Archive for Fan Mail

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #227: The New Technology Embedded in this Letter Just Made My Head Explode!

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This letter from Madison in Chicago was particularly amazing because it included a video message:

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Fortunately my wife, Lisa, was home to help me with it. She downloaded a “QR Reader” app on her phone, we scanned the blobby thing, typed in the password, and instantly a video of Madison appeared on the phone. There she was, reading from my book! Incredible.

Here’s the letter in full, with my reply below:

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My answer:

Dear Madison,

Wow, that was so cool. I’ve received many letters before, but yours was the first to include a QR Code. Is that what you call it? Amazing and wonderful to see you in that video. You read very well, and I liked where you were standing with those funky planks in the background, giving your video an artistic touch. Bravo! I appreciate all the work you put into it, and my guess is that your teacher helped a great deal in bringing this new technology into the standard “letter to the author” format. Very cool.

61ZJfCfXgSL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Thanks for reading four out of the six books in my “Scary Tales” series. Good point about Malick in One-Eyed Doll. He really did show a tremendous amount of courage. I liked that aspect of the story, that he was an older brother who looked out for his younger sister, Tiana.

You asked about six billion questions, so let me get to those:

* Correction: I’m now 55 years old. Rats.

* Correction #2: Thank you, but I do look at least several days older than 30. Weeks even. Months, years. Let’s put it this way: If someone thinks I’m 53, I smile, say thank you, and explain that I’ve been eating right and exercising.

* I have given up my dream of playing for the New York Mets. They don’t need me. But just this morning I signed up with a men’s hardball baseball team. I managed a team for years, then gave it up when I decided to coach my son’s All-Star and Travel teams. He just turned 16 and doesn’t need me in the dugout anymore, so now it’s my turn. I guess the lesson there is that if you enjoy something, keep doing it . . . even if it’s not for the New York Mets.

CourageTestFrontCvr* New books? Yes, for sure, that’s my job. I have a new book coming out this October that also touches on the theme of courage. It’s called The Courage Test. It’s about a father who takes his son on an unexpected trip — the entire time, the boy, Will, wonders what’s really going on — and they travel from Fort Mandan in North Dakota west along the Lewis and Clark Trail. So there’s a lot of history built into the story, about the Corps of Discovery, the native people they encountered, Sacagawea, York, and more. They meet new people along the way and have various camping and whitewater adventures. And they do encounter a bear, both literally and metaphorically. I hope you read it! I am also writing a new Jigsaw Jones book. 

* I’ve won some awards over the years, nothing too spectacular, usually by making state lists and whatnot. Books that have won something include: Along Came Spider, Wake Me In Spring, Six Innings, and Bystander

* I can write a Jigsaw Jones book, or a Scary Tales, in two months. Longer books for older readers tend to take more time. Six months, nine months, even years. 

Illustration by Iacopo Bruno from Scary Tales #5: ONE-EYED DOLL.

Illustration by the great Iacopo Bruno from Scary Tales #5: ONE-EYED DOLL.

* My brothers are named Neal, Bill, Al, and John. My sisters are Barbara and Jean. Sadly, I have lost two brothers, Neal and John. Both are gone but not forgotten. My children are Nicholas, Gavin, and Maggie. The boys don’t like scary stories or movies, but Maggie is more like you. She loves to feel a sense of suspense, fear, and anticipation where her heart is racing, going boom, boom, boom. I think I wrote that series for readers like my Maggie.

* Cats are Midnight and Frozone. Our dog is Daisy.

Thank you for your fabulous letter. You really knocked it out of the park.

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #226: Word from an Aspiring Author

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Here’s a kind note from an aspiring writer.

Hi! My name is ___ and I am a fifth grader from Sacandaga Elementary school. I was sick when you came and I was so sad. I love to write and your books inspire me! I am reading Justin Fisher Declares War and it makes me randomly laugh! I love having your signature in it! I wish I could have met you! I write to get my mind off things. I am going to start a book called Fake inspired by Bystander! Please get back to me, wish I could have seen you!

