“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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Questions, 50 Authors: The First Ten Installments in One Easy Format

It’s encouraging to see the response to my “One Question” series, the internet’s laziest interview series. We all need that, by the way: encouragement. At least I do. So much shouting into the void, wondering if you’ve been heard, if it’s worth the effort. More readers seem to be finding the series — and clicking “like” — as it becomes better known. Thanks, authors, for your contributions and for sharing the posts. At the same time, some of the older editions have been under-viewed. Maybe you’ve missed a few? So here in one place I’ve brought together the first 10 questions with convenient links. Or you can click here and just scroll through one big bloggy document. Thank you for stopping by. Please note that there are more on the way, featuring Lois Lowry, Todd Strasser, Aaron Becker, Jerdine Nolan, R.W. Alley, David Kelly, Elaine Magliaro, Kurtis Scaletta, Florence Minor, Heather Alexander, and more.

 

#1: “How do you celebrate when the first book finally arrives?” GUESTSLizzy Rockwell, Matthew Cordell, S.A. Bodeen, Laurie Calkhoven, London Ladd.

               

#2: “Tell us about a book that impacted you.” GUESTS: Julie Fortenberry, Don Tate, Rachel Vail, Paul Acompora, Audrey Vernick.

                    

#3: “How did comics influence your work?” GUESTS: Charise Harper, Matthew McElligott, Bruce Coville, Eric Velasquez, Alan Silverberg.

                    

#4: “How does music fit into your work?” GUESTS: Mikki Knudson, Matt Phelan, Charles Smith, Yvonne Printz, Chris Tebbetts.

                    

#5: “How is your work affected by the current political climate?” GUESTSBarbara Dee, Tonya Lee Stone, Jen Sattler, Lesa Ransome, Travis Jonker.

                  

#6: “Tell us about a favorite moment in a recent book.” GUESTS: Erin Dionne, Eugene Yelchin, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Alan Katz, Nick Bruel.

                    

#7: “How does a book begin for you?” GUESTS: Tony Abbott, Matt Tavares, Aimee Reid, Keely Hutton, Greg Neri.

                    

#8: “Let’s talk about rejection.” GUESTS: Jennifer Arena, Kevin Lewis, Donna Gephart, Parker Peevyhouse, Aimee-Joan Paquette.

                    

#9: “How do you cultivate creativity?” GUESTS: Laurie Keller, Nikki Grimes, Jordan Sonnenblick, Liza Walsh Gardner, Steven Sheinkin.

                    

#10: “Can you say something nice about procrastination?” GUESTS: Jo Knowles, Barbara O’Connor, Charles Waters, Jay Cooper, Susan Hood.

                    

Baseball Comes Round Again: Recalling “Six Innings” and How Cancer Came Into Our Lives

I sometimes tell this story on school visits, if I am in the right mood and have the right group before me. My oldest son, Nick, is a two-time cancer survivor. First diagnosed at age two. It was a hard time. The nurses at the pediatric oncology unit at Albany Medical Center would say to me — and let me tell you, those are truly inspiring human beings who will always have a special place in my heart — “You are an author, you should write about this.” At the time, I couldn’t conceive of it, happy to just navigate the parking garage without getting into an accident. Mentally, just gone. Nick recovered, only to relapse again in 4th grade. All he wanted to do was run with the pack, play travel soccer, be a kid. I watched him face it all with strength and courage; and let us remember, there is no courage without fear leading the way, linked hand in hand. I watched Nick’s friendships, the way certain boys rallied around him. And to this day I can’t think about any of it without tears streaming down my face. 

Nick with Lisa holding him tight.

Around that time I started writing a book called Six Innings. A book about a Little League baseball game, and moreso, about the kids who played it. A lot of characters to dream up. As a useful storytelling device, and as a faithful recording of how things worked at my local Little League, I wanted there to be a kid announcing the game. “Now batting, Cleon Jones,” that kind of thing. And I vividly remember sitting in my chair, staring at the computer, when the thought came: What’s this kid’s story? And it hit me, Oh, he’s sick. He’s very sick. And so I gave that kid cancer. 

Six Innings is a baseball book, full of plays and on-field drama. But it is also about those kids, their lives and hopes and conflicts. I mean, there’s a lot of baseball in this book, so it’s not for everyone. Below I’ll share one scene that comes directly from our experience. When Nick relapsed, and we had to go through it all over again, our doctor came to our house for a family meeting. We sat together in the living room, stunned and serious and scared. She laid it all out before us, Nick included. While many details were altered, Nick’s response was the exact response I gave to the character, Sam, in the book, almost word for word. 

Six Innings was named an ALA Notable, and I’m proud of that. And it’s still in print, and I’m grateful for that. And Nick is strong and healthy and living in NYC, and goodness, I don’t even have words for it.

Here’s a scene from Six Innings. Thank you for reading: 

 

And now they gave it a name. Sam had osteosarcoma. Or, well, osteosarcoma had him. The two words — Sam and osteosarcoma — were joined now, entangled, entwined, forever linked. Buried inside the big word, he discovered the letters to his own name, s-a-m. It was there all along.

Doctor Shrivastava looked from one to the other: Sam, his father, his mother. Mostly though, and to her great credit, the raven-haired doctor with milk chocolate skin spoke directly to Sam, kept meeting his eyes, looking at him with sharp-eyed clarity and infinite kindness. She was nice. There was goodness in her. Sam felt it.

So. That was that. But what did it mean? It was as if doctors spoke only secret words no one could understand: biopsy, retinoblastoma, metastasize, limb salvage, and chemotherapy. Somehow all those words were stuck into Sam like darts, but they didn’t seem real. All Sam really knew, judging from the way his mother kept chewing on her lower lip, the way his father reached for Sam’s hand and squeezed, was this: Not good.

Sam’s mother kept scribbling on the legal pad, flipping pages, writing furiously. In Sam’s family, she was in charge of facts. For reasons no one could explain, Sam had contracted the most common type of bone cancer. It usually appeared in teen boys, often during growth spurts. A tumor grew in Sam’s leg. Doctor Shrivastava wanted to remove the bone before the cancer could spread. She said that they would replace the bone with a metal rod.

How weird was that?

This surgery, she said, would take place in about twelve weeks. During that time, and for nine months afterward, Sam would have to take some very strong medicine. The medicine, or chemotherapy treatment, would destroy the bad cancer cells in his body — but they would also make him feel very sick sometimes.

At a certain point, Sam stopped listening. He closed his eyes. It was dark, and he was swirling in an inky sea of words, drowning in the dark, mystic language. He needed to get away. Fly to some other place. He was tired of listening, tired of hushed conversations, of doctors and their white coats.

Dr. Shrivastava looked at Sam. “Most patients fully recover,” she assured him.

Sam stifled a yawn. He had been stuck in this office forever.

“Can we go now?” he asked his parents.

“Sam? What?”

“I want to go to Mike’s house,” he announced. “He just got the new MLB game on PlayStation. He says it’s awesome.”

“Mike’s house?” his mother repeated. “Sam, I . . . ?”

“It should be fine,” Dr. Shrivastava intervened, checking her wristwatch. “Perhaps that’s enough for one day.” She looked at Sam, smiled warmly. “Mike is your friend?”

Sam nodded, yes, of course. Mike was his friend.