News, Notes & Inside Info from a Children’s Book Author

Setting the Scene for My Next “Scary Tales”: The Importance of Place

April 17th, 2014 Posted in Scary Tales, the writing process | No Comments »

I’ve had a semi-solid idea for the next “Scary Tales” book (number 6, untitled), for a while.

But nothing real specific.

I’ve been fleshing out characters, still debating the introduction of a third character, wondering if she’s necessary or not. Definitely going with twin boys.

As for place, I always thought — without giving it much thought — some kind of swamp. Down south, I assumed. Had to be, right?

Lately that notion of place has gotten more specific. I’m zeroing in on Southeast Texas somewhere. Still have more research to do, more looking at maps, more figuring and fact-checking. And, of course, all that in turn effects my characters. How they talk, how they live.

I recently spent time on Google, looking at images, checking maps, gaining inspiration. It seems to be something I’ve been doing of late, part of my writing process.

Here’s a few you might enjoy . . .

And last but not least . . .

Photo: Cat Eyes

April 16th, 2014 Posted in Family | 1 Comment »

I took this photo of my fat cat.

For an author of a series called “Scary Tales,” it impossible not to feel a little inspired.

A Very Busy, Happy Week: Albany, Demarest, Parsippany, and San Antonio

April 8th, 2014 Posted in School Visits | No Comments »

I’m in the middle of a hectic stretch that has me running around.

On Saturday, I was invited to visit Giffen Memorial Elementary in downtown Albany for their 2nd Annual “Author/Illustrator Day.” It turned out to be a beautifully organized and attended event, sponsored by the good, kind folks at the First Presbyterian Church who have sort of adopted Giffen as their community school, as they try to positively impact its children and parents on many fronts.

It was an honor for me to be a part of it, along with Rose Kent, Myles & Sandra Pinkney (those Pinkneys pop up everywhere, like mushrooms after a rain storm), and Joseph Bruchac.

Probably not wise to play favorites, but Joe Bruchac — wow, wow, wow. He is a master storyteller and such a dignified gentleman and artist. Big respect.

I signed a lot of books, many of them purchased for the students by the folks at the First Presbyterian Church. In this case, the children came with their names written on Post-It Notes. By the end of the day, I had a stack of them and shoved it into my book bag. Look at these beautiful names!

On Sunday night, I drove to Tenefly, NJ, in preparation for a busy Monday.

I spoke with students in grade 6-8 at Demarest Middle School early in the day — great kids, terrific staff, beautiful area of NJ — then drove west on 80 to Parsippany Public Library for a truly lovely memorial event, the fifth so far, hosted by the family of Elaine Galliker, a former 2nd grade teacher who, by all reports, loved bringing books and readers together.

It was touching to be a part of something so heartfelt and community-focused. I gave a presentation to a group of adults and a few dozen young readers, and later, once again, signed a bunch of books. Special thanks to Roberta Abel for managing all the emails and small tasks that make these visits possible.

One cool thing about this library — they have a little door leading to the children’s section. Sure, there’s an ordinary big door for us taller, wide-bodied types. But there’s also a magical door for the wee folk. From what I saw and heard, the kids love it.

Tomorrow morning, I am taking a 6:00 AM flight to San Antonio, Texas for the TLA Conference. I have a late dinner date with a gaggle of teachers and librarians — as well as a few fellow authors and publishing types. Should be fun, not to mention filling. On Thursday, I’m participating in an afternoon panel discussion: “The Graveyard Shift: Programming Around Mysterious and Scary Books.” When that’s done, I’ll be racing off to the airport again.

Should be home by midnight, Thursday, tired and grateful and inspired to write.

Whew.

A Perfect Passage from THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich

April 4th, 2014 Posted in Interviews & Appreciations, Readings | No Comments »

No offense to any librarians out there, but I prefer to own books, not borrow them. I realize there’s a financial downside to my predilection, but what can I say? It feels good to support the industry, the book stores, the publishers, the authors themselves. If I can manage it, I don’t mind spending the money on books.

For starters, I like having them around, living in my rooms. Books make great furniture and, in a way, furnaces: they warm homes.

