Tag Archive for Blood Mountain Preller

Interview Highlights: About BLOOD MOUNTAIN, and Introducing Ranger McCone

I was recently interviewed by Caroline Starr Rose over at her outstanding website, brimming with fascinating resources. Caroline is a gifted author and a generous spirit. A kind person, you know? She’s all about books and classroom connections and finding ways to make a difference. Please check out her space over there. And her books. Meanwhile, let’s please get back to me, please!

          

Here’s a sampling of my interview with Caroline, who blogged it a couple of weeks back. For the full interview, and a shortcut to Caroline’s world, just jump up and down on this link here.

 

 

What inspired you to write this story?

I published my first book in 1986. Over that period, more than half my life, I’ve discovered that what first inspires a story often gets left in the dust as the research and the writing begins in earnest. New inspirations take hold. Unimagined pathways open up, as long as the writer is still open to the unexpected.

Early on I had the basic setup of siblings lost in the wilderness, along with a vague idea of a hermit, possibly a veteran with PTSD, lurking nearby. At the time, I wasn’t sure what his story would be. I wanted the book to be tense, scary in parts, tightly plotted, riveting, and beautifully written. I held onto the idea that the person who saves you, might turn out to be your worst nightmare. Somewhere along the line my editor suggested a dog. Um, okay! And around this point it dawned on me that I had an awful lot to learn in order to do justice to this story. So I read books. About trees. About survival. About the psychology of getting lost. About veterans with PTSD. About dogs and how they think (I was determined to avoid the Disney-dog cliché; I wanted my dog, Sitka, to be authentic as a dog.) I learned about mountain lions.

Along the way, I told my editor, Liz Szabla, that I might maybe miss the deadline. And I did miss it — by a full year. Liz was cool with it. When it comes to publishing, I believe that all anyone cares about in the end is the finished book. No one reads a disappointing book and thinks, “Well, at least she hit her deadlines!” It just happened that Blood Mountain required extra time for me to think and learn and daydream. I filled a journal with notes, became overwhelmed with ideas and strategies, lost my way, fumbled in thickets. Along the way, I contacted a Forest Ranger, Megan McCone, who proved enormously helpful in terms of making the actions and thoughts of the ranger appropriate and accurate. All of those inspirations fed directly into the final book. Best writing experience ever.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

I simply had so much learn. Because “kind of knowing” isn’t good enough. For example, I wanted to introduce the hermit, John, in a powerful and unsettling way. So readers first encounter him with a large knife in his hand, field dressing a squirrel. I had to learn about slingshots and hypothermia and

 

New York Ranger Megan McCone served both as inspiration and valuable source of information. I owe her so much.

aviation extractions. And about how people who get lost behave –- the mistakes they make, the thought processes they typically go through, and the things they do that determine whether they live or die.

Most interesting, for me, was when I reached out to Eric Lahr at the Department of Environmental Conservation, who put me in contact with Forest Ranger Megan McCone. Megan was enormously helpful across several long phone conversations. She graciously volunteered to read the first draft of the book, making comments throughout. To me, this was not only a great pleasure, Megan helped me bring truth, the verisimilitude of small details, to this made-up story.

 

Things I Kind of Hate: “You Guys Are Like Rock Stars!”

Maybe “hate” is too strong. I know so many terrific people — usually librarians and teachers — my peeps! — we’re talking the best people — who mean it as the highest compliment. Heck, my sister said it just the other day. She was trying to be nice. Who am I to complain?

Just the curmudgeon I’ve always been, I suppose. A prickly pear. Hey, you kids, get off the lawn!

But, come on, rock stars? Is that all you’ve got?

Children’s authors and illustrators are way cooler than rock stars.

Okay, most rock stars. Almost all of them, actually.

Patti Smith would be tough to top, granted, but I’m trying to make a point here.

I mean, who really cares about rock stars anymore? We’re more interested in chefs and Youtubers these days. Have you looked around at our world? Who are we talking about anyway? Jon Bon Jovi and his spray tan? 

I admit there’s still enthusiasm among the masses for a certain sort of media-hyped “pop” star: Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, I suppose. Kendrick is cool. Rhianna, I like her.

So maybe that would be okay. I visit a school — there’s a pulse of anticipation in the building — and a kind librarian might smile and explain, “You’re like Beyonce to them.”

