Tuesday, December 20, 2011




Hello Torrey, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you. I see by your bio that you are an educator. Can you tell us what it's like educating today's youth and what inspires you most in your every day work?

Anderson Cooper’s recent CNN special about what is at the heart of bullying mirrors what reviewers of Secret Saturdays feel is at the heart of my book. One reviewer, Darcy Wishard (also known as the Library Lounge Lizard), gave my novel the following 5 out of 5 stars book-review that I share because the emboldened parts show what inspires my decade-plus teaching career. Darcy writes:

• “As a teacher-librarian in a middle school, I see students come in as sixth graders and watch them make critical and sometimes life altering choices as they progress through [the grades].

• The situation of boys insecure about communicating their feelings with other boys without seeming "gay" is practically epidemic.

• One of Justin's biggest struggles in this story is getting the nerve to just talk to his best friend Sean about what is going on...but the act of simply being sensitive and empathetic to his friends needs has him so overwhelmingly self-conscious about coming across as gay and "un-manly" that he feels helpless and angry.”

It’s inspiring when I see boys I help evolve into better men and the girls I teach becoming more empowered—it all means the eventual end of everyone drinking “Haterade” and bullying.

Tell us more about the book we are giving away called "Secret Saturdays".

Secret Saturdays is a tale of friendship, “friend-emies”, and being the real you. Sean is Justin's best friend or at least Justin thought he was. They used to share everything but lately Sean is hanging with a tougher crowd, bullying, and messing up in school. Justin doesn’t know what’s happening with him. When he finally discovers Sean’s secret, he wants to help before Justin spins completely out of control. But what if confronting Sean means losing his very best friend? The muddy waters that appear in the friendships that you, me, and everyone has shows up in the book.

What plans for the future do you have with your writing and what can we expect from you?

As an author-teacher, I had hoped my writing could do on a larger scale what I do in my classroom. I try to hook kids to book so I wrote Secret Saturdays to give Young Adults and pre-teens a great read. Is it a must-read? My book made the American Library Association Quick Pick List and Kansas and Pennsylvania have chosen Secret Saturdays for their Middle and High School Reading Circles. I lead school-wide assemblies about bullying where I teach and hoped my book could be a tool outside my school to increase peace. On August 2nd, law enforcement agencies made Secret Saturdays the official book for the National Night Out Against Violence. I'm finishing my second novel (something Secret Saturdays fans will love which also helps families, teens, and pre-teens) and, between chapters, very bright days are on my horizon. They include my:

• visits to schools and colleges and organizations where my novel has been built into curricula and programs;

• Secret Saturdays’ paperback hits shelves this April; and

• being on the amazing author line-up at the upcoming Hudson Children’s Book Festival.

Tell us a little about your own childhood and how it affects your novel.

My characters are inspired by my life and the lives of young people I worked with over a decade. I had to be careful not to write my life-story because my family likes to keep “family business” private. Who wants to get disowned? I was a pop culture fan growing up yet it encouraged me to wear masks or show the worst sides of me—just as I’ve seen the media derail my students from being their true selves. So, I aimed to show all sides of Sean, when we know males hide so much. Did I show what he absorbs from his world while showing his sides that many youth hide? The reviews from book experts, parents, youth, and schools say I hit those and more goals so it’s rewarding that that my life and the lives of my students inspired art that resonates with readers.

Do you have any ideas or advice that you'd like to share with other aspiring authors?

There are two questions I use to see if my content is fresh. I ask myself, “Did I write lines people didn't want to skip? Did I write what people feel?” As an author, I also borrow tactics from cooks. Cooks let people sample. As I wrote Secret Saturdays, I read chapters to high school and middle school students. Then I double-checked with Literacy (English/ Language Arts) teachers if I got everything right. When young people said, “This book is hot!” I knew the story was fresh. When a veteran teacher who is now a college professor assigned my book as required reading next to the classic The Outsiders in her class where seasoned and new teachers are her students, I did a football touchdown dance in my living-room. When Booklist said my book is “infectiously readable”, I went to the mirror and high-fived myself. So “sampling” works and I also encourage authors to ask themselves the two above questions I use.

When did you first realize you were destined to write?

My mom knew I was a writer before I did. Parents usually know things about their kids, right? I remember when she confronted one of my English teachers when I was accused as a seventh grader of plagiarism and Ma said, “My son will write books someday.” Did I believe her? Not yet; my eureka moment eventually happened the way that eureka moment happened to that detective in the movie The Usual Suspects who realizes the identity of Keyzer Sose. Somewhere in high school, I flipped through one of my mom’s photo albums and almost every other picture showed me holding a pen or pencil—toddler Torrey trying to write one really big T on someone’s crossword puzzle or athletic adolescent Torrey on the sidelines, sweating while writing something down. Writing has always pulled me into a “zone”, making me forget time, place, and hunger.

Who are some of your inspirations new and past?

It may sound corny, but Oprah Winfrey and President Obama inspire me. They both share my mission that my writing flows from: help people evolve. I sometimes imagine this scene:

Oprah introduces my book by saying, “My mission is to help people evolve. Today we have an author who shares my aim. He has spent the last thirteen years working with young people and he’s so passionate about it that he authored what reviewers call an ‘unforgettable story’ of friendship that shows life is about choices.” In the middle of Oprah interviewing me, she’d say, “As you know one of my friends is President Obama. Well, we discussed how we need more youth to pick up their pants and fully grab The American Dream. Your life shows that if we want better men, we must get more boys reading—period—and your book is a tool I feel the White House could use to help create better men.” As Oprah says that, the crowd claps, and Oprah stares over my shoulder, so I do too, and on strolls—oh my freaking goodness—President Obama! I lose it and that all happens on Oprah’s show about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Did I mention that Oprah and President Obama inspire me?

What was your favorite thing about writing this book?

I have few favorites about writing this book:

• First, keeping it curse-free and sex-free yet getting reader-feedback that it still feels real.

o Why? As a teacher, I didn’t want to have my potty mouth cleaned out with Orbit. Also, as a parent of a toddler, I want other parents to have a safe read for their pre-teens and teens.

• Another favorite?

o The annual New York Citywide Librarian Conference recognized my efforts to align Secret Saturdays with national Common Core State Standards and invited me for my second consecutive year to address librarians helping youth master the CCSS. (Visit and print from my site the free lesson plans, quizzes, discussion guide, and more that I wrote to help you squeeze the most juice out of the book.)

• A BIG favorite is what happened on a school trip:

o Two reluctant readers approached me. One boy said, “Mr. T, I know some of your book by heart.” Not believing him, I said, “Let me hear it.” He looked up and said the part perfectly. The other student got competitive and told that boy, “That’s nothing. Mr. T, listen to this.” Then he recited another part. It rocks my world when students that adults think don’t enjoy reading connect so much with Secret Saturdays that they memorize it.

Read more:http://www.greatmindsthinkaloud.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=interviews&thread=938#ixzz1h6BrZWx1

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