Tag Archive for Sequel to Bystander

A Letter to Educators, Summer Hours, & Zoom Thoughts

In the best of times, my creativity ebbs and flows. This past month, I’ve found it difficult to put a post together. Part of that is my own distracted, short-circuited mind; another aspect is a nagging sense that few people care anyway. I guess a lot of writers feel that way from time to time, though my case has been acute of late. Strangely, I’ve still been actively writing manuscripts. Good ones, too, I think. But I am a little disheartened about my place the industry; I’m just not confident that my recent stories will see the light of day. What’s a writer to do? A strange place to find myself after spending the past 35 years in the children’s book world. On the positive side, I completed a prequel/sequel to my middle grade novel Bystander, titled Upstander, which should come out sometime next year. No cover yet, still waiting to see what that will look like.

So if you are here now, reading this — thanks for that. I hope to never take you for granted. 

SUMMER HOURS

I generally cut back on ye olde blog posts in the summer, since a lot of my traffic seems to revolve around the school year. I’ll still post when I’m moved to do so, or if something spectacular comes up, though for the most time it’ll be quiet. But before we all pitch tents in our backyards, I wanted to share with you a publicity letter I wrote to “select” educators who expressed interest in my new book, All Welcome Here, illustrated by the legendary Mary GrandPre. 

ALL WELCOME HERE: A LETTER TO EDUCATORS

Dear Educator,

As an author who has worked in children’s books for more than half my life, I’ve visited hundreds of schools across the country. I always come away with a good feeling in my heart, not only because of the students, who are amazing, but also because of the vibrancy and intimacy of the classroom. I’m moved by the good work that people like you are doing, day after day, year after year, sometimes under extremely challenging circumstances. Online learning anyone?

Teachers can be counted on to open their hearts and their classrooms to every child who comes through that door. All those values we hold close to our core -– empathy, inclusion, kindness, community –- become a living reality in your classroom. This is the great promise of the American Experiment played out before our eyes. It truly works, you’ve seen it, and it’s beautiful.

I was inspired to write All Welcome Here early in 2016. The world as I knew it felt fractured and divided. Today, four years later, it seems all but shattered. But together we’re picking up the pieces, working to cobble together a better, brighter, more loving and ethical land of the free.

Please think of this book as my thank you for that great effort. I know you work hard to foster those values in your school community. Hopefully this book, so gorgeously illustrated by Mary GrandPre, will serve as a springboard for positive conversations between you and your students. Also, I hope that you find it to be entertaining, and funny, and joyful. Jon-Kim spilling his crayons, Chloe’s laughter, and the way a shy girl tentatively makes a new friend. Even the shaving cream behind Principal K’s ear. This book is my tribute to those everyday moments that happen in your school lives, day after day, year after year. Thank you for your valuable work.

Be safe, stay healthy, and good luck!

James Preller

 

ZOOM VISITS

I’ve enjoyed several Zoom and Google Meets Visits over the past few weeks. Some have been particularly meaningful, I think, making me a true convert to the value and impact of a properly structured Zoom Visit.

To me, the key figure in an online visit is the teacher. It is the teacher who inspires, who prepares, who builds anticipation, and who actively moderates (thank you, “mute button!”) an online visit. A Zoom Visit with one class can be a profoundly (and surprisingly) intimate experience. It is very much like stepping into a classroom for a loose, easy-going conversation between students and author.

And guess what? In normal times, that never happens. There’s no time for a visiting author to move from classroom to classroom; instead, we present to entire grades or multiple grades: hundreds of students at one time. That’s awesome and powerful, too. But a Zoom Visit can be inspirational in its own unique way. A standard in-person presentation is a broadcast with a short Q & A tagged on at the end; a Zoom Visit is more interactive, featuring more of a direct one-on-one connection.

I recently heard from an enthusiastic teacher on Long Island who wrote to me after a visit with her class. She said:

“I had to share some more feedback I have received from parents . . . you truly have influenced many of my students. I realize the technology was a bit of a pain, but the outcomes are so worth it! I cannot thank you enough for your time and inspiring words!!”

She included some follow-up emails from parents:  

“Danny was so jazzed up after this he wants our whole family to write a book. He has assigned us all jobs to do and he is the author. I never would’ve thought that he’d be so into this. Thank you again. I haven’t seen him this excited about something in a while.”

Here’s another:

“Super inspirational!!! And so so patient. Like when they asked the author similar questions he just patiently answered! It’s inspiring us (at home) to maybe build a mini library!”

Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE.

Note: I believe I talked about my love of Little Free Libraries, which I featured in Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space. Pretty cool if a family reads my book and turns around to build one of their own. That’s the literacy connection, how books bring us together and help build communities.

My point here is not to toot my own horn (though, obviously, I’m doing that), but to express again that I AM SOLD ON ZOOM VISITS.

