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Love Your College Essay

LOVE YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY

I Can Help As Your Writing Coach!

 

 

No one needs to tell you the importance of the college application essay. Put simply, it will influence the decision between “yes” or “no.”

Facing this task, any student might feel apprehensive. And when you consider that the act of writing is challenging under any circumstances, the “personal narrative” essay can be downright paralyzing.

How do you even begin?

I can help.

As your writing coach, I can make your essay assignment less daunting, and the process more enjoyable. Step by step, we will brainstorm possible topics, outline a rough draft, and go through the revision process using Google Docs until you’ve achieved a clear, effective, well-written essay.

College admission officers understand that you can’t be measured solely by the sum of your GPA results and standardized test scores. They already have that data. By reading your application essay, they are seeking a glimpse into the real you. They want to read your story, get a sense of the kind of person you are.

As a father and professional writer, it would be a pleasure to work with you as your writing coach. I can’t write your college application essay for you –- it’s your story, your life –- but I can help you zero in on the right topic, offers tips for narrative-style writing, edit your essay throughout the revision process, and enable you to create a final, polished product that makes readers smile. 

Most of all, I want you to be proud of your final essay — I want you to love it — and to feel that it authentically reflects your thoughts, values, and experiences. This is your moment to shine.

 

JAMES PRELLER lives in Delmar, NY, and is the father of three children (ages 17, 19, and 25), who have been accepted into Geneseo, George Washington, Berklee College of Music, and Brown. He has worked as a professional writer since 1986, and has published more than 80 books for young people, from picture books to young adult novels. He’s the author of the “Jigsaw Jones” and “Scary Tales” series, as well as Bystander,The Courage Test, and more. You may email him at jamespreller@aol.com. Or call, or text 518-428-0590.

 


COST

The total fee is $250. I charge a $75 consultation fee up front, at the time of our first meeting. If you decide to continue on with me, that $75 will be absorbed in the $250 fee (meaning you’ll only owe $175 upon completion). I live in Delmar, NY. Please contact me at Jamespreller@aol.com. Thanks!

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18 TIPS FOR WRITING YOUR NARRATIVE-STYLED COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY

 

The techniques and strategies for writing a strong college admissions essay share traits that are characteristic of good writing in general.

 

1) Try to begin with a mini-story: select a specific moment in your life.

2) Set the scene, using the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when, why.

3) One excellent strategy is to clearly show how you faced a problem or conflict -– an accident, a challenge, a failure, a crisis, an obstacle, a major life change –- and then discuss how you handled that problem.

4) Be conscious, as the essay develops, of which personal trait you are striving to highlight: your independence, determination, resourcefulness, creativity, leadership, courage, idealism, playfulness, perfectionism, confidence, tolerance, compassion, etc. (This ties into how you handled the problem, what you learned from the experience, and possibly even what you hope to study in college.)

5) Use clear, direct, natural language.

6) Write the essay that only you can write (this ties into specific memories, moments in your life).

7) Be specific, use concrete details.

8) Don’t try too hard to impress; don’t list your accomplishments; know that your flaws and insecurities will add likeability to your story.

9) Avoid excessive adverbs and adjectives: don’t gild the lily.

10) When drafting, start long, write freely, get ideas down on the page; you can always cut later (length should never exceed 650 words).

11) Yes, absolutely include dialogue if appropriate; feel free to use all the tools available to a novelist.

12) Humor is always good, but not necessary, don’t force it.

13) Write in the first person.

14) Stick with the past tense.

15) Open up, express your inner thoughts and feelings, allow your vulnerability to come through.

16) At the conclusion, close the circle: tell the reader what you’ve learned, i.e., the reason for sharing your story in the first place.

17) Imagine a reader after he finished your essay: What did s/he learn about you? Does s/he like you?

18) And remember, there are no iron-clad rules for good writing -– but there are many useful guidelines. Break them at your own risk!

 

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17 TERRIFIC QUOTES FROM THE BOOK, On Writing the College Application Essay, by Harry Bauld

 

“The essay, unlike other parts of your application, is in your complete control and an opportunity to show admissions officers who you are.”

 

“[Your Essay is] unlike anything you’ve ever done and for an audience that you can’t (and may never) see.”

 

”Your first job –- not to put the admissions officer to sleep with your essay.”

 

“There are no good or bad topics, just good or bad essays.”

 

“Don’t focus on what are ‘they’ looking for? Instead focus on – what do you have to say? That’s what they want to hear.”

