Tag Archive for Preller Bystander

Incoming: Revisions!

I got a big package in the mail yesterday . . .

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This bit, four real books, finally published, represents a final payoff. It’s done, it exists. There’s also something a little, I don’t know, deflating about it. An ending. Now it will go out into the world, probably to be largely ignored. That might sound a touch maudlin, or even self-pitying, and I’m sorry about that. But that’s the business these days. So many books don’t make it, even the good ones. It can be disheartening. And, yes, scary.

Hey, check out my new shirt . . .

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Cool, right? I love it.

And lastly, most exciting of all, came the editorial revisions for my upcoming book, THE FALL, a quasi-sequel to BYSTANDER. I try to enter the process of revisions with an open mind and an open heart. I trust my editor, Liz Szabla, and endeavor to deeply consider all of her comments, thoughts, suggestions. This is a new opportunity for me to try to make this book better than ever. That involves, sometimes, letting go of old ideas, favorite sentences. It means stepping back — to truly re/vise, to see again — and, well, take another whack at it.

In a moment, the sound you’ll hear will be that of a writer rolling up his sleeves.

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Then This Happened: “Bystander” in Greek

Out of nowhere, without any discussion, I received in the mail three copies of a Greek translation of BYSTANDER.

I have the same-old standard observation about books: You just never know. Sometimes the world shrugs, indifferent. Books go out-of-print faster than ever these days. Not just the crummy ones, either. Other times, certain books take on a life of their own. Bucking the trend, BYSTANDER has actually managed to grow in popularity over the past several years.

You write a book, do the best you can, and release it into the world. You’ll need some luck, some help, and maybe some more luck. I grateful for this success — and I love seeing my name spelled out in Greek, where they use an entirely different alphabet.

I did not secretly, diabolically, hatch a plot for world domination. But, hey, I’d gladly settle for one measly Greek island (surely hey’ve got one to spare). Corfu, anyone?

The Difference Between Empathy & Sympathy

This video is a surprisingly effective means of demonstrating the power of empathy: what it looks like, what it feels like, what it means to connect.

After writing Bystander, visiting schools and speaking with students and educators, trying to think about and understand this whole “bullying thing,” I’ve come to believe that empathy is one of the central keys. It requires the ability to think outside of one’s self, a diffcult task for some middle schoolers.

Literature helps build empathy, for reading is nothing if not standing in someone else’s shoes. I hope that for all the emphasis placed on anti-bullying programs today, that school leaders never underestimate the power and importance of literature to open hearts, to open minds, and make a difference.

Anyway, please check out the video:

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Five Days, 14 Presentations, More than 6,000 Students, and a Cowboy Steak

On Friday the 20th, I traveled to Wolcott, Connecticut, where I spoke to 650 students, grades 6-8, at Tyrrell Middle School. They had all read Bystander as part of their summer reading program and, I’m sure, as part of their school-wide anti-bullying initiative. The feeling in that school was very impressive. Thank you for all your hard work to make this happen, Sara Tedesco. I’ve been wearing the shirt!

Wait. What shirt?

This one:

That’s the design on the back of the long sleeve shirt created and sold (I think) at the school. I was presented with one as a gift.  The design, created by the librarian, Sara Tedesco, was a variation of the Bystander book cover, with a more positive, local spin. Brilliant.

Come to think of it, those students said they read Bystander. But I’ll admit it, some of those kids looked pretty tan. When I see young people under these circumstances, I often apologize, explaining that in all my hopes and wild dreams, I never intended to become somebody’s homework.

On Sunday, I flew from Albany, NY, to Chicago, and then on to Oklahoma City for four full days of visits in the Yukon school district.

Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Garth Brooks was born and raised there.

The main school I visited — it had a big auditorium, so several neighboring schools bused their students to us — was located on Garth Brooks Drive, because of course it was.

My first morning I stopped into a 7-11, still groggy & desperate for caffeine. After I completed the purchase of one cold Starbucks Mocha something, the cashier asked:

“Would you like a sack with that?”

“Excuse me?”

“Would you like a sack?”

My brain was still fuzzy. The flight had been delayed. I had slept less than four hours. “A sock?”

(Yes, in my pre-caffinated state, I silently wondered if, perhaps, in Oklahoma cashiers offered people socks. Maybe this is what they do here? “Why, yes! I’ll take argyle!”)

(Next comes helpless staring, where wonderment meets bewilderment. At last a light bulb goes on.)

“A sack!” I say. “Like a bag!”

“Yes, sack, bag. I call ’em sacks.”

