Tag Archive for Preller Fan Mail

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 #295: When Joseph Basically Asks Me to Do His Homework

 

It happens often enough that just about every middle grade and YA author has experienced it. The ever-so-brief fan mail from a student that turns out to be an indirect request to do their homework. On one level: Resourceful! On another: Hey, you’re not fooling me, I see what you are doing, think for yourself

Over the years I’ve responded differently, depending on my mood. For this one, I felt chatty and gave an honest answer. Yes, I wanted a good grade! When I received Joseph’s response, I realized I probably let him down. Oh well! You’ll see.  

Here’s the first note from Joseph:

Hello, James. I am a fellow student who’s in high school in my sophomore year, I was curious to ask some questions about your book, THE FALL. I wanted to know what type of rhetoric device fits well in this story?

Thank you!

Joseph

 

I replied: 

Ha, Joseph, I am so glad I’m not in high school anymore. I would have failed this assignment!

There are a lot of different rhetorical devices in the world, most of them I’m not ever consciously employing. Asterismos and eutrepismus, hypophora and parallelism, procatalepsis and tmesis.

Oh boy, good times.

Can you tell I had to look all those up? I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ve used them at different points in my career, but not quite knowingly.

I think a lot of what we do as writers becomes instinctive, based on years and years of reading. You kind of eat it. Digest it. Absorb it and internalize all those storytelling strategies. So when you are telling your own story — trying to communicate — you just reach for whatever tool seems handy at the time.

The biggest conceit to The Fall, the Big Device, is that it’s presented as if it were Sam’s journal entries. He’s recounting the events to himself as a way to understand this really big and terrible thing that happened. He’s processing and, in turn, owning responsibility for his role in Morgan’s tragedy. As readers, we are looking over Sam’s shoulder, going through that experience with him.

Another device that comes to mind, which I used in one spot of the book, the “Not Me” chapter, is that Sam writes as if he’s on trial, addressing the jury. And you, the reader, of course, are on that jury. I didn’t carry that device throughout the book — I think it would have felt forced — but it seemed right at the time. And as readers, we are making those judgments of each character. Sam is acutely aware of being on trial.

Sam includes a few of his own poems, the way someone like Sam might. Maybe there’s a name for that, maybe it’s a rhetorical device, I don’t know. I just wanted to show Sam’s depth of feeling, how this stuff was pouring out of him, how he thought and felt, and the simple poems, again, seemed right for this journal format. It’s what I did as a kid in my journals, anyway.

Hey, Joseph: You forgot to tell me how much you loved the book! Don’t you know that’s how you are supposed to begin these letters? It’s a rhetorical device called “blowing smoke up someone’s butt.” Writers love that stuff. It gets our attention! And we immediately think, “What a smart young fellow!”

Next time: 1) Begin with a compliment; then 2) Ask me to do your homework!

(By the way, the above numbering technique is an example of eutrepismus, separating speech into numbered parts. We all do it, but 99% of us have never heard the name before. That’s writing, I think.)

All good things,

James Preller

Joseph politely replied the next day:

Thank you so much! So sorry, but this book was inspiring though haha! Its just I had include one Rhetorical Devices. those are 1. Repetition 2. Parallelism 3. Slogan and saws 4. Rhetorical questions

I had to choose one of them and explain why I chose it and how you used it in this book.

Oh well, I tried!

Fan Mail Wednesday #289: About That “Happy/Sad” Thing

 

I enjoyed this letter from Sasha, who does things, like margins (for example) a little bit differently — which is a good thing, btw.

Why are some of us drawn to sadness?

Note: I mistakenly wrote on the back of Sasha’s letter, so some blue marker shows through. Go ahead, sue me.

 

 

I replied . . .

 

Dear Sasha,

Thank you for your spirited letter — so much of your personality came pouring out, like rain through a screen window. My favorite line: “I legit loved the book!” 

The happy/sad feeling? Oh yeah, I know that one very well. I’ve always been drawn to so-called “sad” things. In music, film, art, whatever. It might be my Irish ancestry, I don’t know. People will say, “Oh, I only want to see happy movies.” But to me, a lot of those “happy” movies just strike me as, yawn, really fake and superficial. I get bored. One thing about sadness: like laughter, it’s a true emotion –- and when we share a truth, any truth, it connects us as human beings. And that makes me happy. So, yeah, the happy/sad thing.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the idea of books as mirrors and/or windows. It’s an interesting way of looking at literature and how it functions in our lives, building self-perception and empathy. Some books reflect back upon us –- we see ourselves, perhaps in a new light -– while others help us see into new worlds. I like it.

The beautiful, haunting cover of the Japanese translation of my book, THE FALL.

Another happy/sad book of mine you might like is The Fall. It takes the issue of bullying to a darker place than Bystander, and ends up as a meditation, of sorts, on forgiveness. It’s told from the point of view of a boy, writing in his journal, after a girl’s death. The book won a YALSA award and, strangely, was nominated for some big award in Japan. I suspect they have a misfit/bully problem over there, too. I also have a new book coming out in October, Blood Mountain, a wilderness survival story with a brother, sister, and dog lost in the mountains. Super fast-paced adventure with some good writing, too.

