Me & My Dog

This is our rescue dog, Echo. He’s about 15 months old, part Border Collie, and we’re crazy about him. Very smart and energetic and fast. I work at home in relative solitude. Together Echo and I usually go on two long walks in the woods, or near the river, and wherever there’s open space. He’s great off-leash and comes running whenever he’s called. Love him. Anyway, this is a recent (unsmiling) photo of me, a few days before my 59th birthday. Still feel alert and creative and strong. Not dead yet! Many more books to come — so long as there are readers. Thanks for stopping by.

INSPIRATION: When Trees and Haiku Meet — Robert Bly, A Pine Tree, and Basho


I try to spend some time each day thinking in haiku. Often I find that space while walking the dog in the woods or by the river or an open field. It’s a quiet, interior time without earbuds or podcasts. My haiku is almost always written in the traditional three-line, 5-7-5 form, with a focus on nature. I usually try to include a kigo word (a reference to the season of the year) and a division, breath, or caesura (often in the form of a colon or a dash that both separates and connects). There are endless variations, and that’s the beauty of haiku. Sometimes a lighthearted one might come, more senryu than serious haiku, and that’s what gets written. It’s something I started doing with more intention a few years ago. I’m not saying that I’m great at this. My focus is on process, not product. Basho’s great line, “The journey itself is home.” I accept that most of the ones that come to me aren’t going to be exemplary.

Thinking in haiku has given me an outlet for calm reflection, a brief time for thinking outside myself and the endless, grim news feed of our troubled world. This morning I wrote this one:


This pine has a life             

Of its own: there is nothing

It requires of me.


However, I’m not posting today to show one haiku. Mostly I was eager to share one of the sources of my inspiration, taken from the introduction to Robert Bly’s book of prose poems, The Morning Glory

I love this passage so much, as if it were written precisely for me, bringing together in one page my growing enthusiasms for trees and haiku and poetry and, importantly, this essential idea of getting “the self” out of the way. I hope you like it. Maybe Bly’s passage here, along with Basho’s haiku, will inspire thoughts and feelings in you, too. Embrace the process. Forget thoughts of “good” or “bad.” And see what happens. 


While we’re gathered here, I might as well tack on a few others . . . I’ve got hundreds of them.

I have failed to learn

The name of the bird that calls

From the high poplar.

Three twisted sisters

Beneath the great canopy,

Roots and arms entwined.

The soft grasp of dusk

Upon the winter shore: black-

Hooded plover waits.

Steel-gray buckets tapped

Into maples; the crows watch

From snow-covered limbs.

January rain –-

The old cat stretches, circles,

Eyes slant shut again.

The beech holds its leaves

Shimmering like winter moons

Papery and light.


FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #295: When Joseph Basically Asks Me to Do His Homework


It happens often enough that just about every middle grade and YA author has experienced it. The ever-so-brief fan mail from a student that turns out to be an indirect request to do their homework. On one level: Resourceful! On another: Hey, you’re not fooling me, I see what you are doing, think for yourself

Over the years I’ve responded differently, depending on my mood. For this one, I felt chatty and gave an honest answer. Yes, I wanted a good grade! When I received Joseph’s response, I realized I probably let him down. Oh well! You’ll see.  

Here’s the first note from Joseph:

Hello, James. I am a fellow student who’s in high school in my sophomore year, I was curious to ask some questions about your book, THE FALL. I wanted to know what type of rhetoric device fits well in this story?

Thank you!



I replied: 

Ha, Joseph, I am so glad I’m not in high school anymore. I would have failed this assignment!

There are a lot of different rhetorical devices in the world, most of them I’m not ever consciously employing. Asterismos and eutrepismus, hypophora and parallelism, procatalepsis and tmesis.

Oh boy, good times.

Can you tell I had to look all those up? I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ve used them at different points in my career, but not quite knowingly.

I think a lot of what we do as writers becomes instinctive, based on years and years of reading. You kind of eat it. Digest it. Absorb it and internalize all those storytelling strategies. So when you are telling your own story — trying to communicate — you just reach for whatever tool seems handy at the time.

The biggest conceit to The Fall, the Big Device, is that it’s presented as if it were Sam’s journal entries. He’s recounting the events to himself as a way to understand this really big and terrible thing that happened. He’s processing and, in turn, owning responsibility for his role in Morgan’s tragedy. As readers, we are looking over Sam’s shoulder, going through that experience with him.