At that moment, I knew that I had fully arrived in Oklahoma. The land of sacks, not bags, far from the standard question of, “Paper or plastic?”

Across four days in the Sooner state, I gave thirteen presentations to 5,600 students, grades 2-8. And I can honestly say that they all loved me, every single one of them.

Actually, well, there was one kid . . .

The truth is, everyone treated me wonderfully throughout the visit. Respectfully, kindly. I felt blessed and fortunate. I can’t thank everyone enough, and won’t really try to here (I tried to there, in person).

Wednesday night I made it over to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.

The museum was incredibly moving, artistic and powerfully effective. I was, at times, a blubbering mess, but in a good way.

If you ever get the chance, by all means, yes, get yourself over to the museum — and prepare to feel the power of that experience right down to the soles of your shoes.

Then I walked over to Bricktown and treated myself to a “cowboy steak” at Mantle’s restaurant, just across from the ballpark. It was a peaceful, reflective, delicious meal, and I was happy to be exactly where I was.

Jenah Hamilton was the force of nature who helped make my visit possible.

Thank you, Yukon, OK. It was really terrific for me to gain a first-hand experience of Sooner Pride. To meet all those kids. And try, in my own limited way, to leave each school a slightly better place where together we value reading, thinking, and basic human kindness.

Most especially, thank you Jenah Hamilton, middle school librarian, the force of nature who made my visit possible.

(I owe you, big time.)

Fan Mail #166: Lessons Learned, Messages Sent (and a Complaint about The Berenstain Bears)

Here’s one I had to think about a little bit, then pause, and reconsider, and pause again.

Dear Mr.Preller:

We are 7th graders at _______ Middle School. We have recently read your book Bystander, and have learned some valuable lessons about bullying. We wanted to thank you for enlightening us in this serious topic. This was a great book, and here are the lessons we learned.

The first is not to judge a book by its cover. An example of this is how Griffin seemed nice, but then turned out to be the bully. Another is how David seemed to be nice, but then led Eric into a trap. This just proves that you shouldn’t judge people before you know them.

We also learned that everyone is different and that sometimes it is perfectly fine to be different. You have showed us that it’s ok to express ourselves because you are you and that is all anyone could ask for. This is a good book to read if you need advice about bullying or having troubles with bullying. We hope you are writing more books about this serious topic and are inspiring more people to stand up to bullying.

Sincerely,

Chloe and Luke

I replied:

Dear Luke and Chloe:

Thanks for reading Bystander and also for taking the time to share your thoughts. It’s interesting when I send a book out into the world — I never know what the world will bounce back. As a writer, I never thought of myself as “teaching lessons” in my books, at least dogmatically, and I’d hate to reduce any novel to just “lessons learned.” At the same time, I would contend that it’s impossible to tell a story without sending a series of signals, values, messages.

I used to hate the Berenstain Bears books. Do you remember those? So popular. Each book set out to teach us something important! It got on my nerves pretty fast. And later on, as I had my own children, I began to intensely dislike how Papa Berenstain was such an unrelenting nit-wit. The big dumb dad, lacking in all thought. Sigh.

So while the stories might have set out to teach a valuable lesson, i.e., “Be nice to grandma!”, the unwritten message was often, “Dad’s kind of a dope. Insensitive, careless, clumsy. You know how fathers are.”

While my book, Bystander, does directly address the dynamic of bullying, what I hope shines through is the importance for readers like you to think for yourselves. To listen to your own heart, the good information that comes from your gut, rather than following the crowd. I never intended to hand a list of easy lessons to readers, and, frankly, I think most readers are loathe to pick up a book to learn “valuable lessons.”

While writing it, I was very much inspired by thrillers. I really wanted to give readers a quick, fast-paced, lively reading experience. A good read! I love literature, I love STORY — I love great television shows and movies, too — because they allow us to intimately visit with human beings we’d likely never encounter in our regular lives. By reading, we see new places, experience different points of view, and walk around in a different pair of shoes. In some books, we’re afforded a glimpse into how a variety of folks might feel at any given time. Rarely is another person 100% right or 100% wrong. It’s not black or white; we mostly come in shades of gray.

Stories help us build empathy, understanding, awareness, and tolerance.

In the end, the book closed, you guys will take away from it what you will. I don’t think there are lessons that you should or shouldn’t learn. Bullying is enormously complex, mostly because people are all so complicated. We are never ONE THING in life. As Walt Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” We are loving and tender and careless and cruel — all before we’ve even sat down to munch on our morning bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats!

Thanks for your great letter, and for prodding me into these thoughts. Stand up, speak out, and above all, be kind.

JP