Archive for November 29, 2012

The Poem I Read First Thing Today

Before I rubbed the sand from my eyes, before I drank a cup of coffee, before I got dressed, I read this poem by William Stafford. Then I read it again, out loud, to my wife, before she rose from bed. Then I went downstairs, saw that the day was sunny and crisp, and that a dusting of snow covered the lawn.

I promised myself to be awake to the day.

Isn’t that something?

“the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe –

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.”

Later I found this reading of the poem by a guy named Dale Biron. Not exactly how I hear it, but a pleasure nonetheless, because it’s always best when the words are heard, familiar units of speech floating on meaningful sound. Have a great day, people. Recognize the fact!

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I suppose I should get to work, stop wasting time, eh? But here’s Stafford himself, 46 seconds long, reading “Scars.” Ah, poetry.

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First Review for “Home Sweet Horror,” Book #1 of SCARY TALES Series

Question #1: If your friend writes a review of your book, does that negate it as an objective critical assessment?

Question #2: What is friendship, anyway?

I first “met” Franki Sibberson through her blog, A Year of Reading, co-written with Mary Lee Hahn. (You can read about them here, from a nice piece at possibly the world’s greatest children’s literature blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.)  If I recall correctly, Franki suggested that a character in one of my books, Miss Lobel in Along Came Spider, might be included in her ever-evolving list of 100 Cool Teachers in Children’s Literature.

In response to that, I believe that I bought Franki a car. Or maybe commented favorably on her blog. Something like that. Time passed, as time does, and last year I was given the opportunity of attending the fabulous 2012 Dublin Literacy Conference. You know, the one that’s not in Ireland. On that happy sojourn, I arrived at Franki’s school as a visiting author and we had a great day.

I always say that authors don’t do school visits — schools do author visits. So if that day was indeed a success, I owe 90% of that to Franki, the teachers, administrators, and students who put so much effort into the visit before I even arrived with my loud demands for more fluffy pillows, oscillating fans, belly dancers and blue M & M’s (and only blue M & M’s)

So, yes, I confess: We became friends. But not the hugging kind, mind you, since . . . Franki Don’t Hug. Got it? Okay. So just back it up, fella. One more step, good. Our friendship is on a firm handshake basis. Anyway, we are friends. That sometimes happens when librarians and authors meet and get a chance to hang out. Today, of course, I deeply wish that I wasn‘t friends with Franki. Wouldn’t her kind review of my new series be more valuable if, say, we hated each other? If only we were mortal enemies somehow — a long enmity passed down through generations! — and Franki Sibberson despised everything about me! — and yet still, even so, felt compelled (reluctantly, bitterly) to write a nice review of my book?

That, my friends and neighbors, would be a review worth chirping out!

Anyway, I’m rambling & my stomach is rumbling & I’m afraid I’m not making sense.

So, there’s this: Thank you, Franki, for your kindness.

Here: a fist-bump across cyberspace.

To read the review in full glory, click like a maniac on this link. If not, here’s the intro:

I felt like I won the lottery when I was handed an ARC of James Preller’s new book (the first in a new series–HOME SWEET HORROR (SCARY TALES SERIES).  I had heard about this series as I am a huge James Preller fan  (because he is one of the best author visits ever). But I didn’t know the arcs were available yet.  So I was thrilled to get one when I had asked for books appropriate for 4th grade at his publisher’s booth at NCTE.  This was the first on my stack that I read when returning from NCTE.  I actually took it out of a child’s hands so that I could read it over Thanksgiving break.  And I loved it.

Come back next week for another impartial review . . . from my mom!


Sent to me by a friend . . . I wrote this book 19 years ago.

Some days are hard. Some days I don’t feel at all like a success. And other days I just want to give thanks, be grateful, and try not to be such an idiot. Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

SCARY TALES #2: I Scream, You Scream

It’s exciting to see a series come together. It’s this long process that involves a lot of different folks all pulling on the same oar. But, like, we’re on different boats. Or something like that.

I just got my first peek at the rough cover for book #2, I Scream, You Scream. This is not final art; it’s basically a very tight sketch with all the design elements in place. First, let’s look at the covers for the first two books together — that’s a eureka moment right there, when finally you see that it’s a series.


The art and design are critically important for these books because we made a decision that each book would be completely different. New characters, new setting, and sometimes new genre. Over time, if we are lucky enough to find readers, this series could include not only “horror,” but also science fiction, thrillers, historic fiction, and more. We’re trying to paint on a very large canvas, rather than limit ourselves to a rigid formula. Each book its own unique story. And yet, they are held together by certain qualities: for starters, each book delivers a dependable kind of reading experience, a twist, an elevated heart rate. Some storytelling techniques will be consistent from book to book, the use of the intro and outro, the length, the illustrations. I believe the brilliant work of illustrator Iacopo Bruno truly holds the series together. And it’s awesome, too.

