Fan Mail Wednesday #181: “I Hate Reading”

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Here’s a snippet of a much longer letter from Anabel in NY:

Fan Mail 181

I replied:

 

Dear Anabel:

I’m sorry to see that your long, lovely letter was postmarked March 12th. Since it was sent directly to my publisher, I can only surmise that it languished there for many weeks before finally reaching my home in upstate, NY.

So, please forgive the delay.

You do remember writing to me, don’t you?

It’s so interesting to learn that you “love writing” but “hate reading.” Usually the two things go hand in glove. I wonder if you’ve been reading the wrong books? In any event, I’m glad that you enjoyed Bystander. Books have given me so much pleasure in my life, I’d hate to think you’d miss out on the fun.

Don’t give up on books!!!

9780312547967To answer your questions: I have three children, now ages 21, 14, and 13. When I wrote Bystander, about 5 years ago, I guess I was beginning to project my own youngest two children in that middle grade environment. In conversations with my editor, Liz Szabla, we often got around to the topic of bullying and what we felt were unsatisfactory, unrealistic attitudes about it. Together we felt that it would be a good topic for me, because I’m sort of an anti-Disney type writer. It’s not all cupcakes, rainbows, home runs and unicorns with me.

I set the book on Long Island because I grew up there. It was a familiar environment and, for some reason, I placed this particular book there. At the same time, I’m currently writing one of my SCARY TALES books and it’s set in a swamp in southeast Texas –- and I’ve never spent a minute in that area. I had to learn and research as I wrote, which can also be fun.

I was never bullied in my life, nor was I a bully. I was a bystander, like so many of us, and that’s partly why I wrote the book from that perspective.

My best,

James Preller

This Makes Me a Gnome, I Think

I’m trying to say that, quite unexpectedly, I made a brief sidebar appearance in this month’s Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Thank you, Elizabeth Lombardo, whoever you are!

What, you don’t believe me?

Look, proof!

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Coming In 7 Days — SCARY TALES: NIGHTMARELAND!

I’m looking forward to the fourth book in my Scary Tales series, Nightmareland, available on June 10th where horrifying books are sold. (Note: Books do not need to be read in order; each story stands alone, different setting, different characters.)

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This book always gets a huge response when I talk about it on school visits, but I always have to end with the same comment: “Yeah, no, you can’t buy it yet and this is my only copy.”

In a nutshell: Sister takes brother, Aaron, shopping. He purchases video game from discount rack, “Nightmareland.” Mom is out of town on business, expected home late. Dad’s not around. Boy starts playing video game and it slowly pulls him in . . . and he enters the world of Nightmareland, a game filled with images from his own secret fears. Snowstorms in cemeteries, hungry wolves, fierce snowmen.

The hooded character in the game looks strangely familiar to Aaron.

The hooded character in the game looks strangely familiar to Aaron.

Sister discovers Aaron in near-frozen state, realizes he’s trapped inside the game. How does she save him? She’s never much cared for video games. Maybe the pizza guy can help. The clock is ticking. Together, they must beat the game.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from Scary Tales: Nightmareland.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from Scary Tales: Nightmareland.

Fan Mail Wednesday #180: Sorry, But Accidents Happen

 

 

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Okay, you guys know how to do this by now:

Hi, James – My students are loving your Scary Tales #1: Home Sweet Horror, but were astute enough to point out that your description of the basement stairs did not match the illustrations.  The stairs, according to the writing, have “no railing, nothing to grip,” yet both illustrations of the stairs clearly show a handrail/railing.  Pretty bright kids! (And, to think that I thought they weren’t paying attention!)

Have a great weekend!

Colleen 

I replied:

Colleen,

Thanks for sharing the book with them. Yes, your students are correct. Sometimes those kinds of miscommunications happen — I don’t get to see the illustrations until the art is finished and in place. Almost always too late for a correction. Sometimes it’s easier, if the mistake is caught in-house, to adjust the text. In which case I could have rewritten the description to include the railing, or just not mention it one way or another.

Sorry for the poor quality of my scan from pages 18-19. It cannot be denied: That sure looks like a hand rail to me. Art by Iacopo Bruno.

Sorry for the poor quality of my scan from pages 18-19. It cannot be denied: That sure looks like a hand rail to me. Art by Iacopo Bruno.

Because your students have been such great, attentive readers & listeners, they definitely should not have any homework tonight.

My best,

JP

 

Girl from the North Country

 

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I want to tell you a little bit about Annika, the pink-laced lass pictured above, whom I met on a recent visit to northern New York, or where locals refer to as “the North Country.”