Confession I never liked the cover to this one, was hoping for something much more funny and school based, but I do like the tag line: "Fifth grade is no joke."

Confession: I never liked the cover to this one, was hoping for something funny and school-based, but I do like the tagline: “Fifth grade is no joke.” Too bad you can’t see it. Grumble, grumble.

I replied:

 ____, what a bummer! I’m sorry you were sick, I could have used a friendly face in that rough crowd. Just kidding. Everyone at Sacandaga was great — in fact, I loved it so much, I even learned how to spell Sacandaga. When in doubt, type an “a.”

I wrote Justin Fisher immediately after Bystander, which was fairly serious, so I felt like writing something that was humorous and light-hearted. I’m glad you enjoyed both of them, my yin and yang. 

Please give me your address and I’ll try to get something in the mail to you one of these days. But be patient, I’ll be traveling soon. 
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I’m always glad to hear from a fellow writer. And for the record, Fake is a great title.
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JP

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #’s 222 & 223: Two for the Price of Nothing!

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Okay, let’s roll. This one is from Kieran in Jersey, and in the interest of time I’ll only show an excerpt:

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I replied:

Dear Kieran,

Thanks for your letter. Like you, I prefer The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar over The Case of the Groaning Ghost. There are 40 Jigsaw Jones books. I wanted them all to be brilliant and funny and entertaining, but of course no one can hit home runs every time they get up to the plate. Like the great slugger Ted Williams said, “I just try to put a good swing on the ball.”

As for your questions:

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he's making a big comeback in 2017. I'm so happy about this.

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he’s making a big comeback in 2017. I’m so happy about this.

1) Yes, I am currently writing my first Jigsaw Jones story in seven years. I don’t have a title yet, still fooling around with it. I believe we are hoping that it will come out in 2017.

2) I have gone skiing in some of the same places as you. These days, I prefer cross-country. No lines, no crowds! I’ve never gone snowboarding because I’m pretty sure I’d die.

3) Sorry, I don’t have any photos to send out. That’s just not something that fits my personality. Just the thought of a stack of glossy photos on my desk kind of grosses me out. I think I’m happier in the shadows. You’ll find the autograph below.

My best,

JP

 

Letter #223 comes from Spokane, WA . . .

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I replied:

Dear Dakota,

Hey, thank for that most excellent, typed letter. As you might know, I also write books for younger readers, and it’s refreshing to receive a letter that isn’t stained with grape jelly.

Thanks for reading Bystander and Six Innings. If you aren’t completely sick of me, you might also like The Fall, which explores some of the same themes as Bystander, but from the perspective of the so-called “bully.” It’s written in a first-person journal format, which makes it relatively quick and easy to read.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn't lie: There's a bear.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn’t lie: There’s a bear.

Yes, I love baseball. I guess you are a Mariners fan? I grew up a Mets fan, watching the games with my mother, and let me tell you, we’ve endured some rough seasons. But things are looking up these days. Got to love those big arms. My dream was to be a pitcher, but no fastball. Didn’t have the arm. Stupid DNA.

Good luck with ball this season. From the evidence of your letter, you are well on your way to becoming a very accomplished writer. I hope you keep it up. Sometimes our talents surprise us, in that they don’t always come from the expected places. You might dream of becoming a great ballplayer, like I did, only to discover that you have an innate talent for architecture, or medicine, or writing.

You never know!

BTW, nice signature. It will come in handy when you’re famous. 

JP

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #221: Free for Everyone to Ignore!

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Readers should know that I don’t post every answer I give to fan mail. That would get incredibly boring, believe me. But when the letters are funny, or somehow fresh, or if I think my reply might be of interest to a wider readership, I share it here. This way, everyone gets a chance to ignore it.

Okay, got that? Cool.

This was a daunting collection of letters — all including individual SASEs, meaning that I had to lick 20 envelopes, yuck — but I did my best to offer a good reply, while keeping the process under two hours.

