Tag Archive for James Preller Scary tales

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.”

 

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!

Play the “Scary Tales” Matching Game and WIN A FREE BOOK!

NOTE: I ran this contest last year (2016), 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 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. Here’s how you can win a free book.

Yes, free book.

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:

3rd-try-page-9-1-2-mb

Illustration C:

one-eyed-doll_p28use

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!

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #245: The Boy Who Only Wants Books for His Birthday

postalletter-150x150

 

Here’s one from a fan of my “Scary Tales” series. I particularly liked the end of his letter, so that’s the part I’m sharing below:

 

 

Scan

 

I replied:

Dear Mustafa,

Thank you for your wonderful letter. It was really kind of you to go to all that effort, and to say such nice things. You made me happy.

So I guess you are one of those kids who likes “really spooky and scary.” And I agree with you. The artwork by Iacopo Bruno –- who lives in Italy, by the way –- is totally cool.

And creepy, too.

Art from GOOD NIGHT, ZOMBIE, by Iacopo Bruno.

Art from GOOD NIGHT, ZOMBIE, by Iacopo Bruno.

I tell readers, “Don’t worry, no one gets murdered in these books, there’s no gore, everything turns out okay in the end,” but hopefully you’ll have a few shivers along the way. I wouldn’t want you to read one and complain, “Hey, that wasn’t scary!”

There are six books in the “Scary Tales” series. I wonder which one is your favorite?

Oh yeah, about your birthday: You are going to have to ask for more presents than that, dude! I think when I was your age, I asked for boxing gloves, a baseball bat, a box of 64 crayons, a bicycle, a home detective kit, chocolate pudding, a telescope, a dinosaur, and a new sister.

I think I got a book.

I like Fairport, by the way. I’ve even been there –- stayed on a hotel up on a hill — and I love the Rochester Children’s Book Festival. Maybe I’ll see you there in November? If you go, please say hello!

Thanks for reading my books!

James Preller

 

A Writer’s Dilemma: The Challenge w/ Cell Phones

moby6

Let’s start by looking at this clip below. The illustrated video, created by Steve Cutts for Moby’s new song, “Are You Lost in the World Like Me?” is dark and disturbing. You can even watch it with the sound off, since my interest is almost entirely with the story told by the visuals.

 

 

Wow, right? A bleak look at cell phone addiction. Or maybe it’s just a slightly exaggerated look at our world?

Contemporary cell phone culture presents unique challenges to any children’s book writer. Not the phones themselves, of course, but the way in which so much of contemporary teen life is spent on those phones. A quick Google search reveals reports that claim young adults will take more than 25,000 selfies during their lifetimes. More than 93 million selfies are taken each day; and so on and so on. You get the picture.

moby5

In that regard, cell phones must be considered central to any telling of realistic fiction. It’s where so much of their lives are played out. But, confession: that’s not the version of life I’m personally interested in exploring. Maybe this reveals me for what I am — an old guy who grew up in a time before cell phones and personal computers. Their world is not my world. Maybe it’s beyond me. And yet I’m typing this on a laptop with an Apple phone at my side.

None of this was an issue for Mark Twain or Zora Neale Hurston.

moby4

How do writers of children’s literature deal with phones? How do we tell contemporary stories? One way, of course, would be to embrace the phone fully. Make it a central character — that’s where the drama plays out, so dive right in. That’s a legitimate approach, but feels gimmicky. I also suspect that technique would quickly become dated.
In my books, I’ve dealt with phones in a number of ways.
Here are a few:

* I recently wrote a new Jigsaw Jones, The Case from Outer Space. The characters are in second grade, so cell phones are not an issue. Nice!

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* In my “Scary Tales” series, phones present a different sort of challenge. The phone makes the world less scary. I don’t want a kid who is trapped in a cave to be able to pick up her phone and call 911. And the inverse is especially true — any sense of isolation, of disconnectedness, raises their discomfort. In I Scream, You Scream, the phones are confiscated before a thrill ride (no photos). Other times, the Wi-Fi is mysteriously down (Good Night, Zombie). I’m often trying to get the phone out of the way.

img_1992* In The Fall, a book that deals, in part, with teenage cyber-bullying, there’s no way to pretend that phones don’t exist. My characters send and receive texts, and “cell life” is inherent in the story. Interestingly, while the phones enhance our ability to connect electronically, they can also limit our real-time connections. Here’s a moment in the story when Sam recounts his second meeting with Morgan. They are both walking their dogs off-leash behind the middle school. They talk a little bit, thanks to the dogs. And then, this:

I stared at my phone, scrolled.

Morgan pulled her cell out of a coat pocket.

We stood there in awkward proximity, alone on a field, playing games with our phones. Silence drifted over us like clouds.

I pocked the cell.

“Bye,” I said.

I don’t remember if she answered me, but Morgan called to Max, “See ya, boy!”

* For The Courage Test, a father and son go on a long camping trip together. It would have been perfectly valid for them to lose a signal at different points in the story (and they do). But I still had the problem — if you can call it that — of a kid with his phone. Rather than ignore it completely, I wrote a scene where they are driving along in Montana. William is playing a game on his phone, not, to his father’s mind, fully appreciative of the landscape. They argue about the phone. The argument escalates.

He holds out his hand, gesturing for the phone.

Now, this next part is funny.

Hilarious, almost.

And it’s also incredibly, fabulously stupid, because I can be such an idiot sometimes. My father has pushed me into a corner. We are in the middle of nowhere. Wi-Fi is spotty at best. Back home, at Puckett Field, there’s an All-Star practice tonight — a practice that I’m missing, for a team I can’t play on, because my ex-dad wants to haul me across the universe. 

My right index finger pressed the button on the armrest. The window slides noiselessly down and I immediately feel it, the wind and whoosh of summer heat.

I turn and can’t resist, so with a flick of my wrist I pitch my phone out the window. 

Problem solved.

* In Before You Go, possibly my only true YA, Jude has a phone and uses it. But at the same time, I mostly write around it — to a point that might present a picture that’s somewhat untrue to life as it is currently lived. Again, it’s hard to move a story along if people are constantly staring at Youtube videos and Snapchat. Or maybe you can? But yuck.

* Picture books, where characters can be talking pigs or pogo-sticking hyenas, offer another way for a writer to sidestep phone culture. Just create an alternative world and write for very young children. Though lately I’ve seen a few picture books where kids are dealing with parents who won’t stop looking at their phones.

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* Write Historical Fiction. Set stories in a time before cell phones. The same is true for dystopian novels and science fiction. “Electricity’s out, folks, you’re going to have to talk among yourselves!” Maybe that’s why we see so much of it these days?

I share these musings not because I have the answers, but because I think it’s an issue which confronts contemporary writers. Phones are awfully tedious, and people staring at phones — while super realistic: just look around! — is even worse.

What do you think? Can you think of books that dealt with phones in an innovative or effective way? In our efforts to be realistic, do we need to incorporate more phone-drama in our books? Thoughts?

The idea of writing that Civil War story never looked so good.