Archive for October 31, 2017

Better Off Undead: It’s Available at Last!


Today is publication day for my middle-grade novel, BETTER OFF UNDEAD (grades 4-7). The reviews have been kind: “Hilarious . . . splendidly lurid,” Booklist, starred review. “This uproarious middle grade call to action has considerable kid appeal and a timely message,” School LIbrary Journal. “Preller stylishly delivers a supernatural tale . . . Espionage, mystery, and the undead make for a satisfying experience for readers,” Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books. “A message of empowerment and acceptance,” Publishers Weekly.

Ask for it at your local independent bookstore, your library, or wherever you prefer to buy books. In today’s cluttered world, the best thing you can do is to share the good news. If you like the book, please tell a friend, write a review on Amazon, say something nice on GoodReads, shout it from the mountain tops. Thank you for your support. This is a hard business and books so easily get lost in the wilderness.

Click here to read an excerpt.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #259: A Fabulous Father-Daughter Follow-Up!


Loyal readers of James Preller Dot Com may remember a terrific letter I shared back in early September. In it, Kayla, age 19, wrote with a special request. Her father’s birthday was coming up and she wanted to surprise him with a signed Jigsaw Jones book. It seems they shared the books during her childhood, had some nice memories, and Kayla thought it would be cool to get one of them autographed. Of course, I was only too happy to send her the new book as a gift — the least I could do. But I also asked, “Can I get a picture?”

Well, we couldn’t spoil the surprise so I had to wait. And wait. And eat chocolate. And wait some more. At long last, two photos arrived with a brief note.

Thank you, Kayla. 

And thank you, most especially, Dad. You look terrific for 86. Must be the clean living.

Happy birthday! I’m so glad I could be a small part of it.


Hi Mr. Preller!
It’s me, Kayla again

I just gave my dad your book this weekend for his birthday, and he absolutely LOVED it!


Thank you a million times over for this wonderful gift, my whole family had a great time reading the books together😊

The first photo is my dad and I after I gave him his book, and the second happens to be a picture we have of my room way back in 2007. Outlined in the picture is my prized Jigsaw Jones collection!

image1 (1)

Thank you again!
– Kayla

The Koch Brothers, The Wizard of Oz, and the “Data Collectors” in BETTER OFF UNDEAD

The Koch brothers were my initial inspiration for the evil billionaires in my new middle-grade novel, Better Off Undead (Macmillan, 10/31/17). I simply thought of the worst people I could possibly imagine and there they appeared in my daily news feed, a pair of oligarchs lusting for power. It didn’t {FE179E59-DB84-4875-A683-EAA5722C0587}Img400take a huge leap of the imagination from there. To me, the Koch brothers represent the most dangerous qualities of corporate greed and excess, using their unfathomable wealth to undermine the ideals of American democracy by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into elections, buying political favor, and influencing policy for their own personal gain.

But my book characters, the Borks, are not merely stand-ins for the Koch brothers. There are other troubling forces in the world today. While the Koch brothers made their fortune from fossil fuels, I took a tip from the social media and decided to turn the Borks into “data collectors.” I’d been thinking a lot over the past few years about privacy issues, the monetization of the world wide web, and all those unwitting people (myself included) staring at phones: clicking, scanning, scrolling, flicking, giving it all away.

In this week’s New Yorker, Adam Davidson, writing about the Internet of Things, turned his focus to Amazon. I found these words remarkably similar to a speech I gave to Kristoff Bork in Better Off Undead (see below). Here’s Davidson:

For most of its existence, Amazon has made little or no profit. In the early days, it was often ridiculed for this, but the company’s managers and investors quickly realized that its most valuable asset was not individual sales but data — its knowledge about its loyal, habit-driven customer base. Amazon doesn’t evaluate customers by the last purchase they made; instead, customers have a lifetime value, a prediction of how much money each one will spend in the years to come. Amazon can calculate this with increasing accuracy. Already, it likely knows which books you read, which movies you watch, what data you store, and what food you eat. And since the introduction of Alexa, the voice-operated device, Amazon has been learning when some customers wake up, go to work, listen to the news, play with their kids, and go to sleep.

Now here’s a snippet from a scene when Adrian first meets the sickly, sinister Bork brothers. The book loosely models its structure on The Wizard of Oz, so think of this scene as the first time Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man meet the great and powerful Oz. (And, yes, that’s a little bit of Faulkner there are at the end.) Adrian speaks with the loudly amplified brothers via a huge television screen.


Kalvin fell into a spasm of coughing. His head flopped and lolled from side to side. Kristoff seemed to lean away from his brother, repulsed, a look of disgust on his face. Then his eyes returned to me, the way a sharpshooter zeroes in on a target.

“Have you any idea what we do, boy? How we made our billions?” Kristoff didn’t wait for my answer. “I’ll tell you. We collect flashes of light, waves on computer screens, whispers in the dark corridors of the Internet — clicks, likes, comments, purchases, page views — in sum, we gather your digital footprint. But not only yours, Adrian. Don’t think you are so special, boy.”

I stiffened. “Don’t call me boy.”