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Here’s how I replied:

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Dear ______________,

Today I was incredibly grateful to read through 20 letters from Mr. Frommann’s class, including one from you. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to respond to each letter individually. Since there was degree of overlap, it’s my hope that a single letter will suffice. (Hey, I’m doing my best, folks!)

Here goes nothing, in no particular order:

Evan wrote: “Your book is by far the most down to Earth book I have read in a long time.” Thanks. I tried to make BYSTANDER as realistic as possible.

9780312547967Many of you asked about a sequel, but Isabella framed it most charmingly: “With many questions to be answered, might I suggest writing a sequel?” Ha! Yes, you may suggest it, Isabella. At this point, I have no plans for a sequel, nor do I think that a novel should –- even if it could, and it can’t! –- answer every single question. I like that “fan fiction” has become popular, where readers respond to books . . . by writing. Maybe that’s the best way to find out more about these characters. Make something up. (It worked for me!)

Brittany made me happy: “You are an amazing writer with amazing details. It made me feel as if I was in the book too. You are a fantastic writer!” Well, you know the way to a writer’s heart. Thank you. Others said equally kind things. I can only say thanks. A writer is nothing without readers like you. Like Wayne and Garth say, “I am not worthy!!!”

Wayne’s-World

Madison: “It’s okay if you don’t reply, although I would like it if you did.” Fair enough!

Many of you asked about David’s family. I imagine that you discussed it in class. To me, that’s when the book I wrote years ago truly comes alive. When readers think about it, feel it, complain, debate, etc. There are no right answers. As a reader –- and I read all the time, always, every day –- I often think a book is best when I have to look away, lost in thought. That is, when it makes me stop reading . . . and start thinking. Does that ever happen to you?

Anyway, “G” had a theory on David and I want to share it. But first, I laughed when he wrote that the ending was “kind of bad.” Oh well! Later in the letter, he wondered about David’s parents: “Well, I have a theory. He doesn’t tell his parents because he thinks Griffin would be mad and not want to be ‘friends’ and in Chapter 13, ‘Pretzel,’ Hallenback says nothing to the monitor.”

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! I did a great deal of research on the topic of bullying, and one thing that frequently came up was that many targets go to great lengths to hide the fact they were being bullied. We can all speculate on the different reasons why that might be.

Avery and several others asked if I’ve been bullied as a kid, and the answer is no. I’ve been a witness, a bystander. And yes, I guess I wrote the book to “raise awareness,” in Charlotte’s phrase. Stories have a unique power to help us feel things, to step into someone else’s shoes, and through stories we build empathy and compassion.

Surely the world can use more of that.

Lucas complimented me on the “great visualization” in the book, and that pleased me, since that’s something every good writer tries to accomplish. I want to reader to “see” what’s happening, as if watching a film in the back of his or her skull.

The upcoming paperback cover to THE FALL (September 2016). Now available only in hardcover.

The upcoming paperback cover to THE FALL (September 2016). Now available only in hardcover.

Guys, gals, Mr. Frommann, I’ve got to go! I’ve got three kids upstairs who are hungry. And I’ve got a new book to write. Oh, wait, about the sequel. I should say that after writing BYSTANDER, I remained interested in the perspective of the so-called bully. That’s why I wrote THE FALL, which I see as a companion to BYSTANDER. Along the lines of, “If you liked BYSTANDER, you might also like . . .”

So if you are looking for something else by me, check it out. It’s in hardcover new, paperback in September. And I’m really proud of it. My book SIX INNINGS is also good for 6th graders who like baseball. It even won an ALA Notable!

Thanks for your letters. I’m sorry if I didn’t mention you by name in this missive. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy your letter. Just ran out of time!

Peace out!

James Preller

P.S. I’m bummed about David Bowie today. I have 104 of his songs on my iPod, so I think I’m just going to roll through them all today.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #220: “If You Don’t Like It, Write Better”

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While — sure! of course! — I always enjoy receiving a big, old, 8 1/2″ x 11″ envelope filled with student letters, I admit to mixed feelings. Yes, I’m grateful and honored. Yet I can’t help but recognize that this was the product of an assignment. Some letters can seem rote, and I get it. However, I recently received a particularly wonderful batch, 23 letters in all, filled with insights & curiosity & ridiculously kind words. Here’s the teacher’s cover letter and my response to the class . . .