 

“Write something only you can write. Your essay should have a style as distinctive as your speaking voice. The problem with most essays is that they could have been written by anyone.”

 

“A college essay is an informal, or familiar piece. Don’t think of the college essay as school-related writing. It’s not a history or English paper, loosen up. Write in a natural tone and style –- a kind of inspired conversation.”

 

“Use stories and pieces of stories (anecdotes) to bring your work to life. An incident, a bit of conversation, a few vivid characters can make the difference between a lifeless piece and one that sings.”

 

Your memories are the foundation of what only you can write. Memories are your story. Think of early childhood memories and ask: how does this memory reflect who I am now?”

 

“The shape of an essay emerges through your writing, often after the first draft.”

 

“Don’t use ‘in conclusion’ or ‘finally’ or ‘in summation.’”

 

“Beginning and ending speak to each other.”

 

“What kind of tone should you use in your college essay? Whatever suits you. The mood grows out of the subject and the writer’s authentic feeling about it. Use a natural voice.”

 

“Inflated language does not make you smarter, it makes you sound pretentious.”

 

“Good writing knows the names of things.”

 

“Less is more, simplify your sentences.”

 

“Admissions people often disagree in their evaluation of essays. Different readers, even in the same admissions office, look for different things. How can you please them? You can’t. Say what you have to say.”


 

OKAY, YOU’VE GOTTEN THIS FAR . . .
HOW DO YOU AND I BEGIN WORKING TOGETHER?

 

The truth is, I love the personal narrative essay — everyone, even adults, should write one every five years. It’s just a good, positive way to reflect on your life. 
I strongly prefer to begin at the beginning, getting together for a meeting at a coffee shop or library or, if distance is an issue, via FaceTime, Skype, or some other means. We talk about the essay in general, get comfortable with each other, discuss ideas, select a topic, and try to form a rough outline, or even, if we’re lucky, come up with an opening sentence. To me, those are important steps. Some students (and many parents!) have misguided ideas about what the essay should be. However, you may be farther along in the process and that can be okay, too. If you are happy with your topic, and already have a rough draft, the easiest way to begin would be to share it on Google Docs. At that point, we could decide whether we wish to proceed together or not.
I realize the essay can begin to feel like a chore, another thing you have to do, but I find that it’s valuable to reflect on your life, to tell a story that reveals your character, your values, your inspirations. All the stuff that can’t be expressed by test scores and grades. Here, you are in complete control.
Essays are usually better about small things than big ones. Specific moments rather than, say, big generalities. I’ve worked with students who wrote about their favorite song, love of the water, sibling relationship, working as a cashier at a grocery store, finding his voice as a musician, being a twin, taking a risk, wanting a career in the military, and so on. I think in some ways my recent favorite was the song, because it was light & happy and perfectly reflected the upbeat personality of the student.
Think of it this way: an essay can do 3 things in 650 words: 1) show that you are a likeable person; 2) show that you can write — and think — well; 3) show some kind of growth and self-awareness. It is show AND tell. An essay, not a short story. For example: You can write a beautiful scene about doing yoga on Sunday mornings. And that’s lovely. But the question that has to be answered by every writer is: So what? Why are you telling me this story? Often writers are initially stumped by that question. The writers might sense it’s important to them, but they aren’t sure why. This is where we have to dig deeper, think harder.
Importantly, I’ll help you stay on track, moving forward. We want this thing to be good and, yes, for you to be able to put it behind you. Done! So in this way it helps parents, too.
After we agree on a topic and an approach, you write a first draft. Hopefully it’s far too long. I’ll send that back with comments,  suggestions. I usually start big picture (macro) before line editing (micro). Then a second draft. We might do another round of that or move to a more refined “polish.”. It’s important that this is your essay, your thoughts, your voice. You have to be happy with it. Essentially: two-three revisions usually gets us there. A lot depends on the work you put into it. However, this shouldn’t be a task that kills anyone. We want to get it done. Right?
My goal is for you to write an essay that you love. An essay that makes you proud, that shows you in a positive light.
All good things!
James Preller

 

Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar

 

UPDATE: I am reposting this from six years back. This book — like every Jigsaw Jones title — subsequently went out of print. Hard to find. I’m told that dedicated fans have success on eBay and Craig’s List. The good news is that Macmillan has contracted to bring eight classic titles back into circulation, beginning this August. I’ve also written a brand new mystery, The Case from Outer Space. And I’d gladly write another if anyone asks. To date, there are no plans for Snowboarding Superstar. 

