Archive for June 24, 2013

Excerpt from SCARY TALES #3: GOOD NIGHT, ZOMBIE — with Amazing Art from Iacopo Bruno

Illustrations by the amazing Iacopo Bruno.

To set the scene, three 5th-grade students find themselves accidentally locked in the school building after hours. The doors are chained shut. Strangely, the wifi is out, phones and computers have gone dead. So they go seeking the mysterious night janitor for the key to get out. Please note: The first two books in the series — I Scream, You Scream; and Home Sweet Horror — will be available on July 9th. This third book in the series, Good Night, Zombie, will be published in late September.

The stairs led to a metal-plated door. Behind it, Esme heard what she imagined to be the shuffling of boots, the jingling of keys, and a man sitting heavily in a chair. Carter knocked twice and, receiving no reply, pushed the door open.

An ancient man sat in the corner of the room at a small, gray desk. He stared at his visitors through red-rimmed eyes. His skin was grayish-yellow. And his sunken, narrow cheeks gave off a skeletal appearance. Thin hair grew from his otherwise bare skull in wisps, like odd tufts of white grass. He wore blue workingman’s trousers and a red flannel shirt.

He looked half dead, and Esme stifled a gasp at the sight of him.

The ancient man did not appear happy to see three students appear in his closet office. He held a glass jar in one hand, and a fork in the other. He stabbed at a blood-red cube of meat from the jar and pushed it past his lips. He never moved his eyes from the uninvited guests.

“Venison,” he spat with a gruff voice. He speared another cube of meat and held it before his face. “Deer meat. Kill it and butcher it myself. Care for a taste?”

No one accepted his offer.

“Didn’t think so.” He chomped on the bloody flesh. A trickle of blood dribbled down his chin.

“Are you the guy who locked us in?” Carter finally spoke up.

The ancient man leaned back in his chair, reached to his belt, and splashed an enormous key ring on the desk. There had to be fifty keys of every size and shape.

“Are you going tell us which one?” Carter asked.

The ancient man wiped his lips with the back of a sleeve. “No,” he replied.

“Excuse me?” Esme asked.

“You don’t want to go out there,” the night janitor said. “Not tonight, you don’t.” He rose painfully and shuffled toward the heavy door, which he shut behind them with a firm hand.

Arnold grew alarmed. “Ha! Well, yeah. I’m not sure you understand, Mr. -–“

“Van Der Klemp,” the old man said.

“Mr. Van Der Klemp,” Arnold repeated. He helplessly pointed a thumb toward the ceiling. “We accidentally got locked into the school, see, and -–“

The old man didn’t seem to be listening. He rubbed a large hand to his stubbled chin, noted the time on his wristwatch, and closed his eyes as if waiting for something to pass. He counted in a dry whisper, “Three, two, one.”

The lights flickered and the room went dark.

The Writing Process: Think Harder, and Allow Time to Do Its Work

At a winter reading by the great George Saunders at SUNY Albany, he quoted Albert Einstein, who said:

“No problem is ever solved within the plane of its original conception.”

Which means, to me:

You cannot figure out the entirety of a story on the day you first conceive it. Layers must accumulate. Questions raised, pathways explored, dead-ends endured.

The writing of a story takes time, pure and simple. But more importantly, as Einstein said, it takes MOVEMENT from the original place of conception. Where you begin, the place you thought you were at, cannot be where the answers are found.

Keep writing. Keep moving.

CVS, Please Stop the Paper Waste: My Receipt Was 40 Inches Long!

I recently picked up a few items at our local drugstore. The cashier asked if I had my CVS card to scan? I handed it over, zap. Did I want to give $1.00 to ALS? Not today, thanks. Would I like to update my email information to receive more discounts. No, thank you. Thinking: I haven’t changed my email info since the early ’90s. AOL or die!

I paid in cash, and received my change along with a receipt that was longer than my leg.

Here, look closer:

Evidently, this is part of a marketing strategy for CVS — bang a bunch of discount coupons on the end of every receipt handed out. Do you know what happened to mine?

Then it will go in the recycling bin.

We are living in a time when enlightened individuals and progressive businesses are attempting to reduce paper waste. Folks bring reusable bags to the market. My publisher, Macmillan, no longer prints catalogs — they’ve gone digital. Those are two small examples.

And then we have the insane, irresponsible receipts at CVS.

Please note:

“Worldwide consumption of paper has risen by 400% in the past 40 years leading to increase in deforestation, with 35% of harvested trees being used for paper manufacture. Logging of old growth forests accounts for less than 10% of wood pulp, but is one of the most controversial issues. Paper waste accounts for up to 40% of total waste produced in the United States each year, which adds up to 71.6 million tons of paper waste per year in the United States alone.”

