to track it:




New York Times Bestseller WAR, By Sebastian Junger


In honor of the two young men interviewed for this post, I will be giving away a SIGNED copy of Sebastian Junger’s New York Times Bestselling book, WAR.  Enter by leaving a comment below about this post or your own personal (you or someone you know) experience relating to military service.  You also may enter by posting or linking on Facebook, Twitter, etc., but please let me know.  For more information about WAR see Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/2edjms8 Goodreads: http://tinyurl.com/2dn3lcx or Sebastian’s official site: http://www.sebastianjunger.com/ Giveaway ends August 16, 2010, 8 PM CST – GIVEAWAY IS CLOSED – WINNER HAS BEEN RANDOMLY SELECTED


Richard Kern


For as long as Richard Kern could remember he knew that he would go to college and serve his country.  This desire for both, stemmed from his relationship with his parents, his involvement in scouting, Badger Boys State, and his love of history.  He said, “My desire to serve didn’t start from 9-11.  I am grateful for the way my parents raised me and for this amazing country.  It’s because of those things that I wanted to give back.”

In addition, paying for a top-notch education without some kind of financial aid was not a possibility for Richard and his parents.  At the beginning of his senior year (September 2008), Richard applied to every Federal Service Academies. There were essays to write, recommendations to obtain from a senator or congressional representative, (Richard received one from Wisconsin Senators Feingold and Kohl and Congressman Sensenbrenner) tests, and of course, the applications themselves.  The process was long and difficult.

Richard received a full scholarship – approximate value of $230,000 – to the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point Long Island, NY.  This was just the beginning.  Though receiving this honor has been a tremendous experience, keeping it means a lot of hard work!  Some young men and women are unable to maintain the stringent requirements and either drop out or are disenrolled.  Four years of study is crammed into three years.  One year – broken down into four months and then eight months – is spent at sea gaining as much hands-on experience as possible.  Besides his responsibilities on the ship’s deck, Richard has extensive sea projects that must be turned in.  Upon graduation Richard is under contract to serve the US government for up to eight years.

The Merchant Marine is under the auspices of the US Department of Transportation, but there is also a connection to the US Navy.  A Merchant Mariner serves on ships that transport goods from ports all over the world.  Service to our country may be paid back through a “an appointment as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, or any other Reserve unit of an armed force of the United States.” http://www.usmma.edu/admissions/facts/serviceobligation.htm

So what’s the experience been like?  Richard describes the Merchant Marine Academy as one big family – a giant fraternity.  There is a ZERO tolerance policy for underage drinking and for drugs. [Zero tolerance for drugs.  First alcohol offense gets you into A.A. meetings and the second alcohol offense gets you kicked out.] Before entering Kings Point everyone has a physical and is given a drug test.  His first year (or plebe year as it’s called) is tough. “As plebes, we’re the bottom of the totem pole.  Cleaning bathrooms is just one of our duties,” he said.

The “Indoc” experience was the biggest test both mentally and physically.  Plebes would experience IT – individual training – when even a loose threat could be reason to have you “on your face.”  [It’s a lot more than just push ups.  Basically a sweaty, painful few minutes.] “The experience could push you to the brink, but it also brings you closer to each other – tests each other.  If a person breaks, then you know you can’t rely on him or her.  If you endure it together, it makes you stronger.  There is a trust that forms and brings you closer to others that is unlike anything you experience in high school.

“Many of us have two shirts with the names of all the individuals printed with all those who start out as plebe candidates.  By the time we reach first classman many names will be crossed off the list.”

“The best part about being a Merchant Mariner is the tremendous opportunities for our future.  We can go anywhere – from State Department diplomatic security to the Bering Sea with the US Coast Guard. We stand for discipline, integrity, professionalism and companies dealing in shipping know that they can rely on our training.  Ninety percent of all of this world’s wealth is transported by ship.  We’ll be responsible for a lot of it.  In addition, at any time we can be responsible for transporting military equipment for the United States government.”

“Some of the most difficult parts of being in the Merchant Marines is not seeing family and friends, sometimes for a very long time.  It also can be frustration living so close to each other with hardly any personal space. “

I asked Richard what separates him from other young adults his age.  He said, “I was fortunate to go back to my high school and talk with some of my teachers.  One of them pointed out that he sees many former students with no direction.  I have a direction and purpose in my life.  I know what I will be doing for the next ten years.  In my opinion, there’s definitely an advantage to knowing what you love and that you’re working toward that goal of accomplishing it.”