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I replied at length:

Dear Ms. Becker & Students,

Thank you for that impressive package of letters. I’ve received similar packages before, but yours was particularly outstanding for the overall quality of the letters. They struck me as authentic, rather than, say, written by a bored kid going through the motions.

And, hey, if you were a bored kid going through the motions, good job, you sure fooled me!

I’m sorry to say that I simply don’t have the time to respond to your letters in the manner that you deserve. I apologize for my one-size-fits-all reply.

Several of you asked about a sequel, and I didn’t plan on one while writing the book. I was satisfied with the ending, leaving the future for these characters up to the reader. People ask what happens to them –- and that’s a nice compliment to give a writer – but the honest answer is that I don’t know. Or more to the point, I never got around to making up those stories. Books have to end somewhere, or else I’d be writing about Mary’s grandchildren.

Even so, I remained interested in the perspective of the so-called bully. That’s why I wrote THE FALL, which I see as a companion to BYSTANDER. Along the lines of, “If you liked BYSTANDER, you might also like . . .”

The%20Fall%20Ad

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Jessica asked if anyone helped me with the story: Yes, my editor, Liz Szabla, was particularly important with this book. Mostly her help was in the form of conversations. We talked about the ideas, our own experiences, things we’ve seen and felt. She didn’t really inject herself into the writing of the book -– she left that up to me – but she was a great sounding board. In life, it’s essential to have that person who says to you, “I believe in you. Go for it.” For this book, for me, that person was Liz.

Philip asked if I have “a secondary job in case book writing fall through.” That kind of made me laugh, while giving me a minor heart attack. Do you know something I don’t know? Philip even included a bonus scene, where I could glimpse a future adventure for Eric. I liked it; nice work. BTW, Philip, to answer your question: No, I don’t. And some days it scares me silly. No kidding.

Some asked about Eric’s father and how he might figure in the book’s ending, or, I should say, an alternative ending for the book. If you go to my blog and search, “My Brother John . . . in BYSTANDER,” you’ll get the background story about Eric’s father. It’s not a tale with a happy ending, I’m sorry to say.

Many of you said really, really kind things to me. I want you to know that I appreciate your kindness. In particular, Alyssa, thank you! Paige and Grace and Katelyn and Toby, you guys, too. The truth is, this can be a hard business sometimes. It’s not easy to make a living. It’s not easy to be rejected, or suffer poor sales, or watch a good book go out of print. I am often filled with doubts and uncertainties. There are times, especially recently, when I feel like a failure. Lately I’ve been thinking of myself as “moderately talented.” Nothing great, you know? Oh well. But this is what I do, what I love, and I have to keep working at it. I have a Post-It note on my computer that reads: “IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, WRITE BETTER.” That’s what I’m trying to do.

My current mantra.

My current mantra.

I just wrote a book about a father and a son traveling along the Lewis & Clark trail. It’s a genre-bending blend of nonfiction and fiction, a story of family, a wilderness adventure –- whitewater rapids, an encounter with a bear –- and, I hope, a quest for the real America. The book, titled THE COURAGE TEST, should be out in 2016. After that, I wrote a pretty wild story that’s set in the not-too-distant future. And, yes, there are zombies in it –- but it’s not their fault! I’m also trying to write haikus, making a small study of them, because I’ve got the seed of an idea. They are not as easy as they look!

The next idea is always the flame that burns the brightest, that keeps creative people moving forward -– making paintings, performing in plays, practicing the guitar, telling stories. We all have to find the thing that makes us happy. And if you are lucky enough to find it, then hold on tight.

Thank you –- each one of you – but I’ve got to get to work! I’m sorry again for not writing to you individually. Thanks for understanding.

James Preller

 

Fan Mail Wednesday #219: Childhood Toys & the Next Book

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Look here, it’s a letter from Sander!

