Archive for Better Off Undead

COVER REVEAL: “Better Off Undead”

After becoming undead, 

Adrian Lazarus 

has to survive middle school.

 

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ADRIAN LAZARUS has met with a curious fate. He’s returned from the dead (after a bad bike accident, no helmet), yet not a lot has changed. He still has to attend middle school. Adrian has always been something of a misfit. But it’s not just being a zombie that makes Adrian feel like an outcast. He notices the world has changed, too: bees are vanishing, forest fires are burning, seas are rising, super-flus are spreading. Even so, the holographic advertisements in the night sky assure people that all is well. But Adrian and his friends –- a beekeeping boy, a mysterious new girl who just might see into the future, and Talal, a seventh-grade sleuth –- aren’t convinced. When they discover a birdlike drone has been spying on Adrian, the clues lead to two shadowy corporate billionaires. What could they possibly want with Adrian?

 

PUB DETAILS: Macmillan, October, 2017, Ages 10-up.

Cover illustration by Andrew Arnold.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #237: A Video Blast from Nadia!

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This lively letter concluded with a bar code that I could scan, complete with password, in order to see a video by the letter writer. In this case, the lovely Nadia. I’ve only included an except of her letter, which went two pages, in addition to my response.

Here’s Nadia:

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I replied:

Dear Nadia,

I love the video attachment you included in your letter. I’ve only received a couple of those in the past, so it was a real treat to see your face and get a blast of your personality. And it did come through in blasts, loud and clear. Pleased to meet you!

I’d make one for you but that would require for me to know what I’m actually doing and, ummmm, that’s not happening. I think I’m most comfortable with my fingers on the keyboard. Point a camera at me and I tighten up.

You favorite place is Hawaii? I’ll try not to be too jealous. I’m a fan of Poughkeepsie, New York. Sigh.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from THE ONE-EYED DOLL.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from THE ONE-EYED DOLL.

Thank you for the kind words about my “Scary Tales” series. It’s a funny thing about scary books. They seem to attract the sweetest readers. People I’d never expect, bright and lively and full of joy, will come up and tell me how much they looooove creepy stories. Well, I’m doing my best. I’ve written six “Scary Tales” books so far. At the end of 2017, I’ll have a midde-grade book coming out, Better Off Undead. It features a seventh-grade zombie, Adrian, as the main character. It’s a wild story that touches upon climate change, spy drones, colony collapse disorder, forest fires, beekeeping, evil billionaires, makeovers, water shortages, and more. As someone with a keen interest in the health of the planet, I guess that’s what I personally find scary: the future!

img_2054In addition, I’ve got a new “Jigsaw Jones” coming out, The Case from Outer Space (August, 2017, Macmillan). My dog Daisy is fine, thanks for asking. She needs a walk right now and it’s super cold outside. I don’t want to do it. But I love her, and I suppose that true love involves doing things you don’t always want to do. Better put on my extra-thick socks!

Keep reading, happy holidays, and let’s hope for a better year in 2017!

James Preller

WRITING PROCESS: About that Epigraph

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An epigraph — neither an epigram nor an epitaph — is that short quote  many authors use at the beginning of a book. It can be most anything: a song lyric, a line from a poem or novel, a familiar adage, whatever we want it to be.

It can be seen as a book’s North Star, both inspiration and aspiration. A source or a destination, a map or a summation. It can be a joke, a statement of theme, or an obtuse and too-erudite dud.

An epigraph is one of those small parts of a novel that many readers (and some writers) ignore. No problem. Like the spleen, an epigraph can be removed without any real loss of function.

Yet it can serve as a signal in the night, like an orange flare screaming parabollically across the sky. An indicator of intention.

It can be a thread to pull, a riddle to unravel, or a key to solving the book’s enigma.

Personally, I’m a fan. Epigraphs have played a larger role in my books as my career has crabbed sideways.

That said, I don’t believe I hit a home run with the epigraph in my book Six Innings. It misses the mark. So we won’t talk about it. And I’m not sure that the epigraph for Bystander was particularly successful:

 

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Where you been is good and gone

All you keep is the gettin’ there.

— Townes Van Zandt,

“To Live Is to Fly”

 

I love that song by Van Zandt and it lingered in my mind during the writing of that book. To me, those two lines represented the plasticity of the middle school years, that intense period of becoming, and of life in general. “The journey itself is home,” as Basho wrote. I think that’s especially true when we are young, trying to figure things out. Anyway, it’s a good quote, but perhaps not especially germane to the book. It doesn’t shine a ton of light.

Moving right along . . .

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For The Fall, I employed the dangerous double epigraph. Maybe it’s a matter being unable to decide, but I liked the way these two worked together. These quotes speak directly to the book’s main ideas: responsibility and identity.

As an aside, I’ve been catching up with Westworld recently — so much fun — and was pleased when Bernard asked Dolores to read the same passage from Alice in Wonderland.

“Who in the world am I?” Good question.

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In a eureeka moment, I found what I believed was the perfect epigraph for The Courage Test. The book was basically done — written, revised, and nearly out the door when I rediscovered this long forgotten quote while at a museum:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

— T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

My book was about just such a journey. The main character, couragetestfrontcvr-199x300William Meriwether Millier, was named after the explorers, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, who figured large in the story. And at the end of the book, Will returns home to the place where he started with new insight. The epigraph fit like a glove. The only problem might be, is it too pretentious? T.S. Eliot? The Four Quartets? In a book for middle graders? What can say, it spoke so eloquently to the story that I had to include it.

