GOOD NEWS: Coming in August, My First “Easy-to-Read” in 30 Years!

Coming in August, this aspirational moose!

 

This sweet little book, wonderfully illustrated by Abigail Burch, is my first easy-to-read since WAKE ME IN SPRING and HICCUPS FOR ELEPHANT (both sold over 1 million copies and both are out of print). Published those two 30 years ago. It was time.

I like this moose. 

On Watching “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three,” and David Shire, and a Sneeze, and Chekhov’s Gun

Netflix recently added a bunch of movies from the 70s and “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” caught my eye (the original 1974 film, not the remake). I remembered seeing it in the theater in my early teens. Walter Matthau and the gritty old NYC vibe. Not quite the caliber of “The French Connection” or “Serpico,” but drawing from those same mean streets. And what a cast, in addition to Matthau, there’s Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Jerry Stiller, and more, including Lee Wallace spoofing NYC Mayor Koch. 

    

Anyway, I watched it again. I don’t know that it stood up all that well, but I enjoyed it, partly for nostalgic reasons. It brought me back.

That said: The opening theme, written by legendary composer David Shire, is out of this world good. Brassy and propulsive and energetic, a jazz-funk theme that announces a city that is alive and muscular, gritty and tough.

Give it a listen . . . it’s fabulous. 

 

One thing of note. There’s a moment early in the film when one of the bad guys sneezes and Matthau’s character — Garber — says “Gesundheit.” It was enough of a moment, including that extra beat, that made me think, Hmmmm, why are they doing this here?

I knew something was up with that sneeze.

The film goes on and, wow, again, the bad guy (Green) sneezes. And again, Gesundheit. So not only do we notice it, we notice Garber noticing it. And if I didn’t realize after the first sneeze, by this time I knew for damn certain that the movie would include one more sneeze. A pivotal sneeze. And that it would be how Green gets caught.

(Sidenote: I assume this is where Tarantino lifted the idea for all the criminals in “Reservoir Dogs” using colors for code names: Mr. Brown, Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange, etc.)

Anyway, this is why my long-suffering wife Lisa hates watching movies with me. To the point where I’ve had to promise to keep my big mouth shut. Or else I’ll ruin things by musing out loud on the (obvious!) ending in the first few minutes of a movie. I’m sure other writers, especially mystery writers (there are 42 Jigsaw Jones books, after all, so I’ve learned a thing or two about laying out clues), do this all the time. We notice things. The odd clue that’s put forward unexpectedly, with just a touch too much emphasis. Why have that minor character sneeze like that? It must mean something. Or we know that it will mean something later on.

This is, of course, Chekhov’s Gun. The idea that if a writer introduces a gun in the first act, it must go off by the third act. Otherwise, don’t include the gun at all. Or the sneeze. Every element is essential to the story or irrelevant.

Anyway, the film dutifully gives us that sneeze at the end of the film, as I knew it must.

                           

       

               

                       

 

And the scene was perfect, and waiting for it held its own deep satisfaction. And then we got the film’s final shot, Matthau’s mug, hearing it, and knowing: he’s got his man.

End scene, end movie.

Just perfect.

Lost & Found & Jigsaw Jones

Illustration by R.W. Alley from Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Hat Burglar

Pretty perfect, right?

Mostly I just wanted to share that fabulous illustration. The idea for this mystery — probably the last Jigsaw Jones book? — came from all the “Lost and Founds” I’d seen on various school visits. They always depressed me. The disregard for expensive clothes, the fine things that so many of us have, in a world where not everyone is as fortunate.

Mila has some ideas about this, thankfully.

 

New Book, SHAKEN, Is Coming Along (Fall, 2024)

I’ve been slowly, methodically going through the final edits for SHAKEN, my upcoming middle-grade novel (Macmillan, Fall 2024). The book involves a soccer-obsessed 7th grader, Kristy, who suffers from post-concussion syndrome. It’s a story about identity, anxiety, panic attacks, art therapy, new friendships, making mistakes and, finally, coming true to one’s ever-evolving self. Anyway, it’s a great relief to read through all these words once again, months later, and still feel like, yeah, I like this — I’m proud of it — this is what I hoped to say.

I’m grateful to my editor Liz Szabla and, always, Jean Feiwel, for the opportunity and the steadfast support. True story: I published my first book 38 years ago . . . and Jean was there for that one, too. She’ll never learn. Grades 5-8. 

COMING SOON: Blood Mountain in Paperback, April 23rd, 2024!

GOOD NEWS! I’m thrilled to share that Blood Mountain will soon be available in paperback. To me, that’s when books really get a shot at reaching a wide variety of readers.

Note: It’s an honor to be compared to Gary Paulsen. The man is legend. This book got compared to his bestselling Hatchet novel in three different reviews. I’d sign up for 1/10th of those sales.

Blood Mountain was a Junior Library Guild Selection.

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A QUICK RECAP OF THE REVIEWS . . .

“Preller combines brave characters with vivid descriptions of the perilous mountain, grasping readers’ emotions in the same way as Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet series.” — Booklist.

“A fast-paced, action-packed story that is filled with intense moments and well-researched outdoor information . . . Preller nails it.”

The Reading Junky

“Fans of Gary Paulsen’s books will likely be hooked from page one.” — Publishers Weekly.

“A thrilling purchase for middle grade collections, perfect for fans of adventure novels by Jean Craighead George, Peg Kehret, and Gary Paulsen.” — School Library Journal