Archive for jimmy

One Question, Five Authors #12: “Do You Have Any Heroes in Children’s Publishing?”

 

If I were English, I might say that I was dead chuffed by this edition of “One Question,” the internet’s laziest interview series. Thankfully, that expression won’t be expressed here. Not on my watch! Let’s just say I really like how this turned out. I was glad to see the various directions our contributors took in response to my open-ended question. Speaking of contributors: Lois Lowry’s in the house! I have enormous respect for Everything Lois and it is a true honor to have her visit my little blog, pull up a milk crate (note to self: buy chairs!), and hang out with the rest of us. Speaking of heroes, the answers here are provided by Heather Alexander, Lois Lowry, Elaine Magliano, R.W. Alley, and Kurtis Scaletta. Thanks, one and all! You did good.

 

Heather Alexander

My mother asks the same question about each book I’ve edited since I started in children’s publishing: “But where is your name?” The message came across loud and clear — all my hours of work didn’t count because my name wasn’t printed on the cover (or, really, anywhere). Throughout my reading-under-the-covers childhood, I’d naively believed that words flowed from an author’s imagination directly onto the page and then were bound seamlessly into the book in my hands. The important person’s name was displayed prominently on the cover, and those authors became my heroes. It wasn’t until I got behind-the-scenes did I realize how many talented people toil to make a book — and elevate a so-so author to a great author and a great author to an amazing author. Editors, copyeditors, fact checkers, designers, production managers — the list goes on. I was lucky to have been taught by some of the best editors in the business — true magicians able to conjure greatness from the clumsiest of sentences. I’ve also been fortunate, as an author, to have awesome editors and fact checkers carefully watching my back. So as far as children’s publishing heroes go, I’m giving my shout out to all the uncelebrated people behind each and every book. (And, now, if every author reading this writes the name of his or her trusted editor or designer in the comments section, I suspect you’ll make their moms so, so happy!)

 

Lois Lowry

It won’t come as a surprise to hear me mention Walter Lorraine, who become my editor after the editor who had acquired my first book in 1977 moved on to another company. Walter was/is deservedly renowned as an editor of picture books — Chris Van Allsburg, David Macaulay, James Marshall, and Allen Say were among his superstars. I don’t think he felt that the editing of prose was his forté. But when I landed (figuratively) in his lap, it was a fine pairing because I had a background as a photographer and had brought, I think, a heightened visual sense to my own writing. Walter perceived that, appreciated it, nurtured it. He was also a purist, as I am, and hated — as I do still — the commercialization of children’s books. He loathed the spin-offs: the toys and games and money-making gee-gaws vaguely related to literature. As he moved (grumbling) toward retirement, after fifty-five years in the field, he saw himself as something of a dinosaur in a publishing world that was moving away from the patient and painstaking encouragement of ideas and true art. I was fortunate to have been his colleague during those magical years.

 

Elaine Magliaro

My hero is Grace Lin. Grace is a dear friend. We met nearly twenty years ago when she was just starting out in children’s publishing. At that time, she was illustrating other authors’ books and writing and illustrating her own picture books. Since then she has truly blossomed as a master in the field of children’s literature. In addition to picture books, she has written early readers, realistic fiction, fantasy, and poetry. She’s won a Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor, Josette Frank Award, a Theodor Geisel Honor — and been a National Book Award Finalist. Grace has definitely found success in her chosen profession.

I admire Grace for more than the awards that she has won, though. She is a hero to me because she has remained true to herself and to her heritage. Grace has provided young readers with a heart-warming look into her culture and her own personal experiences when she was growing up as a minority in upstate New York. She has been an advocate for the We Need Diverse Books movement and for gender equality in children’s publishing. She is a strong individual who has dealt with difficult situations in her life with great resolve and grace. I know her to be a true and loyal friend who NEVER forgets a kindness done for her. She is one of the finest human beings that I have ever known. The great success she has been met with has not changed the sweet young woman that I met years ago.