Consider These Not-So-Fun Facts from the Clean Air Council:

  • The average American office worker uses about 500 disposable cups every year.
  • Every year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times.
  • After Ireland created a 15-cent charge per plastic bag in 2002, bag consumption dropped by 90 percent. In 2008, the average person in Ireland used 27 plastic bags, while the average person in Britain used 220. The program has raised millions of euros in revenue.
  • The state of California spends about 25 million dollars sending plastic bags to landfill each year, and another 8.5 million dollars to remove littered bags from streets.
  • Every year, Americans use approximately 102.1 billion plastic bags, creating tons of landfill waste.
  • The average American uses about the equivalent of one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper and wood products each year.
  • The average office worker in the US uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. That’s four million tons of copy paper used annually. Office workers in the US generate approximately two pounds of paper and paperboard products every day.
  • The estimated 2.6 billion holiday cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high.
  • Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, an extra million tons of waste is generated each week.
  • 38,000 miles of ribbon are thrown away each year, enough to tie a bow around the Earth.
  • In 2008, Paper and paperboard made up 31% of municipal waste.
  • In 2008, the average amount of waste generated by each person in America per day was 4.5 pounds. 1.1 pounds of that was recycled, and .4 pounds, including yard waste, was sent to composting. In total, 24.3% of waste was recycled, 8.9% was composted, and 66.8% was sent to a landfill or incinerated.

While I’m at it, here’s some more FACT ABOUT PAPER AND WASTE (click here for the much, much longer list — but don’t print it unless you really have to!):

  • Average worldwide annual paper consumption is 48 KG per person with North America accounting for
  • over 1/3.
  • Asia has surpassed Western Europe in paper consumption and will soon surpass the United States.
  • Although paper is traditionally identified with reading and writing, communications has now been
  • replaced by packaging as the single largest category of paper use at 41% of all paper used.
  • The paperless office, once predicted as a result of information technology (IT), has not transpired.
  • Industry analysts estimate that 95% of business information is still stored on paper.
  • Recycling 54 KG of newspaper will save one tree.
  • Paper manufacturing is the 3rd largest user of fossil fuels worldwide. Paper manufacturing is the largest industrial user of water per pound of finished product.
    The average American uses more than 748 pounds of paper per year.
    The US uses approx. 68 million trees each year to produce 17 billion catalogues and 65 billion pieces
    of direct mail.
    The average daily web user prints 28 pages daily.
    115 billion sheets of paper are used annually for personal computers.
  • 700 pounds of paper are consumed by the average American each year.
  • 10,000 trees are cut down annually in China to make holiday cards.

It’s a beautiful planet. And our only one.

Wake Up, It’s Pub Day!

Today is the official “pub day” for A PIRATE’S GUIDE TO RECESS.

You can run out and buy a dozen copies right now.

There’s nothing stopping you any longer.

You are free to go.

And thanks for your support.

You can buy ’em by the box!

And while you’re at it, stock up on the new paperback version of A PIRATE’S GUIDE TO FIRST GRADE. It’s cheaper than the hardcover!

Both are illustrated by Greg Ruth, who is awesome.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) for RECESS:

Preller and Ruth transform a school playground into a swashbuckling adventure featuring two rival captains—Red (from the previous book) and fearsome Molly. Their respective pirate crews are again rendered in pencil, creating a ghostly effect, and their surly theatrics will pull readers through this nautical fantasy. “Don’t scowl so, sweet Red!” Molly tells Red after his crew mutinies. “We’re just having a little yo ho ho.” Preller and Ruth put kids at the helm as they communicate the joy of escaping into a world of pretend.

School Library Journal (starred review) for FIRST GRADE:

“Told entirely in pirate lingo, this story follows a boy and his entourage of ethereal salty dogs through the first day of school. ‘Me great scurvy dog slurped me kisser when I was tryin’ t’ get me winks!’ The protagonist’s fruitful imagination turns ordinary routine into a high-seas adventure complete with a small, skirted buccaneer walking the plank during recess. In the end, where does X mark the spot? Treasure abounds in the library, with the chance to experience the adventure of the written word. The illustrations have a vintage feel, complete with boisterous grog-drinking, scabbard-waving, and bubble-pipe-smoking pirates. The combination of the muted tones of the pirates with the bold colors of the real world adds to the visual appeal . . . it can serve as a tremendous read-aloud, especially on Talk Like a Pirate Day.”

A Favorite Illustration

Greg Ruth created a lot of great illustrations for our upcoming book, A Pirate’s Guide to Recess, but I have to say that the one above has a special place in my heart. Not because it’s the “best,” but that it captures what for me is the essence of this book, and really a big part of childhood itself.

The boy off and running, trailed by whomever or whatever he might conjure in his waking dreams. In this case, pirates. In another, dinosaurs. Or ballerinas. Or baseball players.

It’s all imaginative play. You can sit down in the dirt with any five-year-old kid and he’ll tell you: “Okay, these rocks are the fort and those sticks are the warriors coming up to capture the king.”

You point to something and ask, “What’s this?”

He says, “That’s my cookie and if you eat it I’ll kill you.”

That sort of thing.

The thing is, you go along with it. You don’t step back and ask, “Oh, I see. Are we playing pretend now?”

No, you just jump into it . . . and play.

Which is how Molly deals with Red out on the playground. They become real friends through their imaginative worlds.