that is filled with intense moments
and well-researched outdoor information
. . . Preller nails it.”
— The Reading Junky
— The Reading Junky
It’s always exciting when a package arrives from my editor, Liz. A padded envelope filled with 6-7 ARCs. Advance Reader’s Copies. And so we move in fits and bursts toward that seemingly impossible day . . . a real book. October, 2019.
It’s going to happen. And on this day, holding an ARC in my hands, it feels more real than ever.
Here’s the briefest of samples from page 30, at the end of DAY ONE:
They lie down, huddle close, sharing the small emergency blanket. Head to head, toe to toe. The ground is, amazingly, not terrible. Sitka moves off to a nearby spot, curls up. After a few minutes, at Grace’s invitation, the tired dog presses into them for warmth.
A crack of thunder makes the earth shake. The rain comes down harder, but at least they are somewhat protected. A few giants of the woods fall in the night, great branches crashing to the ground. Grace reaches out of hold Carter’s hand.
“I’m glad we have the knife,” she whispers. “Try to sleep.”
Carter is too exhausted to answer. He gives a soft moan. In his heart, he feels that it’s going to be bad. Something awful, something terrible, is going to happen. And there’s nothing he can do about it. He lies awake, staring into the darkness. He senses a twitch in Grace’s leg. His sister has fallen asleep.
I wrote a wilderness survival thriller for middle-grade readers, grades 4-8, and I’m really proud of it. Can’t wait for this book to see the light of day. Think: Hatchet meets Misery . . . and there’s a dog. Siblings lost in the mountains.
Of course, this is a business that involves a lot of waiting. And then more waiting.
And then out of the indigo I get a jpeg of the final cover in an email from my editor, Liz — so I’m sharing it here with my best internet friends.
Illustration by Scott Altmann.
I am trying something new: come this March, I’ll be teaching a Haiku Workshop for continuing ed in my local community.
Here’s the write up:
Haiku Workshop *NEW!* Location High School – Room D120 Instructor Preller Length: 6 weeks Starting Date: March 11 Day & Time: Mondays, 6:30-8:00p Fee: $50 An exploration of the haiku, from traditional to modern, that includes reading a wide range of haiku, writing and sharing our own, and analysis in a workshop setting. One guiding principle for this class comes from the quote, “The smartest person in the room, is the room.” The teacher will serve more as guide than expert. Hopefully we all learn (and teach) together. Participants will be expected to read haiku, write your own, and discuss in class. James Preller is the author of many books for children and he’s eager to share his enthusiasm for the art of the haiku, and to learn more about the craft in a group setting. Limit of 15 students.
Rather than “teaching” per say, my vision for the workshop is that we’re making stone soup. Everybody brings their own ingredients. My role will be to help stir the pot, at least in the beginning.
I started writing haiku in earnest early in the Trump era. I found myself spiraling into darkness. Jumping on Facebook, reading the news, and hovering over the “angry” icon. Every day, upset and disillusioned and angry. And I eventually realized that I couldn’t continue to live like this.
Not sure how I arrived at it, but I decided to try to write at least one haiku first thing in the morning. Spend ten minutes, get something down . . . and then proceed with my regular program of getting upset, disillusioned, and angry.
People ask, “What are you going to do with them?” And my answer is nothing, hopefully. I’m not looking at it that way. Oh, maybe someday I’ll read them again, self-publish a selection, but that’s about as far as I can imagine.
It’s not about the results.
It’s about the process.
The act of stepping out of myself. Of seeing. Of being actively engaged in the natural world. Looking at that cat lying in a slant of sunlight. The way the fog lingers in the treetops. Those seven crows out on the front lawn.
However you feel about haiku — and it’s perfectly okay to not love it — I read so many that leave me flat, bored, restless — hell, I write so many that miss by a mile — I’ve come to believe there is value in the act of attempting one.
For starters, as a writer, haiku speaks to the essence of good writing. Clarity. Conciseness. A focus on the particular thing. Back to William Carlos Williams, “No ideas but in things.” Back to Ezra Pound and the Imagist movement. Get the ego out of the way. Deal with the thing itself. Or the magical juxtaposition of two things in close proximity. This is good practice for any writer of any genre.
Secondly, the haiku is about the present moment. About presence and attention. It is, at its ideal, a moment of heightened perception. Of truly being in the world, however fleetingly. In a time of social media, a time when we seem to be more and more detached from the natural world, haiku can bring us closer to the elements, reconnect us to be being human creatures on this earth.
So, yes, I do currently favor the values of traditional haiku in its focus on nature and the present moment. There are strong proponents and powerful arguments against the 3 line, 17 syllable approach. Many modern American haiku poets prefer a 12 syllable count, for example, and see that as closer to its Japanese origins. Some are experimenting with the one line haiku. Shrug, whatever. It’s all good, and yet inconsequential to me. For now, I like the even playing field of the 5-7-5 format, the strict demands of that specific structure. But people should write whatever they want, I have no axe to grind.
Anyway, I’m teaching this class — guiding this class — stirring this class — in the hope of interacting with other people. Reading and writing and thinking about the natural world, about language, about poetry.
That’s my haiku journey.
One other thing that I’ve discovered. By trying to write haiku, I’ve been confronted time and again with how little I know. Or, in a positive way, how much there is to learn. Today I spent time reading about recent experiments with evening primroses and how they might “experience” and respond to the vibration of honey bee wings by producing more nectar. A survival strategy underscoring the interconnectedness of things.
As a result of that, I made these two attempts . . .
Primrose hears the buzz
Of honey bee, makes herself
Sweeter than ever.
She hears him draw near,
Sweetens her nectar, beckons:
Writing haiku calls upon me to learn more about the natural world. This realization fed directly into a middle grade novel I just finished, Blood Mountain (Macmillan, Fall, 2019), about two siblings lost in the wilderness. It won’t be a recognizable connection to any other reader, but I know it’s in there, feeding the surface.
I think by writing the haiku, I’ve become a better observer, a better writer. Or maybe just a little happier.
By the way, I posted about this experience recently — and even dared to share a few random poems — and you can check that out by stomping on this link right here.