 

R.W. Alley

My hero in children’s publishing? I’m taking the question to mean, not authors and illustrators, but rather editors and publishers, which makes it more interesting. Editors and publishers shape the tone of an imprint.
 At the start of my career, there was a clear distinction between “trade” and “mass market” publishers. This played out in content (trade = literature, mass market = entertainment) as well as in production values (trade = dust-jackets over cloth covers, mass market = paperback and uncoated paper). Of course there was overlap, but generally that was the idea. Sendak was literature. Scarry was mass market.

I dropped into that world as a long-haired, clean-shaven, John Lennon glasses high school grad with a very heavy (by weight) portfolio and a NYC map marked up with publisher locales and switchboard phone numbers. Art directors had portfolio viewing days. Some met in person. 
My publishing hero was a meet-in-person art director, Grace Clarke. I came to know lots (but not enough) about Grace later. She was kind, but straight-forward. At our first meeting, she made it clear that my sketchbook was more interesting than my carefully curated (and matted) portfolio. She gave me a copy of the “new” series she was publishing (Tintin) from her then-desk at Western Publishing (Golden Books) and told me I should think about that format. (I did and I continue to.)
 But what elevated Grace to hero status in my small world was something I found out years later. My parents (respectable college professor and protective mother of an only child) wrote to Grace (my mom dictated the letter to my dad, as per usual) and asked her not to encourage my art. In fact, they asked that she please actively discourage it. Their son had college to attend and an academic path ahead. Art was at best a sideline. At its worst, a dead-end ending in a flophouse.

Instead, this is what Grace did. She filed away the letter, kept in touch and, right after I graduated from college, offered me my first book. It took her over fifteen years, but she finally revealed my parents letter. She said she’d waited to make sure she’d made the right call. In the meantime, I’d gotten more books, gotten married and gotten my parents kinda on board with the artist thing. For that waiting, for the care she exercised in tending the psyche of a young man in his relationship with his art and his parents, Grace Clarke is my publishing hero.
 Thanks for asking, Jimmy.

 

Kurtis Scaletta

My heroes are the school librarians, booksellers, preschool teachers, and so forth who create and cultivate readers, find the money to book authors, and make those authors feel appreciated. Yeah, they’re paid to do it, but not much. OK, I actually work at a literary organization so maybe this is a little self-serving! But seriously, I really do love all the people who help us do what we do.

Another of my heroes is a local author. Her writing is lovely and has won major awards but I admire her because of her kindness. She’s supportive of everyone who writes. She rallies behind anyone who needs it. She remembers everyone’s kids’ names and asks about them. She doesn’t just ask to be polite, she really cares.
The Greek origin of the word “hero” is a person who is both god and human. I’ve had enough of the heroes who are all about the god half, and appreciate more the ones who live up to the human half.

Seven Photos from the 11th Annual Hudson Children’s Book Festival

Thought I’d throw some photos up here, documenting my school visit to Montgomery C. Smith Elementary in Hudson, plus a shot from the pre-festival soiree, and the magnificent event itself. My thanks go to Lisa Dolan, Jennifer Clark and Bridget Smith for the kindness, the coolness, and the support. Besides, it’s not often you see me in a laundered shirt, so I had to over-share. Let’s do this, people!

This is the banner that greeted me in the main hallway of the school. Literally a great sign that it would be a happy visit. 

Besides my presentation to the 3rd grade in the auditorium, I was given the opportunity to visit an eager classroom for a cozy Q & A. At the end, this boy, Logan, was eager for me to see his writing. To bear witness. To be seen. Isn’t that what we all want? These are the moments, folks.

My basic go-to move in a photo is to point at something/anything. For some reason I went with the triumphant fist pump thing here: an abject failure. Though staring directly at the photographer, I seem unaware that a photograph might be transpiring. Oh, sigh. What a warm, beautiful, diverse group of students. Treated me like I was something special. Go figure.

Two of my pals in the book business: Matt Phelan and Jennifer Sattler. So much talent. It’s one of the nice parts of these festivals, getting together with fellow authors. We don’t actually complain ALL of the time. True story!