I also feel good about the epigraphs to my upcoming book, Better Off Undead, (Fall, 2017). It’s a book that’s set in the not-too-distant future and features a seventh-grade zombie as the main character. It’s a wild plot that touches upon climate change, spy drones, colony collapse disorder, white nose syndrome, forest fires, privacy rights, airborne diseases, beekeeping, crude oil transportation, meddling billionaires, bullying, makeovers, and the kitchen sink. There’s also a plot device that links back to “The Wizard of Oz,” the movie.

I don’t have a cover to share at this point, these are the two epigraphs:

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What a world, what a world.

— The Wicked Witch of the West,

“The Wizard of Oz”

 

and . . .

 

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

— Leonard Cohen,

“Anthem”

 

For this book, I’m also tempted to tell you about the dedication — which is also concerned with the future of the world. But let’s save that for another post.

Do you have a favorite epigraph/book pairing you’d like to share? Make a comment below. Please note that new comments need a moderator’s approval before the comment appears. This helps limit the whackjobs and crackpots to a manageable few, seating for everyone, sort of like Thanksgiving dinner at the relatives’ house. Cheers!

Talking: Writing Process, Roald Dahl, Works In Progress, Lewis & Clark, and the Danger of the “Info Dump.”

Illustration by the amazing Quentin Blake, from DANNY CHAMPION OF THE WORLD -- a book that helped inspire THE COURAGE TEST.

Illustration by the amazing Quentin Blake, from DANNY CHAMPION OF THE WORLD — a book that helped inspire THE COURAGE TEST.

Deborah Kalb runs a cool website where she interviews a staggering number of authors and illustrators . . . and she finally worked her way down to me.

Please check it out by stomping on this link here.

Here’s a quick sample:

Q: You wrote that you were inspired by Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World to focus on a father-son dynamic in The Courage Test. How would you describe the relationship between your character Will and his father?

A: Yes, I came late to the Dahl classic and was struck that here was a loving book about a boy’s relationship with his father — not the kind of thing I’ve seen in many middle-grade children’s books. I found it liberating, as if Dahl had given me a written note of permission.

In The Courage Test, William Meriwether Miller is a 12-year-old with recently divorced parents. His father has moved out and moved on. So there’s tension there, and awkwardness; William feels abandoned, and he also feels love, of course, because it’s natural for us to love our fathers.

I wrote about this at more length, here, back a couple of years ago. In the unlikely event you are really fascinated by my connection to the Dahl book . . .

In Which I Answer the Question: “What Are You Working on now?”

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I recently completed a series of interview questions at Deborah Kalb’s “Book Q&As” blog (not posted yet, or I’d share), and thought I’d pass along a brief sample. One of the unexpected challenges to writing a book comes after the book is finished — when you’ve got to figure out how to talk about it.

How do you explain it? How do you make it sound good in two sentences? How do you summarize 42,000 words to someone who is barely listening?

Obviously, I’m still trying to figure that out.  Read below and you can flounder along with me!

 

What are you working on now?

I am finishing up the revisions for a middle-grade novel, Better Off Undead, that I began seven years ago. That’s not a normal time-frame for me. It started as a misfit story, in this case a boy who survives his own death only to be told that, well, he might as well go back to middle school. I figured that “zombie” made him the ultimate outsider. But I didn’t feel satisfied writing just a zombie book, so the work stalled. As time passed, I became increasingly invested in a host of environmental issues, “climate change” in particular, even attending a huge march down in NYC. I kept looking at young people, including my own children, and felt the caretakers of the planet had failed them. We had failed them. At the same time, I felt that many of today’s young people had not fully grasped the severity of the situation. The book (Macmillan, 2017) casts a wide net, sprawls and morphs into a mystery/thriller hybrid, and touches upon dying bees, bats, droughts, wildfires, makeover shows, corporate greed, consumerism, politics, bullying, and, yes, the struggles of one lone zombie. If there’s a theme, it’s this: Everything connects. It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever written. I’m glad that I can still surprise myself — and consider it a good sign.

Here’s some more images from the spectacular “People’s Climate March” in NYC referenced above, attended by more than 400,000 citizens of the globe.

I traveled down alone -- but not alone -- by bus. So this is me on that great day, seeking attention to a cause that matters. In many ways, this march affected and inspired the book I wrote.

I traveled down alone — but not alone — from Delmar, NY, by bus. So this photo is me, taken by a stranger on that great day, seeking attention for a cause that matters. In many ways, this experience affected and inspired the book I wrote.

People's Climate March, 092114Some of hundreds of thousands take part in the People's Climate March through Midtown, New Yorkscreenshot-2014-09-10-131902_550x322climate-march-9_3000019b10_medium140921_climate_change_rally_nyc_ice_cream_earth_msm_605_60520140921-dsc_0050imagesA protester carries a sign during the "People's Climate March" in the Manhattan borough of New Yorkslide_389314_4706504_freeslide_370038_4261286_free140921_pol_peoplesclimate_11-jpg-crop-original-originalimagemarch-for-climate-changeimrspeoples-march-newam-crew-537x366