Archive for Upstander

News Item: $26 Billion Opioid Settlement, Rising Death Toll, and UPSTANDER

Opioid deaths up almost 30% this past year — maybe at a time many of us were looking in the other direction. There’s a lot of blood & heartbreak on the hands of these criminal profiteers (see settlement news, below). 

I hoped to portray the humanity of this issue in my new book, UPSTANDER, where 13-year-old Mary O’Malley’s older brother struggles with Substance Use Issues (SUD). 

Right now, this feels like a neglected issue, filled with misinformation, prejudice, and shame. We need to do better. It begins with greater awareness and compassion.

From Reuters, by Nate Raymond . . .

 

 

 

U.S. states to unveil $26 billion opioid settlement with drug distributors, J&J 

A Johnson & Johnson building is shown in Irvine, California, U.S., January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A Johnson & Johnson building is shown in Irvine, California, U.S., January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

July 19 (Reuters) – U.S. state attorneys general are expected this week to unveil a $26 billion settlement resolving claims that three major drug distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson helped fuel a nationwide opioid epidemic, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Distributors McKesson Corp (MCK.N), Cardinal Health Inc (CAH.N) and AmerisourceBergen Corp (ABC.N) would pay a combined $21 billion, while Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) would pay $5 billion. New York on Tuesday is expected to announce the distributors have agreed to a $1 billion-plus settlement with the state, a source said.

The ultimate settlement pricetag could fluctuate depending on the number of states and political subdivisions that agree to the deal or reject it and pursue litigation on their own in hopes of a bigger payout down the line.

More than 40 states are expected to support the nationwide settlement, two sources said. States will have 30 days to decide whether to join the global accord then more time to try to convince their cities and counties to participate in the deal, the sources said.

McKesson has previously said that of the $21 billion the three distributors would pay over 18 years, more than 90% would be used to remediate the opioid crisis while the rest, about $2 billion, would be used to pay plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs.

Several states have passed laws or reached agreements with their political subdivisions to govern how settlement proceeds would be allocated in the event of a nationwide settlement.

The financial terms are in line with prior disclosures by the three distributors and J&J about what they expected to have to pay following long-running settlement talks.

“There continues to be progress toward finalizing this agreement and we remain committed to providing certainty for involved parties and critical assistance for families and communities in need,” J&J said in a statement.

McKesson and Cardinal Health had no comment while AmerisourceBergen said it does not comment on “rumor and speculation.” They have all previously denied wrongdoing.

Nearly 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The opioid crisis appeared to worsen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CDC last week said provisional data showed that 2020 was a record year for drug overdose deaths with 93,331, up 29% from a year earlier. Opioids were involved in 74.7%, or 69,710, of those overdose deaths.

The distributors were accused of lax controls that allowed massive amounts of addictive painkillers to be diverted into illegal channels, devastating communities, while J&J was accused of downplaying the addiction risk.

Governments have said the money will be used to fund addiction treatment, family support programs, education and other health initiatives to address the crisis. 

GREAT NEWS! “UPSTANDER” Steps Into the Spotlight, Including an Interview with Yours Truly!

I’m so pleased to share a link to Judy Bradbury’s impressive, educator-friendly blog. As a writing teacher and literacy specialist — and a children’s author in her own right — Judy’s blog is filled to overflowing with teaching tips, strategies for connecting books with readers, and so much more.

This month, Judy featured my new book, Upstander, and included a very cool interview with yours truly. Maybe that’s more Jimmy than you can stand? Anyway, I hope you can check it out — full link here — and bookmark Judy’s page for future reading.

IN THE MEANTIME, SOME HIGHLIGHTS

From Judy Bradbury’s introduction: 
Upstander by James Preller is the moving prequel/sequel to Bystander. The story captures the nuances of contemporary family relationships and how they can be both tested and strengthened by individual members’ actions and thoughts, as well as their wills, weaknesses, and wishes. Mary–a minor character in Bystander–struggles and ultimately grows from her experiences facing her brother Jonny’s substance use and her own school-related conflicts. Her story is at once heart-wrenching and heartening. 