On a personal level, we talked about boyfriend-girlfriend relationships.  It’s not something that Richard sees for himself.  “It’s one thing if you come into The Academy already in a solid relationship, though many don’t last.  I just don’t feel like it’s fair to start a relationship when you know that so much of your time is going to be at sea.   Probably 10% of our school is women.  At this point, I see my chances of meeting someone as slim to none.”

KYLE PECUS – Currently Serving in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in the United States Army – 13B Cannon Crewmember

Military Service Right Out of High School

To learn more about Kyle’s unit:  13B Cannon Crewmember

Kyle Pecus is an ’06 graduate from Cambellsport High,  Cambellsport, WI.  He just celebrated his twenty-third birthday, July 31st 

Kyle Pecus in Iraq


Rank:  Specialist or SPC
Time in Service:  4 years
Time left:  2 years, 3 months
Plans after the Army:  UW-Milwaukee, not sure of a major yet

A note from Liza Wiemer – The Q & A was done via the Internet.

What advice do you have for other young adults who are thinking about choosing the military after high school?

I’d have to say that unless you are dead certain you want a combat job, definitely pick a job that is going to help you out in college/your career field.  So many times, I see people who join and they know they’re only going to do three years and get out and be a cop or a med student or something, but they pick jobs that won’t help with their career choice.  Tell the recruiter what you want to do with your life and ask what kind of jobs they have in that field!  If you want to be a nurse, be an Army nurse.  That way you get paid to train as a nurse, get paid as you do a nursing job, then when you get out the Army will pay for your nursing degree and you already have 3+ years of experience, putting you way ahead of the power curve.  Honestly, I think that the military is the best way for people who can’t afford college to get it for FREE.  And if you like doing your job in the Army who knows, you might even do your 20 years and retire.  Either way, you’re set up for success.

What were your reasons for joining the US Army after high school graduation?

One of my main reasons for joining out of high school was a lifelong interest in the military. Ever since I was a kid, I loved watching military shows, The History Channel, and I always wanted to try it for myself.  I always had a slight preference towards the Army for some reason.  I had the feeling that if I went to college (after HS) and got a degree, I really wouldn’t have a reason to enlist and I’d never get around to it.  September 11th cemented my decision to enlist.

Kyle Pecus


Why did you choose MOS 13B Cannon Crewmember?

Continuing from my last response, I definitely wanted a combat job, something where I’d get my hands dirty – blow stuff up and kill the bad guys.  I originally wanted to be an Apache attack helicopter pilot, but it requires at least two years of schooling and I didn’t want to wait.  I then had to make a decision between my next two favorites, 19K Armor Crewman or 13B Cannon Crewmember.  It eventually came down to the fact that I really didn’t want to be cramped up inside a tank, and historically field artillery had always caused the most enemy casualties.  I didn’t feel at all bad for the Taliban!  Dropping shells on them from miles away had a certain appeal to help out the infantry guys who might be fighting for their lives and put the hurt on the enemy.  And I also thought being a few miles away from the fight might keep my mother sane.  For the most part, I was right.

Where have you served and for how long?

Today (the day I write this) actually marks my four-year mark in the Army, as I left for basic training in Fort Sill, OK on July 19th, 2006.  My OSUT (One Station Unit Training, basic training and AIT in the same place, something the Army is doing away with) lasted until November 2nd.  I reported to my first duty station, Fort Campbell, KY, home of the 101st Airborne, two (very!) short weeks later. I’m still in the same unit, which kinda drives me nuts, but I really like the area around Campbell.  Fort Campbell is actually more on the Tennessee side than the Kentucky side and I love TN!  Great place to live.

What do you like the most about being in the Army?

Tough question!  I’d have to say the friends I’ve made, the experiences I’ve had.  I can’t imagine my life without the dozens of friends I’ve made in the Army, some of the funniest, craziest people on the planet for sure.  Sometimes work really sucks, but you all get to suffer through it together and it all brings you really close.  Depending on your job you get to do some amazing things that you’d never do in an office building!  During my 15-month tour in Iraq, we did everything from combat patrols and tower guard, to kicking doors and jumping out of helicopters.  The raids were definitely my favorite part; it’s hard to find something that exciting stateside and it’s something that I’ll never forget.  Also, the pay isn’t bad.  In the Army, you’ll never be rich but if you handle your finances responsibly, you will never be poor.  I’m saving up through this tour to build up a Mustang I bought, and it’s nice to have that kind of disposable income.  The Army, at the very least, always puts a roof over your head and provides food to eat, so what you do with the rest of your check is up to you!

