exclusive author notes - spoiler alert!
On this page, I give away information about how I wrote 8th Grade with My Awesome Adventures, My Various Visitors, & 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" 25-36 when I was fourteen to sixteen years old. On this page, you'll find scans of the original covers and notes about how I came up with each plot.
Book 25: Teases, Tricks, and... Danger?
Brian and Molli are not based off of any real people I know. Although when my brother and I were about nine and twelve, we did have a fascination for “playing smart on people”. Essentially, being rude, annoying know-it-alls who twisted people’s words around, pretended not to understand what people meant when they used figurative language, and found fault with everything someone said (although we were very offended when our parents said that “playing smart” was equivalent to “being rude”). A lot of our imaginary friends and toy animals used to “play smart” on each other, and in fact the “Prove it” scene from the September 13 entry was based on an exchange between a plastic bobblehead Labrador and a beanie baby leopard.
Book 26: What Is A Family?
I’ve never had a friend stay at my house for longer than two consecutive days. I’ve never had anyone (except for my grandparents) stay at my house for longer than a week. But I was still able to draw a little bit from my personal experiences to write this part of Allisen’s story.
I always enjoyed hanging out with my brothers, cousins, and the kids in my neighborhood. We all had great imaginations and never ran out of fun things to do together. But in most situations, I was the oldest in the group. And, no matter how much I truly enjoyed the ways we found to entertain ourselves, there did tend to come a time when I was ready to stop playing and go spend some time reading or writing or walking my dog—away from the constant chatter and activity.
Particularly in the neighborhood, I was the one the youngest kids attracted to the most, because I was the one willing to indulge their ideas and play the slower-paced games with them. I wanted to be nice, and I wanted them to be able to have as much fun as the “big kids” were having. I didn’t want them to feel left out.
Being nice can be exhausting, as Allisen found out with Nalcie, and as I found out several times over in my neighborhood. I never had a big outburst like Allisen did, yelling something I’d end up regretting. But I can certainly relate with the way she felt in that moment—that feeling of, “I know you want to spend ALL your time with me, but I have other things I’d rather be doing right now!"
But I can say that perseverance pays off. Over the years, I ended up becoming genuinely good friends with a girl from my neighborhood who is seven years younger than me, and I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t spent so much time with her back when she was little.
Book 27: The Pilgrims' Voyage
No, this is not a real camp. Not that I know of, anyway. But wouldn’t it be cool if it were?
When I originally wrote this story, the camp took place on an actual replica of the Mayflower. Of course, back then I did no research and had absolutely no idea what the Mayflower or its voyage would have been like. A couple years later, I visited the replica of the Mayflower in Boston, and got a feel for how it actually would have been to sail across the Atlantic on that. I also realized that the number of parents who would want their third through eighth graders to spend a week on a boat with strangers would equate to about… zero. So when I wrote the published version, I changed it up a bit and made the camp take place on land, not on an actual boat.
The history facts from this story are real; the experiences are entirely made-up (except for sleeping on a hammock—that’s one of those things that sounds a lot more comfortable than it actually is!)
Book 28: Snow Will Fall
I didn’t get stranded without heat, but December of 2007 really was this snowy. As I mention on the FAQ page, the significant weather in the Allisen’s Notebooks series actually was the weather in Nashua, NH on that specific date. Snow days in particular—I kept a good record of those in my diary, and then I always kept my diary on hand when writing Allisen’s Notebooks. While some aspects of the stories have been changed from the way they were in the original books, the specific dates of snow days and snow storms have not!
Book 29: It's Good To Bee Smart
Like Allisen, I’m a good speller. Spelling has always come easily to me—to the extent that by the time I was ten, I figured spelling mistakes were probably very rare for anyone in middle school or above (now that I work in a middle school, I know I was very far from the truth!). The only spelling bee I was ever in, however, was when I was in third grade. I was competing against one boy from my class and two from a different school. I was pretty confident in my abilities—after all, the reason I got to be in the spelling bee at all was because I was the reining spelling champ of my class.
