Archive for April 29, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Tour

My apologies, I usually don’t stoop to these lows, but I was tagged by my pal, Kurtis Scaletta, for the “Next Big Thing” Blog Tour.

Essentially, a bunch of authors make up a game of “tag” as an excuse to promote an upcoming book. I really find this kind of thing unbecoming of an author but — owwww, that hurts! — Kurtis is twisting my arm so very, very painfully.

I surrender, Scaletta. I’ll answer your stinking questions!

1. What is the working title of your next book?

SCARY TALES: Home Sweet Horror.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

As always in these cases, a variety of factors provided the impulse. First, I was looking to get back to writing for a readership that I hadn’t focused on since my “Jigsaw Jones” series. From discussions with librarians and teachers, I knew that ages 7-10 were under-served when it came to age-appropriate “scary” material. But mostly, I was eager to loosen up, write what I think of as “an Entertainment” — something purely fun that I knew even reluctant readers would happily devour.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Though the series is called SCARY TALES, the books fit into a variety of genre. This first title is pretty straightforward, filed under “Ghost” or “Horror” or “Supernatural.” The second in the series, I Scream, You Scream, seems like more of a “Thriller” to me, with “Fantasy” aspects. The third one, Good Night, Zombie, features a mob of zombies, so it’s “Horror-Thriller” combined. Fourth in the series, Nightmareland, is more of a “Fantasy” — a boy enters into a video game and must be rescued by his sister. The fifth book, which I’m currently writing, is set in the future on a distant planet, so I guess that makes it “Science Fiction.” In the coming year if I’m lucky, I’d like to write one that could be considered “Historic Fiction.” A ghost story set in a real place. Obviously, this question has confused me. Ultimately, again, I think of each book as an “Entertainment.”

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Next question!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Family moves into haunted house . . . and the house is not pleased.

6. Who is publishing your book?

Feiwel & Friends, Macmillan.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Eight weeks.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I guess R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” is an obvious comparison, as well as the Scary Stories collections by Alvin Schwartz. Hopefully this series falls somewhere in the middle, and offers readers something new.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was very much inspired by the old “Twilight Zone” television series. Each story was unique — new characters, new setting, a variety of genre — but at the same time, each story delivered on the Twilight Zone promise. Viewers always got that Twilight Zone experience. Cool weirdness, the sense of intellectual rigor, of the bizarre and the unexpected. So no matter where the story went, you were happy to go along because you knew it would be a journey worth taking, often with a twist at the end.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

My daughter taught me about the popular legend of “Bloody Mary,” the kids game where they try to summon a ghost to the bathroom mirror by turning around 13 times and repeating the words “Bloody Mary.” So I figured, why not? It was the hook I needed. Bloody Mary factors large in this story.

Illustration by Iacopo Bruno.

Now it my turn to tag someone. I immediately thought of a local author whose career is just lifting off, Mr. Eric Luper, the author of these books and more.

Here is Eric’s most recent book. I am linking to his website so you can click through and see his answers to the questions above… look for it next week!

Eric Luper‘s next book is in progress, as yet untitled, and due out in 2014. Eric promises that he’s working on it. Really, for true!

KINDNESS: My Trip to the 2013 Youth Writing Festival at Calvin College

I just returned from a wonderful, two-night trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I was invited (by Gary Schmidt!) to participate in the 2013 Youth Writing Festival at Calvin College.

At one point it looked exactly like this:

As my Nation of Readers is well aware, I do many visits — particularly at this time of year. It’s fun, it’s beautiful to meet those children, and it’s work. Most visits are great, a few decidedly less so (oh, the stories I could tell), and every once in a while the entirety of a visit feels like a blessing.

Like I’m the luckiest guy in town.

That’s how I felt for my entire trip at Calvin. I was surrounded by caring, dedicated teachers and volunteers  who could not have possibly treated me with more kindness.

These folks did it right every step of the way, and I am grateful to all of them (Gary, Judy, Don, Kristin, Nancy, Debbie . . . far, far too many folks to name, from the President of the College who invited us into his home to the student volunteers who assisted us in countless ways).

