Archive for July 21, 2008

For Mets Fans Only II

There’s a guy on the world wide web who specializes in imitating batting stances of famous and not-so-famous baseball players from every team in the MLB.

Why doesn’t this information surprise you?

Here’s one such clip featuring New York Mets, past and present, as recreated by the one, the only, “Batting Stance Guy.” I’d bet a LOT of boys did this in their youth — I sure did — standing there with a whiffle ball bat in hand, pretending to be Carl Yastrzemski. I also love the friendship that’s evidenced in this video, the two guys off camera who are filming their hilarious buddy, giggling softly at the friend who always finds a way to make them laugh. Good times, good times.

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Getting Crowded, Getting Press

Okay, people, you are all going to have to take a step back — squeeze in, please — we’ve got to make room in the blogosphere for one more author. I know it’s tight, but I’m pretty sure this is the last one. That’s right, Tony Abbott (“Secrets of Droon” series, Kringle, Firegirl, The Postcard), has finally started up his own blog. I look forward to reading it, because Tony is a smart, talented guy who has a world of experience in children’s books. And he’s funny, too. It’ll be nice to hang out with him a little bit, here in the bloggy world.

You can check out Tony’s blog right here.

In other news, my local paper, The Times-Union, did a Sunday feature piece on me after eighteen years under the Cone of Silence. Here’s the link which, fortunately, does not include photographs. I always find this sort of publicity to be embarrassing and awkward — a necessary evil — but I admit that the writer, Mike Lisi, did a nice job and somehow kept me from coming off as a complete idiot. No small thing, that.

Fan Mail Wednesday #7

The Irish have an expression, “Flowers for the living.” Basically: You don’t have to wait for somebody to die before you say something nice about him, or her. It’s nice to be on the receiving end of the sentiment. Here’s a note I received from a reader named Kelly:

Dear Mr. Preller,

I just finished reading Six Innings and wanted to compliment you on a fine book. I am a retired elementary school teacher and children’s librarian, and I try to keep up with the latest juvenile books even though I don’t have much kid-contact any more. Six Innings is a wonderful read for adults, too, with lots of great nostalgia, but what I particularly admired about the book was the restraint shown in presenting the characters. We know a lot about each one through subtle hints and bits of dialogue. You didn’t beat us over the head telling us how each one feels–you just show us through their actions and thoughts. The old writing dictum “Show, don’t tell” was well-used here. I really cared about the characters. I am not a huge baseball fan–(other than following the Rockies to the World Series last year–I live in Colorado.)—but the suspense you brought to the little league game was great. Thanks for a good read.

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Sometimes people will ask me if I like being an author. If it’s a “fun job.” I don’t know about that, exactly. Fun? Hmmm. But when I think of (rare) letters like the above, or complimentary notes I’ve received from parents, or simply a comment from a child telling me I wrote The Best Book in the World! — when I think of the rewards, of how much this job gives back — then it’s easy to say, “Yeah, I do like it. I really do.”

A Day in the Life

I just read about this in Rolling Stone and had to track it down on youtube. For the first time ever, Paul McCartney played the song “A Day in the LIfe” live in concert. It was especially significant because that’s really John’s song, and Paul had to sing John’s part, while Yoko Ono sat beaming in the audience. Just a cool rock-n-roll moment.

Then I remembered something: “A Day in the Life” is the subtitle to my book, Six Innings, and yes, that was a conscious act of appreciation. I’ve often thrown Beatles references in my books: characters who live on Penny Lane or Abbey Road, or the old lady down the block named Mrs. Eleanor Rigby. I once even started a Jigsaw Jones book (#5, The Case of the Stolen Baseball Cards), with these borrowed lines:

I got up. I got out of bed. I dragged a comb across my head.

(Gee, I hope I don’t get sued for that!) I doubt that many readers ever get the references, but I figure there’s some parents out there having a quiet chuckle, like when we watch Bugs Bunny do a Groucho Marx impression.

Anyway, enjoy the video!

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Spider on the Blogs!

A fresh copy of my upcoming book, Along Came Spider (Scholastic, August), arrived in the mail last week. That’s a righteous moment for any author/illustrator: the first book off the presses! And always it’s the same story. Your editor tells you how she could only get one copy, purloined off somebody in marketing, but there’s surely more somewhere in the warehouse, and pretty soon (maybe) they’ll find them.

And nothing happens for a few weeks, while you cling to your sole copy of the book, holding it out to friends for a brief sniff and greedily pulling it back, like Gollum and his precious ring.

On the cyberfront, Spider has gotten a couple of reviews from blogs. So far, so good. I think the reviewers are right in that it’s a simply-written story about complex feelings. I guess it’s noteworthy in the sense that these kinds of stories — basically: friendship under duress — are more commonly written about girls, as if boys suffered none of these emotional/ethical conflicts, as if, in fact, boys had no interior lives at all. (We just like trucks, right? And noises that go BOOM.)

They are also correct in that I didn’t do anything flashy with the writing. It’s funny, I feel like my entire post-college writing career has been a long process of learning how to get out of the way. Or, that is, un-learning much what they taught me in college! I’ve come to increasingly admire restraint, simplicity and austerity, sentences like, oh, “A minute later he was snoring” (Steig, Doctor De Soto). Unadorned, absent of any look-at-how-clever-I-am writing. I suppose I’m sensitive to this aspect of writing because, as a particular brand of male ego, I’m so vulnerable to it. When I’m at my worst, I gild the lily. So I’ve come to perceive that trait as the Enemy Within, the danger I need to purge against: overwriting, AKA, showing off. That’s where revision comes in, pulling the purple prose off the bone, like picking cotton candy off the cardboard cylinder.

Anyway, here’s some links and money quotes from the reviews:

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From Ignacio Guerra at Alan Online:

James Preller delves into the hostile and confusing world of adolescence and illuminates how yearning for acceptance and popularity can sometimes strain a friendship. This exposé on the complicated social dynamics of school is a fascinating joy to read with excellent readability and flow!

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From Nan Hoekstra at Anokaberry:

Preller tells an everyday story with eloquence and empathetic grace. These ordinary (amazing) kids are growing up — daily making their own way, raised by parents, guided by teachers and events. Often in groups, always alone, trying to figure themselves and others out. No under or overstated angst here, the author just tells us about it, and lets the characters speak . . . Thanks James Preller, for (another) outstanding contribution to literature for precious children.

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By the way, I’m amazed by book reviewers. How do they read so much?! You look at Nan’s site, or so many others, and it’s like, “Do they just read all the time? When do they eat?” I am genuinely grateful, and somewhat awed.