Archive for October 31, 2019

GOOD NEWS: Finally, An Audiobook of BYSTANDER!

A question I’ve been asked many times over the years goes something like this: “Our school is featuring your book, Bystander, in our ‘One Book, One School’ project. We want every student in grades 6 and 7 to read a copy of your book. However, because of the wide range of reading abilities, we wondered if there’s an audiobook available?”

And I’d always apologize, say that I wish there was, but . . . well, for whatever reasons . . . no. There was no audiobook.

Occasionally I’d follow that up with a plaintive, bleating note to my editor — okay, maybe I’d whine a little — asking why and why not. There were many reasons why such a thing should exist. It’s a book that sells reasonably well, year to year. A perennial. And besides, if we believe in the topic of the book, of the message and the meaning, it made sense to provide an audiobook. Not for nothing, but sometimes those students who struggle in school end up being the targets of bullying behavior. An audiobook seemed to me like, well, the right thing.

But no, I’d apologize over and over, no audiobook exists. Sorry!

Now on October 29th, 2019, that sad story gets a happy ending. Finally, there’s an audiobook for Bystander.

I haven’t heard it yet. Available through the usual places, produced by Audiobooks. Fingers crossed.


Fan Mail Wednesday #292: On Jigsaw Jones, Ghosts, and Treehouses


Here’s one from a mystery lover in Indiana . . . 


Dear James Preller,

I really like your book, The Case of the Spooky Sleepover, because it makes me laugh. I like it because it talks about the treehouse. I think treehouses are cool. Who built the treehouse in the story? My favorite part of your book is the treehouse, I want a treehouse, I like the joke Justin played on his brother too. When he tried to scare him and his brother friends, it made me laugh. Do you believe in ghosts? Thank you for writing this book. I really enjoy reading your book.



I replied . . .


Oh, what a nice email! It always makes me glad to hear from a real, live reader.
I’m especially fond of The Case of the Spooky Sleepover, there’s a lot of nice moments in that book. Peeled grapes do feel a lot like eyeballs, don’t you think? Of course, I haven’t felt very many eyeballs, I’m happy to report. 

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

As a little boy, I always wanted a treehouse. It just seemed so cool. A house — in a tree! What could be better than that? Unfortunately, my father was not one of those “handy” guys with a hammer and a saw. I never got that treehouse. When I started writing Jigsaw Jones, I remembered that childhood feeling. I wanted Jigsaw to have an office of some kind. You know, a classic detective, meeting clients, looking at clues. So I decided to give Jigsaw the treehouse that I never got. Who built it? I guess I did! However, you might notice that his treehouse isn’t anything fancy. It’s pretty basic. But that’s Jigsaw — he’s just a regular guy.

Do I believe in ghosts? Not in the daytime, no. But when it gets dark, very late at night, I’m less sure.
Keep reading, Alexander, and have a happy halloween. Boo!
Your friend, 
James Preller
NOTE: The newest Jigsaw Jones book, The Case of the Hat Burglar, just came out this August! Somebody has been stealing items from the school’s “Lost and Found.” Who’s the burglar? And what in the world is he doing with all those hats?!

She Wasn’t Doing a Thing . . .

“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see,
except standing there,
leaning on the balcony railing,
holding the universe
— J.D. Salinger, “A Girl I Knew”



Great Review for BLOOD MOUNTAIN — from an Actual Kid!

“I will recommend it to anyone
that does not get grossed out by stuff
and wants to read a great adventure story
that you won’t be able to put down.
I finished it in two days!”

Tyler, 5th grader, Castleton, NY

First, let’s take a look at this Tyler fellow. It’s interesting to me, because he almost looks exactly how I imagine the boy in the book, Carter, age 11. Except this guy, Tyler, looks a little too clean for my liking. Too washed and scrubbed and freshly laundered. But I bet if we left him out in the rain for a few days, let some black flies feast on him, he’d look the spitting image of Carter from the book.