Many find it difficult to be in a long distance relationship, but you’re in one. What’s that experience been like and how do you make it work?

Not going to lie, sometimes things are very hard!  When I’m stateside we usually only get to see each other once every two or three months, so it kind of sucks but at the same time it makes seeing her that much more special.  Before I left for Afghanistan, she drove down to Kentucky twice and I drove up to Wisconsin for a few days so we got to see each other a little bit.  It helps that she’s as tough as nails and probably the most honest and loyal person I’ve ever met!  We’ve been together for just over three years.  She and I met at the grocery store I worked at in high school.  We both went to the same high school but I really didn’t meet her until the day I was working the cash register at work and totally butchered her mom’s order and had to do everything all over.  I knew I made a great impression by showing both her and her mother that I couldn’t work a register.  We didn’t start seriously dating for a few years after that though.

Are you a person who thinks about the future and future plans, or do you live day to day? Why?

That really depends on what we’re talking about.  I try not to sweat the small stuff and live each day one at a time, but when it comes to big things like career choices or large expenditures then I definitely like to plan ahead!  If I thought about future plans all the time, I’d probably go nuts. I still have six months until I set foot in America again, so I’m not going to fill my thoughts with fantasies of a winter wonderland while I’m baking in the Afghan sun.

Take The Risk – Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone!
Jun 30th, 2010 by Liza Wiemer


Some Risks Are Worth It!

By Jeremy West, Age 19


Jeremy West


When I was sixteen, I learned the value of stepping out of my comfort zone.  I had spent the majority of my life in Anderson, SC going to school, hanging with friends, playing soccer.  So when a teacher at my high school presented the opportunity to travel to China as a foreign exchange student, I wanted the adventure, and so did my friends.  We had seven months to prepare.

But there were obstacles.  Money was one – the trip would cost $2300 for two weeks.  That would have been a big enough reason not to go, especially when you don’t have parents handing over the cash.  If only it were that simple.  The greater challenge was mental.  The teacher had told us that traveling to China would not be easy.  He told us that the food would be unlike anything we had ever tasted, that we would see extreme poverty, and that we would walk most places, so being in top physical shape was crucial. In other words, it was not going to be a vacation.  This was going to be a hardcore trip.

I started fundraising for the trip, working at school to pay for the plane ticket.  Family and family friends also helped out, which I deeply appreciated.  Unfortunately, every one of my friends decided not to go.  Sure, there were other kids from my school who committed to the program, but without my closest friends, I knew the experience would be harder.

The idea of leaving America was unsettling.  I had never left the country let alone faced an eighteen-hour flight around the globe, which was how long it took to reach Beijing, China. To say I was stepping outside of my comfort zone is a super understatement!

Upon arriving in China, I immediately became the minority surrounded by millions of people who spoke only Mandarin, not English. That was one of the scariest parts of the experience – not speaking or understanding the language.  The people stared at me as I walked down the street. They took pictures of me, and with me. Beijing was a nice city in comparison to the majority of cities in China, though it still had smog, litter, disease, and crime.

It wasn’t until I went inside the heart of the country that I truly realized that I had stepped into a whole different world, one of extreme poverty. I went from the grandeur of the Great Wall to the dirty rice fields of inner China. These people had nothing! I felt true compassion for the first time in my life. I had left my comfort zone so far away, and I didn’t even miss it. Sure, I missed a home cooked meal, but my eyes and taste buds were exposed to something completely out of my comfort zone, and I soaked it up.

At one point we traveled by mamu (a taxi cab, which is a motorbike with a cart) to a middle school – grades 7-9.  We had printed cards with the address of our destination so that the driver knew where to take us.  Some students from our group got lost and ended up arriving at our destination much later than expected, a frightening experience to say the least (some were even in tears). The school we visited was different from anything I have heard of or experience in America.  It was a boarding school with thirty-five hundred students.  There was no air conditioning, we were told not to even step into the bathrooms because they were revolting, and the English class we attended was crammed with fifty or sixty kids in a room way too small for that number of students.  They attended school from eight in the morning until seven at night with a two-hour mid-afternoon break for naptime.  Each day, from 7:30 until 8:00 A.M., the students were outside on their school field doing tai chi.