Signing The Courage Test. That title sold out early! All my “Scary Tales” disappeared quickly. Bystander, too. But more importantly: how do you like my shirt?

 

 

This shot is a little blurry — the day was a blur — but I remember this young man vividly. He drew this picture, based on a Jigsaw Jones book, sometime over the winter. He was eager to bring it to the Festival so he could give it to me. Proud of what he’d done. He knew it would make me happy.

A festival is full of small, intimate encounters such as this. Brief conversations about books, reading, life, school, whatever. To my right is a boxed lunch which I never did get around to eating. Thank you, Hudson Children’s Book Festival!

“Reading Junky” Blog Reviews BLOOD MOUNTAIN

“A fast-paced,
action-packed story
that is filled with intense moments
and well-researched outdoor information
. . . Preller nails it.”

— The Reading Junky

 

 

My thanks go out to Sally Kruger, i.e. The Reading Junky, for giving such a thoughtful review to my upcoming book, BLOOD MOUNTAIN. It’s a terrific, well-written blog, so please check it out. Now back to that review I was telling you about . . . 
Grace, Carter, and their father set out to hike Blood Mountain, but their plans quickly change. Dad just isn’t going as quickly as the kids would like so they take off ahead with the family dog, Sitka. When their father begins feeling chest pains and other scary heart attack related symptoms, the kids are too far away to give him the help he needs. 
Excited by the sights and sounds, Grace and Carter keep hiking on. Their difficulties begin when Grace slips and slides down a cliff. When she lands, she has an ugly gash on one leg, a possibly broken ankle on the other, and most likely several broken ribs. Leaving the dog to guard Grace, Carter heads back to find their father and get help.
What follows is a breathless adventure involving a dangerous mud bog, an escaped mountain lion, and a mountain man intent on keeping his whereabouts unknown. A local ranger becomes involved in the rescue. When she learns two kids are missing on the mountain, she is determined they won’t be lost on her watch.
In BLOOD MOUNTAIN author James Preller tells a fast-paced, action-packed story that is filled with intense moments and well-researched outdoor information. From the detailed description of the father’s heart attack symptoms to facts about mountain terrain/wildlife, and knowledge of traumatized veterans, Preller nails it. Readers will be pulled from start to finish hoping for a satisfying conclusion.

One Question, Five Authors #11: “How has your childhood informed your books?”

Coming up with questions is hard work. Frankly, I’m exhausted. You can’t imagine the hours I while away, sipping fruity cocktails, conferring with the flowers, daydreaming possible queries. Now I’m going to take a long, hot, restorative soak in the tub. Hopefully you’ll hang around to read the answers provided by today’s five guest authors: Todd Strasser, Aaron Becker, Florence Minor, David A. Kelly, and Jerdine Nolen.

 

Todd Strasser

For most of my writing life I’ve focused on contemporary realistic novels, but as I passed the age of 60, I decided to look back at the early years of my life. What immediately came to mind was the day in 1962 when I was twelve years old and came from school to discover several men digging a very large hole in our backyard. I was thrilled. My parents must have been building a swimming pool! I ran into the house for confirmation, only to learn that hole was the first step in building a fallout shelter. It was the height of the Cold War and my parents were taking no chances. From that incident grew Fallout, my novel about living through the Cuban Missile Crisis, when this country came as close as it ever had to a nuclear war.

The next inspiration that came from my “childhood” concerned the summer of the Woodstock music festival, which I attended. That became my new my novel, Summer of ’69. For me the summer began with a draft notice ordering me to prepare to fight in a war I didn’t believe in. But that was just the beginning of the angst I would face. My parents on the verge of divorce. My brother, who is mentally and emotionally handicapped and who had never spent a night away from home, was suddenly sent away to a YMCA camp. And, because of all the stress and fear I was feeling, I was taking far too many drugs. I feel that this novel is a landmark in my writing career because it became an opportunity to take a close look at, and try to make sense of, a collection of events that I’d been aware of all my life, but had never pieced together into an understandable whole. For me it was as close to therapy as any novel I’ve ever written.