Tyler is a 5th-grade reading ambassador in Castleton, NY. He’s a reading leader in a school that devours books. The librarian there, Ms. Rattner, is a force of nature, a whirlwind of good will and positive energy. Her mission: to bring good books and kids together. In my career, I’ve had the great pleasure to meet folks who are like Ms. Rattner in my travels. Librarians, teachers, even administrators. And every time, I’m awed and deeply grateful. Where would I be without you? And what will become of us, oh America, if our young people do not grow up to be thoughtful, passionate, informed readers? Thank you, Ms. Rattner, for the important work you do.

And Tyler, you are awesome.

Here’s a bit more of Tyler’s review (for the full piece, please click here).


I liked how this book was like Hatchet. I liked how the characters work to survive, written in their different points of view. There are even two chapters from the dog’s point of view=cool.

I wanted to keep reading it because I wanted to know if Carter and Grace would get saved.  I wanted to know more about John.  He was such a mysterious figure.

Four and a half stars for this book! I will recommend it to anyone that does not get grossed out by stuff and wants to read a great adventure story that you won’t be able to put down. I finished it in two days!

Bonus–This book made me want to go hiking.  I may run ahead, but not too far!

Interview Highlights: About BLOOD MOUNTAIN, and Introducing Ranger McCone

I was recently interviewed by Caroline Starr Rose over at her outstanding website, brimming with fascinating resources. Caroline is a gifted author and a generous spirit. A kind person, you know? She’s all about books and classroom connections and finding ways to make a difference. Please check out her space over there. And her books. Meanwhile, let’s please get back to me, please!


Here’s a sampling of my interview with Caroline, who blogged it a couple of weeks back. For the full interview, and a shortcut to Caroline’s world, just jump up and down on this link here.



What inspired you to write this story?

I published my first book in 1986. Over that period, more than half my life, I’ve discovered that what first inspires a story often gets left in the dust as the research and the writing begins in earnest. New inspirations take hold. Unimagined pathways open up, as long as the writer is still open to the unexpected.

Early on I had the basic setup of siblings lost in the wilderness, along with a vague idea of a hermit, possibly a veteran with PTSD, lurking nearby. At the time, I wasn’t sure what his story would be. I wanted the book to be tense, scary in parts, tightly plotted, riveting, and beautifully written. I held onto the idea that the person who saves you, might turn out to be your worst nightmare. Somewhere along the line my editor suggested a dog. Um, okay! And around this point it dawned on me that I had an awful lot to learn in order to do justice to this story. So I read books. About trees. About survival. About the psychology of getting lost. About veterans with PTSD. About dogs and how they think (I was determined to avoid the Disney-dog cliché; I wanted my dog, Sitka, to be authentic as a dog.) I learned about mountain lions.

Along the way, I told my editor, Liz Szabla, that I might maybe miss the deadline. And I did miss it — by a full year. Liz was cool with it. When it comes to publishing, I believe that all anyone cares about in the end is the finished book. No one reads a disappointing book and thinks, “Well, at least she hit her deadlines!” It just happened that Blood Mountain required extra time for me to think and learn and daydream. I filled a journal with notes, became overwhelmed with ideas and strategies, lost my way, fumbled in thickets. Along the way, I contacted a Forest Ranger, Megan McCone, who proved enormously helpful in terms of making the actions and thoughts of the ranger appropriate and accurate. All of those inspirations fed directly into the final book. Best writing experience ever.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

I simply had so much learn. Because “kind of knowing” isn’t good enough. For example, I wanted to introduce the hermit, John, in a powerful and unsettling way. So readers first encounter him with a large knife in his hand, field dressing a squirrel. I had to learn about slingshots and hypothermia and


New York Ranger Megan McCone served both as inspiration and valuable source of information. I owe her so much.

aviation extractions. And about how people who get lost behave –- the mistakes they make, the thought processes they typically go through, and the things they do that determine whether they live or die.

Most interesting, for me, was when I reached out to Eric Lahr at the Department of Environmental Conservation, who put me in contact with Forest Ranger Megan McCone. Megan was enormously helpful across several long phone conversations. She graciously volunteered to read the first draft of the book, making comments throughout. To me, this was not only a great pleasure, Megan helped me bring truth, the verisimilitude of small details, to this made-up story.