I don’t remember exactly how many rounds we went through before my classmate was eliminated. Nor do I remember what words I had to spell, or how many more rounds there were between my classmate getting out and me being given the word jewelry. I do remember confidently stepping up to the mic and saying, “Jewelry. J-E-W-E-L-Y. Jewelry.” It was a silly mistake. I knew how to spell jewelry. I’d just been spelling so quickly that I’d skipped the r.
The two boys from the other school stayed in for a long time before one of them eventually won. Some of the words they had to spell were really tricky. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t have been able to spell all those words. At the end of the bee, ribbons were handed out—blue for the first place winner, red for the second place winner, white for the third place winner (me) and a purple honorable mention for the fourth-place winner.
Book 30: Position of Power
I ran for class president in fourth grade, but it was nothing like Allisen’s school election. It was a very civil election, with all of the candidates behaving appropriately and having good, teacher-guided campaign plans. And my fourth-grade class election was really more for learning about how an election works, rather than electing an actual class president.
I don’t remember thinking at all about my fourth-grade class election when I was writing this story. I was just having fun coming up with candidates who hardly anyone would want to vote for!
Book 31: All of My Heart
I probably got this title from the Zoegirl song “With All of My Heart.” Just saying. Coming up with titles is hard sometimes, especially when you don’t have a fully-formed plot in mind.
I never started up a sewing organization with my friends, but I do like to sew, and I used to make sewn Christmas presents for my family members every year. I started out just making little decorative pillows, then moved on to gloves (which turned out to be oven mitts) for my mom, a flat stuffed dog for my grandmother, and eventually a few 3-dimensional stuffed animals for my little brother. At one point, after repairing one of our store-bought stuffed animals who’d lost her ears and tail, I had the brilliant idea to start up a business called “Fuzzy Repairs”, in which I’d repair stuffed animals for all the kids in the neighborhood. That never ended up going anywhere, but it was a good idea in theory.
I’ve had several pen pals over the years, but never managed to maintain a relationship with one I’d never met—even though the two never-met pen pals I had were nice people who I probably could have sustained correspondence with if I’d been more diligent. The idea for Allisen having a pen pal actually stemmed from thinking about my imaginary friends. I’d grown up in Indiana with one set of imaginary friends, but when we moved to New Hampshire, I had to make new imaginary friends, since of course all my friends didn’t move with me. I still kept in touch with my Indiana imaginary friends, though, talking to them on the phone and keeping up with what was going on in their lives. (Aaaand…. I guess my insanely vivid, detailed imagination is part of why I became an author!)
Haranna Bell was one of my imaginary friends from Indiana, and by the time I was writing “All of My Heart”, I’d already invented the story of her life up through age sixteen or so. I was also thinking at the time that, since her story is somewhat similar to Pete’s, maybe they would end up marrying each other someday. I decided to incorporate Haranna into Allisen’s story so that she could meet and bond with Pete.
By now (2019), Haranna Bell would be 27 years old. Her son, Christian, would be eleven. I can picture them both, Haranna as a hardworking single mom and Christian as a small, skinny boy who’s quiet but kind to everyone. I can’t picture Pete as part of their family, though. The main characters of the Allisen’s Notebooks series have moved into their own realm in my mind, and it’s hard to think of them interacting with my other imaginary friends (mainly because my imaginary friends have aged at the same rate I have, whereas the people in Allisen’s world will forever be the ages they are in the books! I really have no clue what Allisen Zepetto is doing as a 24-year-old).
Book 32: Springtime Surprises
One part of this story relates to my life: Allisen’s big haircut. I donated my hair for the first time when I was fourteen. I’d kind of wanted to do it for a while, but I’d always, always, always had really long hair, and I’d always been kind of afraid of the reaction I’d get when people saw such a big change in my appearance. I’m like Allisen—I don’t like people staring at me or exclaiming over how much I’ve changed.