For example, in the hotel room, I found a basket of treats and this sweet letter:

I certainly don’t need to be treated like a big deal, and it’s not anything I’ll ever actually believe, but it’s awfully nice when it happens.

As an added bonus, I had the pleasure of meeting artist E.B. Lewis, a dignified man of talent, character, and intelligence. I picked up a copy of his latest book, Each Kindness, written by the great Jacqueline Woodson.

I love this book’s focus on kindness.

And, yes, that sad ending of lost opportunity hits me dang in the heart, hard.

Illustration by E.B. Lewis.

Since I first published Bystander in 2009, I’ve all seen a massive shift in focus on the issue of bullying in the media and in our schools. To the point where it almost feels . . . not over-stated, that’s the wrong word, but somehow . . . misguided at times. Students, especially, seem wary of being talked down to, lectured at, scolded. Hit over the head with the topic, turned off. You have to find a way to bring them to the core values, I think, and I believe that A GOOD STORY is far more effective at building empathy than a list of do’s and don’ts.

I suppose my radar has been, perhaps, more finely attuned to the issue over the past few years. I don’t really believe in talking about “bullying,” per say, since I don’t think that should be the main subject. I believe it’s  more basic than that, for “bullying” is just a sub-set of more significant themes for our children to encounter, consider, and embrace. One trend that I really like (see R.J. Palacio’s Wonder as a prime example) is a renewed focus on the simple things at the heart of the matter: how we should treat each other.

Words like empathy, decency, tolerance, compassion, and kindness.

Basic human kindness. Being a good person.

Do unto others.

Or questions like: How do you think it feels? How would you like to be treated?

This book powerfully expresses those ideas (and ideals).

We learn by meeting characters, by stepping in their shoes, by imagining their feelings, the rumblings in their hearts. We learn through the power of story — that essential human art form that’s been with us since cave dwellers gathered around the fire.

I highly, highly recommend the book, Each Kindness.

I even got a signed copy for my daughter.

Thanks, E.B.

And thank you, everyone at Calvin College, for a trip I’ll long remember.

Living with Tragedy

For the paperback publication of my young adult novel, BEFORE YOU GO, I was asked to answer a few interview questions for the back matter.

I didn’t really intend to share this here, but given recent events, and the fact I just stumbled upon it again, well, sometimes you have to trust in coincidence. Here you go:

Losing a peer when you are young is especially difficult. Do you have any advice for someone who has experienced this?

Advice? My first impulse is to give sympathy, to say how sorry I am, and to recognize that I cannot know exactly what they are going through. Life can feel impossibly hard at times. I remember when my oldest son — he’s in college now — was fighting cancer at age two. I was newly divorced, living in a stupid apartment, just a number of things going seriously haywire at the same time. My crazy “whirled.” There were days when I didn’t want to hang out or do much of anything. But here’s the thing: you do what you must do. The bare essentials. So I washed the dishes in the sink. Folded the laundry. Put on some music, flipped through a magazine, checked the scores in a baseball game, noticed how the leaves turned color outside my window. Life itself is this tremendous vital force. It leaks into everything. And if you allow it, life will pull you through. Before you know it, almost by accident, you are living again, swimming in that great river. You learn that the heavy weight you carry becomes lighter, more buoyant, and at times you temporarily forget. At the same time, the remembering is so important. Life shapes us, makes us who we are –- we endure the good and the devastating. The important thing, I think, is to keep your heart open, even though it hurts, and try to appreciate that you are loved. And, well, you put one foot in front of the other. Day by day. After a while you realize you’ve traveled a great distance. Your back has grown strong. And you are living again.

Nice Article Based on My Recent School Visit to Fair Lawn, NY

A local reporter, Tracey Putrino, sat in for one of my presentations during a recent school visit to Fair Lawn, New Jersey. The school itself was spectacular, warm and clean and bursting with pride, one of the sweetest elementary schools I’ve ever had the honor to visit.

I’ve said it a hundred times: Authors don’t do school visits; schools do author visits. And this was one school, friends and neighbors, that did it up right.

My thanks goes out to the entire school, including Leo the Janitor! Thanks, also, to Tracey Putrino, who did a really nice job on the article.