During a period of downtime in the school library, Annika came to have her book signed. I had remembered her face from an earlier presentation. She had that kind of presence, the way she leaned in and listened. When I talk to a group, it’s natural to scan the gathered faces. The bored ones, the curious ones. I’m grateful when I find a student who is fully there, like a friend, smiling, enjoying it.

So now here she stood, still smiling, asking for me to sign her book. Of course, I was honored to do so. We got to talking. About movies and books and stuff. Neither of us in a particular hurry.

I later learned that Annika happened to be the daughter of the school librarian. “Ah,” I said, the pieces falling together. I was also informed that Annika was not merely an avid reader. She was a trapper, too. Like her daddy. “She earned $500 last winter,” her mother told me. “Skins ‘em herself, too.”

Really?

Oh, yes, really.

“She’s a real North Country girl,” her mother said. “Here, let me show you a photo . . .”

And so she did.

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That’s one of the reasons why I love to do school visits. They get me out of the house, out of my small world. I see new places, try to look around if I have some time, open my eyes a bit wider. Some days I get to meet seven-grade wonders like Annika, and I am always glad for it.

Meeting Annika reminded me of a favorite song by Bob Dylan, “Girl from the North County,” off the Freewheelin‘ LP.

The lyrics:

If you’re traveling the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine.

If you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see if she has a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds.

Please see if her hair hangs long
If it rolls and flows all down her breast
Please see for me if her hair’s hanging long
For that’s the way I remember her best.

I’m a-wonderin’ if she remembers me at all
Many times I’ve often prayed
In the darkness of my night
In the brightness of my day.

So if you’re travelin’ the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was the true love of mine.

Dylan wrote this song in 1962, soon after spending time with folksinger Martin Carthy, who introduced Dylan to a great many traditional English ballads. You can hear in the syntax of the lyrics, the entire setup of the song (the instructions to the listener, “If you’re traveling,”), and even in the song’s closing lines, borrowed verbatim from an old ballad, “Scarborough Fair,” later popularized by Simon & Garfunkel. Importantly, while the traditional lyrics of “Scarborough” call on the lost love to perform a series of impossible tasks, in Dylan’s tune he wishes only for her warmth and remembrance.

I love the understatement of this lyric, the quiet poetry, the things not said. Remember me to one who lives there. He wants to know, simply, that she has a coat to keep warm from the snow and howlin’ winds. He wants, only, for her to remember him, as he remembers her after all these years. Through time and absence and cold winds. Just beautiful.

 

Kids, Don’t Let This Happen To You: 3 Photographs

JP & Mom, '73

This would be yours truly, guessing age 12-13, circa 1973, and that’s my dear old Mom. In background, the Lincoln Memorial.

Yes, lots of hair. I know.

More recently, here I am on a school visit.

Time waits for no man.

I suppose I should be happy that I still have hair — some hair — any hair at all.

It is always a great sign when a school puts in the time and effort to decorate the halls in anticipation of an author visit. When I see stuff like that, I know they will be excited and prepared.

 

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Oh, and this is my daughter, Maggie, age 13, at the Bronx Zoo, riding a camel. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Not that it was Maggie, but I hope that you recognize a camel when you see one. For most of my life, the only camels I ever saw were on the cigarette packs that my parents smoked.

Hump Day came on Thursday this week.

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Student Artwork: A Riot of Zombies to Celebrate an Author Visit

If I’ve said it a hundred times . . .

Authors don’t do school visits.

Schools do author visits.

I arrived home last night after a brief trip to New York State’s magnificient North Country — Chaumont and Clayton specifically — where I enjoyed visits to two wonderful schools.

I’m on deadline, late with a manuscript, so don’t have much time to dilly-dally today. Or not as much as usual. However, I am free to dither. Mostly I want to share some student artwork with you.

I have no idea what might have inspired students to create their own zombie art.

I have no idea what might have inspired students to create their own zombie art.

The art comes from the Lyme Central School in Chaumont, one of those cozy K-12 schools you sometimes see in less populated areas. My visit was organized by the incredible Linda Lepper, who assured me that this was not her first rodeo. In fact, I was the 28th author that Linda had invited to visit the school. Or maybe I was the 27th, not sure.

In any event, Linda finally worked her way down, down, down the list and got to me.

This is a school where they really embrace an author visit. There are activities all week, posters, art, themes, games, quizzes, and on and on. By the time I arrived, the students were prepared and enthusiastic. For my part, I spoke to four distinct groups: Grades 1-2, Grades 6-8, PreK-K (mini version), and Grades 3-5. Quite a range, which helped keep things fresh and fun for me. It’s a different show every time, folks.