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I replied:

Dear Sander,

Thanks so much for your letter. Thanks, also, for including a Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope, otherwise known as a SASE. Since you are a detective, I wonder if you can figure out why they call it a “SASE”?

Any ideas?

I’ll wait.

Hum-dee-dum, dee-dum-dee.

Anyway, I am glad to hear from a detective. I’m always looking for new ideas. Have you solved many mysteries?

Growing up, I was the youngest of seven children. Check it out:

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Here's the seven Preller children in 1966. I'm the short one in the middle, surrounded by GIANTS!

Here’s the seven Preller children in 1966. I’m the short one in the middle, surrounded by GIANTS!

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While I was not a detective like you, I was a spy. I fondly remember a particular toy I had — it was a periscope that extended way out — which allowed me to peer around corners to spy on my family. I loved sneaking around in my socks (better for silent creeping). It was like being invisible! But before you try it yourself, let me warn you: It’s dangerous work. Don’t get caught.

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Hey, Sander: I gave a version of my childhood toy to Jigsaw Jones. He uses it to solve a mystery in THE CASE OF THE BICYCLE BANDIT. Cool, right?

I even gave a version of my childhood toy to Jigsaw Jones. He uses it to solve a mystery in THE CASE OF THE BICYCLE BANDIT. Cool, right?

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I like your wish. No one has ever expressed that to me before. You must be an original thinker. That means you think of things that nobody else in the world has ever thought. Amazing. I’m very impressed. You have a good mind. It must be all that reading!

I have not written a Jigsaw Jones book in the past six years. However, I have happy news. I am writing a new one right now! I mean, I’ll be writing it after I finish writing to you. I wish I could tell you more about the story, but to be honest, it’s still a mystery to me. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. The book won’t be out until the year 2017. I expect you’ll be shaving by then.

Good luck with your detective work. Life is a mystery — we sure do need more good detectives around to help us figure it out.

My best to you, and happy holidays!

James Preller 

 

 

Fan Mail Wednesday #218: Sharing This Ridiculously Beautiful Letter from Calloway in Illinois.

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I’ve neglected the blog of late, but to quote Vito Corleone, “I don’t apologize, that’s my life!”
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“I refuse to be a fool dancing on a string!”
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Just kidding about that. I am sorry. And I do apologize, Dear Reader. I’m horrible, frankly. The letters have been piling up, but I’ve been hunkering down with a deadline. And yes, that’s right, I nailed it! Thank you, thank you very much.
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This letter came with a fabulous note from Calloway’s mother, who seems lovely and kind. She asked for my address, and I’ll give that to everyone here, even you crazy stalkers: James Preller, 12 Brookside Drive, Delmar, NY 12054.
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Now, here’ s Calloway, unedited, from Illinois:
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“Hi mr james preller. I love jigsaw Jones books. I read them all the time. Would you send me more? I drew a pictue of the ones i already have. I need the rest. I am a brownie girl scout. Did you know that i have diabetees to? i was born with it when iwas 2 years old. IT Meansxmy pancreeas doentst work. And then my brother stabbed me with a pencil last week and my mom got mad at us and made us collect food for hungry people and give away our halloeeen candy. and my mom got cancer this year snd she lets me use her new pink blankets and pillows. They are so fun to lay on. And i love the movie annie. But jigsaw Jones are my favorite books.. my teacher mrs. Garretson told me to read them. And my brother plays baseball and my dad teaches gym! He makes us do push ups and sit ups when we are bad. And i am in love with ______, a 5th grade boy. But you cant tell anyone that.
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Ok. So send me my books. Hope you have a happy day!!! Lalalalala. Oh and i was elvis Presley for Halloween. He is my favorite.
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Ok bye, love Calloway”
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I replied:
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Dear Calloway,
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My goodness, your letter just made my heart explode a little bit. Now it’s all over the floor and in my hair and yuck, gross. You have such an exciting life! I’m so sorry about the pencil stabbing, but it sounds like your good mother handled it “astutely,” which means, in this case, with wisdom and grace.
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No offense to your father, who I am sure is a great guy, but the thought of a tough gym teacher as a dad would have terrified me as a kid. “What, ten thousand more push-ups? YIKES!”
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Don’t worry about your crush. Your secret is safe with me. (See how I removed his name?)
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I am not always able to send books in the mail to every fabulous kid who writes to me. It would get expensive. But in your case — the most fabulous kid of 2015 — well, keep checking your mailbox.
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True story about cancer: My oldest son, Nick, is a two-time cancer survivor. He got sick when he was 2 years old, then again when he was 10. Hard times. But you know what? He’s 22 now and perfectly, wonderfully, terrifically healthy! I wrote about it, in a sly way, in the book SIX INNINGS, which your brother and father might like. Anyway, Mom, I’ll keep you in my thoughts.
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My best to your whole big beautiful family!
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James Preller
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P.S. Is there any chance you could send me a photo of you dressed up as Elvis Presley? Somehow my life feels incomplete without it.
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P.P.S. Tell Mrs. Garretson that I love her (but don’t tell my wife)!
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P.P.P.S. Lalalalala!
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FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY 216 & 217: Happy News About Jigsaw Jones!

