Tag Archive for Iacopo Bruno

The Pleasures of Speculative Fiction: Scary Tales and Outer Limits and the Genius of Harlan Ellison

A teacher-friend posted this image on social-media, what she calls her “custom reading pillow.” I like it!

And, yes, I love the book tucked inside it, from my “Scary Tales” series.

Writing those books was a pure pleasure. All my life up to that point, I’d honed pretty true to the Realistic Fiction genre, both as a writer and a reader. Give me a closely-observed scene of a family sitting around the dinner table and I was happy. That’s still true, but I’ve grown over the years. 

For “Scary Tales,” I was able to open up to new inspirations and wild imaginings, new channels of communication. Zombies! Swamp Monsters! Benign Robots! Creepy Dolls! Good times, good times. And I made sure the books were fast-paced and easy to read, in hopes of connecting with hard-to-reach readers (best for grades 3-5, I’ve met many middle school readers who tell me they don’t usually like books, but love that series. Alas, Macmillan never had as much success getting those books into the public’s awareness as we’d hoped, so the series stopped at six stories.

        

In format, I was hugely influenced by Rod Sterling’s “Twilight Zone” series. Each story was unique: new characters, new setting. They were unified only in that each one promised a similar experience for the reader. Creepy, twisting, full of page-turning suspense.

The book tucked inside the pillow is titled I Scream, You Scream, and it turns on a boy who might not be all that he seems to be.

Okay, spoiler alert!

Illustration by Iacopo Bruno!

I was recently reading about “The Outer Limits” television series, which I only vaguely remember from my childhood. One episode gets mentioned a lot, often topping lists of best episodes ever: “The Demon with the Glass Hand,” written by the legendary pioneer of Speculative Fiction, Harlan Ellison. It’s on Netflix now, or Amazon Prime, one of those, streaming on television. The story hinges on a “shocking” conclusion, which might not shock modern viewers, since we’ve seen it borrowed many times since (“Terminator” and “Bladerunner,” most notably). I don’t know if Ellison was the first writer to pull it off, but he certainly did it in a big way, blowing minds on national television. What the what??!! Watching it, I couldn’t help but recognize that I owed “Outer Limits” and Mr. Harlan Ellison a tip of my hat along with my lasting appreciation.

Plot Summary: Days ago, Trent awoke with no memory of his past. Since then, sinister men have pursued him constantly. He manages to stay one step ahead of them by following the advice of his hand. Made of glass and apparently capable of speech, Trent’s hand can answer many of his questions. But it cannot tell him who he is or why his enemies seek him until he finds all of its fingers. The only trouble is that they’re in the hands of his enemies.

 

AND LET’S NOT FORGET . . .

 

“The Outer Limits” had a classic opening to every episode. A disembodied voice would announce: “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission . . . For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: There is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to . . . THE OUTER LIMITS.”

 

Fan Mail Wednesday #300: Shyan Loves Scary Stories

Wow, this is the 300th fan mail response I’ve shared on Fan Mail Wednesday across more than ten years of blogging. I don’t know if that’s a world’s blog record, but it’s certainly the most on my street. Here’s Shyan’s letter and my reply . . .

 

Shyan writes . . . 

I replied . . .

=

Dear Shyan,

It’s so nice to get mail, don’t you think? A real letter. Thanks, also, for including a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Much appreciated. In my work, I still receive snail mail fairly regularly, though not an overwhelming amount. But I wonder about someone your age. How many old-school letters have you received in your young life?

I’m glad you enjoyed the books in my “Scary Tales” series. I loved writing each one, particularly since I hadn’t written anything quite like it before. I love the shivery aspect, the dread and suspense. I especially loved breaking away from the demands of the realistic fiction genre, which is what I usually write. Suddenly, in the “Horror” genre, my imagination felt free, unchained. It’s hard to describe, but it was like I was exercising muscles I hadn’t used before. For each story, the impossible suddenly felt . . . possible. The trick was selecting that one impossible thing and then playing it out in a realistic context.

I believe that everything I write contributes to my future projects. The skills accumulate. I learned lessons and honed skills from those six “Scary Tales” titles that I was able to bring to future books. For example, my most recent novel, Blood Mountain, is a book a reader like you might enjoy. This story is realistic fiction — no zombies or evil dolls — where two siblings are lost in the wilderness. I wanted to generate much of the page-turning excitement and suspense that I achieved with “Scary Tales.” So, Shyan, if you feel like you’ve graduated beyond those books, but still want something similar-but-different, please give Blood Mountain a try.

I was glad to read that you wrote your own scary story. It’s interesting to ponder what scares us. Oh, there are obvious things –- ghosts and roller coasters and dark caves filled with bats – but it’s cool when you can think of some specific detail that feels fresh and new. A faucet that drip, drip, drips. A ghostly flicker on a television screen that makes you think, “Wait, what was that?” The feeling we get at the dentist’s office, when maybe something isn’t quite right.

