Archive for August 18, 2008


On a whim, I purchased this shirt for my wife the other day. Fed up and fired up, she’s all about staying proud and saying it out loud, even if the neighbors don’t agree.

And to that, I add this essential viewing:

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Poem for Craig

I wrote this poem when my great pal, Craig Walker, passed away in the summer of 2007. I was on vacation in the Adirondacks when I heard, and I carried those feelings for the rest of the week. In many respects, it was probably the best circumstance for me. We stayed in a cabin on a quiet lake, took long hikes and solitary kayak trips, built fires, read books, breathed deep. And while there, shaken by the news, I wrote this poem. It’s been stuck in my computer ever since. Well, we recently passed the first anniversary of Craig’s death and I still find myself “trying to remember everything.”


for D. Craig Walker

I stopped sleeping through the night
after I got the message from Holly,
“Call me,” and I knew

I am awake in the Adirondacks
a pulsing dark pushes through the porch screens
and I’m trying to remember


out on the water there is comfort
the dip of a paddle in the lake
like two fingers in holy water
the presence of something we can’t name

you once said the best thing Mark Twain
ever did was to get Huck out on the water
that whole symbolic spiritual/psychological everyplace
and it is here I find myself on the sixth morning
now that I’ve grown accustomed to this new loss
my body adjusted to the weight of it, the heft of it,
the heave-ho of hauling around a heavy heart

I come upon a Great Blue Heron
the solitary predator at the edge of the marsh
prowling the muck, I drift very close
its physical shape I see as a musical note
how the green legs collapse like folding chairs
the S of the neck, the plumed head cockeyed
the Great Blue drives a spear into the water
comes up with a fish crosswise & swallows
I push away at last, return to the cabin
knowing I’ll see you again in my sleep


you should have become a wise old man
you should have hung around
it is all we ever craved from you,
more time, we could never get enough
of you

with you it was the pleasure of good conversation
as simple as that, the fine art of shooting the shit
‘till the shit was shot and the cigarettes smoked
the uncanny prolonged aerial back-and-forthness of it
like a game of catch — the ball just flew!
as Roger Angell writes, “never touching the ground”


and so we set out on our final night
my daughter my wife and I
we three on slender craft & crazy hope
to find again the Great Blue
on the vast impossible lake
we paddle out

I want them to feel what I can’t explain
the near clarity of that wild creature
but we turn back,
the lateness of the hour
the press of things not yet done,
the coming dark

on our return
it swoops overhead
hugs the shore
& alights not fifty yards away
like an honor bestowed
a gift offered
one last chance

and so softly we narrow the distance
draw closer
but something in its eye flickers
a movement, the wind kicking up
perhaps a distant calling, who knows,
and it rises again
on those great gray wings
aloft & gone & full of grace
and we try to remember

Olympic Pixie Packs Punch

If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you probably know Alicia Sacramone from the U.S. Gymnastic team. There’s a 15-second video flying around the web these days that you’ve got to see. Twice. I don’t know any of the backstory, though it seems pretty obvious: “Go on, hit Hulk. One free shot. Hulk be fine.”

File that under: Bad Ideas.

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Jigsaw Jones . . . the Musical?!

One of the amazing things about sending books out into the world is that unexpected things bounce back. For example, I got a call the other day from an affable fellow named Gary Blackman. He is the co-founder and artistic director of ArtsPower, a touring theater group that puts on musicals for young audiences — oftentimes, school groups — based on popular children’s books. They’ve done adaptations based on the works of Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, E.L. Konigsburg, Patricia Reilly Giff, and more.

And now they intend to create a musical loosely based on Jigsaw Jones #12: The Case of the Class Clown. Isn’t that cool? Yeah, I thought so, too. It won’t hit stages until 2010, but it is a strange little blip I can look forward to. I can’t imagine what that will feel like, sitting in the audience, watching a musical based on a book I wrote. Naturally, I shall endeavor to find a more posh class of friends asap, while I study up on all those fancy theatrical terms, such as “break a leg,” “downstage,” and “proscenium,” which I’m pretty sure means, “high forehead.”

Exit: Stage Left. To applause!

Kirkus Reviews Spider

Here’s what Kirkus Reviews had to say about Along Came Spider:

Spider Stevens and Trey Cooper have lived next door to each other their entire lives and have been best friends throughout their years at Spiro Agnew Elementary School. Trey has a type of autism that seems to accentuate the worst traits of ADHD and OCD. He has poor self-control, peculiar habits and awkward social skills. In fifth grade, Trey’s obvious eccentricities, once acceptable and even endearing, are now a liability, and Trey’s peers now regard him as weird and an outcast. This puts Spider in the difficult position of having to choose whether to remain loyal to his oldest friend or to abandon him to join the ranks of the popular kids. Preller adeptly portrays the psychological and social dynamics of this age group, and Trey is realistic and sympathetic as a misfit, if not as memorable as Jack Gantos’s Joey Pigza or Jerry Spinelli’s David Zinkoff. The pressures Spider feels from his peers to belong and conform will resonate with middle-grade readers

I don’t know, reviews are so weird. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with this review, though naturally is doesn’t inspire me to do the Dance of Joy. The Spinelli/Zinkoff reference is from the book, Loser, btw, which several people told me to read when I first discussed Spider with them. The problem is, though I hugely respect Spinelli — first book, age 41! — I find it’s distinctly unhelpful to read another author’s take on a similar topic. It’s paralyzing. There are many times when I use books as sources of inspiration, but when I’m deep into writing, I stay far away from any material that might be close to what I’m doing.

One other thing about that word, autism. Trey Cooper is never diagnosed in the book. I never said that he is autistic, intentionally. I did that for several reasons, primarily because I don’t think that kids relate to each other that way. If somebody makes another child angry or annoyed, a typical eleven-year-old isn’t going to think, “Oh, his mother is an alcoholic,” or, “That’s cool, he’s got OCD.” The response is more direct and immediate. The second reason is that I’m not qualified to put a medical label on Trey, though I gave him many traits common with the vast array of characteristics that fall under Spectrum Disorders. Lastly, one aspect of the book is getting away from labels (jock, geek, brainiac, weirdo, whatever), and of trying to see the individual underneath, i.e., walking a mile in someone else’s sneakers.