Oh yeah, I am. #iwokeuplikethis.

I suppose that wouldn’t be exactly true. Can’t quite match those Instagram views. Apples, oranges, old prunes.

Sidenote #1: My friend Susan is a pediatric oncological nurse. She works with kids who have cancer. It’s probably the hardest, most rewarding job I can imagine. My oldest child is a two-time cancer survivor. I tear up just thinking about those nurses. True fact! Today a friend commented that pediatric oncological nurses are like — you guessed it — rock stars! Oh, please. They are light years cooler and braver and and stronger and more loving than any rock star on the planet.

We need to stop giving rock stars so much credit.

Let’s come up with a better cliche.

We’re writers and artists who have dedicated our work to young readers. That’s what we do. Doesn’t make us heroes or worthy of putting up on a platform. Hopefully we do good work, inspire young minds, make a small difference in the world. Not really better than anybody else. Except, of course, lawyers, because they’re the worst.

We haven’t written “Louie, Louie” or “Satisfaction,” but we did come up with The Giver and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Ghost and Hello, Universe and Wonder and Coraline and The Tale of Desperaux and Go, Dog, Go and Wolf in the Snow and P.S. Be Eleven and Last Stop on Market Street and They All Saw a Cat and on and on and on.

Let’s see rock stars compete with that greatest hits package. Maybe someday in the future a band will get a standing ovation in Madison Square Garden. Just bring down the house. The place totally bananas. And somebody will rush up to say, intending the highest compliment, “You’re like Lois Lowry to them!”

 

My newest novel, Blood Mountain, is due out October 10th where fine books are sold. And, sure, it’s okay if you want to compare me to a rock star. I know what you mean. Thanks.

 

BLOOD MOUNTAIN, Excerpt: “They are lost, but are they alone?”

How do you share excerpts of a book without giving anything away? You don’t include the really good parts, I guess. Oh well! Here’s two super-short early chapters (most chapters are much longer than these two, but almost all 67 chapters come in under four pages each), just as Grace and Carter are beginning to get the sense that something’s amiss.

I spent a fair amount of time researching “lost” experiences, including analysis by experts of the common mistakes hikers make in those situations. A ranger I worked with, who advised me throughout the writing process, talked about the three directives: “Stay put, stay warm, stay dry.” 

Folks who get themselves seriously lost tend to miss signs, get distracted, keep going. They are often goal oriented — they push themselves and don’t listen to their bodies. Fear and weariness begin to cloud their decisions. And then, suddenly, there they are: nowhere. Later in the book I explore the qualities that survivors tend to possess, the attitudes and actions that keep them alive while others in similar situations don’t make it. We see that most clearly in Grace, who, like the song, is amazing.

 

 

7

 

[Hold Up]

 

The day gets colder, dampness clings to the air, but Grace and Carter don’t notice. Sitka, of course, does –- it’s as plain as the nose on her face. She has no way to communicate this knowledge. But she assumes they know it, too.

“Remember what Dad would say whenever we got bad grades, or did something wrong?” Grace asks Carter.

The boy laughs. “Let’s walk and talk,” he says.

“Yeah,” Grace laughs. “There was nothing worse than getting that text from Dad. ‘We need to have a walk and talk.’”

Carter smiles at his sister. “And every single time, we took the exact same walk.”

“Past the Hart’s house, around the block, and up the driveway,” Grace said.

Carter puts a hand on Grace’s right shoulder. In a deep, fatherly voice he says, “I’m glad we had this chance to talk.”

Both of them snort out loud, their voices carrying across the humps and cols of the saddleback ridge. They come to a spot that makes Carter stop. The trail seems to be vanishing before his eyes. The trees lean in, a breeze kicks up.

“Um, hold up,” he says. “Shouldn’t we be, like, there by now?”

 

8

 

[Unworried]

 

They weren’t worried yet. Not quite to the point of worry, exactly, but getting there. Their senses strain. They think harder, look closer, run calculations in their heads, assign blame, and then, suddenly, their bodies speak: hunger, thirst, weariness, and the first hint of fear.

Fear is a chemical that rushes through the veins like a flash flood after a heavy rain. Suddenly, the dam bursts and it’s on top of you. A wild, rising torrent. Fear changes everything, especially the way the brain works. The brain sends out chemical signals to various body systems. Adrenaline brings blood to the skin’s surface. The body begins to sweat. The heart palpitates rapidly. Muscles tighten. Breathing picks up.

