Archive for June 29, 2012

BEFORE YOU GO: The Imaginary Soundtrack to My Young Adult Novel, Part 1

No blogging for at least a week until I beat a deadline into submission, literally. So ’til then . . .

I’ve concocted an imaginary soundtrack that plays during the imaginary movie that’s based on my (real!) upcoming Young Adult novel, Before You Go (July 17, 2012) I didn’t sweat the details, such as, oh, there’s no movie and even if there was, we couldn’t afford many of these bands. Not going to worry about that. These are the songs I hear in my head as I move through the book, the songs that helped me as a writer.

Setup: For those who don’t know, the story opens with four unnamed teenagers driving on a dark road. The car spins out of control, hits a tree. One passenger dies. Next page, we rewind six weeks into the past, and gradually meet all the characters. The reader does not know who is going to be in the car, or who will die. The book catches up to the accident about 2/3 of the way through. So the book is in two sections: “Before” and “After.”

For purposes of length, and to avoid disclosing any key spoilers, I’ve limited today’s post to Part One, “Before.”

And away we go, chapter to chapter . . .


Tom Petty, “Here Comes My Girl”

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

Probably not the hippest selection in the world, and surely classic rock isn’t the right note to start off with, but I always heard this Tom Petty tune blasting from the radio as the car races through the fogged, misty night. Anyway. Key lyric: “You know, sometimes, I don’t know why, but this old town just seems so hopeless.”



The Cure, “Pictures of You”

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

This is Jude’s recent obsession as a guitar player, this exact tune, and the music plays when he shoves in the ear buds while riding the bus to his first-ever summer job. I see him staring out the bus window, crossing the bridges, the summer morning, the traffic and the water and the gulls.


The Head and the Heart, “Lost In My Mind”

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

This doesn’t precisely connect to the material, but somehow reflects interior Jude, going through the motions at his new job, punching the clock, meeting the new boss, putting on the paper hat. It’s a mood thing. Key lyric: “‘Cause there are stars/Up above/We can start/Moving forward.” And also, “Put your dreams away for now/I won’t see you for some time/I am lost in my mind/I get lost in my mind.”


Toro Y Moi, “Still Sound”

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

Full on beach mode, Jude working hard now, the sun-burnt throng, great-looking girls in bikinis — and he sees Becka for the first time.


Arcade Fire, “Suburban War”

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

I see Jude returning home from work, walking the suburban streets, seeing his father out front, opening the door, going inside. Key lyric: “This town’s so strange/They built it to change/And while we’re sleeping all the streets, they rearrange.” There’s also a foreshadowing in a later line: “In the suburbs, I learned to drive/People told me we would never survive.


Big Star, “I’m In Love with a Girl”

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

One of the all-time favorite songs, all that teenage vulnerability and yearning. We’ve got to find a place for it somewhere in the imaginary movie soundtrack, so we’ll squeeze it in here.

Ben Folds, “Not the Same”

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

Jude and his best friend Corey climb the roof of his house, overlooking their suburban world. About the homemade fan video, above, made by two brothers, I love the vibe they created. Good, clean fun. Nice job, guys.


Charlotte Gainsbourg, “Me and Jane Doe”

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

Cool tune, seems to be a conversation of sorts, and I wanted a female voice entering the soundtrack. I hear this with Jude and Becka outside on the bench in the open air, feeling each other out. Leads to this miraculous version of “Hey Jude” by Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman. All the lyrics to this song work for this character, “And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain/Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.” Or this: “And don’t you know that it’s just you, hey Jude, you’ll do/The movement you need is on your shoulder.

Wilson Pickett, “Hey, Jude”

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


Teenage Fanclub, “Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything”

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

Fits with the feeling of time on the boardwalk, putt-putt golf, and talk about guitars. Sunny and happy, Becka and Jude. And I worship Teenage Fanclub.


Stornoway, “Fuel Up”

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

The car imagery again, the youthful reflection, the open road — but not in the way that Springsteen writes about it, or even Kerouac, but here with a mixture of innocence lost and trepidation. Key lyric: “And your head’s on the window, your eyes are just closed/There’s a voice in the front and a hush on the road/You’re a passenger but your mind is travelling on.” Again with Jude, there’s this insular sense, lost in his mind almost regardless of circumstances. So many times he’s not fully there.


Yuck, “Get Away”

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

Just the right sound as the pace picks up, four boys in the car kicking back. But at the same time, a part of Jude will always, always, remain separate. He’s texting with Becka, thinking of her. Key lyric: “Summer sun says get out more/I need you, I want you/But I can’t get this feeling off my mind/I want you, I need you.//Oh, I can’t get away, Oh, I can’t get away . . .