I think we’ve still got to figure out the money — it has to be very affordable, but at the same time “more than free.” We can individualize visits, or even create recurring visits, around concrete themes. For example: haiku poems. We could talk about them, share them, learn together. Or writing mysteries. Last week I enjoyed a visit with a Texas librarian that centered around dialogue. 

In short, I think it’s more productive to think of a Zoom Visit not as “the James Preller show” but more of a unique way to bring an author into your classroom to directly connect with and inspire your students. 

Feel free to write to me at jamespreller@aol.com to discuss it. I’m open and flexible and eager to meet your students.

THANKS AGAIN FOR STOPPING BY!

 

-Z

 

UPSTANDER: Six Books That Helped Me Write a Prequel/Sequel to BYSTANDER

Writing a novel usually begins for me with reading. Here are six books that I’ve read, in addition to other research, to help me write my current work-in-progress.

     

               

Again, it’s like falling down a well. I could keep reading endlessly, blow deadlines year after year; the more I learn, the more there is to know. For this topic, it is truly a deep, dark well. A heartbreaking place I found hard to climb out of.

Then as a writers, at a certain point, we need to push that aside — take what we need for the story, for the characters, and start writing.

When I wrote Bystander, I came away with the feeling that I could tell a hundred different bully-themed stories. Each one different, with countless variations and permutations. You can’t say everything there is to be said; you have to make choices. Decide that this is the story I’m going to tell, and every word in it must serve that particular story. But I am always haunted by the fear of getting something wrong, or missing a critical insight, a layer of perception. I want to do a good job. 

For this book, I have a seventh-grade character whose older brother is dealing with substance use problems. He’s not the main character, but his struggles have a profound impact on the middle school-age girl, Mary, who is the featured character of the book. 

Mary O’Malley first appeared in my book Bystander. This is a prequel/sequel to that story in that it takes place along a similar time-frame — before, during, and after the events first explored in Bystander. There’s some overlap, a few of the same scenes are revisited from a new perspective, but on the whole this story stands on its own.

Working title: Upstander.

You heard it here first.

Everyone has a story. 

Any luck, look for it in 2021.

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



 

Good News: Another Terrific Review for THE FALL (Booklist, July Issue)

I’m happy about this positive review for The Fall in the July issue of Booklist.

Thank you, Teri Lesesne!

Money quote:

“Readers will put this puzzle together, eager to see whether Sam ultimately accepts his role in Morgan’s death, and wanting to see the whole story of what one person could have, and should have, done for Morgan. Pair this with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007).”

I’ll take it!

Here’s the whole shebang:

The Fall. Preller, James (Author)

Sep 2015. 256 p. Feiwel and Friends, hardcover, $16.99. (9780312643010).

9780312643010Sam Proctor is just an ordinary guy, neither an athlete nor a scholar. He goes with the flow, which is why he was part of the gang who piled on a girl named Morgan. A few comments on her home page, some name calling—it was harmless, right? But the taunts and posts grew uglier until Morgan stepped off the town’s water tower and killed herself. Sam now wonders about his culpability. At first, he rationalizes: he wasn’t the worst of the bullies, and it’s not like he pushed her off the edge. In short, episodic chapters, Preller provides readers with a rare glimpse into the mind of a bully (though Sam would never admit he is one). The pace is fast, yet the story unfolds slowly, one piece at a time. Readers will put this puzzle together, eager to see whether Sam ultimately accepts his role in Morgan’s death, and wanting to see the whole story of what one person could have, and should have, done for Morgan. Pair this with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007). — Teri Lesesne

Fan Mail Wednesday #197: Emily, Age 11, Writes an Alternative Ending to BYSTANDER

postalletter-150x150

 

I get a lot of great letters from readers, but this one is particularly awesome because it’s from a future author . . . who maybe already writes better than me. Rats!

 

Hello Mr. Preller,

9780312547967My name is Emily _____, age 11, and I wish to be an author someday. I read your story Bystander and loved it!  Although I didn’t like how the story ended between Eric and Griffin. I was expecting some sort of face off between them but it never happened. So, I wrote my own ending to the story. I go to school in Portland. I handed in the story into my teacher for her advice and she made a note that said (and i quote):

Emily,

There are so many great qualities in this story — wow!

  • really suspenseful and exciting
  • great phrasing description
  • believable plot

You should send this to author to read — really he will appreciate it i’m sure.

Anyway, so i decided to send it to you! here it is:

How Bystander should have ended…

It was November. A couple months have passed since Griffin and Eric interacted with one another. Griffin and his new crew ruled the halls of the school. Eric wished that if he imagined it enough Griffin would leave, but when you enter reality, it’s not something you can expect to happen.

Day by day, the boys exchange dirty looks with one another… until Eric decided to tell the  “Griffin crew,” who was boss.