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It’s a combo platter today, a rock block, a twofer — two fan letters in the same blog post!

Can’t be done, you say?

Impossible, you scoff?

Just watch me now.

In letter #216, Aiden wrote:

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hmI love your jigsaw Jones book’s. Because I love detectives and I like codes, like the twist code, the missing voul code and the space code, and theirs much more. Anyways my name is Aiden I am 9 years old. It would be really cool if you made another jigsaw Jones book except Mila sends a letter to jigsaw Jones, but she didn’t write her name. So jigsaw and mila try to find out WHO wrote the letter. But they find out that mila is it!! That would be cool.
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I replied:
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Aiden,
What is a terrific idea! Can I steal it? I mean, er, “borrow” it? 
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The good news is that soon I’ll be writing a new Jigsaw Jones title. First one in a long time. Not sure about the mystery yet — all these stories begin after I figure out the crime at the core — but maybe I can incorporate your idea into the book.
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Let me think about it.
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Thanks for writing & for sharing your brilliant idea!
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James Preller
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In letter #217, I received this note from Andrea in Canada:
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Hello Mr. Preller,

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My son LOVES your series Jigsaw Jones Mysteries.  He is 10 yrs old and has a learning disability as well as ADHD.  He is an amazing boy and when he finds a book he likes he will read and read, it’s the only thing that keeps him calm. :)
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I am having a hard time finding your books.  We accidentally came across the box set 1-8 at a used book store about a year ago, he wants to continue to read them but he HAS to read them in order.  The library doesn’t have all your books.
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I have no problem paying for the books but I am wondering if you can help me out in any way.  Shipping to Canada can be very expensive, I have found your books but with shipping and handling it will cost an arm and leg to buy.  I am angry at myself, a box set became available through the Scholastic Program and I forgot to order it.  I missed the deadline.  My son cried for the rest of the day.  
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If there is anything you can do to help I would greatly appreciate it.
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I replied:
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Dear Andrea,
You are a good Mom, that’s for sure.
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I wish I had better news for you. But the series has been slowly dying on the vine for years, Scholastic allowing it to go out of print. I’ve recently retained the rights and it looks like I have interest from another publisher — fingers crossed! — so Jigsaw will be revived in some form or other. I’ll actually be writing a new one soon.
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UnknownFor your immediate needs, I think you should look at Craig’s List and eBay. Those books pop up all the time. You can contact Scholastic at a toll-free number, 1-800-724-6527. If you are persistent, you’ll find a helpful person who might go the extra yard for you.
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Good luck!
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If you give me your address, and the name of your son, I’ll be happy to send him a signed copy of #9, just because. 
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It’s my pleasure, 
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James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #215: Advice to a Young Writer & the Idea of “Downshifting”

