exclusive author notes - spoiler alert!
On this page, I give away information about how I wrote 9th Grade with My Expanding Experiences, My Rollercoaster Relationships, & Me. This includes sensitive information about the plot as a whole, so if you haven't read the book yet, PLEASE don't scroll any further down this page! Instead, buy the book on Amazon, read it, and then you'll be welcome to explore this page :)
stories behind the stories
I hand wrote the first drafts of "books" 37-46 when I was sixteen to nineteen years old. On this page, you'll find scans of the original covers and notes about how I came up with each plot.
Book 37: New Kid At School
I had come up with the character of Ellie Ramsey when I was still several books away from writing “New Kid At School.” I don’t remember exactly when I came up with her—it was before Jack and Stivre started hanging around with Allisen, Kim, and Shevea all the time. My original plan was for Allisen’s best friends to end up being Kim, Shevea, and Ellie. But as I continued writing the series, Jack and Stivre started spending more and more time with the girls, and it just logically flowed that they would become part of Allisen’s group of best friends.
I did like Allisen’s group of friends how I had it—two boys and three girls (including Allisen), all with their own distinct personalities and interests. But I had already come up with a plot revolving around Ellie Ramsey, so I decided to stick with that plot when it came time to write Book #37. I like how meeting Ellie gave Shevea an opportunity to step up and be the one to initiate a friendship with someone. I’m naturally somewhat like Shevea—not exactly shy, but more of a listener than a talker. I remember a time in high school when I was in an extracurricular activity with a girl who was quiet like me. We were sitting next to each other as everyone else was still arriving, and it was awkward not talking, so I thought of something random to talk about and started a conversation with her. This happened several times, and eventually she and I ended up becoming really good friends! What Shevea says to Allisen in the September 17th entry—that’s exactly how I felt both with my friend from high school and a couple other times since then.
Book 38: Important Words
At the end of the original “What Friends Are For” (Book 33), Allisen and her friends mentioned the idea of a Bible study group. I decided that a plotline about a Bible study group at school couldn’t work yet, because the school year was almost over. But I decided it would be a good thing for them to do some time during Allisen’s ninth grade year.
I never started up a Bible study group (or any sort of club, for that matter) with any of my friends. I was involved in a Bible club in high school, with two other kids (who I hadn’t known before) and a teacher facilitator. We only met a couple times and didn’t have in-depth lessons like Allisen and her friends do. A funny thing is, years after even the official version of 9th grade was published, I did get to participate in a young adults’ group that reminded me very much of Allisen’s Bible study group!
As a teenager, I participated in Confirmation class at my church, and they were run similarly to how Allisen's are. I split my service time between volunteering at a dog groomer’s salon and helping out at the local elementary school homework club.
Book 39: We've Got Talent!
I was in a high school talent show when I was in eleventh grade. I had to audition, but it wasn’t like Allisen’s audition—all I had to do was perform for one adult in a small room. My talent was singing and signing a song called “Thank the Lord”, which I had done in church the year before.
I got the idea for Allisen and her friends to be in a talent show when I was writing “Position of Power” (Book 30) and Joseph San Drana said that one of the things he’d do as president would be to have a talent show. I thought it would be fun for Allisen and her friends to combine their diverse talents and do an act together!
Book 40: All Dark
This plotline was taken directly from my life—and changed a bit, of course, to make it fit Allisen’s. On December 11, 2008, school got out early in Nashua, NH due to the weather. And that night, there was an ice storm that was to go down in history.
Like Allisen, I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t see a thing. Usually I could see the red glow of numbers from my digital clock, and the nightlight out in the hall. This time—nothing. Whether my eyes were open or closed, all I could see was blackness. Finally, after my eyes had adjusted, I was able to make out the blue glow coming from my window. I fell asleep hoping and praying for no school the next day.
And of course there wasn’t. The ice storm had knocked out power all over the city. My brothers and I had fun going outside and seeing all the little pieces of ice—like mini icicles all across the yard and on every tree. We had ice cream for lunch to avoid having it go bad in the powerless freezer (it was already kind of soupy). At night we lit candles and used flashlights.
Where we lived, I think the power was out for three of four days, maybe five. My cousins, out in Wilton, NH, were without power for a lot longer. They came and stayed with us for a little while, because we at least had a generator and therefore could use some electricity. I remember playing some variation of flashlight tag with my brothers and one of our cousins.
There are a couple things that stood out to me about the entire city having no power. One is what Jack said: just how dark everything is without all the artificial lights. My neighborhood has streetlights, and those alone being out makes a huge difference. But what makes an even bigger difference is the absence of the glow from the main city a couple miles away. I’m not talking about a huge city with skyscrapers and night life—I’m just talking about your average supermarkets and restaurants and traffic lights and clothing stores. We don’t realize how much light the city puts off until the light isn’t there anymore. And we don’t realize how many stars we’re missing out on until all the lights go off and the sky is just speckled with beautiful little dots of white. The couple days that Nashua was out of power were very peaceful and beautiful.
Book 41: Halfway to Independence Day
When I came up with the idea for Allisen and her friends to stay at a ski lodge, I was—you guessed it—skiing! I’ve never gone skiing with a group of friends, or stayed at a ski lodge overnight, but my family and I have done several ski day trips. From what I remember, I was still very far off from actually writing this book when I came up with the plot for it, but it was a plot I was always excited about.