Secondly, I usually read with a pen in my hand. I underline passages, write comments, exclamation points, stars, notes and complaints. It is the dying art of marginalia, a direct reader-response. I can’t do that with library books, and Post-It Notes simply do not satisfy.

I’ve been on nice reading streak lately — have picked out some good ones. I just finished THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir. Fabulously entertaining, and a celebration of science and the intelligence of man. A geek-hero who survives through his attitude, his determination, and his brilliant mind.

Before that, I read THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich. I loved it, every word. What a great writer. Seamless sentences, never a crack showing, and such human insight. A writer with soul. But I’ve got a problem and you can probably guess it: I borrowed the book from my local library and it’s past due.

I’ve been reluctant to return it, to drop it into the slot and hear the dull thunk as it hits the bin. Gone, gone, gone. My book no more.

One first-world problem is that I’ve been rereading, almost daily, the book’s perfect last paragraph. Over and over I return to it, stunned and speechless. That penultimate sentence, especially. What a beautiful evocation of lost innocence, the crossing over into something harder, more brutal and cold, adulthood and loss, “when we all realized we were old.”

I really didn’t want to let the book go, and maybe I’ll buy a copy for myself one day. In the meantime, I’ll type out that last paragraph here, so I’ll have it safely tucked away in the white, high-ceilinged halls of cyberspace. I don’t think there’s any spoilers revealed, it’s not that kind of book. A 13-year-old boy and his parents return home after a long drive.

Quick aside: I don’t play a musical instrument, but I love music. One of the things I’ve always envied about musicians is that they can play all these great songs, have those enduring melodies and fat riffs run through the fingers as they channel greatness.

That’s how I feel typing this passage from Louise Erdrich. Like I’m playing the guitar part from “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

How I wish that I could write as simply, as beautifully.

- - - - -

IN ALL THOSE miles, in all those hours, in all that air rushing by and sky coming at us, blending into the next horizon, then the one after that, in all that time there was nothing to be said. I cannot remember speaking and I cannot remember my mother or my father speaking. I knew that they knew everything. The sentence was to endure. Nobody shed tears and there was no anger. My mother or my father drove, gripping the wheel with neutral concentration. I don’t remember that they even looked at me or I at them after the shock of that first moment when we all realized we were old. I do remember, though, the familiar side of the roadside cafe just before we would cross the reservation line. On every one of my childhood trips that place was always a stop for ice cream, coffee and a newspaper, pie. It was always what my father called the last leg of the journey. But we did not stop this time. We passed over in a sweep of sorrow that would persist into our small forever. We just kept going.

New Slide for School Visits

March 24th, 2014 Posted in Around the Web, School Visits, bullying | No Comments »

Came across this today and thought it would make a good slide for my Middle School presentations. It basically expresses where I come out on all the tips and strategies for so-called “Bully Proofing” a school. It’s why these students don’t need to be preached to. They already know. They just need to be encouraged to listen, and supported when they do.

When my presentation is over — which is decidedly not about bully-proofing a school, it’s about writing books — I like to keep up a final slide while the students filter out. Most of my slides are just images, not words. But at the end, I think that last slide can have words. This one just might make the cut.

Thank you, Shel Silverstein!

Fan Mail Wednesday #177: Second-Grader Turns Into Reading Monster

March 19th, 2014 Posted in Fan Mail, Scary Tales | No Comments »

Okay, gather round, people, nice and tight. Here’s one from a proud mother in Indiana . . .

Mr Preller,

Oh boy, you have created a Monster at my home!

My 2nd grader 8 yr old is hooked and In love with Scary Tales.  I found Home Sweet Horror, and she begged to stay up late to finish it.  Seeing this enthusiasm I was able to reserve I Scream, You Scream.  This was history in one afternoon/night.   Together we read the peak into Good Night, Zombie.    Oh NOoooooo, We can not find it anywhere!!   What is wrong with these libraries???   Ha ha, I’m just saying Thank you for a truly appropriate scary tale for kids.  Natalie loves bugs, frogs, rides and gross scary things…she now loves you :)

Thank you again,

Christina S

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I replied:
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Christina,

Thank you for that kind letter. The Irish call it “flowers for the living,” that you don’t have to wait for someone to die before saying nice things to or about him. I’m saying that I appreciate this did not come in the form of a eulogy.