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I’m posting this one for two reasons. First, Megan’s sweet reply, so simple and direct, surprised and moved me. That last sentence. And secondly, because I am frequently asked for “advice” and often fail to give a satisfactory answer. In this case, I don’t fail quite so miserably as usual and it included a notion that applies to a great many young writers I’ve encountered over the years — the idea of downshifting. I don’t have time for many exchanges like this, but I do what I can.
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This begins, atypically, with my response. Megan, I’d guess, is 13 or 14, and she genuinely aspires to be a writer. This wasn’t a question of a student dutifully asking a question that her teacher would approve of. No, Megan wanted to send me her book and I was like, “Oh, please, don’t do that. Send me an excerpt.”
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This is my reply, which she waited for patiently.
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Megan,
 
Greetings. I’m very impressed with your story, and I’m grateful for your persistence & patience.
 
I am wrestling with a deadline of my own, have a pile of unanswered letters, etc., so I hope you’ll understand that this will be brief, of necessity.
 
In general, I’m not a great advice-giver when it comes to writing. I’m not full of tips, largely because I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. The standard pieces of advice are still the best: Read widely, read often, & read with a writer’s eye; and write. You’ve got to write. Have a place where you can write, a crummy journal, anything. And try to write everyday. Don’t let all your best work be text messages.
 
The other thing that I really believe in is that you should trust your enthusiasms. If you are excited about a topic, an idea, a writer, a series of books, an activity — then pursue it. Don’t worry so much if it will be practical or publishable or realistic. Just try to find those things that get your heart racing. That make you happy. And trust that good things will come out of it.
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follow-your-enthusiasm
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As for your story, you are filled with many interesting characters and ideas. When I read, I know there is a lively mind at work here. An interesting mind. That’s very good to see. So many good, descriptive details. At the same time, your work reflects an inexperienced writer. That makes sense, because it’s true. You are young and inexperienced and you have not yet honed your writing muscles.
 
The one idea I want to convey to you is “downshifting.” Slowing down. You have enough ideas in here for a 500-page story, so all of it feels rushed, like you are in a hurry to get to the next thing, then the next, then the next. You need to slow down, add a beat, let each scene, each moment, have it’s own moment (if you will).
 
I loved the initial sense of the magical in the air that begins the story. The girl in the woods. (I didn’t like that she was trudging, especially after I learned that she was sent to give an urgent message; to me, that’s not a trudging errand, that’s running, exhaustion, resting, eating, running, and so on). It’s lungs burning, muscles aching. Then as readers, we are caught up in that feeling. There’s a deadline, a rush, and something important is at stake. We are eager to know why.
 
The visit with Corporal Hillson’s needs to slow down. Take your time. I didn’t understand why Hillson was telling Vivian all this. Why did he trust her? What was she doing there? I didn’t completely get it. His news is “extremely secret,” yet he blabs it to her. Why? You need to set this up better.
 
Next, almost as suddenly, she is in a cavern. That’s cool. The two girls. Again, slow down. Stay in the moment more, linger over the details, set the scene.
 
Downshift.
downshifting
 
Good work, Megan. You have talent and, as I said before, a lively, inventive mind. You probably have more story here than you are fully capable of writing at this point in your life. Keep at it. Focus on individual scenes. Word by word, sentence by sentence. And also, write poems, write short stories, and keep writing.
 
You are already much more accomplished than I was at your age.
 
Good luck,
 
James Preller
 
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Megan replied:
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Dear Mr. Preller,
Thank you for your support. You have no idea how much this means to me. I will edit my story so that I do that. Thank you for your time. I would give anything to write like you. 
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Great News from a Young Writer I First Met Three Years Ago

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Three years ago I wrote a post titled, “I May Have Just Met the Best 6th-Grade Poet in America.

Her name was Erin, and she was in 6th grade, and I was lucky enough to meet her during a school visit outside of Chicago. You can read an excerpt from that post below, or click on the link. Anyway, since that time we’ve kept in touch. Mostly Erin letting me know what she’s doing, and me saying clever things like, “Wow!” Or, “You’re awesome!” And always always always, “Keep writing!”