“Ok, Griffin, I am going to tell you this, and I’m only going to say this once…” Eric said grabbing Griffin by the shirt.

“We need to settle this like men,” Eric spoke with rage.

“On the basketball court. If I win, you stop bullying people forever. But if you win, then I leave the school…forever.”

Griffin almost laughed.

“Really? And who would be on your team?” Griffin snickered. Eric’s face turned pale as sleet.

“I can find a team,” Eric trembled as he spoke.  A crowd of people came fast, swarming like bees. Everyone was there. Then Eric heard a voice he hadn’t heard in a while.

“I’ll be on his team!” shouted a voice. Everyone looked back to see David Hallenback standing, head held high.

“Ha-ha. Are you kidding?! Hallenback you can’t even do a push up!” Griffin teased. Eric knew he couldn’t be a bystander again.

“I’ve seen him do a pushup!” Eric lied. David’s cheeks got less red as if Eric’s words soaked up all the embarrassment.

“Well you can only have two people on your team… who would join?”

Then Griffin heard a voice that he recognized call out:

“I will,” It was Cody. Who knew someone so annoying could be so kind?

“Uhh, dude! You’re in my crew!” Griffin called out.

“I ditched you remember?” Cody said. He walked over to Eric and high fived him. It was then three on Griffin’s team and three on Eric’s team. Griffin was with, a new kid named Caiden, and tomboy named Piper. Eric was with David and Cody.

“I’m going to win this thing,” Griffin said.

“I beg to differ,” Eric smirked.

—–

It was the day of the game and everyone was there. Eric’s team started with the ball. By the time it was almost over, Eric was losing, 39 to 40. There was 8 seconds on the clock. Griffin’s team had the ball.

1280px-Basketball_through_hoopThen the horn blew. Griffin was heading towards the basket when Hallenback made a quick steal from Griffin and was heading towards the basket. 3 seconds, 2 seconds… then you could hear the most amazing sound in the world, the swoosh of the ball going into the net. Eric won. It was like Eric could walk on air.

“HALLENBACK, HALLENBACK, HALLENBACK!” everyone chanted. Griffin’s anger was boiling up more than dry ice in hot water. Let’s just say, sometime’s a fairytale can turn into reality.

Thank you for your time.

farewell,

Emily

My reply:

Dear Emily,

Thank you for sharing your alternative ending to Bystander. I’m really impressed. I feel like a stranger handed me a gift out of the blue. “For me? Thank you.”

You are such a good writer. Great action and suspense. It’s smart how your brought basketball back into the story, a tale of justice settled on the “court.” Best of all, I think, was your convincing use of dialogue. To me, believable dialogue is the key to writing compelling, fast-paced stories with lively characters. 

When I first started writing, I often got stuck writing long passages filled with interior thinking. Nobody every moved! You know what I mean? Those times when we’re trapped inside a character’s head. So he thinks and thinks and thinks, and shares with the reader lots of interior thoughts. But on the page, that can get boring very quickly. Nothing happens. It took me years to learn a lesson that you already instinctively know: get characters talking to each other, create conflict . . . and get out of the way! I guess it’s obvious, really. Good writing does both, it goes inside and outside. It’s important to get inside a character’s head, at least once in a while, but in terms of showing action — that is: showing, not telling — we need to give readers a clear picture of “the outside.” You do that masterfully.

The ending of Bystander has generated more comments than any other aspect of the book. When I wrote that final scene, I realized that it might not be satisfying in the conventional sense, especially to a reader with a sense of fairness. In stories and movies, we like to see the bad day get it in the end. But my ending was anti-climactic; I did not opt for the big dramatic finish (which you accomplished so well). I went the other direction. For me, I wrote the ending that I thought was most true to the world as I understood it, even if, well, it was not a storybook conclusion. But I hear you, Emily, and you are not wrong to feel the way you do. I just wanted you to know why I wrote the ending the way I did. I followed my own idea of true.

Thank you so much for your work. And thanks, too, for your fabulous teacher who suggested that you share it with me. I’m grateful to your both. Great job all around.

I’m sorry that it took me a couple of weeks to get back to you. I could sense your eagerness for a reply, but I’ve been deep into the final stages of a book — deadlines are tough, you know — and it’s been hard for me to address my growing (virtual) pile of letters. Plus, my mother-in-law has been visiting. And, well, maybe someday you’ll understand the difficulty of that particular distraction.

By the way, I have a companion book to Bystander coming out at the end of the summer, titled The Fall (Macmillan, 2015). It’s an entirely different story, all new characters, but in it I explore some of the same themes and issues found in Bystander. It’s probably a little bit darker, a little tougher. I’m really proud of it. As a writer, you probably how that feels.

I wish you a happy holiday, however you might celebrate this wintery season. As the band Devo said, “Merry Something To You!”

James Preller