Food was definitely an issue.  Some kids hardly ate anything during the trip, but I am one to try new things, including fish heads, scorpion, squid,octopus, and even snake.  We stayed in a real nasty hotel – there wasn’t a vacuum cleaner in the entire place, we always walked with our shoes on, and bugs were crawling everywhere, even the beds.

If I had the choice to take that trip again, I would pack my bags and go immediately. Life is all about experiences. We learn through making decisions.  From those decisions come experiences, and from experiences we can learn how to step outside our comfort zone. The comfort zone constrains us, while leaving that place of comfort defines us.  My trip to China was definitely one of the most defining moments of my life, and I hope it inspires others to step out of their comfort zones.

While at first I was constrained by fears of all these things I had heard about China, ultimately I wanted to experience it for myself to know the truth. The experience changed me, changed my perspective on the world.  I had never seen so much poverty in a nation, except for on TV, and experiencing it touched me in a much more personal way than seeing it on TV.

Renowned video game developer Steven Coallier once said, “Attack life, it’s going to kill you anyway.” He couldn’t be more right! Life is about experiencing all that you can, but if you are held back by your fears then you will stay stuck inside of your comfort zone forever. It takes true courage to take that leap, but once you do you’ll never look back and miss it.

Before I left for China, I was perfectly content  staying where I was.  There was no reason for me to go on that trip other than the desire to leave my comfort zone and experience all the differences that China had to offer. I ate some of the grossest (and best) food I’ve ever tasted. I made friendships that will last forever. And most of all, I kicked my comfort zone to the curb, and now try to live every moment as if it were my last. I am more willing to help others, more up for personal challenges and try new things.

All of life’s experiences, whether good or bad, define who you are. Challenge yourself – completely revolutionize your future. It doesn’t have to be by traveling to China, though I recommend it!  You could challenge yourself by taking a harder course in school or not smoking dope when everyone else is doing it.  Desire to have more, do more, and see yourself as someone who can be different by stepping out of your comfort zone.  If I had passed up this opportunity to go to China, I don’t know if it would ever have come up again.  One thing is for sure, my life would not be the same.

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho, Brazilian novelist and lyricist

About Jeremy West: Jeremy is a student at Full Sail University in Orlando, FL studying film.  He’s a photographer, writer, designer, and Apple computer lover.  His blog, NOVEL THOUGHTS, is another way he shares his creative side with the world – reviewing YA novels, interviewing authors, and providing cool opportunities to win awesome giveaways.  Find Jeremy through his blog at  www.novelthoughtsblog.com

A Powerful & Emotional Interview with the Extraordinary Jennifer Brown, Author of Hate List
Apr 28th, 2010 by Liza Wiemer

Extraordinary Author Jennifer Brown

It is with tremendous gratitude and admiration that I share with my readers this incredible interview with Jennifer Brown, author of one of the most powerful books I have ever read, Hate List. There are many fine YA novels on the market, but only a few have the ability to impact the reader in such a emotional and visceral manner.  Hate List, in my opinion is a must read for every teen, teacher, and parent.  It shows the fragile line between being bullied and bullies and the horrendous consquences that can occur when an individual has had too much or has been pushed over the edge. Personally, I believe that Hate List should be required reading for middle school and high school students. To see reviews or for more information here’s the link to Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/y9a8m5w or Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6316171-hate-list AT THE END OF THIS INTERVIEW ARE FIVE WAYS TO WIN AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF HATE LIST!  Please enter!

Q:  As the reader, I went through an array of powerful emotions reading Hate List. What was the emotional experience like for you as you wrote the novel, especially since characters live and breathe for the author?

A:  At times it was a bit tough. I was, in some ways, reliving some of the things that happened to me in school, and that brought back emotions that I hadn’t felt in a long time. But fortunately, I also write humor, and having my weekly column was very helpful in getting me out of somber mode and into a lighter state of mind at least one day every week.

Q:  Have you personally experienced violence or bullying?  If so, how did the experience impact your life and influence writing Hate List?

A:  Yes, I was bullied in junior high and part of high school. It very much influenced who I became as a person. Other than being tripped in a crowded lunch room and receiving threats that I was going to be beat up, I wouldn’t say I was a victim of violence, really. More, the bullying I endured was along the lines of rumors, gossip, and “mean girl” stuff. What happened to me did impact not only the writing of Hate List (in fact, some of the bullying scenes are very similar to things that happened to me), but have impacted my life in that I now have a means to reach out to students and talk to them about bullying. That is very important to me. Nobody should have to go through what I went through, and I know that what I went through was nothing compared to what some kids out there are going through.

