Tag Archive for Jean Feiwel

“Home Sweet Horror” Wins 2013 Cybil Award in Early Chapter Books Category

Okay, you might be asking: “What’s a Cybil Award?”

The Cybils are awarded by bloggers for the year’s best children’s and young adult titles. The Cybils have been in existence since, oddly enough, the year 1843. No, wait. Check that: Since 2006. According to the website, their primary purpose is to:

“Reward the children’s and young adult authors (and illustrators, let’s not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and ‘kid appeal.’ What’s that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.”

I did not expect to win this award, in part because I did not even realize that my book, the first in a series of “Scary Tales,” had been among the finalists. In truth, “winning” anything like this is always dubious. But it is an honor to be listed among other finalists, to be part of that conversation of some of the better books of that year. I’m quite sure that my book is no better than the others listed in this category. So here they are, readers take note:

Dragonbreath #9: The Case of the Toxic Mutants, by Ursula Vernon

Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, by Claudia Mills

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea, by Hilary McKay

The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems, by Lauren Myracle

Violet Mackerel’s Natural Habitat, by Anna Branford

Home Sweet Horror (Scary Tales #1), by James Preller

The Cybils website described my book this way:

Liam Finn and his sister just moved into the old Cropsey house. Their father has transplanted his family from Hopeville to Upstate New York. Liam and Kelley are both opposed to the move, but since the death of their mother eighteen months earlier, the family is struggling to survive. Upon moving into the house, Liam begins to hear strange noises and even receives a threatening message in a mirror.  When Kelley’s friend, Mitali, comes for a visit and summons “Bloody Mary”, the tale quickly escalates to a spine-tingling conclusion.

Preller takes an urban myth and creates an enjoyable tale of horror that will appeal to the lower grade students. Bruno’s illustrations insert an appropriate amount of creepiness that adds to the ambiance of the tale. Younger readers will appreciate this scary tale without the graphic and gory details of older horror reads. This little page turner could become a campfire classic!

My thanks have already gone out to the judges, panelists, bloggers, volunteers, and organizers for this nice honor. I’m grateful and, yes, I especially like that “kid appeal” is seen in a positive light.

In addition, any positive acclaim for this series grows out of the fact that it has been well-published by my friends at Feiwel & Friends, particularly Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel.  The illustrations by Iacopo Bruno are amazing.

And last, a special thank you to Jennifer Wharton, whoever you are!, for nominating my book. My appreciation. Jennifer, if somehow you find this, can I send you a signed copy by way of thanks? You can write to me with your address at Jamespreller@aol.com.

That’s right, AOL, because an elephant’s loyal one-hundred percent.

There are three other titles (so far) in the Scary Tales Series:

…..

Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

When I started this blog, one of my guiding concepts was to pull back the curtain . . .

. . . .to show some of the inner workings of the writing process. It’s not all gazing into the luminous sky, folks; more often, you’re digging in the muck, shifting dirt around.

On Monday, I got a quick note from Holly, an editor who was working on Book #1, Home Sweet Horror, in my new SCARY TALES series (July, 2013). I think this offers a glimpse into the issues that demand a writer’s attention — even after the manuscript has been read, copy-edited, approved, and “final” (a word that must always appear in quotes, alas, until the book is printed).

That is, the illustrations finally arrive from the artist and there might be minor problems, tweaks, oddities, etc. So, thus . . .

Holly wrote:

Hey,

We have been going over the second pass of Home Sweet Horror (which looks amazing!) and:

On pg. 28, the lead in to chapter 4, the artist has drawn a great picture featuring a creepy old-fashioned rotary phone (see attached for the rough image).  It’s really got the right tone and will look fabulous in the book, but we are afraid that it might throw readers off a little bit. Would it be possible for you to add a quick description of the creepy old phone to the chapter so that we can keep the image?

Holly’s right: cool illustration. I reviewed the text, which read:

An hour later, Kelly came down and planted herself on the living room couch. Her nose was in a book, a tender love story about killer zombies.

“Do you think there’s anything creepy about this house?” Liam asked.