Hmmmm. That gives me an idea . . .

Thanks for writing, Shyan.

(I love your name!)

All good things,

James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #286: Inspired by “The Twilight Zone”

 

This one comes from Seattle, via a terrific tutor who went the extra yard for her student . . .

Dear Mr. Preller, 
My tutor and I were reading your book, Scary Tales: I Scream, You Scream and we loved it a lot.  We reached the end of the book and you left it on a cliffhanger.  We thought that it would be awesome if you could make a sequel to this book. I would love it if we could know what happens to Sam and Andy and Mr. Overstreet. 
I love this kind of story telling. I love scary books and after reading this book you’re my go to author for scary books.   
Are you going to make a new book for Sam and Andy?  
I think your work is great.  If you could make a new book it would definitely be a book I would tell my friends about.
I think you are a genius.
Sincerely,
Oscar
P.S.  I am using my tutor’s email to write to you.  

 

I replied . . .
Oscar!
Thank you so much for this outrageously kind letter. Genius? I’m afraid not! But I’m very glad you found my “Scary Tales” series — there are 6 books in all — maybe more to come someday. We can only hope.
Don’t you love Iacopo Bruno’s illustrations? I sure do. 
Have you ever heard of Fan Fiction? It’s where readers respond to books . . . by writing. Each new writer takes on those same characters to explore new adventures, new situations. By all means, feel free to write a scene or an entire story based on what you think could happen in a sequel. And if you do write something, send it my way!
For this series of books, I was very much inspired by the old “Twilight Zone” show. Each episode was different — new characters, new situations, and often different genres — but each one provided a unique twist. Viewers always got that “Twilight Zone” experience. I’ve tried to achieve that format and feeling in these six books. These days, I’m super excited that Jordan Peele is bringing back a new Twilight Zone for your generation. 
My new scary story is actually realistic fiction. A wilderness survival story titled Blood Mountain. A brother and a sister lost in the mountains. It comes out in October and I’m so proud of it. 
Please thank your most excellent tutor for sharing my books with you. 
My very best,
James Preller



Scary Tales: Free Book Giveaway!

 

 

NOTE: I ran this contest the previous two years, and I’m doing it again. AND ALSO: The odds of winning are not as hard as you might suspect. HINT: Nobody reads blogs anymore!

Welcome, Fearless Readers! Here we are nearing the ghostly season when things go bump, and squish, and hooowl in the night.

I wish to remind educators and young readers that the books in my “Scary Tales” series will make your life better by upwards to 63% or less.

No one gets murdered in these stories, everybody comes out okay, but the suspense might rattle your cage. Reminds me of that great line by Oscar Wilde: “The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”

Here’s how you can win a free book.

Yes, free book, mailed to your domicile.

I’ll show six illustrations below by the great Iacopo Bruno, one from each of the “Scary Tales” titles in random order. Beneath that, I’ll list the titles. You or (hopefully) your students or children need to match the illustrations with the correct titles. Then send an email to me at Jamespreller@aol.com under the subject heading SCARY TALES. Entries must be received by October 20th. On that date, I will send a signed book to six randomly-selected fearless readers who respond with their best answers. (Don’t have to be right!)

Please feel free to share this page with friends and foes and fish and fowl alike.

Illustration A:

night_land_interiors_06a

Illustration B:

Illustration C:

Illustration D:

homesweethorror_1use

Illustration E:

swamp-monster_interiors_11

Illustration F:

zombie-3-van-der-klemp

Now match the illustration to one of these six titles:

1. Home Sweet Horror

2. I Scream, You Scream

3. Good Night, Zombie

4. Nightmareland

5. One-Eyed Doll

6. Swamp Monster

THANKS & GOOD LUCK!

During the Day, I Don’t Believe in Ghosts . . .

 

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Found this meme the other day and it made me laugh. I believe that kids know what they like and don’t like, what works for them and what, well, doesn’t. In a room full of peers they might all raise they hands when asked if they like scary stories, but privately they might answer differently. It’s important to me on school visits to respect that distinction. I don’t talk about these books below 3rd grade and always in terms of the creative process — asking “What if?” questions — developing story ideas.

At book festivals I’ll meet young readers who looooove this series. They are disappointed there are only six titles. (I know that feeling; so am I.) Other kids reach a little hesitantly for one of the books. Drawn to it, curious, but unsure. Maybe Mom stands behind them, a little unsure herself. One tip I share is that if they are at all worried about it, maybe they should first try reading it during the day time. Like the meme says, it’s much easier to believe in scary things when the lights go out.

Here’s a piece of art from the great Iacopo Bruno from Nightmareland. I think of this one as my most Twilight Zone-inspired story, less scary, more twisty. But your mileage may vary.

night_land_interiors_03