Kristoff’s lip curled. “Words, only words. But very well, Adrian. As you wish. We own the data. Like farmers, we reap what you sow. Then we sort and organize and sell in algorithms that are beyond your meager comprehension. In the end, we already own you — you’ve been bought and sold like a piece of meat.”

“I’m free,” I answered.

“Free? Oh, nonsense.” Kristoff chuckled.

“You don’t own me,” I countered.

Kristoff smiled ruefully, as if conceding the point. “We own only the digital footprint you so freely give away. Adrian, if you post a photo, we have a copy. If you send a text, we capture that, too, like a butterfly in our net.”

“That’s illegal. It’s private,” I said, surprised by my own anger.

“All your data points are known!” Kristoff’s voice now rose in volume and venom. “To the world, you are only digital code, lines of ones and zeros signifying nothing. We’ve been where you’ve clicked, we’ve watched when you’ve blinked. We know what you buy, what you wear, and even what you secretly desire — often before you yourself are aware of it.

“There are no secrets from the data collectors.”



FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #258: Hamsters & 2nd Graders


I’m feeling incredibly blessed lately. Every day something good comes my way. I don’t know what to make of it, frankly, or how long it can last, but I’m not taking any of it for granted. Check out this sweet little email I received the other day.



Attached are some pictures of our hamsters and hamster cages inspired by your book, The Case of Hermie, The Missing Hamster.
My class loved this book and are now enjoying many of your other books.

Rose S____

Second Grade Teacher
IMG_5462 2
See what I mean?
This particular title is currently out of print, but it’s nice to see that it’s still loved. Maybe Macmillan will bring it back? What do you think, Liz Szabla? After all, it’s the book that started the series. 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #257: Kylie’s Happy-Sad Feeling


It’s an incredible feeling to get receive a letter like this one that Kylie from Elsewhere sent to me . . .

Hey, I recently read your book called “Before You Go.” This book really touched me, and I just wanted to say how great of a book it is that you wrote. When I finished reading it, I had an emotion I rarely have. A bittersweet type emotion. Where I am happy and sad at the same time. I was sad because I loved the characters that you created. They were all fit perfectly together to create this amazing book. I wish that these characters were real, and I were able to hear more from them. I honestly wish there was a “Before You Go” book two as I really just am interested in knowing how their lives went on? Maybe you can tell me how you visioned Jude’s and Becka’s lives like during Senior Year, and college. I just really want to know what their future had in store. I was happy because Jude and Becka ended up together, and I’m not sure, the ending just put a smile on my face. Anyways, I’ve never contacted the author of a book before. So this just proves how much I LOVE your book. I may actually read again!
-Best Wishes, thanks for your time reading this, Kylie. 😊
I replied:
Thank you for this extremely kind letter. I’m honored to have you as a reader. I mean that. You should see some of the creeps who pick up my books!
51VCNQbfPKLI’m kidding, Kylie. Everyone who reads my books is amazing. But you’re the amazing-est.
Yes, I love that happy-sad moment, too. As a reader, and as a music and movie lover, I find that I am drawn to that experience of it hurts so good. A touch of melancholy. I’ve always written it off as a result of my Irish soul. Gray skies, staring out into the tumultuous sea. I like sad things. Or maybe it’s not exactly that — the sadness — but I want to feel stirred, my heart moved — by song, by books, by life.
You’ve asked an impossible question, of course. What happens next? I think of movies where they’ve done that successfully, or humorously. “Animal House” has a classic ending, where we learn that John Blutarsky has became a U.S. Senator, etc. On the other hand, I thought it was a misstep with Harry Potter, that flash forward. To me it’s not how they end up that’s interesting, it’s the getting there. And to tell that story, you’d have to write an entire book.
What happened to Jude and Becka?
They both died in a nuclear attack from North Korea?
Let’s hope not. I know that I like both of them, that both are strong and independent with a world of possibilities before them. I think they will make a nice couple, able to bring out the best in each other. For a while, at least.
One motivation for writing this book was that I’d go into bookstores and look in dismay at the YA section. A lot of romance with pink covers, almost always told from the female point of view. And of course tons of fantasy and paranormal. So I wanted to write a realistic relationship book from the boy’s perspective, Jude’s gentle soul. A book that I’d want to read. Before You Go more or less bombed in the marketplace, predictably in retrospect. There are times when you have to write the book you have to write — you can’t worry about the consequences or sales figures. But I’ve always been proud of it, felt it accurately reflected me (as much as anything I’ve written), and trusted that certain types of readers would enjoy it. Not with mass appeal, but maybe a quiet story for a sensitive, thoughtful reader. Thank you for being that good soul. May every writer be so lucky.
I remember working very hard on those last sentences, trying to make each word perfect, trying to write simply and with clarity, direct from the heart:
>> He didn’t know what would happen with Becka. Maybe that’s why he needed to be alone on the beach, to watch the sunrise, to be okay with himself, despite everything. Sometimes life seemed impossibly hard, full of car wrecks and souls that shined like stars in yellow dresses. So much heartbreak and undertow. Jude bent down, picked up a smooth white stone, measured its heft in his hand. And he reached back to cast that rock as far as he could.
Just to see the splash. <<
Thank you, Kylie. I’ll treasure your letter.
My best,
James Preller