When I was fourteen, however, I decided that it was something I really wanted to do, and I was going to go for it. And not only was I going to get a whole foot of hair cut off, but I was also going to get bangs. As you can imagine, it was a pretty big change in my appearance, and I didn’t like it at first because it was weird and new and yes, people did notice. But over time I got used to it and grew to love it. I’ve donated my hair four additional times since then, and plan to continue.
Book 33: What Friends Are For
This story underwent a major plot change between the original version and the published version. In the original version, Vee’s gang was making fun of Shevea for the fact that her ex-stepmother and half-siblings lived with her. 1) How would they know? And 2) Why would they care? Shevea is a nobody to them. They wouldn’t waste their time picking on her.
Unless… Shevea did something that upset them. I came up with the “helping Suzette cheat” plot after I’d written the rest of Eighth Grade with My Awesome Adventures, My Various Visitors, and Me. What happens to Shevea in the story is not something that has ever happened to me or any of my friends, but I’d probably react similarly to how Shevea reacts.
Book 34: An Extended Visit
Let me just take a moment to say a few words about my amazing cousins. I have been incredibly blessed by a wonderful family in which all the cousins have always known each other and always delight in getting to see together. And even though we’re from four different families and have a 20-year age span between the oldest and youngest, whenever we get together, everyone hangs out with everyone and we have a ton of fun.
Looking back, I kind of wish I’d given Allisen more cousins. But I’m at least glad she has Carolina. I hope readers like Carolina despite the way she acts during “Going to Carolina” and “An Extended Visit.” It’s hard to have to abruptly change plans that involved spending the entire summer with your best friend. However, it’s also hard when someone you usually enjoy spending time with isn’t excited about getting to spend time with you.
The plot if this story isn’t something that ever happened to me, but some of the ways Allisen, Mirisen, Harrisson and Carolina entertained themselves while shopping are things my brothers and I used to do. Also, my family went to Six Flags the year I was writing the original version of “An Extended Visit”, so that’s where that part came from.
Book 35: Lights! Camera! CUT!
This story was based on my personal experiences! One day, my brothers and I decided to make a movie. We’d always enjoyed acting out pretend “movies” (our favorite was one called Quest of the Sword), but this time we wanted to actually film a movie, with the real video camera (This was before smartphones had the ability to take video, before our family even had a handheld digital camera with a video feature). The camcorder we used recorded onto tapes, but had a digital screen on which we could go back and watch what we’d recorded.
Our video was called Tent, and it was about three siblings who decided to go camping in their house. We did our scenes the same way Allisen, Mirisen, Harrisson and Carolina did—by planning each scene a little bit beforehand and then improvising as we acted. Since we were doing all the filming ourselves, we could never have all three of us on-screen at the same time, but we switched off camera-handling often enough that it was fine. Our film was a musical, with each of us singing one solo song (which we made up on the spot) and then all three of us singing a pre-written song together at the end (We actually had our mom record that part).
We were all pretty new to manning the video camera—our dad was usually the one to do it at family events. I remember how excited we were when, toward the end, we realized we could just hit pause instead of stop, and there would be a smooth transition from one scene to the next rather than a one-to-two-second clip of gray fuzz in between. And at the time, we didn’t have any way of getting the finished product from the tape to a computer, so our credits consisted of facing the lens down on the carpet and announcing the credits orally. It was a hideous production, but we loved it because it was ours.
We’ve made several other short films since then, all recorded on digital devices and post-processed on the computer. My youngest brother (now older I was when we made Tent!) even took a Video Production and Broadcasting course in high school. But Tent was the one that started it all.
Book 36: The Summer Games
No, we never had a neighborhood Olympics. But I would have loved it if we did! I probably would have done comparably to how Allisen did in the events.
The 2008 summer Olympics are the first Olympics for which I specifically remember watching the opening ceremony. Yes, the relay with the eight torches actually happened, and so did the “spectacular fireworks display”—although we found out later that some of the fireworks had been superimposed on TV. I remember being super excited that the Olympics started on 08-08-08, because, like Allisen, I love repeating dates! That’s why I had to have Zachary be born on that date as well. I’m kinda bummed that there are no more repeating dates left in this century.