Laura Marling, “Rambling Man”

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

I kind of associate Becka with Laura Marling. I can imagine Becka owning some Marling on vinyl, spinning it in a candle-lit bedroom. Marling appears on this soundtrack in my head — lawyers be damned. This little scene between Jude & Becka at the beach has, like so many scenes with Jude, that underpinning of sadness to it. Key lyric: “Oh, naive little me/Asking what things you have seen/You’re vulnerable in your head/You’ll scream and you’ll wait till you’re dead.”


Rosewood Thieves, “Los Angeles”

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

This song just brings the hip, cool vibe I needed to hear. But it also reflects absence and longing, Jude’s little sister, Lily, gone forever. Key lyric: “It’s been so long since I’ve seen her around here/I can’t remember if she’s real/Summer days spent walking around/And up all night yeah/Trying to remember if she’s real.”


M83, “Midnight City”

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

Let’s party like it’s 2012. Good times, hanging out, knocking down the pins, drinking smuggled-in rum & coke. If this song plays when I’m bowling, hey, maybe I finally crack 150 if it’s cranked up LOUD enough.

15 & 16

Beirut, “The Rip Tide”

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

Sun Kil Moon, “Floating”

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

Joni Mitchell, “All I Want”

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

There’s the beach, the sadness of their conversation, and then together entering the water, floating, faces turned to the sun, and liquid desire. These songs are those feelings.


Wilco, “You and I”

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

Jude and Becka swapping songs on guitar, hanging out on a blanket, falling in love, together. If you don’t know this song, or the greatness of Feist, listen up!


Foo Fighters, “Home”

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

A stunning and sensitive performance by Dave Grohl. At the end of this chapter, Becka wipes a tear from Jude’s face and tells him, “When you cry, I taste salt.”


The War on Drugs, “Brothers”

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

Good times, Corey and Jude, gaming in the basement. Great friends, waiting for their ride, ready to hit that party at Gilgo Beach. As they are about to leave, four teenagers in a car, Jude’s father calls out, “Hey, before you go . . .”


Lana Del Rey, “It’s the End of the World

The original version of this song, by the great Skeeter Davis, ran through my head all through the writing of this book. I don’t think Lana Del Ray nails this version, by any means, but I like the idea of a hip update, sans strings, so submit that notion here. This is the chapter of the accident: “Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world? It ended when you said goodbye.”

Anyway, here’s the Skeeter Davis version — now imagine a more contemporary, stripped down take, without the syrupy excesses of the classic arrangement. Not criticizing Skeeter, btw, the original song is perfect. Just that for my movie, and for this song to reach a new audience, it needs a different take. IMO.

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

Author Insight Series: On the Value of Social Media

My legion of stalkers may remember that I recently participated in the (ongoing!) Author Insight Series over at the legendary Wastepaper Prose blog.

In brief, more than a dozen authors answer the same series of questions — and somehow it’s not nearly as tedious as that sounds.

Here’s today’s question: “Social Media can be a distraction for writers, but what’s its biggest benefit?”

Confession: When I do these things, I try to be quick, honest, without a great deal of think. But for this question, I had to go back and revise my answer — because my first reply was too grumpy, even for me, and maybe a little pretentious there at the end, a trait I dislike in others and loathe in myself. I had to cut that last bit out.

Here’s my initial response, which I softened:

“I don’t see the great benefit. Write a great book and they will come. If not, all the marketing in the world won’t make a difference. But, okay, maybe I’m just being contrary. I think you have to be yourself, figure out what feels right for you, and act accordingly. If you are a networker, go for it. For me, writing is about sustained concentration, focused effort, and distraction is my siren and my enemy.”

I cleaned that up to:

“Social media does not help the actual writing, and I think that’s where our energy should go. That said, I think you have to be yourself, figure out what feels right for you, and act accordingly. If you are a networker, go for it.

Anyway, click here (and for more, click again here) to read all of the answers, from an interesting variety of authors, including: Lauren Morrill, Margo Lanagan, Dan Krokos, Martha Brockenbrough, Joy Peble, Greg Leitich Smith, Kirsten Hubbard, Cyn Balog, Dayna Lorentz, Katie McGarry, Sarah Tregay, Stacey Kramer & Valerie Thomas, Barry Lyga, Huntley Fitzpatrick, C.J. Redwine, Lissa Price, Janette Rallison, Sarah Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Kevin Emerson, Jessi Kirby, Jennifer Hubbard, Elizabeth Eulberg, Cara and Lynn Shultz.

It’s interesting how I can totally relate to some of these answers — Barry Lyga, I’m with you 100%; Dan Krokos, you too! — and how others seem like they come from a faraway (maybe better, certainly friendlier) planet. I wonder if it’s more of a gender divide than generational? We are all so different, and I think this series exposes and celebrates that (happy) fact.