Kelly rolled her eyes. “Creepy? Yeah, you.”

“Can a house be . . . alive?” Liam ventured. “Like with, I don’t know, a spirit or something?”

“Oh, please, just shoot me now,” Kelly groaned. She turned her attention back to the book.

The phone rang.

And rang.

“Get it,” Kelly snapped.

“I’m not your slave. You answer it,” Liam replied.

No one moved.

After the fifth ring, the machine picked up.

Fourteen minutes later, I wrote back to Holly with my suggestions (amended text in red):

Does this work for you? If length is issue, could cut out “Dad says” and “Kelly laughed” lines. I’m open about this kind of thing, whatever you need. Cuts, additions, etc.

JP

“Do you think there’s anything creepy about this house?” Liam asked.

Kelly rolled her eyes. “Creepy? Yeah, you.”

Liam frowned. “You know what I mean.”

Kelly set down the book. “There’s lots of things that are creepy about this house, Liam. Everything is so old and musty and gross. Even the phone is like a million years old. A rotary phone? Really? What’s up with that?”

“Dad says it’s a fixer-upper,” Liam countered.

Kelly laughed scornfully. “Ha!”

“Can a house be . . .

NOTE: Now, of course, there’s the small issue of “the machine” picking up. When I wrote the book, I imagined a contemporary household, not rotary phones. So maybe that’s a new level of concerns. Or maybe, more than likely, we’ll decide that it’s perfectly fine and no biggie and we’re tired and let’s move forward. After doing 40 Jigsaw Jones books, also illustrated, I’m familiar with triage. In defense of the artist — the incredible Iacopo Bruno from Italy! — there’s a great tradition in horror to set stories in slightly olden times. By removing the contemporary sheen, you invite the timeless. So his instincts feel right to me.

NOTE #2: I’m tripping over my revision suggestions. Maybe change “Liam frowned . . .” line to “Come on, Kelly. You know what I mean.” [No attribution, but implied.] And also, change “Kelly laughed . . .” to “Ha!” Kelly laughed. Kelly scoffed?  [Drop the adverb, transpose the quote & attribution.] Gosh, all these little puzzlements and small worries. I’ll never get it right. Help, Holly!

We are publishing four books this year, working carefully, but also with pace. It’s fun to work this way, and it suits me. Part of that is the fast turn-around, the go-go-go, and the fine art of letting go. Because after a while, you’ve turned “the phone” into this Big Deal Thing, when all the reader wants to do is move forward without a glitch. In the end, that’s what we’re trying to do here: remove the glitch, anything that might slow the reader down.

We are focusing on the phone, briefly, so the focus won’t be on the phone, oddly.

Another random thought about “scary stories” and the various permutations: I’m conscious of writing within established cliches, variations on familiar themes, following a long and powerful tradition. You have to, I think, embrace the cliches while at the same time endeavor to punch something new into each story. For me, that’s usually character. Who is in the scary house. Who is being chased by wraiths. And so on. The relationships, the dialogue. Because I’m not sure I’ll ever write a sentence that’s as good as, “The doorknob slowly, slowly turned.” And it’s hard to top a cabin in the words. Or the idea of someone being watched, or worked on by unseen forces, or . . . you get the idea.

I’m loving these books, and I think kids are going to love them, too. I’m shooting for Big Entertainment. (And I don’t say that about everything I do.)

So. Much. Fun.

Thanks, Holly!

Grateful

The writing life has its ups and downs, and more downs than I’d prefer. No, it’s not coal mining, and I’m not an ice road trucker . . .

. . . .but this job can be full of doubt and disappointment. Still, and here’s the thing: I’m grateful for this career, thankful for this writing life, because it literally is a dream come true. How many people can say that?

I published my first book in 1986. From then to now, more than half my life, I’ve done all sorts of work, from desperate, pay-the-rent stuff . . .

. . . to books that I’m proud of.

Today, 7/17/2012, my first Young Adult novel, Before You Go, will be available in bookstores near you. That’s the hope, anyway. I don’t expect it to sell well. Or for long. I don’t even know if many readers will like it. It’s not a book for everyone. But this is absolutely the book I wanted to write, the book I needed to write, and I am grateful to my editor, Liz Szabla, and my publisher Jean Feiwel, for giving me the artistic freedom to do the thing I wanted to do.