Q:  Since Hate List came out on the market, what has surprised you the most?  Readers?  Reviews?  Reactions?  Something in the story you would have changed or perceived differently?

A:  Librarians. I have been the most surprised by librarians. I mean, I’ve always had a love for libraries, but I never, until now, realized how passionate

Hate List, by Jennifer Brown

librarians can be — not only about reading, but about sharing books with readers. I’ve visited a lot of schools since Hate List came out, and am always just… floored and fascinated… at how the librarians are the heartbeat of the school. They know all the kids. They know who needs to hear my message the most. And they get so excited about sharing a good book with “just the right student.” Librarians rule!

Q:  If there were anything that you could have said to Nick and/or Valerie to have prevented the tragedy, what would it have been?

A:  It gets better. It does. If you can just hang on and get through this bad time… life gets so much better. You will graduate and leave these mean people behind and will never, ever have to see them again.

Q:  We’ve all heard the verbiage, History repeats itself.  How do you think our society can reduce or prevent the violence you describe in Hate List?

A:  I wish I knew how to make it stop! But the best I can say is… keep talking about it. The more we talk about it, the more we learn how to make it better, no matter what the problem is. Talk to your kids about it. Talk to your students about it. Talk to each other about it. And encourage the young adults in your life to be nice, to be responsible. The best way to do this, by the way, is by modeling nice behavior. There are so many adult bullies out there — all you have to do is check out comments on any given message board or blog site… or watch some reality TV… to see that.

You know, one thing that continually amazes me is how many people really only think bullying is bullying if someone is physically harmed. But that’s just not true. Rumors are bullying. Gossip is bullying. Keeping someone out of a group is bullying. Teasing (and taking it too far, or teasing in a mean way) is bullying. Saying bad things about someone on your Facebook page is bullying, even if you think they’ll never see it (trust me, they’ll hear about it).

And, finally, talk to someone if you’re the victim of bullying. Go to an adult who can help you. You shouldn’t be keeping miserable and lonely and sad feelings to yourself.

Q:  Please share an experience that deeply moved you since Hate List was published.

A:  I was visiting some schools in a city about 2 hours away from where I live. I had a packed schedule, and barely had breathing room. But I received an email from a principal of a local alternative school in the area, asking if I could please squeeze in 20 or 30 minutes at their school while I was in town. She was so passionate about getting me there, I agreed to do it, even though it meant I was going to have to really fly to make my next school visit. I got to the school and found out that I was the first visiting author that the school had ever had. Ever! The students were so attentive and wonderful, and the teachers so appreciative that I would talk to them. After my visit, I received an email that the students had decided to create a student-led book club, and that their first club read was going to be Hate List.

Q:  What advice do you have for middle school and high school students who have been bullied?

A:  Go to your school counselor and ask for help. Bullying does tend to stop if an adult who knows what they’re doing confronts it head-on. If your counselor isn’t helping, keep talking. Talk to teachers, talk to administrators, talk to your parents. Eventually, someone will help you.

Q:  In Hate List the lines blur for many of the characters.  For example – Valerie and Nick are being bullied, but also are perceived as bullies.  They are hateful and loving.  We also might say that Valerie and Jessica are victims, perpetrators, and saviors.  You did a phenomenal job of showing different sides to many of the characters.  What overall message do you feel is important for the reader to take away from your portrayals?

A:  That you are not only your reputation, so why should anyone else be only theirs? We are all human. We are all flawed. And we are all complex. It’s so easy to “hate” someone you don’t really know, based on something you’ve heard about them, or the first impression they gave, or whatever. Valerie’s main goal in Hate List is to “see what’s really there.” I’d like my readers to do that as well. See people for who they really are.

Q: As the mother of three children, what life lessons do you hope to impart to them?  (They do not necessarily have to relate specifically to Hate List.)

A:  Oh, so many! I want them to be caring people. I want them to see that their actions do matter in this world. And I want them to follow their dreams, whatever those dreams may be. I want them to know that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to. And I want them to always come home for Christmas, even if they live far away. 🙂


Readers may find up-to-date information about Jennifer Brown and read her blog on her website: http://www.jenniferbrownya.com/

Enter to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Hate List by choosing any one of the following:

1. Leave a comment about how bullying has impacted your life, or the life of someone you know.

2.  Explain why you would like a copy of this book.

3.  Ideas you have to put an end  to bullying.

4.  General comments about this blog piece.

5.  Add a link to this blog piece on your website, Twitter it, or post a link on your Facebook or MySpace page. (Please list it.)

