Archive for jimmy

Learning to Be Gentle with Myself

Here’s a meme that resonated with me, and it might do you some good, too (more thoughts below):

I published my first official book in 1986, though I made many books with spare paper and tape as a young kid, probably starting around 1966.  So it’s been a long time of me making things.

And a very long and hard time of me beating myself up over all those times when I’m not-making-things. 

Of me being uninspired, or lazy, or too slow and dim-witted, unoriginal, shiftless, and on and on. All the hateful words.

How does one write without a generous heaping of self-loathing?

I’ll never know. 

But I am not so far gone that I can’t see my own ridiculousness. I can look on my book shelves and see that I did some work along the way, and it’s not all terrible and useless. 

Lately I’ve been in a fallow period. 

Lacking in some essential thing.

An empty vessel in need of filling up. 

And thus, the meme. 

Remembering that I’m a human, not a machine, not a bot, not an AI program. 

I’m learning — I’m trying to say — to give myself a break. Because I’m doing the best I can. That has to be enough. 

 

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #336: The Fate of EXIT 13

 

This one sort of stopped me cold, wondering how to reply, writing to an adult teacher and also, at the same time, 22 third-grade readers. How to tell them that the world can be a sad and disappointing place?

How to let down a reader? 

But one of my core beliefs as a writer for young people is that children can deal with anything. And they do, in their actual lives, all the time. Friends move away. Invitations are never sent. Pets grow old and die. So I just try to be authentic, and age-appropriate, and honest. 

And, of course, long-winded.

Here’s the email I received . . . 

Hello!

My name is Kaelyn D____ and I teach 3rd grade in Michigan. We have just finished the second Exit 13 book as a whole class. It has kept my students on their toes!
They were so sad to see that there wasn’t a 3rd book out quite yet, I told them I would do my best to let them know if one comes out soon. 
They have loved the mystery and being able to make theories about what happens next and compare it to what really happened. I told them I would try my best to reach out and at least let you know how loved those books are in my class. Seeing them so engaged and excited about reading is my favorite! So thank you for writing these novels!
We hope to see another book and hear about Ash and Willow’s adventures moving forward.  
Thank you so much,
Kaelyn D____ and her 22 third graders! 🙂 

I replied . . . 

 

Dear Kaelyn D____ in Michigan, and to your 22 miraculous students,
Thank you so much for your kind letter. For reasons that I’ll explain, it made me both happy and sad.
I appreciate that you read and enjoyed both books. I loved writing them and I’m very proud of EXIT 13. There’s a section in Book 2 where the chapters alternate between Ash in the woods and Willow in danger back at the motel. The book jumps back and forth between those two characters and I thought it worked really well, building tension and suspense. As a writer, I felt like yes, this is exciting. After writing all these years, I’ve finally learned enough to pull this off. Real adventure and mystery. A page turner!
You might know my Jigsaw Jones books. In those mysteries, all 42 titles, I stay with Jigsaw’s point of view all the way through. The camera, so to speak, never leaves Jigsaw. But in the EXIT 13 books, I was able to shift the focus from one scene to the other, back and forth, and it was exciting to toggle between them. I hoped that it would be exciting to read, too.
I worked a similar trick — or literary device — in my book Blood Mountain. There’s a sister and brother, Grace and Carter, who get lost in the mountains. Once they became separated, I was able to do that same thing as in EXIT 13, where I leap from one scene to the next, keeping the plot moving but also building suspense.
I think of it as a magician trying to keep a number of plates spinning in the air. Have you ever seen anything like that? Maybe you can find an example on Youtube. There’s a little video titled “Plate spinning routine by Henrik Bothe” that gives you the idea. You want to keep all the plates spinning before they come crashing to the floor.
That’s what it’s like to tell a rousing story!
By the way, I have three children. Nick is the oldest. But my two youngest, Gavin and Maggie, are only 18 months apart and grew up more tightly together. I guess I like that dynamic between a brother and a sister. There’s friendship and rivalry. 
Where do we get ideas? From our own lives, of course. That’s the beginning, anyway. Then you add imagination. Make stuff up.
(I wonder if you’d like my “Scary Tales” books? You might want to check those out from the library.)
When I started the series, I was hired by a publisher, Scholastic. The editor asked me to write two books, though we both hoped there would be more. I planned for more. I certainly had enough ideas for at least six overall. After all, I got these characters into the motel, I had to find a way to get them out. That was the job. But at the beginning, I had to get the ball rolling.
Anyway, here comes the sad part, because it’s about the business of publishing. I wrote the first book, The Whispering Pines, and it was offered on Scholastic Book Fairs. While that was happening, I finished the second book, The Spaces In Between. But before the second book even came out, before anyone in the world read it, Scholastic had already decided that sales were not strong enough for the first book. They did not want a 3rd title. 
It didn’t matter if the books were good or not. The only thing that mattered was how many people bought the first one in those first two  months at the Book Fairs. When sales were not robust enough, they pulled the plug. It was not a home run. No more books, gone, goodbye. 
The series was over before it ever got a chance to catch on. 
Unfortunately, that’s publishing these days. It’s also true, I guess, of television shows and songs on the radio and the arts in general. Instant success or they move on to the next thing. We are forever moving on to the next thing.
It’s hard and disappointing. A writer puts so much into his books. Heart and soul. Sigh. 
I had notes for a 3rd and 4th book. Ideas I wanted to pursue. The alien visitors. The strange, somewhat damaged animals in the forest that needed rescuing. I had the notion that the McGinns were brought to EXIT 13 for a reason. That there was a mission to complete. And that once Ash and his family understood the mission, and succeeded, once they figured out the deep mystery, they’d be “allowed” to leave EXIT 13. 
I so much wish I could write those books for you. But without a publisher, there can be no book. Hopefully you were able to enjoy the first two in the series. I know it’s a true bummer that I was unable to finish the larger story. I’m really sorry to disappoint readers. Believe me, it’s the last thing I ever wanted to do. 
Publishing is a tough business. As someone once wrote, “It’s a bunny eat bunny world.”
But summer is almost here. There’s so much more to do in this life — more to read and write. I’m grateful to you, Ms. Davis, for sharing my work, and this letter, with your class. They are lucky to have a teacher who loves books, who reads out loud, who shares that enthusiasm for the written word. We’re both book lovers, you and I, and that will always connect us. Thanks for everything. 
Forever your friend,
James Preller