It’s a rare license these days. And a great feeling, like wind at your back.

And it’s not something I take lightly. It’s taken me a long time to arrive at that moment, to find that I’ve got good people who have my back. Hopefully Before You Go finds some appreciative readers along the way, whatever their number.

I don’t control what happens now.

Look, I want sales, I want to earn a living, I want my publisher to do well, I want great reviews, I want readers. But try as I might, not every book is going to be popular, acclaimed, beloved — these things are impossible to predict. My sense has always been that Before You Go is a quiet book, a slow story, not a whole lot of plot, and one that might be swimming against the tide of popularity. That’s okay. Sometimes as a writer you have to answer a different call. What’s amazing is to have such unbelievable support along the way.

So I look at this physical object in my hands and think, you know, hey, this is a well-published book. I’m glad for it. And grateful to have this piece of art in my hands that was published with such care, and heart, and commitment to excellence. Thank you, Liz, Jean, Rich Deas, Elizabeth Fithian, Holly West, Dave Barrett, Nicole Liebowitz Moulaison, Ksenia Winnicki, Anna Roberto, and everyone else at Feiwel & Friends whose efforts made this book possible. I’m grateful for it, and grateful to you. So thank you.

Just a lucky guy, I guess.

Sneak Peak 2: My New Series of Scary Tales

Last month I handed in the manuscript for the first book in a new series — my first since Jigsaw Jones. Though Jigsaw is still around, with many titles still available, I haven’t consistently written new books in that series for the past six years.

In the intervening time, I’ve published hardcover books, a first for me, in picture book format (Mighty Casey, A Pirate’s Guide for First Grade) and for older readers (Six Innings, Along Came Spider, Justin Fisher Declares War, Bystander, and Before You Go).

I haven’t written specifically for what was once my core readership, the grades 2-4 crowd. I needed to step away, explore different things. But now I’m back, writing 80-page chapter books for exactly that age group. And I have to tell you, I’m absolutely in my comfort zone with this new, evolving series — my “Twilight Zone” for younger readers.

Here’s a sample page 1 from my first draft, scribbled out on a yellow legal pad (as if my usual practice):

Kind of messy, right? Not sure you can read this. Lots of interesting changes/revisions/improvements on the fly. I gave the sister an early line of dialogue, then to the side, later, asked myself: “still sleeping?” Brought “Our new home” up into the first paragraph, deleted words and phrases, etc.

Last week I received the copyedit in the mail, which I reviewed over the phone with my editor, Liz. So now that same section looks like this:

The ring, I learned as I wrote, figures large in the story. There is a power to it. So during revision I made sure to get it into that opening scene, underscoring Kelly’s relationship to it, giving it, in other words, its moment.

I was grateful to receive positive feedback from my publisher, since the first book in a new series can be tricky. You make many decisions that you’ll have to live with for the length of the series. Jean Feiwel sent me a note, “I love love love this book.” That was good day. I was not asked to make any big changes, just light revisions. In another month or so I’ve receive the galleys, with the corrected type set in a carefully-selected font, exactly as it will appear in final book form, and with it the opportunity for another round of tweaks, improvements. The artwork will come in within the next two weeks — and there will be a lot of it. That’s exciting. I can’t wait to see what the (super-talented, surprise) illustrator does with the story. All the while, I’m writing the second book of the series, which is due in another month.

The series, tentatively titled “Shivers,” will launch in the summer of 2013.

EDIT: Now called “SCARY TALES.”

Starting a new series presents many challenges, the thrill of creating something brand new. Hopefully this will be the beginning of something great. That’s always my dream going into a job, “Maybe this one will be great.” I don’t think I’ve gotten there yet, but I keep hoping.