AND HERE’S A FEW SNIPPETS FROM THE INTERVIEW

(Again, for the whole shebang, stomp on this link . . . right here!)

JB: How did you decide on the title?

JP: With Bystander, I was fortunate to write one of the first realistic middle-grade books on bullying. I stumbled upon the right topic at the right time. That book got a lot of attention and was often a “one book/one school” selection. Which is a mind-blowing honor. On visits, I kept coming across that idea, often expressed as a poster in the halls: “Be an upstander!” Anti-bullying, when it becomes too strident, can become a negative message. Many schools opted to emphasize the positive: kindness and community. I am 100% behind that initiative. Thus, Upstander.

JB: Tell about one hurdle you experienced in the creation of Upstander or provide a memorable (or humorous!) anecdote related to the making of this book.

JP: What happens frequently for me is that I’ll have an idea for a

Young Do and James Preller, after a celebratory lunch at The Cuckoo’s Nest in Albany.

book, then I’ll soon realize that I’m not nearly smart enough to write it. A lot of loose ends fell together when I reached out to Young Do, an executive director who operates a care and substance use treatment facility, Hospitality House, in Albany, NY. Young became a generous source of insight and information. In fact, the opening of the book grew directly from a personal story that Young shared about his own experiences with his brother. He told me a story and I thought, “Oh, that’s how the book begins!”

JB: What did you learn from writing Upstander?

JP: I think my compassion for everyone concerned— friends and family members—deepened significantly. The more I learned, the more empathy I felt. 

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT JUDY BRADBURY, THIS CONVERSATION WILL GET YOU STARTED!

Fan Mail #311: A Class in Queens, NY, Reads BYSTANDER

 

As the school year winds down, I received a bunch of letters from a classroom in Forest Hills, Queens, NY. They all read Bystander. I don’t think it makes sense for me to share them all here, but I did write a group response that you can find below. But to give you a taste — and hopefully a laugh — I’ve included Daniella’s very kind note here. You can tell that she’s a writer, too. It’s pretty terrific . . . 

 

  Dear James Preller,

    Bystander is such an interesting book! Everything leading up to certain points, that was amazing! Some things were expected, and that’s okay because everything else was completely unexpected, and that is one of the amazing things about your book!
Everything happening in the book was completely necessary to the plot, and I just love that. It wasn’t all ‘He ate dinner and then went to his room and studied’. No, there was actual detail. And you only included things like that (of course, filled with detail) when it really mattered!
So if you get letters from people saying that they don’t like your books, just ignore them. They don’t know what they’re saying. Their opinions make as much sense as a thriving Penguin in the desert.
-Daniela B

 

I replied . . . 

Dear Mr. Lynn, Alex, Cameron, Leanna, Jason W, Abril, Sophia, Daniella, Raiya, and, whew (!), Cassandra:

Well, that was an entertaining bunch of letters, thank you all for sending them. And also for reading my book, Bystander. I appreciate that more than I can express.

I hope you don’t mind that my reply comes in the form of a group letter, rather than individual responses. I’m on a tight deadline right now for my next book —- getting slightly anxious about it, honestly —- so I thought this would be the most efficient approach. 

But first, hey, Forest Hills! My parents grew up in Queens and my favorite baseball team plays in Flushing. Rhymes with pets. 

Fun fact: Out on Hillside Avenue, there’s a number of Little League fields named after my grandfather, Fred Preller, who was a NY State Assemblyman for 22 years. The complex used to be called Preller Fields, but recently another politician glommed onto it, so now it’s called Padavan-Preller Fields in Bellerose (right off the Cross Island Parkway).

Anyway! 

Alex liked the suspense of the scene where Eric sneaks into Griffin’s house. There’s an expression, “Bad decisions make good stories.” I think that’s part of what’s going on in this scene. I’ve heard from some adults who were critical of Eric’s actions. And I’m like, “Hey, don’t blame me, he’s the one who did it!”