I’m glad that Natalie has enjoyed the Scary Tales books so far. I have already completed #4 (Nightmareland) and #5 (The One-Eyed Doll), which will come out this June and October, I think.

It’s funny. I have two boys and a girl. The boys never cared from scary anything, but my daughter, Maggie, can’t get enough. She loves that stomach-churning, heart-pounding sensation. Maggie is the one who first told me about the urban myth of “Bloody Mary,” which I used in Home Sweet Horror.

My best to Natalie!

JP

P.S. The art is by Iacopo Bruno from the upcoming title, Nightmareland.


BYSTANDER Contender for “Global Read Aloud 2014″

March 14th, 2014 Posted in Bystander | No Comments »

I arrived home last night after a terrific trip to Michigan, courtesy of the good, kind folks at West Bloomfield Township Public Library. I was treated much too kindly and given the opportunity to speak with young people from 8th grade all the way up to preschool.

(See what I did there?)

More details on that trip another day.

This morning a friend directed me to this link, with information about “The Global Read Aloud.”

“What in the world’s that?”

According to the site:

The project was created in 2010 with a simple goal in mind; one book to connect the world. Now with three years under our belt and more than 30,000 connections made, we realize we are on to something larger than us so we look forward to continuing the global connections.

The premise is simple; we pick a book to read aloud to our students during a set 6-week period and during that time we try to make as many global connections as possible. Each teacher decides how much time they would like to dedicate and how involved they would like to be. Some people choose to connect with just one class, while others go for as many as possible. The scope and depth of the project is up to you. In the past we have used Twitter, Skype, Edmodo, our wiki, email, regular mail, Kidblog, and any other tools we can think of to make these connections. Teachers get a community of other educators to do a global project with, hopefully inspiring them to continue these connections through the year.

I was surprised and honored to see one of my books listed along with such company. It’s nice to be in the conversation, much appreciated. The project looks at books in various categories, according to grades. There’s “Picture Book,” “Grades 1-3,” “Grades 4-6″ and “Grades 7-up.” Some of the folks named include some of my personal favorites, such as Peter Reynolds, Kevin Henkes, Kate DiCamillo, Anne Urso, Jo Knowles, and others.

Oh, wait. Before I forget, look at this cake that was made for me at Algonquin Middle School. It happened a while back, but I just found the photo on the net. I’m only a year and a half behind!

Here’s another sweet shot from that same visit to Algonquin. Thank you, Rebecca.

You can sign up for the Global Read Aloud right here.

Here are the 5 books listed for 7th-grade and up. It looks like I have some reading to do — which, to me, is always the primary point of these lists. Glad to be a contender:

  • Endangered by Elliot Schrefer
  • Bystander by James Preller
  • Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Gein

Sneak Peak: Cover for SCARY TALES #5, “The One-Eyed Doll”

February 26th, 2014 Posted in Scary Tales, Uncategorized | No Comments »

When I think of the five books I’ve written so far for the “Scary Tales” Series — currently working on #6 now — I sometimes consider their relative “fear factor.”

I have been open about my debt to Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.” Many people mistakenly think of TZ as a horror series. It was not, almost never. The stories were strange and always came with a twist. I’d call them intellectually ticklish. What I’ve tried to do with ST is capture some of that strangeness while still delivering the goosebumps.

This upcoming one, The One-Eyed Doll (September 2014), might be the scariest, creepiest of all. I’d put Home Sweet Horror in second place in terms of traditionally “scary,” Good Night, Zombie in third, with Nightmareland fourth. The least scary, but possibly most surprising, more in the thriller mode, is I Scream, You Scream. Of course, we all react differently. Some folks are afraid of spiders, others jump on chairs at the sight of mice.

When I started this series, I had big ambitions. I imagined — this is true — a painter working on a large canvas. I told my editor, “I don’t know if people will really see what I have in mind until I’ve done 20 titles, a color here, a splash there, because I want this to cross genre, move the “Horror” into Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, Realistic and even Historical Fiction. I am most eager to do some Sci-Fi with this series, because in space they can’t hear you scream. But that’ll have to wait for now.