We are not interested in creating a formulaic set of stories, stamped out by a factory. We want each book to stand alone, featuring different characters and different settings. Again, in this sense, I am inspired by Stephen King and “The Twilight Zone” (and yes, I own the complete series on DVD), which rather than one type of story, featured a comprehensive variety of sub-genre, including science fiction, horror, social satire, fantasy, ghost stories and countless variations. My hope is that across a number of books we’ll be able to accomplish something similar in terms of scope and content, while still maintaining a signature fingerprint. When a reader opens a “Shivers” book, he’ll know that he’s about to get strapped into the roller coaster, taken for a wild ride, and returned back safely again — hopefully screaming, “Again, again, again!”

For fans of process, here’s another example of how the story moved from first draft to copyedit:

The copyedited version, which arrives after many revisions by me at home before it goes to the publisher, represents the first edited response from my publisher. Again, this sample shows a light touch by the folks at Feiwel & Friends, thank goodness. Note the circles around “Liam.” We commonly refer to this as an echo. Sometimes when we use a word too many times over a few sentences, or when, in this case, the paragraphs open in the same way. Doesn’t mean it must be changed, just that it should be looked at, considered, before it is changed or not. Alert readers will also note that I changed “‘Hello,’ he called” to “‘Hello,’ he bleated.”

A little lamb, lost in the wilderness.

Have a great Memorial Weekend, everybody. And please remember why we celebrate it. Be grateful to the uniformed men and women who have served our country over the years.

Announcement: My Return to Series Publishing

Publishers Weekly recently reported:

Jean Feiwel of Feiwel and Friends has acquired an early-middle-grade series, called Shivers, by James Preller, author of the Jigsaw Jones series, and the recent novel Bystander. The first in the planned four-book series, which Feiwel calls “Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone for kids,” will pub in spring 2013. The deal for world rights was negotiated by Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studio.

So I guess the cat is out of the bag.

I don’t know whether it’s superstition, false modesty, and just good sense, but I don’t like talking about a book before its written. I think it’s bad form and bad practice. In sum: Shut up and write it.

But, hey, this is very exciting. As you may know, I wrote the Jigsaw Jones series for many years. These days it doesn’t look like Scholastic, the publisher of those books, is interested in continuing the series beyond the 40 books that have already been published. I’ll always feel a degree of sadness about the fate of Mr. Jones.

There’s a burn-out that comes with series publishing. I was writing 4 Jigsaw Jones books a year. Next, next, next, next, etc. So it was liberating to attempt new types of writing with Feiwel & Friends, my first real experience with hardcover publishing. I wrote picture books and three novels: Six Innings, Bystander, and my YA debut, Before You Go (July, 2012). I spent a full year writing Before You Go, and it gave me great pleasure to really take my time with a book, and write a personal story that was wholly outside any considerations of the marketplace.

But at the same time, I began to miss the fun and feedback of paperback publishing.

A number of years ago, I wrote five “slightly spooky” stories that were collected in the book, Ghost Cat. These stories were experiments for me — an aside from the Jigsaw Jones books, and frankly outside my established comfort zone — stories about impossible things, ghost cats, dark basements, monsters, imaginary friends with bad ideas — and essentially explored magic realism, the stuff of dreams and nightmares. For those stories, I made a point of keeping them from becoming too scary. Today I think that three of the five in that collection were actually pretty good. I felt like I was onto something, but for a very long time it seemed as if no one else shared that perception. Now that’s changed in a big way.

I’m looking forward to returning to those readers ages 6-9, trying to make them think, and make them feel. And hopefully that feeling will be, “That was so scary, and so exciting, I can’t wait to read another!”

I’m honored to be supported on this project by my agent, Rosemary Stimola, and the team at Feiwel & Friends. Together we’ll work to make this a well-written, entertaining, popular and frightening series for chapter book readers eager to enjoy that kind of shivery experience. It will be nice to have something new for the Jigsaw Jones fans I meet on my many school visits.

Can’t wait. I’m getting started . . . this week!

Oh yes, I should also add that I’m deep into a new hardcover book, set in a middle school. This book also represents a departure of sorts, as this old dog keeps trying out new tricks. My goal is to continue publishing hardcover books every year or two — if it’s not too much for me to hope for such good fortune — while I write “Shivers” in paperback.