This weekend I received a box in the mail . . .

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And inside there was a self-published book by Erin Rosenfeld . . .

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And a very kind note . . .

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Let’s be clear: I did almost nothing. I read some pages, made a few incoherent comments. When it comes to the work, Erin did all of it. My role was to try to be encouraging across a few scattered emails. I wish I was one of those wise people who knew how to help writers take that next step, but I’m not very good when it comes to advice. Maybe it’s because I don’t really believe much can be done for someone else. The best work a writer can do is to write. That’s the classroom. That’s the job. It’s a solitary business.

I recognized Erin’s talent when she handed me one of her poems three years ago. But talent only gets you so far in this world. Obviously, Erin knows that. She gets her butt in the chair.

You can purchase Erin’s book, Half of Me, by clicking here. (Ha, ha, I already have my own signed copy in green ink!)

In the book, Erin gives a new twist to the classic theme of switched identities. Grace and Mia are identical twin sisters, and total opposites. But for one fateful day they make the switch . . . and things go horribly, tragically wrong. One twin dies. The other lives. In the days and weeks that follow, both sisters are forced to endure the consequences of their decisions: one on earth, and one torn between life and death.

Erin wrote Half of Me in alternating voices, employing two distinct writing styles. Mia tells her half of the story in prose, while Grace’s chapters are in spare, elegant verse.

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Erin Rosenfeld, congratulations! I’m so proud of you!

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I have a new book, too!

TheFall

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In education today, where the pendulum has swung far to the right with a misguided, misbegotten emphasis on testing and precise measurements, where the arts have been slashed and all but discarded, it’s important to remember what it can mean to invite an author into our schools — or a musician, or painter, or dancer, or even (heaven forfend) a mime! I am grateful every time I am given the opportunity to visit a school. To speak, and maybe be heard. Every time I try, in my small way, to make a difference. Thanks, Erin, for helping me believe that it’s still possible.

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Originally Posted in October, 2012:

When I speak at schools, a teacher will often come up to ask if I wouldn’t mind wearing some kind of amplifier/microphone thingy around my neck for a student who is hearing impaired.

And of course I don’t mind. I put it on and forget about it. Easy.

Styles vary, but it usually looks something like this.

After a presentation last Friday at Northbrook Junior High, about 25 miles north of Chicago, a small female student approached to ask for the return of the assistive listening device that hung around my neck. She had a nice smile, a sweet presence, and I liked her immediately. We chatted for a short while. I asked how she managed when people didn’t wear the device, and about lip reading, and getting by. I told her that I suffered from hearing problems myself, a surgery with a specialist in Ohio and a second one planned. I understood, on a personal level, how terribly isolating hearing loss can be.

We said goodbye. As she left, I commented to a nearby teacher about how much I liked that girl. “She’s probably a writer,” I added. You can often tell. She was thoughtful and attentive, a watcher, an observer. In my experience, those are the types who make writers. The quiet ones. And there’s that other thing about writers: it’s something you sense in people, the way they absorb their surroundings. You can tell there’s something going on between the ears.

It’s rarely the way they talk, but more the quality of their listening.

“Yes, she’s a very good writer,” the teacher informed me.

A few minutes later, my friend, Erin, was back. She handed me a poem. A small group of teachers and I were about to have lunch in another room. But I read the poem while Erin stood by, watching. And finally, when I reached the end, I told her that it was incredible, that I was moved by it, that I admired and envied her talent. “You are such a great writer,” I told her, and I meant it. Erin smiled, a terrific smile, and told me that I could keep the poem. And I did, but not until I got her autograph. In green ink, no less.

Erin RosenfeldThe writer.

I don’t know. I do a lot of school visits, a lot of blabbering about me, me, me. But it’s always these small moments that make it worthwhile, that make me feel like there’s value in it. When out of the blue a connection is made, and I meet somebody like Erin, and maybe in some small way she’ll remember this moment, for I know I’ll remember her . . . 

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Click here if you wish to read Erin’s poem and the rest of my original post.