Here’s the new cover. I am so grateful for the opportunity given to me by Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla to write these books. Don’t they look great? Aren’t I lucky? And what do you think of Iacopo Bruno’s latest cover? I love it!

Fan Mail Wednesday #176: The Video!

February 24th, 2014 Posted in A Pirates Guide (Series), Fan Mail | No Comments »

This one comes with a book trailer!

Kelsey, who has her own blog, writes:

I really enjoy your book. I am a student in edm 310 at the Univerity of South Alabama. My assignment this week was to make a book trailer. I chose your book because my kids enjoy it so much. I wanted to share the trailer with you.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

I replied:

Kelsey,

Thanks for sending along that link. I love the trailer. Love the focus on the boy’s journey, well-edited, and the music was especially invigorating. It got me standing up, marching around the room, punching myself in the chest. (Which hurt a little bit, btw.) I was, I should say, fully prepped for a reading adventure!

I love Greg Ruth’s artwork in that book. He’s pretty spectacular and has a new graphic novel out, The Lost Boy. A staggering talent and a nice guy, too.

There is also a sequel out, A Pirate’s Guide to Recess. It expands on the boy — Greg and I call him “Red” — and his imaginary world, as it collides with another first-grader, Molly, and her swashbuckling crew of seafaring scallywags.

Good luck in your teaching career. We need good, young, committed teachers, now more than ever. Thank you for choosing that honorable path.

JP

“Home Sweet Horror” Wins 2013 Cybil Award in Early Chapter Books Category

February 17th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Okay, you might be asking: “What’s a Cybil Award?”

The Cybils are awarded by bloggers for the year’s best children’s and young adult titles. The Cybils have been in existence since, oddly enough, the year 1843. No, wait. Check that: Since 2006. According to the website, their primary purpose is to:

“Reward the children’s and young adult authors (and illustrators, let’s not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and ‘kid appeal.’ What’s that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.”

I did not expect to win this award, in part because I did not even realize that my book, the first in a series of “Scary Tales,” had been among the finalists. In truth, “winning” anything like this is always dubious. But it is an honor to be listed among other finalists, to be part of that conversation of some of the better books of that year. I’m quite sure that my book is no better than the others listed in this category. So here they are, readers take note:

Dragonbreath #9: The Case of the Toxic Mutants, by Ursula Vernon

Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, by Claudia Mills

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea, by Hilary McKay

The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems, by Lauren Myracle

Violet Mackerel’s Natural Habitat, by Anna Branford

Home Sweet Horror (Scary Tales #1), by James Preller

The Cybils website described my book this way:

Liam Finn and his sister just moved into the old Cropsey house. Their father has transplanted his family from Hopeville to Upstate New York. Liam and Kelley are both opposed to the move, but since the death of their mother eighteen months earlier, the family is struggling to survive. Upon moving into the house, Liam begins to hear strange noises and even receives a threatening message in a mirror.  When Kelley’s friend, Mitali, comes for a visit and summons “Bloody Mary”, the tale quickly escalates to a spine-tingling conclusion.

Preller takes an urban myth and creates an enjoyable tale of horror that will appeal to the lower grade students. Bruno’s illustrations insert an appropriate amount of creepiness that adds to the ambiance of the tale. Younger readers will appreciate this scary tale without the graphic and gory details of older horror reads. This little page turner could become a campfire classic!

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My thanks have already gone out to the judges, panelists, bloggers, volunteers, and organizers for this nice honor. I’m grateful and, yes, I especially like that “kid appeal” is seen in a positive light.

In addition, any positive acclaim for this series grows out of the fact that it has been well-published by my friends at Feiwel & Friends, particularly Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel.  The illustrations by Iacopo Bruno are amazing.

And last, a special thank you to Jennifer Wharton, whoever you are!, for nominating my book. My appreciation. Jennifer, if somehow you find this, can I send you a signed copy by way of thanks? You can write to me with your address at Jamespreller@aol.com.

That’s right, AOL, because an elephant’s loyal one-hundred percent.

There are three other titles (so far) in the Scary Tales Series:

…..