 

As part of a continuing (read: sporadic) series of posts, I take a look back at old Jigsaw Jones titles with the intention of providing my Nation of Readers with more “extra juicy” background info.

If you are like me, you might gag at the thought of yet another writer describing his “creative process.” There is something oh-so-wearying about it. The phrase, “Don’t be a gasbag,” leaps to mind. But let’s see if I can pull this off without too much self-aggrandizement. The simple truth is that I am proud of this series and I sometimes (often?) wonder how much longer they’ll be around. I see this blog as document, as archive.

Today’s title is seasonally appropriate, Jigsaw Jones #29: The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar. It begins with Jigsaw chatting with two of his brothers, Daniel and Nick, as they prepare for a family ski vacation.

Some background: My father was a veteran of World War II, who returned home, got married, went to college on the G.I. Bill — a great investment by the Federal Government, by the way — and looked with my mother for a nice place to settle down and raise a family. Suburbia, preferably. He found a newly-built home in Wantagh, Long Island, designed after the Levittown model (for a fascinating history on that, click here). They bought a three-bedroom house for somewhere along the lines of $12,500.

One problem: My parents kept having children. Seven in all. It got crowded. At one point when I was still quite young, my folks slept in the back bedroom, my two sisters (Barbara and Jean) shared a small room, three boys had the front room (John, Al, me), and my father turned the garage into a bedroom for the oldest boys (Neal and Bill). I have strong memories of those early childhood days, sharing that crowded room with two big and somewhat mysterious brothers.

Below, here’s my whole family except for Mom, 1967. We always dressed that way! I shared a bedroom with the two goons on the right — don’t let the ties fool you.

The dynamic in the book’s first chapter, with two older brothers schooling Jigsaw, springs directly from my sense of those times.

They are teaching Jigsaw how to talk cool, in the snowboarder’s hipster jargon:

“Let us quiz you, Jigsaw,” Nick said. “What do you call someone if you don’t know their name?”

I thought for a moment. “Dude,” I answered.

“Excellent!” Nick cheered. “What’s a face-plant?”

“It’s when you fall into the snow face-first.”

“Awesome, Jigsaw,” Daniel said. “Totally gnarly!”

“Gnarly?” I asked. “What’s that?”

“It means very, very cool,” Nick explained. “Do you smell me?”

I sniffed, confused. “What?”

“Do you smell me?” Nick repeated. “It means, do you understand?”

“Not exactly,” I groaned.

In the next chapter, Jigsaw gets to try out his new language skills on Mila Yeh, his partner and best friend:

“I’m jealous,” Mila complained. “I wish I were going  on a ski trip.”

“Snowboarding,” I corrected her.

“It sounds hard,” Mila said. “I hear that beginners fall down a lot.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I think it will be sick.”

“Sick?” Mila asked. “Who’s sick?”

“Not who,” I said. “It. Snowboarding will be sick.”

Mila frowned. “I don’t get it.”

“It’s the opposite of wack,” I explained.

Okaaay,” Mila murmured.

“Do you smell me?” I asked.

Mila sniffed. “Well, now that you mention it, you do smell a little ripe.”

Don’t they have a nice friendship? Anyway, some random things:

* I loved the setup for the book, with Jigsaw away from Mila for the first time. It gave the book a different shape — and put Jigsaw in a tough situation. After all, this was #29 in the series, so I was eager to find new ways to keep it fresh. I know that some successful series, like The Magic Tree House, tend to follow a more rigid formula. And I understand the reasons why that’s appealing and reassuring for young readers. But it just wasn’t me. For better and for worse, I kept trying to mix things up.

* Mila mentions to Jigsaw that she’s practicing for a piano recital. Her song will be “The Maple Leaf Rag.” This comes from my son, Gavin, who also played that song in a recital.

* Grams and Billy are left behind to “mind the fort.” This expression, used by Mr. Jones, was something my father commonly said. I love his old verbal habits, the phrases he often used, and I try to keep them alive as best as I can — more than ever now that he’s gone. It’s a way of keeping that connection alive. I hear those phrases and think of Dad, all the more so when his words come out of my mouth.

* I once edited a book on snowboarding, written by Joe Layden. I learned a lot about the sport in the process, so it was comfortable territory for me to explore in the context of a Jigsaw Jones mystery.