“What do you think?” Carter asks

Grace’s mouth shuts. She doesn’t want to look at her brother, doesn’t want him to see the expression she wears on her face. She turns, searching in all directions for something, anything, a clue.

Nothing. Not a thing.

The sameness of the forest.

They have wandered off the trail but don’t realize it yet.  “Keep going a little farther, I guess.” Grace points. “Bushwhack to that rise? Maybe we can see something.”

It looks to the untrained eye to be twenty minutes away. A little down, a little up, and you’re there.

Ninety minutes later, they make it, dead tired.

And the view tells them nothing.

The sudden fog obscures the details.

 

BLOOD MOUNTAIN will be published on October 10th by Macmillan. It has already been named a Junior Library Guild Selection. 230 pages, grades 4-up.

Junior Library Guild Selection for “Blood Mountain”

          

 

Happy to share that BLOOD MOUNTAIN (Oct 8, 2019) is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Think “Hatchet” meets “Misery” . . . and there’s a dog! Perfect for fans of wilderness survival and adventure stories. In this fast-paced novel for middle-grade readers, two siblings, Carter (11) and Grace (13), thought the hike with their dad and their dog would be uneventful. But the hike on Blood Mountain soon turns ominous as the siblings become separated from their father. They are lost, braving the elements, fighting to survive. They are also being tracked, but who will reach them first: the young ranger leading the search, or the erratic mountain man living off the grid? When Grace injures herself in a fall, Carter decides to set out alone to seek help, leaving them both more vulnerable. Told in alternating points of view, this survival story will have readers on the edge of their seats.

Institutional reviews should start coming in soon — fingers crossed. This is one of those rare cases when I know, deep in my bones, that this is a book readers will really enjoy. I believe in it with all my heart and I’m proud of it. Early feedback from friends and family has been very enthusiastic (I’ve heard “best one yet” from a number of folks, including my wife). And the recognition from the Junior Library Guild is a very encouraging sign. 

I hope this book finds an audience.

Oh, and by the way, still have far too many open slots for school visits. Contact me directly at jamespreller@aol.com. 

My thanks for your support!

More Photos: A Middle School That Goes the Distance

I’m an unusual author — hey, let me finish the sentence before you start nodding your head! — in that I write across the board for grades K-8. That means I regularly get invited to elementary and middle schools. In general, elementary schools are warmer, fuzzier. The kids are more outwardly excited, more likely to come up and hug me around the knees. And they buy more books. 

Whereas middle schools tend to be a bit colder. You don’t get the same level of excitement and energy. There are all sorts of reasons why. The biggest, I think, is that it’s easier for an elementary school to get everyone on board. Whereas in middle schools, it’s every teacher for herself, everyone doing his or her own thing. I realize that’s a big generality, and there are exceptions in both directions.

Nonetheless!

At a recent visit to Algonquin Middle School, I enjoyed so many kind, warm, one-step-beyond-the-norm moments. All those little things contributed to a truly positive visit. Here are a few . . .

 

 

Ha, ha, ha. Will the real James Preller please stand up? These guys, along with their entire class, met me first thing in the morning. Hysterical and a little frightening.

 

     

 

A display in the main hallway that featured student artwork.

 

 

Cake. Yes, cake! The book won’t be out until October, but we’re excited about it already. I even ate lunch with a handful of students.

 

 

This young man, James, was really excited to meet me. He claims to have read all my books. Even my mother doesn’t go that far. Obviously, he’s some kind of a genius. A really nice guy, too.

 

 

One of the sweetest photos ever. I’m signing books, and this girl, Kath, is looking back at her mother; the shivery excitement is real. Forget that it’s me. Plug in any other author. The point is: this student, this young woman, quietly thrilled to meet a real, live author. To go home with a signed book, eager to read.

 

      

 

Another bulletin board in the library featuring more of my books.

 

And best of all, the energy and enthusiasm of young readers. They wouldn’t stop reading. None of it happens without the incredible dedication (and preparation) of school library media specialist Rebecca Ekstrom and the support that comes from the school principal, Mr. Messia, whose presence was felt (and appreciated) throughout the day. He cares and he models it for teachers and students. Thank you all, so much.