That’s too glib, of course. But when you write books, and invent hundreds of characters, you can’t possibly have them all do and say the “right” things all the time. That would be booooring and unrealistic. Also, yes, I sensed that it would be a pleasure to write —- a suspenseful scene that would get the reader leaning in. Nobody wants to read about perfect people who always do the right thing all the time. That’s a pro tip: Invent a character and have them make a poor decision. What happens next?

Sophia, Cassandra, Abril and Daniella all commented on my writing. For sure, that’s an ego thing for me, I confess, but I do love hearing that. I try very hard to write my best, with rich images and vibrant language. For Bystander, I was also intensely focused on delivering a fast-paced plot to keep readers turning the pages.

These days, I think my book Blood Mountain might be the best written one of all. A brother and sister (and their dog!) become lost in a mountain wilderness. It’s creepy in parts, suspenseful and tense —- a survival thriller! You might like it.

Jason dug the book’s “different vibes” —- I like that!

Daniella made my favorite comment of all: “So if you get letters from people saying that they don’t like your books, just ignore them. They don’t know what they’re saying.

Ha, ha, ha. Love that, Daniella!

Some of you, Raiya, and others, commented about possible sequels. It’s interesting to speculate on what happens to the characters after we close the book. I consider that a compliment, that somehow the character remains alive in (some) readers’ minds. The good news is that we just published Upstander, a prequel/sequel to Bystander that revisits many of that book’s characters in a new story focusing on Mary. It was named a 2021 Junior Library Guild Selection and I’m very excited about it. The book is so new (about 2 weeks) that I haven’t yet heard from one student who has read it. If you do read it, let me hear from you. Just zing me an email!

But please understand that I’ll be following Daniella’s advice. If you don’t like it, I’ll just think, “Well, they don’t know what they’re saying!”

More Preller Trivia: My son, Gavin, 21, just came out with a record. You can listen to it on Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, all those places. He records under his own name, Gavin Preller, and the album is called “There Is Wonder.”

My thanks to your teacher, Mr. Lynn, for sharing my book in his classroom.

Have a great summer. After this year, I think we all deserve it.

My best,

James Preller

An Author’s Guide to Simultaneously Reading BYSTANDER and UPSTANDER

After writing Upstander, a stand-alone prequel/sequel to Bystander, I had a vision. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if my publisher printed them up as one book? Kind of shuffled them together into one big fat novel.

Would it even work?

I thought to myself, yeah, it just might. Both are in 3rd person, and the shifting perspectives should be familiar to any experienced reader.

But why wait on the vagaries of publishing? They’ll never do it anyway. But we can. Here’s one method for reading the books simultaneously (not that you have to). There’s some scene overlap, from different perspectives, which might be interesting or redundant, I don’t know.

.       

 

So if you are nutty enough to do this — and I hope that some of you are — here’s how I think it could work. Please let me know, Dear Nutty Reader, if you do it. Both books are also available on Audible, for you reading-with-my-ears people.

 

THE SIMULTANEOUS APPROACH

To Reading These Two Books Together

Upstander: Chapters 1-20

Bystander: Chapters 1-2

Upstander: 21

Bystander: 3-4

Upstander: 22-24

Bystander: 5-6

Upstander: 25

Bystander: 7-11

Upstander: 26-27

Bystander: 12-15

Upstander: 29-30

Bystander: 16

Upstander: 31

Bystander: 17-20

Upstander: 32

Bystander: 21

Upstander: 33

Bystander: 22

Upstander: 34

Bystander: 23-24

Upstander: 35-36

Bystander: 25-32

Upstander: 37

Bystander: 33-34

Upstander: 38

 

THE END!

 

Do you think there should be a 3rd book that focuses on Griffin? I guess that depends on if anyone reads Upstander. I promise it won’t take me 10 more years to write. 

Visual learners might be impressed by my fancy chart. I paid a design company 500 balloons for this bad boy. Worth it, right?

A Battle You Know Nothing About

This idea, as articulated below, was one of the prime motivating factors in telling Mary’s story in Upstander. The sense that we never know what people are going through in their private lives. Be gentle with others, try not to judge too harshly.