In my story, a star snowboarder named Lance Mashman (love that name!) is at the lodge for an upcoming exhibition. However, someone steals his lucky bandanna — and with it, his confidence. While working on No Limits, I was impressed by many of the top female snowboarders, such as Shannon Dunn and Victoria Jealouse. They had a vitality and strength that inspired me, qualities I love to see in my own daughter. Also, they conveyed a refreshing take on competition, much different than you normally hear in the context of traditional athletics. So I invented the character of Tara Gianopolis, a rival to Lance, and a very cool young woman:

Illustration by Jamie Smith — crudely scanned.

“But you two compete against each other,” I said. “You are enemies . . . .”

Tara shook her head. “Man, you don’t know much about snowboarders, do you? This isn’t like football or basketball. We’re athletes, but we’re just trying to be the best we can be. It’s about nailing a backside rodeo or pulling off a perfect McTwist. It’s not about winning medals or beating people. It’s about freedom and creativity.”

“So you don’t care if you win?” I asked.

“I care, I guess,” Tara said with a shrug. “But as long as I ride well, I’m okay with whatever happens.”

* One of the suspects turns out to be Lance’s manager, Bubba Barbo, named in honor of my former editor, Maria Barbo. Once again, that’s a great aspect of writing mysteries. The genre forces the detective out into the world, this moral compass encountering life, making observations, going places, meeting new people all the time. As a series writer, that holds tremendous appeal — new characters in every book. Here’s a snippet from a conversation between Jigsaw and Bubba:

“It sounds like you think Lance is annoying,” I commented.

Bubba growled. “I don’t think he’s annoying. Lance is annoying. He’s always late. He drives me up a wall and across the ceiling.”

“You don’t like him?” I asked.

Bubba made a face. “Whaddaya, kidding? I love the kid,” he said. “Lance has talent. He’s a genius on a snowboard. A great athlete. And besides that, Lance has heart. He’s good people. You know what I’m saying?”

Yes, I knew what Bubba was saying. “I heard that he fired you this morning,” I said.

Bubba stepped back, surprised. Then he laughed out loud. “Lance fires me every week and twice on Sunday,” Bubba claimed. “It doesn’t mean anything. We’re a team.”

 

5 QUESTIONS with MATT PHELAN, Graphic Novelist and Creator of “Snow White”

 

Welcome to “5 Questions,” where the number 5 is conceptual rather than literal. Today we feature one of the most acclaimed graphic novelists working in children’s books today, Matt Phelan.

 

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Yo, Matt, I’m over here. Yeah, no, look this way. It’s just weird with you staring off into the distance like that. I’m literally right here. Fine, whatever, let’s just get through this. Take us back to the period before the idea came for this book. Is there a “between books” stage for you, when you are not exactly sure what’s next? Is that stressful? Are you walking around with your antenna up, hoping for lightning to strike? Or do you keep a spare file of “BRILLIANT IDEAS” by your bedside for just such occasions?

My mind tends to wander quite a bit, so I often have new ideas percolating when I should be focused on the book at hand. I have notes for Snow White going back ten years when I was pitching Storm in the Barn. I have a few ideas on low simmer now that I hope to get to eventually.

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That’s how I feel about painting my living room and front hallway (and upstairs bathroom, and guest bedroom, and). It’s all on low simmer. But for you that simmer reached a boiling point. Was there a specific moment, or an image, that came to you? Why that particular period in New York City?

I was thinking about apple peddlers in the Great Depression (as one does) . . .

Naturally.

. . . and my brain connected that with the stepmother in “Snow White.” I sketched an image of a busy street, people racing by, with a single young woman stopped in her tracks before an old hag holding out an apple. I liked that idea so much that I began to think of more parallels for elements in the tale if they were set in the early 1930s.

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Yes, that’s part of the book’s pleasure. It’s cool how you re-imagined the seven dwarfs, for example, as street urchins. In that case, you had to find a balance between making that allusion, but not turning those boys into cardboard stand-ins for Grumpy and Sneezy and Bashful, and so on.

The Seven came to me early on, inspired in part by the Dead End Kids from the movies of the 30s and 40s. But considering their situation –- orphans, runaways hiding in alleys and warehouses at night –- I realized that withholding their names would be of utmost importance to them. That was a clear contrast to the Disney film, where if you remember anything, it’s probably the names of the dwarves. I did give the boys some of the same personality traits in passing, so it would be fun for the reader to make those connections.

The Dead End Kids.

The Dead End Kids.

Those translocations are so much fun. The equivalencies aren’t absolute. It’s not, oh, this kid equals Sleepy. But, well, he does look a little tired.