Aaron Becker

Most of my books have stemmed from the feelings of boredom I had as a kid; my imagination was the one thing I could count on to take me away. But my latest, You Are Light, is a departure from that. This book is all about my mother and her influence on me as a science teacher. She taught college level astronomy and physics and would often bring home gadgets from her lab work. I always loved anything that had to do with color and light. So the idea of making a book that played with illumination came quite naturally to me. There was no room for a dedication on the copyright page, but if there was, it’d be to her!

Florence Minor

I grew up in a family of animal lovers, and my first bestie was my dog Jigsy, who arrived on the scene the year before I did. My uncle loved to tell stories about my dad stopping to pet every dog or cat he happened to meet on the street, and I have to admit that this apple did not fall far from the tree.

My love of all animals is an integral part of who I am, and when Jigsy passed over the rainbow bridge at age 14 I was bereft. Thankfully Boo the dachshund came into our lives shortly thereafter and her sweet and funny ways (like rolling over a grape but never eating it), helped to heal my broken heart.

Animals, mine as well as those of friends, have always been a joyous part of my life, in person as well as in books, and it feels natural for me to share my love of animals through the books I write for children. A shy child, I spent many hours reading, especially books about animals: Babar, Lassie, The Black Stallion, etc. In How to be a Bigger Bunny, the main character, Tickles, is often left behind by her older siblings (as I was by my older sister) but is able to save them when they get into trouble because of things she’s learned in her favorite book. So there you have it! I hope my books about penguins, bears, bunnies, and, stay tuned for kittens, inspire children to read, read, read!

David A. Kelly

A number of things from my childhood have informed my Ballpark Mysteries series of chapter books. Perhaps the first is a sense of fun and play. I grew up in Central New York playing one backyard game after another. Baseball was a huge favorite; in the winter it was hockey on the flooded, frozen baseball field, and nights were filled with capture the flag. While my main characters, Mike and Kate, don’t play backyard games in my books, I try to bring that feeling of fun and comradery to my stories.

Mystery stories were also a large influence. I grew up loving mysteries, from Encyclopedia Brown and Two Minute Mysteries to the Hardy Boys and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I often recall specific ones when I’m mulling over possible plot points or searching for inspiration.

My childhood fear of writing has also played a part. As a child, I loved to read but hated to write. I could never figure out how to get started or what to write about. My spelling was bad and I was lazy. But as an adult, the very fact that I never considered myself a writer is what allowed me to become an author. I had nothing to lose by trying to write the Ballpark Mysteries. Luckily, with persistence, hard work, and lots of assistance it’s worked out.

And of course, some specific things from my childhood have shown up in my books. All that crab soccer I played in elementary school gym class made its way into The Baltimore Bandit scene in which my main characters, Mike and Kate, play crab soccer at Camden Yards to investigate a missing baseball glove. And the time that my father snuck me into a nearby hotel to meet Hank Aaron, who was staying there before a Hall of Fame Day Game in Cooperstown. After initially rebuffing me because he was eating his breakfast, he signed my baseball after finishing. I created  a similar incident in The All-Star Joker when Mike is trying to get his baseball signed by a big star.

Jerdine Nolen

When I was a child, my parents told stories to me. They were both natural storytellers. The stories they told were big and wide and wonderful and beautiful and awful and scary and seemed to live along the lines of magic.

The stories moved in my head and heart which moved me to feel and see the world in a particular way. The stories were packed with intrigue, fear, and hope. And always there was something to be gained by hearing the story. I sometimes wonder if the message my parents wanted me to glean was what I actually took away.

For my father, he often read or retold Bible stories to us. For my mother, her stories would always start, “…did I ever tell you about the time…” I think that coupled with my imagination, I was able to tell my own entertaining stories.

Often the reprimands given me included some (symbolic) story from my parent’s own childhood or something from the Bible.

So, yes. My childhood informs my stories.

Brutally Honest 93-Year-Old Critic Raves About BLOOD MOUNTAIN: “I’m Sure It’s Wonderful.”

Thanks, Mom!