NOTE: I took photos with my bewildering phone, various decorations and learning activities that each class created in anticipation of my visit. The school looked so welcoming and awesome. Unfortunately, every photo appears upside down when I try to post here — and I can’t figure out how to fix it. Grrrrr.

Here’s the article (for the link, to prove I’m not making this up, click here):


A children’s author encouraged students at Westmoreland Elementary School in Fair Lawn to use what makes them unique as inspiration in their own writing.

Students at Westmoreland Elementary School in Fair Lawn were eager to ask children's author James Preller their questions during his visit to the school on April 12.

Students at Westmoreland Elementary School in Fair Lawn were eager to ask children’s author James Preller their questions during his visit to the school on April 12.

“Enjoy what he has to share,” said Principal Christy Dell’Aglio as she introduced James Preller during his visit to the school on April 12.

Preller of Delmar, N.Y., has written more than 80 children’s books including about 40 as part of the “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series.

Using the uniqueness of fingerprints as an example, the author told students to consider what makes them unique because no one else has their parents, siblings or experiences.

“Begin with your life,” he said.

Preller has done the same with his stories and characters. Whether it came from being the youngest of seven children, his love of baseball or his memories of his grandmother, he said those experiences can lead to ideas.

“Where do you get ideas?” he asked the group of second- and third-graders during one of the three presentations he did during the visit.

From their head, feelings, observing what happens around them, books and things that happen to them and their friends were some of the answers.

Preller said an idea is just “a little seed” that can grow. He urged students to make lists and keep writing journals to jot down ideas that could later become stories.

As an example from one of his books, he said he was listening to the radio when he heard one of the announcers say, “You can’t hide broccoli in a glass of milk.” The line stuck with him and ended up in a scene with Jigsaw Jones when his friend, Joey, stays over for dinner in “The Case of the Million Dollar Mystery.” He read the passage to students as Jigsaw’s father asked him to finish his glass of milk than was beginning to turn green from the broccoli.

“A writer’s two most important words are what if?,” said Preller, noting if they ask that question and follow the path it can lead to a story.

The writer told students it is never too early for them to make their own books. He showed them an example of one of his earliest works that he wrote and illustrated about Tarzan. While he was not much of a reader as a child, Preller said he did love baseball and always checked out the box scores and read the sports section of the newspaper.

“My love of sports made me a reader,” the writer said.

His Jigsaw Jones book, “The Case of the Bear Scare,” came from reading newspaper articles about bears showing up in neighborhoods.

As the father of three, his experiences with his children have also sparked ideas. When his daughter asked him he had ever heard the story of Bloody Mary, the story about a ghost who appears in a mirror became a scene that he read to students from one of his newest books. It is part of a new series called “Scary Tales” that will be released this summer.

Fan Mail #168: Questions, Questions, Questions

Again, I’m beginning a blog entry with an apology. I haven’t been keeping up with it lately, after five years of consistent effort. I have a few excuses, but really, who cares?

I am not giving up this blog, but I will likely de-emphasize it in my life. It will be here, I will continue to share a sampling of fan mail, and whatever else might come.

Thanks for stopping by, and please come again.

Here’s one from California!

Apologies for the scan . . .

(Gosh, I’ve got to stop apologizing and START LIVING!)

I replied, in part:

Dear Jullianna:

I’m glad you enjoyed my book, The Case of the Great Sled Race. In that story, I paid tribute to another book, Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner. It’s terrific and you should read it. Just like Jigsaw Jones did in his class.

Though, I should warn you, it might make you cry a little tiny bit.

But hey, I like to cry. I do! It means I’m feeling something, my heart swells, I’m alive. Okay, laughter is best – but crying is good, too. Seriously!

I searched and searched for the envelope you included in the letter, but I couldn’t find it. I either lost it (probably) or you forgot to include it (maybe). No worries. I did a little investigating because I had to find your zip code, and out of curiosity I jumped on Google Maps and started looking at houses on your actual block. Crazy, isn’t it?

Seems like you live in a nice part of the world. Well played, Julianna!

You asked so many questions in your letter. You can find the answers to most of them by going to my site at and digging around a bit. I hope that doesn’t seem too lazy of me, but I created the site for readers exactly like you -– and to spare myself, admittedly, from having to answer the same questions over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.

My best,

James Preller