Another device that comes to mind, which I used in one spot of the book, the “Not Me” chapter, is that Sam writes as if he’s on trial, addressing the jury. And you, the reader, of course, are on that jury. I didn’t carry that device throughout the book — I think it would have felt forced — but it seemed right at the time. And as readers, we are making those judgments of each character. Sam is acutely aware of being on trial.

Sam includes a few of his own poems, the way someone like Sam might. Maybe there’s a name for that, maybe it’s a rhetorical device, I don’t know. I just wanted to show Sam’s depth of feeling, how this stuff was pouring out of him, how he thought and felt, and the simple poems, again, seemed right for this journal format. It’s what I did as a kid in my journals, anyway.

Hey, Joseph: You forgot to tell me how much you loved the book! Don’t you know that’s how you are supposed to begin these letters? It’s a rhetorical device called “blowing smoke up someone’s butt.” Writers love that stuff. It gets our attention! And we immediately think, “What a smart young fellow!”

Next time: 1) Begin with a compliment; then 2) Ask me to do your homework!

(By the way, the above numbering technique is an example of eutrepismus, separating speech into numbered parts. We all do it, but 99% of us have never heard the name before. That’s writing, I think.)

All good things,

James Preller

Joseph politely replied the next day:

Thank you so much! So sorry, but this book was inspiring though haha! Its just I had include one Rhetorical Devices. those are 1. Repetition 2. Parallelism 3. Slogan and saws 4. Rhetorical questions

I had to choose one of them and explain why I chose it and how you used it in this book.

Oh well, I tried!

The Writing Life: A True Story!

It happens.

Things People Hate: A Happy Recap


I’m going to cross some kind of line with this post, like Voyager pushing past our solar system, beyond the heliopause, into interstellar dark. That’s right, I’m about to do the unforgivable: discuss a recent thread on my Facebook feed.

Is that a sign my world has gotten too small? That I need to get out more?

Oh yes, I need to get out more.

I am active on Facebook. Usually a post a day, a movie I loved, a book I recommend, some kind of pass-along, something. I try not to complain too much about American politics, though that’s hard. The other day I stumbled upon an update that got a huge response (in my corner of the interwebs, anyway).

I innocently wrote:

Complete the sentence in comments. Things I absolutely abhor that other people seem to like . . .

Last I looked, I had received 240+ responses.

People couldn’t wait to fill in the blankety-blank.

So much hate!

Name any movie or a celebrity or a band, and there’s somebody out there who loathes it/them. No one seems immune, not Will Farrell or Harry Potter or even Alexa.

People have very specific food dislikes. And all I can say is: Poor coconut! And somebody, please, give peas a chance! True fact: Name a food you hate, mint ice cream for example, and six people will instantly nod and say, “Hell to the Yes!”

For pure entertainment value, and creativity, and good old-fashioned weirdness, I most enjoyed when friends named very specific things they hated. (Some of these people have issues.)

A few of my favorites culled from the list:

  • Crocs
  • TVs in public spaces
  • Phones during meals
  • Alexa
  • Auto-tune
  • The internet
  • Crowds
  • Duvet covers
  • Costume parties
  • Rustic reclaimed signs
  • Supermarkets
  • Families
  • Comments
  • Up talk
  • Thoughts and prayers
  • Very muscular builds
  • Speed boats
  • Pugs
  • Umbrellas
  • California wine culture
  • People who bring their dogs everywhere
  • Alternate facts
  • Wire hangers
  • Birds
  • Gender Reveal Events
  • Leaf blowers
  • Plastic blow-up lawn decorations


The obvious lesson is that if you get enough people to respond, we can carpet the entire world with hate. Fruit salad and green vegetables and chocolate? I know people who hate ’em all!

Oh, you think it might be nice to put on some music? Really? That’s dangerous turf. Because somebody here is going to hate it. And hate it passionately — even Jimmy Buffett.

Or maybe especially Jimmy Buffett.

The most frequently recurring winners, er, losers, were: Donald Trump, Coconut, U2, the NFL, the Kardashians, Disney, and Gender Reveal Events.

And lastly, from a curmudgeonly pal across the pond . . . “just *@#%& everything OK!!???”

HOWEVER, to be fair, no one mentioned Tom Petty, because everyone likes Tom Petty.

And fuzzy little baby bunnies.

We’ll tolerate them, too.

What do you hate?