Comments Section, re: BYSTANDER (a couple of highlights)

Oftentimes folks comment on past blog entries, no longer the current thread. So my sense is that My Nation of Readers does not ever see these comments.

And how sad is that?

So here’s two from today that I had to share. The first one made me laugh . . .

From Dakota:

I was reading your book called BYSTANDER. In the chapter called ” repairs”. I was reading page 198 and It said “Cody pulled a dirty bandanna from his back pocket to wipe the grease from his hands.” I thought it said cody pulled a dirty banana out of his back pocket. I was reading it in a group and every one laughed when i said ” dirty banana” instead of “dirty bandanna.”

From Makayla:

I read your book BYSTANDER and to be honest it was outstanding! You really know how to use all types of figurative language. Like when you described the buses as being “enormous Twinkies.” It really made our class laugh out loud. I liked how you titled the chapters, like how you made them important in that section of the book. You are a truly talented author and I look forward to reading more of your books. Thank you for your time Mr. Preller.

Fan Mail Wednesday #157: Author Advice, Before You Go . . .

Dear Mr.Preller,

I am a big fan of your books.  I am in seventh grade this year, and two years ago, in fifth grade, you visited my school.  You talked about a book you were writing, about four teenagers/young adults, and they were in a car crash, and one of them died.  I was trying to find the book, but I don’t remember the title, and I was wondering if you just haven’t published it yet, and what the title is.
Also, when I am older, I hope to become an author.  So I was wondering if you have any helpful hints to writing a book, or publishing one.
Thanks so much, and please write back!
A huge fan!
I replied:

What a sweet note, thanks for remembering that I exist.

For remembering, that is, during your busy life, that oh, somewhere on this planet there’s a guy who came to my school two years ago.

The book is titled BEFORE YOU GO, and will be available on July 17th.

Helpful hints? Oh gosh. You know, the disappointing thing is that there’s nothing really new or profound to tell you. And it’s not like I’ve got it all figured out, by any stretch of the imagination. But #1, you’ve got to read. Widely, deeply. And pay attention as you read. By that I mean, sure, it’s fun to escape into a story, to get lost in a book. But I think writers also read on a different level, with more awareness about the craft. Such as, “Wow, I’m really scared right now, I can’t turn the pages fast enough.” Ask yourself, how did the author do that? If an author paints a vivid picture in your mind, if you can really see something, go back and reread that section. Notice the language.

In other words, think like a writer.

The other tip, I think, is there are no shortcuts. If you want to write, then you really should have a journal. And give yourself time to be alone, to be quiet with your thoughts, and put some of those words on the page. You don’t have to start to write your own amazing 400-page novel (unless, of course, that’s what you really want to do). Mostly, read and write, watch and live. Enjoy life, enjoy people. See them, try to notice things, imagine how you might describe someone you know, the way a friend maybe crosses her arms & squeezes the skin of her elbows when she’s nervous . . .

Hey, I’ve got to run. Sorry if this is a little disorganized, I’m feeling rushed today. Take care, Megan, and good luck!


Fan Mail Wednesday #156: “Why Is Jigsaw Always In Grade 2?”

Ethan asks a great question . . .

Dear Mr.Preller,
I really like your Jigsaw Jones mystery novels, but I have a few questions:
1. In Jigsaw Jones #23 The Case of the Perfect Prank it says: “Mila had been my partner for years.” Why years? Have they solved mysteries together since grade Kindergarten?
2. Why is Jigsaw always in grade 2?
I replied:


Thanks for your email.
Yes, Mila and Jigsaw have been friends for a long time, and they did crack their first case back in kindergarten. I haven’t written that story yet, but maybe someday I will.
Illustration by Jamie Smith.
When I started the series, the stories kind of cycled through the school year. After a few books, when it looked like the series was a success and my publisher wanted more titles, I asked my editor: What now? Does he go into 3rd grade?
She said, No, he stays in 2nd grade.
Forever? I asked.
Forever, she told me.
I said, Well, what about Thanksgiving? It’s already happened in this series.
She told me that I could and should write about that time of year again, but each time would be like the first time. Just basically pretend the other books hadn’t been written.
Pretty confusing, because with each book the series accumulates new information on all these characters. Mila has a stepmother named Alice, for example, Bigs Maloney’s father works as a florist, and so on, so I’ve had to recognize that the books happened, certain facts have been established, while simultaneously pretending that the stories never occurred. Weird stuff.
It’s been strange, I’ll admit it, but that’s the way my publisher wanted the series to go.
Great question, thanks for writing, and have a terrific, book-filled summer!

My 804th Post!

Just noticed that my last post was #803.

Which means almost nothing, and I suppose that’s something.

Still: 803 posts, 49 months, 199,462 visits, 379,788 pageviews.

I have no idea if those numbers are good or bad or whatever.

I’ve enjoyed posting, and that’s why I still do it.