A winner will be selected randomly and is open to individuals in the United States or Canada.  Deadline is May 20, 2010

Sixteen-Year-Old Author Riley Carney Inspires
Feb 28th, 2010 by Liza Wiemer


Riley Carney



How a Shy Teen Became a Published Author 

By Riley Carney, Age 16 – guest blogger


Breaking the Chain – Riley Carney’s Non-Profit Organization for Literacy – http://bit.ly/5SsOsA

Over the past year and a half, my life has changed dramatically. I have gone from a shy high school sophomore who liked to write and was passionate about literacy, to a published author and the director of a full-fledged, legal nonprofit organization. I have many people to thank for what I’ve achieved, family, teachers, myself. But there was one person who played a large role in my decision to recognize my passions and take them to the next level. For the purpose of anonymity, we’ll call her Laura.

Laura had been my best friend since fourth grade. We went to different middle schools and high schools, but we had stayed close friends, and saw each other on the weekends and throughout the summers. Middle school was a particularly difficult time for me, but it didn’t matter that I didn’t fit in at school because Laura was still my friend.



By the time high school rolled around, I had started to write my books and I had begun my quest to combat illiteracy by creating my program, Breaking the Chain. I was still shy, but I decided that I cared a lot about trying to raise money to build a school for a village in Kenya. So, despite a shaky voice and a bad case of butterflies in my stomach, I managed to give a presentation to my entire high school during an assembly to kick off my fundraising. After a few months of selling T-shirts at school and often feeling uncomfortable with the whole exercise, I managed to raise enough money to build a school and a water purification system for the village.

I felt great about raising the money and I was determined to push forward, but there were definitely times when I felt like an outcast. There just really wasn’t a place for me in any of the groups of kids at school. I wasn’t buying into the popular party groups and I didn’t fit into the misfit groups either. It was incredibly hard to feel so out of place, but I also knew that most teenagers, even the ones who seem popular, feel very insecure inside. Besides, I knew that Laura still accepted me, and she was still my best friend. 

The summer before my sophomore year my relationship with Laura began to change. She was suddenly much less interested in being my friend and much more interested in fitting in with the cool crowd at her school.  We saw less of each other and didn’t talk as frequently.  One day I called and left a message for her.   She never called me back. As quickly and as suddenly as that, our five-year friendship had ended. I was heartbroken.

My best friend had decided that I was no longer worth her time, and for a while I was distraught. I felt very lonely and I wanted nothing more than to fade into the background so that no one would notice how alone I felt. Soon, however, I began to I realize that there weren’t any kids whose opinion about me mattered! It was a very liberating moment to recognize that I didn’t care what other kids thought of me.  It didn’t matter if I was wearing the right outfit or the right makeup or if some boy thought I was hot or if I fit into a group.  The people I respect were the opinions of me that mattered. Most of the kids at school were so concerned with fitting in that they had lost themselves and their own personalities. What was there to respect?

This new mindset allowed me to discover what I was truly capable of.  My first book was published, six more have been written, and my organization has become a legal nonprofit corporation that has made a difference in thousands of children’s lives. I also have spoken to over 3,000 kids at schools across the country, hoping to inspire them to pursue their dreams and to reach out to help others.  I’ve also have made some great new friends who are involved in not being a clone of some other kid who they think is popular.

I no longer care about what my peers think of me; I only care about what I think of myself.  And that has made all the difference in my life.

I guess I have Laura to thank for that.

A note from Liza Wiemer:  It is truly an honor to include Riley on WhoRuBlog.  She epitomizes the term “Inspiring Teen!”  If you would like to purchase an autographed copy of The Fire Stone, you can do so from her site: http://www.rileycarney.com/  In addition, her book is available through Amazon http://tiny.cc/KgiND  Find Riley on Goodreads.com – one of my most favorite book sites. http://tiny.cc/Tkv9M

How Can I Figure Out What To Do With My Life, When I Can’t Even Decide What To Wear?
Feb 16th, 2010 by Liza Wiemer

How Can I Figure Out What To Do With My Life, When I Can’t Even Decide What To Wear?