Bringing the elements of the story like the seven dwarves into the time period started as an exercise, but the more I thought about it, the more I became invested in the characters and what I could maybe bring to this ancient story.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? The challenge in any retelling is to answer that essential question every artist must face, for any work of art: “So what?” In your case, I think you were able to explore a familiar story, turn it around, pull it apart, and discover new elements. Upon reflection, what did you learn about the story of “Snow White” in the process of your work? Did anything surprise you?

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I was surprised about how much it started to mean to me on an emotional level. The scene where the boys reveal their names to Snow became the whole reason to do this book. For me, the book is about how there is more goodness in the world than evil, that there is beauty everywhere despite how bleak things may seem. I wrote the story three years ago, but it sadly seems very timely and relevant today.

I recently wrote my first road trip book, and one of the best things about it, as an author, was that I knew when/where the story was going to end. It’s comforting to know where you are in terms of beginning, middle, and end. You enjoyed a similar luxury in this case.

Yes. I agree. It was refreshing to have a framework to the plot from the start. But the story is so solid that it also allows for invention within that framework.

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Your book benefits from our familiarity with the classic story. Everybody knows it. That known structure gave you more freedom to pick your spots, skip over the boring bits. You didn’t have to fill in every blank space. Would you agree with that?

Absolutely. I also use “chapter headings” which look more like title cards in a silent movie. That device acts as a dramatic shorthand. I could write “Late Night at the Butcher’s” and I’ve already set up not only the setting but an idea of what is going to happen there.

I agree, that was an effective device, a pause but also a jump-cut into the next scene. Hey, it had to be fun killing off the evil queen-slash-stepmother. In the movie that’s such a tense, dramatic scene. The seven dwarfs are not cuddly and cute in that surging, swelling scene; there’s murder in their hearts. The origin material was dark. That had to a challenge for you, to meet that big climatic moment head on. Were you particularly pleased on the day you figured out she’d not only get electrocuted . . . but she could fall off the building as well. Well done, sir!

My ending plays off the Disney one which I think they changed for good reason. In the original Grimm, the stepmother is invited to Snow’s wedding only to find that Snow orders her to dance to her death whilst wearing burning iron shoes (for the amusement of the wedding party). A tad sadistic for our heroine, I think. Disney used lightning, but I opted for her to go up in lights on the marquee of the Ziegfeld theater. The fall was probably a nod to King Kong now that I think of it.

How do you make these paintings? How many are there? I ask because my sense is that when I look at some graphic novels, many individual images appear rushed, unfinished. But in Snow White, I can see –- I think –- the deep care and commitment to every single image. It’s so impressive.

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I use traditional media: pencil, ink, and watercolor on watercolor paper. I’ve made it a rule since my first graphic novel to never ever count how many individual panels are in the book. Each panel is a painting, maybe three to six per page, more than two hundred pages . . . it’s a lot. 

Right, it’s one of those deals where if you knew in advance, if your really calculated the amount of work, it would be hard to get started. Like taking your kids on their first hike. “Don’t worry, kids, it’ll be fun!”

Yeah, the “hike” is not about the number of steps it takes. It’s all part of the greater whole. I wanted each panel to have the correct mood and atmosphere, but at the same time I never wanted one particular panel to cause a reader to stop and dwell on it. I want you to keep moving. Pace is important.

And pace is mostly a function of layout, right? The decision of multi-panel spreads compared to, say, a strong single image. At what point do you make those design decisions?

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The actual sizes of the panels are decided when I’m doing the first loose thumbnail drawings. You are correct about size and number of panels dictating pace. It’s like a musical score, in a way. For Snow White, I did try something a bit different, in that each page was drawn completely fresh on a blank sheet of paper. I had rough sketches to inspire me, but I did not enlarge the sketches and use them on a light-box as a guide like I’ve done before. By drawing it again fresh, I hoped to catch the energy and life of the sketches. If it was wrong, I just drew it again. Watercolor is also a great way to give your paintings energy and unpredictability. It’s hard to completely plan or fix a watercolor painting. You get what you get. That’s an exciting way to work.

I relate that to music. A belief in the positive value of raw performance — live in the studio — including the messiness of it. Rather than, say, polishing a song to perfection. Something vital gets lost in the refinement. The flawed version is somehow better.

I couldn’t agree more. I’d rather listen to something with mistakes played like the musicians’ lives depended on it than a supremely polished “perfect” performance. I’ll take the Replacements over Steely Dan any day.

I know you love music. Do you listen when you paint? Did this book have a specific soundtrack, or sonic influences?