Blood Mountain . . . Now in Paperback!

ONLY $8.99 — CHEAP!

 

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #335: A Gift from Sorella

Confession: I’m not sure if this is technically a piece of “fan mail.” The United States Postal Service was not involved, and it did not arrive to me via email. This note was handed to me toward the end of a school visit in Mahwah, NJ. 

I read the note — those extraordinary thoughts — and I looked at the young girl before me. “Is this for me? To keep?”

She nodded, shyly.

“Would it be okay,” I asked, “if we took a picture together?”

She thought that would be fine.

So here we are (note: permission granted by Sorella’s parents).

Days have now passed, a full week come and gone. I still wanted to respond in some way. But how? What words could I say beyond, simply, thanks?

My response below falls short, I suspect, but it’s something.

Dear Sorella:

It’s been a week since we meet at your school, Joyce Kilmer, somewhere in deepest, darkest New Jersey. Since then I’ve gone to concerts, read a lot, seen a movie, visited with family, walked my dog a million times, done all sorts of things . . . and yet I keep thinking about you and the kind note (with blobs of silver glitter!) that you handed to me in Mahwah. 

I’m sure that I don’t deserve it. I mean, I don’t think your note is really about me, “the real James Preller,” author of books for young readers. Instead, I think you captured something about how some of us feel about books and reading. You see, I’m a book lover, too. We have that in common. I know that feeling, of just holding a book in your hands, and in your heart, and feeling the wonder of it all, the deep pleasure of connection. Whole new worlds opening up before our eyes.

It’s amazing what a book can do. How we can sit silently, perfectly still, alone in a room, and yet feel intensely connected to the characters and events and, yes, even the author. We can read a book written more than a hundred years ago by a woman in a small English village and feel her thoughts and imaginings, intensely. I’m thinking, by the way, of Beatrice Potter, who published The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901. Potter is a personal favorite of mine, but I could have named anyone, really. We read a book and travel across time and space. We sit alone and yet we are not alone. We are free. As if we were sitting around the same fire. “Companions of the flame,” wrote the poet Hilda Doolittle.

If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. 

Speaking for every author I’ve ever met, thank you, Sorella, for the gift of being that good reader. I’ve long felt that books are only alive when they are read. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of a perfectly good tree. When my work is done, the book is no longer mine anymore. It’s yours, Dear Reader, Dearest Sorella. Magically, amazingly, you sat in a room and made it all come true. 

I’m grateful for you, and grateful for the kind heart that moved you to say such lovely words. “Flowers for the living,” the Irish expression tells us. I don’t deserve them, but I do accept them, gratefully, as a stand-in for anyone who’s ever dreamed of writing a book. Here’s the secret: The dream isn’t to write a book. The dream is for someone like you to come along one day and read it. 

Please keep reading, keep seeking new books, new authors. There are so many, many good ones out there. And, oh yes, please keep writing, too. And drawing. And decorating your missives with glue and silver glitter. You have a gift for it.

Your forever friend, 

James Preller

P.S. Please thank your wonderful and talented media specialist, Mrs. Oates. She’s the one who did all the work. Long ago, she invited me come to your school. We exchanged a dozen emails. And she put in all that work for you, for every student at Joyce Kilmer. I’m just the guy who got swept up in her good intentions. Lucky me. 

SUPER SHORT EXCERPT from SHAKEN, a middle-grade novel coming on September 10th

Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some excerpts and background info on my upcoming novel, Shaken

Very briefly, a 7th-grade soccer player suffers a severe concussion that effects her life in profound ways. She gets behind in school, feels stress and anxiety, suffers from panic attacks, and ultimately goes to therapy sessions (including art therapy!) which are depicted in the book. The story is about how Kristy responds to these setbacks, the new friends she makes, the mistakes and the good decisions, too. 

Light breaks through the curtains, bringing with it a sharp pain to her forehead. Kristy imagines a jagged crack running from eyebrow to hairline. She can’t bear to call out her mother’s name. So she waits, eyes squeezed shut, pillow over her face, like an aphid on the underside of a leaf. A black dot of silence. She’ll be better soon. As good as new. Running the field and scoring goals. This is the worst of it. Yes, she tells Megan Rapinoe, who is staring back at Kristy from a soccer poster on the wall, this is the very worst.

Something like the poster I imagine hanging on Kristy’s wall.