Sometimes Classes Aren't Enough!

*First, thanks to a reader for suggesting this topic! <3

Perhaps you’re a student approaching the possible dreaded decision of what to do after high school.  Or, perhaps you’re in college and you haven’t declared a major yet. Okay, so let’s tackle these different scenarios.

You’ve already been asked about a million times what you’re going to do with your life, what college you’re going to attend, and/or what you would like to major in.  “Fun” isn’t exactly the answer most people would expect or appreciate, but you might have a little “fun” throwing it out there.  Lol.  “I don’t know,” is a viable answer, but most people don’t seem to buy into it.

You’ve been in college for two years, and you still don’t know what you want to do.  The four-year-plan seems to be looking more like the five or six-year-plan.  Now what?  Should you declare, even if you’re not sure you’ll be happy with your decision?

Here’s my best advice:

I’m not going to tell you not to worry about it, but I am going to tell you don’t spend too much time dwelling on it.  Plans can and do change, but having some kind of plan is helpful.

1.  Know yourself.  What are your interests?  Do you like to: Read, write, dance, sing, play a musical instrument, socialize, hibernate, debate, cook, play sports, paint, watch sports, sail, create science experiments…  Computers, films, fashion, the beach, photography, politics, your faith, warm weather, cold weather…

The more you know about yourself, the better decisions you can make.  If you want, make a list of you likes and dislikes.

2.  Be willing to explore.  You might think that you’d like to be a writer, but take the opportunity to try out different courses.  A cousin took a linguistics class her freshman year and fell in love with it.  She ended up getting a dual degree in business and linguistics.  Another friend was interested in being an English major, but she found that Art History were one of her most favorite courses.  Now she integrates Art History in her writing.  A family member uses www.ratemyprofessor.com and saw that an Archeology professor received high ratings.  He took the class and loved it.

Don’t be afraid to change majors. When I was touring colleges with my elder son we heard an admissions director say that 90% of all students change their majors.

3.  Use Internet and social media sites to learn about yourself, integrate your interests/passions, and connect with people.  Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, MySpace are all great social media sites, but how are you using them?  If they’re just for socializing with friends, then you’re missing a huge component that could help you figure out what you want to do with your life, or at the very least, utilize a talent that you possess.  Nicole, who started www.wordforteens.com in 2007 when she was thirteen, uses her passion for reading and has created a highly successful YA book blog.  It includes author interviews, giveaways, reviews, and some cool personal interests – she’s a Johnny Depp fan. J  Nicole utilizes social media sites like Twitter (555 followers as of today) to share her thoughts and connect with readers/authors!  Pretty amazing!  Blogging is a great way to share your interests with others.  Anyone can utilize social media sites like Nicole has – to connect with other people who have similar interests.  Want to know more about scuba diving? Use social media to learn more and it is an effective use of your time to discover what you do and do not like about a topic.

4.  Take responsibility for the decisions you make.  Want to know how this connects with figuring out what to do with your life?  It may seem simple, but it’s not.  If you make poor choices, the consequences can be severe.  How can you have direction if you are getting into trouble, drifting, vegging, doing drugs, binge drinking?  I can’t begin to tell you how many incredible, bright teens/YA end up making poor choices and find themselves in such difficult situations that they can’t dig themselves out – at least not for awhile.  The key is to ultimately take responsibility for the choices you make and THINK FIRST!  Do something active, positive, even if that means going on a walk through the mall to figure out what kinds of things you like and don’t like.  And gasp – do it alone so that you’re not influenced by what a friend thinks.    

5.  If you’re passionate about something, pursue your passion.  Please, please be passionate about something.  Apathy is your enemy.  Care about something!  Dogs? Art? Music?  A family member loves film/multi-media.  We encouraged him to use his talents to: 1. Start his own business, which he did when he was fifteen.  2. To find a college where he could excel in this area.  We knew that if he really loved film, then he would need to integrate it into his academic life too.  He’s now at BU in the Business Honors Program and getting a second degree in Communications with a focus on film.  If you don’t utilize your passions in some way, you’re going to be awfully unhappy.  Whether you find a club, play intramural sports, take art classes, join an a cappella group, find some way to engage your passions.

