Archive for January 21, 2011

It’s the Thought That Counts

I’m conflicted. I realize that some readers enjoy it when I open up about my writing process. At the same time, two thoughts pull me in the other direction: 1) It’s bad voodoo to talk about work before it’s finished; and 2) It seems a little pretentious to me, prattling on about my process.

But, anyway, the blog’s name is so I guess I’m already shin-deep in pretension.

Lately I’ve been keeping a little spiral notebook on my desk, just to the left of the mouse pad (I’m a southpaw from Long Island, remember, and my fastball has natural movement). I jot down things, make “To Do” lists, etc. This morning I woke early and went immediately to work. We’ve got a snow delay, Lisa’s home until 10:00, so I need to make hay.

I wanted to get out a new post for my fabulous Fathers Read blog — please check that out people — knock out some fan mail, scribe a witty Facebook Status Update, and work on the new book. I had woken up thinking about it last night. This morning, before the coffee kicked it, I scribbled this in the aforementioned notebook:

Can you read that? It’s just enough to fuel my writing for the day.

Okay, to fill you in, there’s a scene that just happened. We’re in a middle school and our main character, a boy, endures a moment of petty cruelty. He stands at his locker, absorbing the verbal blow, and watches his foe lope down the hallway.

He thinks:

I so want to be his friend.

That was the surprising thought that woke me up. And it makes sense to me; it’s realistic for how kids think, especially in bullying situations, that paradoxical response, a middle-grade version of The Stockholm Syndrome. (BTW, not at all sure about the word “so” up there, which strikes me as lame and lazy, but I won’t fuss with that now; like birthday presents, when it comes to first drafts, it’s the thought that counts.)

Then another voice surprised me, a new character I hadn’t planned on. I mean, okay, I “planned” on there being more characters, just hadn’t figured out the details. No outline, nothing, just vague and formless thoughts. But before I could begin to conjure this one’s profile and backstory, there was her voice:

“No you don’t.”

In my notebook, as you might be able to decipher, I next wrote:

I turned to see _______ _______ standing next to me. A little awkwardly close.

This is what I think of placeholder text. I don’t have time to, or don’t feel like, actually visualizing the details right now. I know I need to describe her, set the scene, her lank hair and pale complexion, the way her arms hang limply at her side, but I’m just not ready to go there yet. What’s her name? What’s her story? And look at that sentence, “A little awkwardly close.” Again, I’m more interested in the idea — that she invades his space a little, and it’s uncomfortable — than the actual writerly part of things right now.

I had another notion, one I wasn’t sure about, and had to move quickly to get it down:

It was as if she could read my thoughts.

Hmmm. In this particular book, I want to be open to the magical, the psychologically true, so I can’t dismiss that possibility. Can she actually read his thoughts? Or was it just one of those things that happen happen when two people have a connection?

Now I have to think a bit. And write. Because usually it’s in the writing that we do our best thinking.

We don’t write what we know. We write to find out what we know.

Have a great weekend!

BYSTANDER in Paperback: New Cover, Old Hype

Good news for schools interested in using Bystander as part of a “One Book, One School” program, or on Required Summer Reading lists, or as part of an anti-bullying initiative: The book will be available this May in paperback.

Read: Cheap, cheap, cheap!

Or, at least, cheaper.

Take a look at the new cover . . .

Preller has perfectly nailed the middle school milieu, and his characters are well developed with authentic voices. The novel has a parablelike quality, steeped in a moral lesson, yet not ploddingly didactic. The action moves quickly, keeping readers engaged. The ending is realistic: there’s no strong resolution, no punishment or forgiveness. Focusing on the large majority of young people who stand by mutely and therefore complicitly, this must-read book is a great discussion starter that pairs well with a Holocaust unit.” —School Library Journal, Starred Review.

“Plenty of kids will see themselves in these pages, making for painful, if important, reading.”Publishers Weekly.

“Expertly written and rich on multiple levels, “Bystander” weaves a realistic tale of the bully, the bully’s targets and the physical and emotional pain that the victims suffer. It explores what might happen when someone decides to no longer be a bystander and to do something about the bully’s behavior.”Kendal Rautzhan, Nationally Syndicated Columnist

Should be required reading for students in middle school or just getting ready to enter middle school.” Literate Lives.

The Tyranny of Silence

When I was working on Bystander, I kept running across different quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. He would often express the same idea in subtle variations. Dr. King issued an indictment against the tyranny of silence, reminding us all of our responsibility to speak up. King believed in the common good. He had an abiding faith in his fellow man. If only we would stand up to be heard, then justice and democracy and human kindness would surely prevail over cruelty and prejudice.

Here’s a few of my favorite quotes from Dr. King:

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Fan Mail Wednesday #106 (Friday Edition)

Here’s an easy one!

Hi, My name is Sheyanne and I live in Watseka, Illinois. I am in 5th grade, and I am doing a book report on The Case of the Haunted Scarecrow and one of the questions I have to answer is where did you attend school at in 5th grade? If you could answer my question I would be very thankful.
I replied:

Sheyanne, I attended St. Frances de Chantal Elementary School in Wantagh, New York, from grades 1-6. It was a Catholic school and we had to wear uniforms: dark green pants, white shirt, green tie. After sixth grade I transferred out early to attend public school and wear normal clothes.
It was better for the girls, though. They got to wear pink go-go boots with these really cool fringe leather vests that . . . no, not really. In fact, they wore ties, too. And high, thick green socks. Every girl in 5th grade had sweaty, itchy ankles. You need proof?
Here’s a photo of my 5th grade class with Sister Mary Edna. Count how many kids are in that picture: 23 boys, 18 girls. Yikes. There were no teacher’s aides in those days, just Sister Mary Edna and her strict rules and golden ruler.
Oh, what? Which one am I? Top shelf, fifth from the left. True story: One day we were on line to go to P.E. (in the auditorium, because we didn’t have a real gym, or a lunch room, btw). Anyway, Sister Mary Edna summoned me to her desk. She looked at me, slapped me across the face, and said, “Get a haircut!”
Guess what? I got a haircut.
POSTSCRIPT: I heard back from Sheyanne and have to share her sweet reply:
thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love your books!!!!

Boys Reading

I want to welcome you to my labor of love —

This week I launched the new blog, dedicated to the proposition of male role models playing an important role in the reading life of boys.

Please stop by to check it out. And please, if you care about this issue, share a link with a friend, post it on your blog, spread the word. I really believe in the potential of this site, and right now it needs your support (only 17 visitors yesterday!).

So far this week at Fathers Read:

* Author Jordan Sonnenblick, recent winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for After Ever After, writes about “Five Things About Me as a Young Reader.”

* Illustrator Eric Velesquez, recent winner of the Pure Belpre Award, shares his strong feelings about men and role models, and pays a moving tribute to Mr. Basquez.

* And always, some quick, fun shots of men reading, complete with snide commentary.

* In the future, there’s much more to come, as I hope to make this site a Grand Central Station for news and links regarding the reading gender gap.