Of course, the ski trip only lasted for three days, so I needed some extra plot to fill the book with. I think I came up with that as I went along. On the back cover of the original handwritten book, it says something about Mom getting a part-time job (I always designed the front and back cover before I started writing the actual book). I think I decided to change that to Mom just going away for a few days because I didn’t want Mom to continue to have a job in the future books.
Allisen’s failed attempt at making macaroni and cheese is exactly what happened to me the first time I tried making it on my own without following a recipe. It is not something I’d recommend.
Book 42: Bright Or Dim Me?
I was SO excited to write this book. The scene with Jack and Allisen on February 26 is probably my favorite part of the entire series, and was developed long, long before I’d started writing any of the 9th grade books. (I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even started the 8th grade ones yet).
The timing of when I actually got to write this book worked out perfectly. It was around that time that I developed a huge crush on a guy at my school. I very intentionally drew from my own feelings when writing about Allisen’s feelings for Dimmy. Of course, Dimmy is not at ALL based on the guy I liked at the time—that guy was genuinely super nice (albeit not interested in me).
The moment where Allisen thinks Dimmy is talking to her but he’s really talking to Vee actually came from a song my brother and I had written a couple years back. It was a horrible song that ended up getting re-written many years later (with that particular part removed), but it’s funny to look back on now.
Book 43: Vee Is For Victory
Book 43 was originally supposed to be “Funerals Aren’t Fun.” However, after I decided that the girl Dimmy was dating in Book 42 was going to be Vee, that opened up the door for a plotline I hadn’t anticipated. Knowing Vee’s personality, it would logically flow that she’d want to do something to make sure Allisen wouldn’t end up stealing her boyfriend.
The thing about bullies is, they have stories just like everybody else. Nobody is born a bully. Rather, people bully others because it makes them feel better about themselves, because they want power or control, because there’s a gaping hole in their own lives that they don’t know how to deal with. Vee is a mean, nasty person on the outside, but that’s only because of the pain she faces on the inside. Although Vee isn’t based on anyone I know in real life, the basic essence of her story is, sadly, something that rings true for a lot of people.
Book 44: Funerals Aren't Fun
This book was my least favorite to write out of the entire series. As I mention elsewhere, it’s the only one that took me over a year to finish. And that’s not because I couldn't think of what to write or didn’t know how the story was going to go. I just didn’t want to write it.
I came up with the title quite a while before I started writing the story, and at that time I wasn’t sure exactly who was going to die. For a while I think it was going to be one of Allisen’s grandparents. Then I decided I wanted it to be a classmate, but I didn’t know who. I wanted it to be someone who Allisen knew, but not someone she was really close with.
I’ve had people ask me if the story of Tomas’s death is real, or if it’s based off of something that actually happened to me. Fortunately, no. I’ve never had to go through the death of a classmate.
The Sniffer story is real, though. The character of Sniffer was drawn from my grandparents’ cat, Cydni, who would always snuggle with me whenever I slept over at their house. Cydni lived to be 20 years old, and died when I was thirteen. The story of Sniffer becoming weaker, refusing to eat, and eventually having to be put to sleep due to kidney failure came from my own cat, Indy-Anna, who I’d had since I was two. Allisen’s goodbye with Sniffer, how she didn’t know for sure it was goodbye but still pretty much knew, was how it was for me with Indy.
This book is still really hard for me to read, because it’s so sad and dark and heavy. But I think it’s important. Death is part of life. It’s not something we like to think about, but in your lifetime, you are going to know people (and animals) who die. I wanted to address some of the feelings that people may experience after someone they know dies, and I wanted to show how Allisen and her friends get through it by leaning on each other and trusting in God. Although I don’t really consider Allisen’s Notebooks a “Christian book series,” I wanted to share the hope that comes from believing in Jesus, and demonstrate how that hope can be helpful through someone’s darkest times.
Book 45: Stand Or Fall
The plot for this stemmed from the end of “Funerals Aren’t Fun,” since the issue with Stivre wasn’t yet resolved. It takes more than a month to figure out how to deal with grief, especially if the person you lost was someone close to you. People deal with grief in different ways, some of which are healthy, some of which are not.
Stivre’s story isn’t based on anyone I know, but the idea of dealing with difficult emotions by taking drugs is hugely prevalent in today’s culture. When I was writing about Stivre’s journey with painkillers, I drew from a book called Rejoice, by Karen Kingsbury, in which a character does the same thing for a similar reason.
I had opened up the idea of there being more to Vee than what meets the eye in Book 43, and I wanted to delve a little deeper into her story. When I introduced her in Book 14, she was just a one-dimensional mean girl, but as soon as I started writing Book 43, she became this complicated, multi-dimensional, realistic character who presents herself as having it all put together but is really insecure and hurting. I felt like there was still more about Vee to be addressed and discovered, and I decided that right after such a huge tragedy would be a good time for her to start searching for answers.
Book 46: A True Commitment
I sometimes feel like this is a bit of a nothing plot, because there’s not one major thing that it centers on. However, it’s really not a nothing plot, because a lot actually happens.
Allisen’s Confirmation is something I knew I’d write about, since I had introduced it earlier on. Allisen’s baptism and confirmation went pretty much exactly the same way mine went when I got baptized and confirmed at fourteen.
Stivre’s mom’s wedding was something else I knew would be incorporated, and the timing worked out perfectly. I started writing this book only a month or so after a friend of mine got married, so memories of her wedding were still fresh in my mind, and I drew from that when I was writing about the reception.
I already knew that Book 47 would be about Allisen and her family on a cross country trip, and that Book 49 would be about Allisen having a Little Buddy, so I was able to plan for those plotlines accordingly and wrap them into this one.