5.  I’ve said it in other articles on this blog, but it’s important to mention here, find mentors/role models!  You want to be the best writer?  Great, a wonderful ambition – maybe you’re close, maybe you’re interested, but don’t know how to get started, or maybe you’ve already won awards or have been published. If you really want to excel, continue to grow and learn, choose top authors and read their work – study it, digest it, understand it to the best of your ability.  This goes for many things in life.

6.  Surround yourself with people who have the same interests, but aren’t so competitive that they can’t be supportive.  Negative, self-centered, egomaniacs have a tendency to surround themselves with people who reflect their beliefs or whom they can bully/boss around.  Choose your friends wisely.  Don’t give your personal power up to anyone! (Look for a future blog piece coming soon!)

7.  Volunteer.  I’ve known many teens/YA who have discovered what they want to do with their lives through volunteer  work.  Many have used these experiences to get paying summer jobs.  There are thousands of non-profit organizations, many through churches and synagogues, that are in desperate need for volunteers.  Ask around your high school or college – I am certain you can find a perfect match for you. 

And last but not least… 

8.  Your experiences can shape who you are, but they don’t need to define you.  Mistakes happen.  Hopefully the consequences of those mistakes won’t be life changing.  Learn from them and move on.  People don’t make decisions or changes because of fear.  Most fears are in a person’s head.  Ask yourself what is or isn’t real and then be willing to at least explore different possibilities. 

Hope this helps.  🙂 Liza

Harmless Pranks or Foul Play?
Oct 12th, 2009 by Liza Wiemer

Harmless Pranks or Foul Play?

Six POM cases of toilet paper covered this property.  Photo taken by Liza Wiemer

Six POM cases of toilet paper covered this property. Photo by Liza Wiemer

Six empty cases of toilet paper flipped upside down garnished roadside posts.  The toilet paper formed a snowy cascade over home, trees, and bushes.  Homecoming!   Harmless prank?  A rite of passage or foul play?   Some say no big deal – the toilet paper dissolves eventually.  Others claim it’s a mess, disrespectful – money down the toilet, and the culprits should be held accountable and clean it up.

 A friend shared the following story of something his stepson did.  “When he was in high school, my stepson was caught after he and some friends egged a house on Halloween. I took him to the house with a bucket of water, soap, and ladder to remove the eggs and clean the windows. He also took a damaged windowscreen to the hardware store to have it repaired, and paid for it with his own money.  The rest of the kids never made restitution.  He never egged again.  Maybe he saw it was unkind–or just too much work!” 

So what’s fun, and what’s foul?  I believe the line is drawn when damage is done.  Who defines when there’s damage?  That’s definitely tricky business.

dam·age (n)

1. physical harm or injury that makes something less useful, valuable, or able to function 2. a harmful effect on somebody or something 3. the cost or price of something (informal)

(v)    1. vt to cause damage to something or somebody 2. vi to suffer damage

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Here are a few clever pranks I heard over the weekend, but even these had consequences:

The entire class of junior girls from two private high schools switched schools for a day.  It took a lot of work and coordination, but they pulled it off.  The organizers received suspensions.

Seniors at a public high school let three pigs into their high school.  Each had a number painted on it – 1, 2, and 4.  Everyone was looking for pig #3.

Kids set alarm clocks to go off at various intervals during a class period.  The teacher laughed, but it was one period on one day.  The prank would have lost its humor if it had been repeated.  It also wouldn’t have been funny if others had been done to the same teacher.

Here are a few not so clever and definitely destructive pranks.  (Don’t ever try these.)

Pouring bleach on grass to write:  Class of 2010!  Caused property damage, harmed the environment, destroyed the grass.

A bunch of boys peed in a glass jar and placed it in rafters.  After a few hours in the sweltering heat it stunk.  When an a

dult searched for the smell, he knocked the jar over, broke it, and everything the urine touched – carpeting, woodwork, grout – had to be replaced, because the smell wouldn’t come out.

 On April Fools Day kids dumped out garbage cans over desks, chairs, and floors.  The instigators had a major clean up and plenty of germs to wipe away.  And the smell!!

There are plenty of pranks that fall in between – TPing homes might be one. 

*A note from Liza Wiemer – This post does not in any way advocate this behavior – please be responsible.

What do I think?  It’s best to think before one acts.  Rarely are pranks spontaneous.  And they’re almost never harmless.  One should be held accountable for his or her actions.  Do not do onto others what you would not want done to you.  Do they still teach the GOLDEN RULE in kindergarten???

Please share your prank story – harmful, harmless, helpful (please see comment below), or somewhere in between.

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