Thank you, sincerely, for stopping by.

My best, JP

Quote of the Day: Martin Luther King, Again

That is all.

From Fiction to Fact: We’re Playing in the Championship Game

This coming Saturday, I’ll be coaching a Little League team of 11- and 12-year-old boys in a championship game. For the 12’s, this game will be the culmination of their Little League experience. Some boys will move up to play at the Babe Ruth level, on the big fields, jumping from 60-foot basepaths to 90; for others, this game will be it. The end of a boyhood passage, giving way to skateboards and girlfriends, basketball and boredom and who knows what comes next.

For me, this last Little League game is a happy way to conclude a long relationship at Tri-Village Little League in Delmar, NY. I coached my oldest son, Nicholas, for his last four seasons. Then I coached Gavin’s teams for all seven of his seasons, which overlapped with two years of coaching Maggie, too. That’s 11 years of coaching at the Little League level, mostly as manager. Then you can add 7 years of managing in a men’s hardball league, plus Fall Ball, Travel, All-Stars, etc.

A lot of games. A lot of faces. A lot of hanging around the ball field, staring up at the clouds, hoping the rain holds off.

I played, too. This is my age-12 season. Top row, center. Wantagh Little League.

I threw left, batted right, like Cleon Jones and Rickey Henderson.

But this game on Saturday will be my first championship game at the Majors level. I was fortunate enough to coach a team that won at the Intermediate level, some years back with Nick. Took it to ‘em, 6-zip, behind the strong arm of Nick Hodem. Unfortunately, my Nick was sick at that time, fighting cancer, and he missed the final game.

In 2008, I published my first hardcover novel, Six Innings, inspired and informed by my lifelong love of the game. The book, subtitled “A Game in the Life” (and yes, that’s a Beatles reference), is about a single championship game and the boys who play in it. I’m proud to say that it was named an ALA Notable and, by Booklist, one of the TOP 10 BEST SPORTS BOOKS OF THE YEAR.

Here’s a couple of paragraphs that come very late in that book:

Coach Reid watches the boys as they celebrate, resists the urge to join them, to leap arms outstretched on top of the pile. No, this is their moment. It isn’t about Coach Reid, or any other adults. It is enough, more than enough, to stand back and watch.

Branden runs up, ecstatic. “We did it, Dad!” he exclaims. “We did it!”

The son throws his arms around his father, and the father squeezes back, hard, hoping to capture the memory like a summer firefly in his hands, wanting the moment to last forever, burning brightly, and knowing that somehow, amazingly, as sure as they stood, it would.

Wish us luck!

A Pile of Papers & Me

I know that some authors count revisions. They will claim, as Mem Fox once told me in an interview, “I did 49 drafts for KOALA LOU before the book was ready to be published.”

My first thought was, “Wow, she counted.”

Second thought, “Man, that’s one of my favorite picture books of all time.”

Nowadays with computers and instantaneous edits, combined with the way I work, it’s impossible for me to put a number on it. I can rarely read anything I’ve written without wanting to make changes. So I revise as I go, constantly; I backtrack as I move forward, even if though some advise against it. I usually avoid printing out the ever-changing manuscript. Because I’d only have to do it again, and again, a pointless exercise and a waste of trees.

Nonetheless, over time, various versions do get printed, sent out, revised, and so on, to the point where I eventually accumulate a stack of old pages.

A while back I made my final corrections on BEFORE YOU GO (July, 2012). It’s due out in a month and I’ve got to live with whatever mistakes remain. In this photo, I sit with a pile of old versions, notebooks, scribbled ideas, rough drafts, grocery lists, typed revisions . . . along with an uncorrected Advance Reader’s Copy in my left hand.

A photo that I figured it might an impress a student somewhere. It’s the same old lesson though: You want anything in life, you’ve got to work for it. I guess in today’s lottery culture you’ve got to say that out loud every once in a while.

“BYSTANDER” Made VOYA’s Suggested Summer Reading List

My editor said, “Here’s to many more lists recommending Bystander.”

My agent said, “Huzzah!”

And I chanted, “Show me the money, show me the money, show me . . .”

I mean, er, “Well, goodness, this is certainly an honor.”

Click here for the full, annotated list, featuring categories that range from “Core Curriculum” (Little Women, The Time Machine, The Phantom Tollbooth) to “Anti-Bullying/Tolerance” (Bystander) to Social Studies (Amelia Lost, Chains) to Sci-Fi (The Maze Runner) to ALL SORTS OF OTHER STUFF.

Seriously, why make me work so hard? Get off my back and jump, instead, on the above link.

One title that captured my interest . . . Scrawl, by Mark Shulman.

It came with this annotation: “Enter the mind of a bully by reading his journal.”

Cool cover, don’t you think? Color me curious. I’m going to buy it right now.