To prepare for my visit,  many students created artwork, which was displayed throughout the school. A lot of them focused on zombies:

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And from the younger grades, a brilliant spin on my “Pirate’s Guide” series. In this case, those rapscallions are concerned with water safety.

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Caption reads: Never dive in shallow water.

Caption reads: Never dive in shallow water.

Thank you, students at Lyme Central. I’m sorry I couldn’t share all your work, but there’s only so much space available on the internet. And thank you most of all, Linda Lepper and all the teachers and staff at your warm, clean, well-lighted school.

Fan Mail Wednesday #179: Asking “What If?” Questions

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Uh-huh, yes, you are correct. It is that time again, where I share with you a letter from a fan, along with my answer.

Past visitors might notice that I changed the furniture around, bought new drapes. This blog got its start back in 2008 and it was time for a new look. Some tweaks may still be in order.

Here’s a letter from Natalie, who was kind enough to include art work, which always makes my day.

Fan mail, natalie & art

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I replied:

 

Dear Natalie:

Thanks for your letter and, most especially, your brilliant artwork. I recognized the scene immediately, from when Jigsaw, Ralphie, and Mila pull a prank on Ralphie’s brother, Justin.

“I can make this bucket of water stick like magic to the ceiling. Want to see?”

It’s cool that you make ghost traps, too. Have you ever caught one? That would be pretty awesome. Or terrifying, I’m not sure.

The simple question — “What if?” — is so important for a writer. What if a girl named Natalie set a ghost trap . . . and it worked? Imagine that. What happens next?

Since you like “spooky and action stories,” you might want to check out my new series, SCARY TALES, which should be just perfect for readers who are ready to move beyond Jigsaw Jones. The stories are not hard to read, but I should warn you that there are some thrills and chills and creepy parts. Not everybody likes that stuff, while other people –- such as my daughter, Maggie –- can’t get enough. The creepier, the better! Maggie helped inspire the main character in SCARY TALES #2: I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM.

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Each book is different, new characters, new settings, but each one promises to make your heart beat faster. Boom, boom, boom. Don’t they look great?

The fourth book in the “Scary Tales” Series, NIGHTMARELAND, is due to come out in June, 2104. The fifth book, THE ONE-EYED DOLL, comes out in October, in time for Halloween.

Be well, and keep reading!

Your friend,

James Preller

 

Then This Happened: “Bystander” in Greek

Out of nowhere, without any discussion, I received in the mail three copies of a Greek translation of BYSTANDER.

I have the same-old standard observation about books: You just never know. Sometimes the world shrugs, indifferent. Books go out-of-print faster than ever these days. Not just the crummy ones, either. Other times, certain books take on a life of their own. Bucking the trend, BYSTANDER has actually managed to grow in popularity over the past several years.

You write a book, do the best you can, and release it into the world. You’ll need some luck, some help, and maybe some more luck. I grateful for this success — and I love seeing my name spelled out in Greek, where they use an entirely different alphabet.

I did not secretly, diabolically, hatch a plot for world domination. But, hey, I’d gladly settle for one measly Greek island (surely hey’ve got one to spare). Corfu, anyone?

The Circle of Life: A Little Red Bird Meets My Wife, Driving a Car

This morning my wife, Lisa, and daughter, Maggie (13), pulled into our driveway after an energizing run. What a great way to start the day.

Lisa, alas, did not notice the cardinal that was moving awkwardly on the pavement. Or, I guess, Lisa just expected that it would fly away. Most birds do. This one did not. Splat.

Maggie said, “Mama? Did you just . . . ?”

Our daughter was upset. Well on her way to becoming a young woman, Maggie was suddenly a little girl again, traumatized, struggling to understand.

“Mama?”

The poor bird had no chance against a Toyota Camry.

In the car, there was a pause. Maggie distraught, in disbelief.

Lisa thinking, “Uh-oh.”

My wife steps out of the car to see what’s to be done, figuring it will involve a shovel and a garbage can and perhaps a few years of therapy for the aforementioned Maggie. Insurance almost certainly won’t cover it.

Suddenly a large black crow swoops down, grabs the splattered cardinal in its beak, and flies off.

Bye-bye, birdie.

Maggie catatonic now, sputtering, “Mama? Mama?”

Two minutes later, our friend across the street texted Lisa: “What did that bird have in its mouth? Something red? You hit it? Then the crow swooped in? Sorry she witnessed that.”

Damn, a witness!

Good morning, folks. Carry on.

Nothing to see here, nothing at all.

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