I listen to music when painting and maybe during the writing (but only instrumental music). I do make playlists for the books. Snow White’s playlist had some leftovers from Bluffton, plus soundtracks like Bernard Herrmann’s score for The Magnificent Ambersons and Max Steiner’s great score for King Kong. I also included The Jazz Age, a recent record by the Bryan Ferry Orchestra that arranges Roxy Music songs in a hot jazz style. It’s brilliant.

Yes! I have The Jazz Age. At first I wasn’t too keen on the idea, it felt gimmicky, but then I heard it. Good times. I’ll have to explore the scores by Herrmann and Steiner. Thanks for the tip, Matt Phelan!

 

614852MATT PHELAN does a great job with his website, which he stores somewhere on the interwebs. You can visit for free, but like the Hotel California, you may never leave. Matt splits his efforts between graphic novels (The Storm in the Barn, Bluffton, Around the World), picture books (Marilyn’s Monster, Xander’s Panda Party, and more), and whatever else inspires his attention. Like, oh, listening to Replacements records.

 

 

ABOUT THE “5 Questions” Interview Series: It’s a side project I’ve assigned myself, hoping to reach 52 authors & illustrators in the course of a year, always focusing on one book. 

Scheduled for future dates, in no particular order: Bruce Coville, London Ladd, Lizzy Rockwell, Jeff Mack, Matt Faulkner, and more. To find past interviews, click on the “5 Questions” link on the right sidebar, under CATEGORIES, and scroll till your heart’s content. Or use the handy SEARCH option. 

Guest so far:

1) Hudson Talbott, “From Wolf to Woof”

2) Hazel Mitchell, “Toby”

3) Susan Hood, “Ada’s Violin

4) Matthew McElligott, “Mad Scientist Academy: The Weather Disaster”

5) Jessica Olien, “The Blobfish Book”

6) Nancy Castaldo, “The Story of Seeds”

7) Aaron Becker, “Journey”

8) Matthew Cordell, “Wish”

9) Jeff Newman, “Can One Balloon Make an Elephant Fly?”

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 . . .”

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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

 

Check Out the German Edition of “BEFORE YOU GO.”

There’s really not a whole lot to like about writers, frankly. We tend to self-obsess. For example, try as I might to avoid it, I’ll sometimes wander over to Amazon.com to check out how James Preller, Inc., is making out in the sales ranks.

Then I look for Kentucky’s finest and tell myself that it’s never been about sales. It’s about writing from the heart, it’s about doing good work, it’s about . . . (and around that time I usually push aside the glass and just grab the stinking bottle).

I’m kidding folks!

But on a recent sojourn to the land of Amazonians, I discovered this:

What is it? It’s the German-language, ebook edition of Before You Go. And I have to say: I add NO IDEA there was a German anything for this book. Some people might assume that authors know about this stuff — that we’re consulted — but, nope, that’s not how the world works for most (if not all?) authors.

Mostly I’m just happy there’s an ebook German edition in the first place. That’s the sum total of my emotions on the topic: I’m cool with it.

Also, it’s interesting to see a different cover design. One early idea that I floated for the cover of Before You Go was to do something with real models, very loosely based on the classic Bruce Springsteen cover shot for “Born to Run.” Remember that? It was a groovy, wrap-around, gate-fold deal, and one of the great rock covers ever, in my opinion. Just look:

I saw Jude and Corey filling in for Bruce and Clarence. The black and white thing, the dynamic of friendship, the comfortable leaning on each other relationship, in a phrase: best buds. Another obvious approach for the cover was something with a beach setting. (Supposedly when the designer looked at that approach, it was deemed “too girl” for this book, though I never saw those treatments, and they were probably right, since “too girl” was not what we were going for.) Instead my publisher created something dark and moody with a traffic light, which was pretty arresting, too, and totally unexpected. Then they informed me that it was going to be the cover. The decision had been made. Thinking fast, I said, “Okay!”

I tell you this, Dear Reader, not at all in complaint. I’ve always maintained that this blog was about pulling back the curtain in the land of Oz, showing how it really works for a guy exactly (precisely) like me. There’s not a whole lot of consulting going on. You write the book. And the inside of the book, I think, is yours. But the cover, that’s the publisher’s. And you must trust that everyone working on the book — and there are many smart, dedicated people working on “our” book —  will do the best job they can in publishing it. So you say, “Thank you very much,” and in my case, you mean it. You truly are thankful, grateful, happy.

It doesn’t mean that I love everything all the time. It’s not in my nature to love everything all the time. That sounds awful. Making a book is a collaborative process, with the editor as the central person who touches on every aspect. I just write the damn thing.