I loved your letter, Sasha. All good things,

James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #287: Writing Advice from Turkey

Here’s one all the way from Turkey . . .

Dear Mr. Preller,
I am a 5th grade student in Turkey and I read “The Case of the Best Pet Ever” as my project homework. I think that your book was very entertaining for kids like me who like mystery books. Jigsaw and Mila worked hard to find evidences and questioned suspects to solve the mystery of the stolen prize. I liked the book because it has a surprise ending, I wasn’t expecting Rags to win the medal. Jigsaw thought that Rags was a hopeless and useless dog but when Rags found the prize Jigsaw understood that everyone has their own talents. Rags may not be a very talented dog to win a pet competition but he is talented in finding treasures. I also liked the friendship and teamwork between Mila and Jigsaw. There were a lot of nice sayings like “Try to be the person your dog thinks you are.” My favorite simile was “I was as frustrated as a dentist in a candy store”. If I were you I would write more about the things they do to solve the mystery to keep the curiosity level higher. I will definitely read more of your books and thank you for your time.
Best Regards,
Derin ______
I replied . . .
Dear Derin,
You wrote an excellent letter, filled with good observations and sharp understanding. Thanks for that. 
It’s funny, I get a fair amount of letters from Turkey. My guess is that there’s one teacher there — somewhere! — who has a bin of my books. I’m grateful to that mysterious superfan.

Featuring illustrations throughout by R.W. Alley!

I always have bittersweet feelings about this particular book. I’ve written many, as you know; the newest title, The Case of the Hat Burglar (Macmillan, August 2019) will be the 42nd in the series. So, yeah, that’s crazy. Some books are more successful than others. Or in kinder terms, each has different strengths and weaknesses. Some are funnier; some have sturdier mysteries, better detective work; some have more heart, emotion; and so on.

This particular title came at a time when my oldest son, Nicholas (now 25), had been diagnosed with cancer. Just a little boy, dangerously sick. It was a hard time for our family. I did my best to work through those times, but on Best Pet Ever I had some help from a co-writer. I did my best, I’m responsible for every word, but I might have been floating in outer space when it was all happening. Anyway, today Nick is healthy and strong and living in the Big Apple, i.e., New York City. 
Thanks for your letter. I do hear your advice about the detective work. I’ll keep trying!
All good things,
James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #284: Emergency Author Interview!

 

At a recent school visit, an eager student came up to me after a presentation hoping for an interview. Unfortunately, it was toward the end of the day, I still had books to sign, etc. There wasn’t time. I said I’d be happy to answer questions if she wrote to me. Usually it ends there.

And guess what? She persisted.

We admire that attribute in young women, don’t we?

Here’s the email, sent by Chloe’s librarian, and my response.

 

Hi Jimmy,

I apologize for the rush, but a student of mine, Chloe, has some interview questions that she needs answering as soon as possible.
1. What was the first  book you ever wrote?
2. What was the favorite book that you’ve ever written?
3. If you were not an author, what would be your second career and why?
4. From where do you get your inspiration? Do your kids inspire you?
5. When you were young, were you good at reading?
6. What is your favorite book?
7. What “role” did you play when you were in school? Were you the teacher’s pet? The sports jock? The bully?  etc
8. Why don’t any of your characters get killed?
9. How does your childhood affect your career as a writer?
10. What made you decide to become a writer?
11. Are you working on a new book? And if so, what is it about?
12. Would you want to choose any of the covers for your books?
13. How long do you think you will keep writing?
Thank you so much!
Aliya
I replied:
Since this is a rush, let me answer without too much thinking . . .
1. Maxx Trax: Avalanche Rescue! It was a picture book about superpowered trucks.
2. Blood Mountain, coming in October.
3. Editor. Something with a creative element involving books.
4. Inspiration is all around me, including my children.
5. Good at reading? Hmmm, I think so; I don’t recall having any problems with it. But I was not an enthusiastic reader until high school, college.
6. Of all books? Oh my. Where the Wild Things Are is pretty darn good! I like Owl Moon a lot. My favorite novel from the past year is titled Overstory by Richard Powers.
7. I didn’t really fit into a category. Not a jock, not a clown. I flew under the radar with a small group of close friends. The misfits?
8. I have had characters die in The Fall and Before You Go, but those books are for older readers (grades 7-up). I’ve also had characters face serious illness in Six Innings and The Courage Test. So it’s not all been just rainbows, cupcakes and unicorns. And, technically, Adrian in Better Off Undead is a 7th-grade zombie — he died and reanimated — so I’ve got that covered, too.
9. My childhood, my roots, profoundly affect everything I write. Most clearly and obviously in the Jigsaw Jones series, where he is the youngest of a large family — like me.
10. I don’t think we “decide” to be writers, so much as we pick up a pen and make time to write. It can be a journal, a letter, a poem, a story, whatever. It’s just how I’ve processed my thoughts and feelings.
11. I am the “thinking” stage of a new book that features Mary, a minor (but crucial) character in the book Bystander. Haven’t written a word yet — but I’m getting there!
12. Would I like more of a voice in the creation of my book covers? Yes, yes, yes.
13. I will write until the day I die. There’s no reason to stop. Of course, I may not have any readers left. But the truth is, I’d do it anyway!
Thanks for asking.
 
My best,
James Preller