Here’s a larger shot of the rough cover, designed by Rich Deas, where you can really see the unfinished quality. Below you’ll find the one-page introduction. Can you hear that I’m channeling my inner Rod Serling?

Fun, isn’t it?

Enter the world of Samantha Carver. An ordinary kid who loves amusement parks, the smell of popcorn, and the joyful terror of a heart-pounding ride.

Sam’s got a ticket in her pocket for a very special ride. Soon this ticket, ripped in half, will signal the beginning of a most unusual adventure –- and leave Sam, along with a boy named Andy, screaming for their lives.

So, come along. Take a seat. Buckle up, nice and tight. It’s sure to be bumpy ride. And if you need anything –- anything at all — just scream.

The intro page will look something like this:

Review: “Before You Go” — Librarian as Matchmaker

Naomi Bates is a librarian in Texas, and she has quietly kept up a nice blog, YA Books and More, where she reviews current books and digital media. She was recently kind enough to read my book, Before You Go, and give it a review.

Naomi concluded:

Preller begins this book with a powerful scene and ends it with one as well.  What makes this book a recommended read is not necessarily the characters or the style of writing but the book itself.  With short chapters, it’s easy to digest and an excellent pick for a reluctant reader.  Jude’s character is one that guy readers will relate to, from the video games to music to his conversations and interactions with his friends.   This, too, makes it the perfect book for a guy.  I could relate well with the characters and the plot without becoming overwhelmed with intentional theme.  This is a book that could be read in a day or two…quick, fast and pretty tasty.

Thanks, Naomi. I’m grateful for that.

I used to experience a disconnect of sorts when I read reviews from librarians. They just didn’t read the same way that I did. As an extremely slow reader, I couldn’t understand how some librarians could consume so many books rapid-fire. I am friendly with one librarian who reads more than 300 books a year — next, next, next, next, next. That sounds awful to me. I need the empty spaces, the pauses, the reflection time. But it dawned on me that librarians often read with another ultimate reader in mind. “Oh, this will be good for Tamara, she loves adventures,” or “This might be the book for Lars, he’s got the same sort of deadpan sense of humor,” and so on. Whereas I read for myself, and often I read to feed the writer within me. It’s not better or worse, just very different. What I’m also trying to say is that I appreciate the librarian’s perspective, and the essential role she plays — of match-maker! — the person who helps bring books and readers together.

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One other aside: While some might consider this “a guy book,” I don’t believe I’ve seen one review written by a guy. Such is the YA world. Honestly, I don’t think this is a title with huge, across-the-board appeal to girls or guys. Hopefully there’s the right reader out there for it, one here, one there, though I can’t say with any certainty who that kid might or might not be. I’m grateful for any librarian, or bookseller, or parent, who helps lead a reader to it, puts my book in some kid’s hands, and says, “I think you might like this one. Somebody dies.”

Some Random Kid’s Petition: “Support a Jigsaw Jones movie!”

There’s a kid somewhere in America named Daniel Van Ness. I don’t know him from a hole in the head. But on November 7th, Daniel started a very important petition:

Please have the 20th Century Fox company make a new movie called ‘The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster: A Jigsaw Jones Mystery’ starring Bryan Suchey as Jigsaw Jones, Sierra Jade Gerban as Mila Yeh, Ethan Scheid as Ralphie Jordan, Yara Shahidi as Danika Starling, Charlene Geisler as Lucy Hiller, Michael May as Joey Pignattano, Alan Aisenberg as Charlie “Bigs” Maloney, Ingrid Rubio as Miss Gleason, Jeff Daniels as Mr. Copabianco, Noah Ryan Scott as Jaspar “Stringbean” Noonan, Rachael Harris as Mrs. Jones, Steve Zahn as Mr. Jones, Steve Martin as Principal Rogers, Devon Tucker as Billy, 1 of Jigsaw’s older brothers, Zachary Gordon as Daniel, another 1 of Jigsaw’s older brothers, Robert Capron as Nick, another 1 of Jigsaw’s older brothers, Oliver (puppy dog actor) as Rags, Jigsaw’s puppy dog, Parris Mosteller as Bobby Solofsky, Preston Bailey as Timothy “Wingnut” O’brien, Selena Gomez as Hillary, Jigsaw’s older sister, Dakota Fanning as Kimmy Lewis and Elle Fanning as Kayla Lewis.

Daniel Van Ness, if you are out there, I just want to say . . . THANK YOU FOR BEING THE COOLEST KID ON THE PLANET! Seriously, nice job. I appreciate it.

People, we must get behind this. Daniel’s expressed goal is a modest 18 signatures. I signed it the other day, so now Daniel has 5. So, um, top of my head, that means he only needs 13 more signatures. One of them should be YOURS!

Come on, folks, click the link, sign the petition, spread the word, and make this brilliant young man’s dream come true!

By the way, I love Daniel’s cast suggestions:

Bryan Suchey as JIGSAW:

Sierra Jade Gerban as MILA:

And Steve Martin as PRINCIPAL ROGERS:

Daniel did not suggest a director, but the choice is obvious:

No one else can be trusted. The job must go to Martin Scorsese!

UPDATE, 11/14, 8:27 AM: Currently at 19 signatures. Thanks, everybody. I’d type more but I think I should sit by the phone. I’m expecting a call from Hollywood!

Overheard: “Hey, Dad, when I’m 18, I want to get a tattoo of a cat on my stomach.” (Parenting a Middle Schooler, pt. 3)

I am sitting in the living room in early evening, reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Maggie, my 6th-grader, is doing handstands not five feet away — because that is what Maggie does these days, continual handstands. Every day, all day.

Maggie: “When I’m 18, I want to get a tattoo of a cat on my stomach.”

Dad: “Oh?”

Maggie: “Yeah, except I want my belly button to be the cat’s butt.”

Dad: “Is that so?”

Maggie: “Wait, I’ll draw you a picture!”

And she does.

“The Swimmer” in BEFORE YOU GO

Burt Lancaster starred in a literate little 1968 film called “The Swimmer,” based on a short story by John Cheever. I’m certain that I watched the movie as a kid, probably on The 4:30 Movie during Burt Lancaster week. Growing up, I don’t have many memories of Mom ever telling me to turn off the TV, except when dinner was ready, so I saw pretty much everything. Unlike much of it that never left an imprint, “The Swimmer” always stuck with me (btw, it’s currently available on the cinematic wasteland known as Netflix Instant).

Here, check out the trailer.

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That inspired device — swimming home by pool-hopping across the neighborhood — initiates a journey into the past for Ned Merrill, a journey of self-realization and heartbreak. The movie did not make much of a splash at the box office, though some critics liked it and, from what I can gather, it still has it’s devotees. According to Variety: “A lot of people are not going to understand this film; many will loathe it; others will be moved deeply.”

I’m telling you this because I gave the movie a subtle nod in Before You Go. In this scene, Corey and Jude are hanging out on the roof of Jude’s house, which was something I used to do as a teenager, just get on that roof, look down on suburban Long Island, and dream of my escape.

“Check out that sweet swimming pool behind Ansari’s house, all lit up with floodlights.” Corey whistled. “Man, that water is calling my name. We should grab Vinnie and the guys, sneak out, and go pool-hopping some night. I wonder how many we could do. What do you think, Jude, if we swam our way across town? Hopping from pool to pool. That would be a trip.”

In the book, they don’t make that journey. The idea begins and dies right there on the roof. But I got it from the old 4:30 Movie, and can still hear that great theme song today, because it’s from the soundtrack of my life.

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In Praise of Farmers’ Markets

It’s that time of year when our local, weekly farmers’ market moves indoors and, obviously, the product changes. These markets really are a summertime thing. I’ll be sad to see the empty parking lot on Saturdays outside the middle school where the market used to be.

My wife, Lisa, who is often a few years ahead of me in all things Cool & Progressive, was an early adopter. She valued local foods, loved our farmers’ market, and loathed to miss it. And I was like, “Okay, sure, I’ll tag along.” All cynical and whatever. But I learned over time that I enjoyed being there, running into folks, seeing my neighbors, goofing around, buying things . . . or not.

In a passage from his devastating, essential, must-read book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben helped clarify for me what it was that I was experiencing at these markets, and maybe why I liked going so much:

Often a farmers’ market is the catalyst — not just because people find that they like local produce, but because they actually meet each other again. This is not sentiment talking; this is data. A team of sociologists recently followed shoppers around supermarkets and then farmers’ markets. You know the drill at the Stop’n’Shop: you come in the automatic door, fall into a light fluorescent trance, visit the stations of the cross around the perimeter of the store, exit after a discussion of credit or debit, paper or plastic. But that’s not what happens at farmers’ markets. On average, the sociologists found, people were having ten times as many conversations per visit. They were starting to rebuild the withered network that we call a community. So it shouldn’t surprise us that farmers’ markets are the fastest-growing part of our food economy; they are simply the way that humans have always shopped, acquiring gossip and good cheer along with calories.

Of course, McKibben has bigger things on his mind, and rightfully so. He recognizes this local, strengthening network as a catalyst, a foundation for political expression & action, for coordinated effort, and, yes, justice. In short, when people get together, it’s a good thing. So I want to thank all those folks who have worked so hard to bring the market to my little ‘burb in Delmar, NY, and the thousands like them around the country. You done good.