Tag Archive for Blood Mountain Preller

COMING SOON: Blood Mountain in Paperback, April 23rd, 2024!

GOOD NEWS! I’m thrilled to share that Blood Mountain will soon be available in paperback. To me, that’s when books really get a shot at reaching a wide variety of readers.

Note: It’s an honor to be compared to Gary Paulsen. The man is legend. This book got compared to his bestselling Hatchet novel in three different reviews. I’d sign up for 1/10th of those sales.

Blood Mountain was a Junior Library Guild Selection.

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A QUICK RECAP OF THE REVIEWS . . .

“Preller combines brave characters with vivid descriptions of the perilous mountain, grasping readers’ emotions in the same way as Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet series.” — Booklist.

“A fast-paced, action-packed story that is filled with intense moments and well-researched outdoor information . . . Preller nails it.”

The Reading Junky

“Fans of Gary Paulsen’s books will likely be hooked from page one.” — Publishers Weekly.

“A thrilling purchase for middle grade collections, perfect for fans of adventure novels by Jean Craighead George, Peg Kehret, and Gary Paulsen.” — School Library Journal

James Preller Reads from BLOOD MOUNTAIN: When Carter Climbs a Tree

Oh, Look! Here’s An Article on Yours Truly from the Albany Times-Union!

My local newspaper, The Albany Times-Union, just ran a feature article about me.  

Yes, I find that vaguely horrifying but also a good thing, I suppose. 

It’s nice to be seen.

It’s funny, in this business people will commonly say things like, “If this book reaches just one kid, impacts just one child, it’s all worth it.”

And I always think: Yeah, no. 

I’d like to reach a lot more than that. 

Articles like this help. 

Thank you, good folks at the Times-Union newspaper for making this happen. Just one question: What’s a newspaper?

Ha, ha, ho. Sorry, that hurts. 

Naturally, it took me 48 hours before I could actually force myself to read Jim Shahen’s piece. Today I wrote and thanked him for making me not look too much like a total blithering idiot. Some writer!

Anyway, perhaps my out-of-town fans will enjoy reading this . . . 

Delmar author James Preller releases newest children’s book in “Exit 13” series

Photo of Jim Shahen Jr.
Delmar resident James Preller has been living in the Capital Region for about 33 years and writing novels for kids of all ages at a prolific rate for even longer than that. Most famously known for the elementary school-reader “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series, he’s the author of more than 80 books that run from picture book to young adult in appropriateness.

His most recent work, the middle-grade mystery-thriller “Exit 13: The Spaces in Between,” came out at the end of July. “The Spaces in Between” is the second installment in the “Exit 13 series” (Preller describes it as a hybrid of “Schitt’s Creek” and “Stranger Things”) which tells the story of siblings Willow and Ash McGinn. On a family vacation, they’re forced to stop at the Exit 13 Motel where spooky mystery surrounds the business and its employees. Various confounding events to keep the family from checking out and resuming their trip, forcing the McGinn kids (and their goldendoodle Daisy) to get to the bottom of it all, lest they stay stuck at the Exit 13 forever.

The quick-paced, supernatural series is a tonal departure from “Upstander,” the book Preller released immediately preceding “Exit 13.” That one deals with the heavier issues of having a sibling struggle substance abuse and being a participant in bullying. For Preller, being able to explore different genres, themes and difficulty levels has been crucial in enabling him to sustain his writing career.

“I published my first book in 1986; I was 25 then, and I’m 62 now. I’ve spent more than half my life as a published author,” said Preller. “It’s kind of a lot, when you think about it. I’m a little unusual in the breadth of my work. Whatever memo there is about branding yourself, I missed it.

“The master plan, to the extent that I have any control over it, is to write quasi-literary middle-grade novels, but also have something more commercial for mass-market release,” he continued. “I’m a survivor, I just keep scrambling around and I’m fortunate to keep coming up with new material.”

A Long Island native, Preller was drawn to children’s literature shortly after graduating from SUNY Oneonta in 1983. Upon graduating, he moved to New York City and waited tables at Beefsteak Charlie’s to make ends meet while seeking lofty literary goals.

Soon after, he got a job at Scholastic and his professional ambitions took a turn.

“I liked to write poems and took myself very seriously, but poetry wasn’t going to pay the bills at all, plus, I wasn’t very good at it,” he recalled. “I got hired as a junior copywriter at Scholastic and I saw ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ I realized what a kids’ book could be: anything. A world of possibilities opened to me.”

In 1986, he sold, wrote and published his first book, the picture book “Maxx Trax: Avalanche Rescue” about a truck that takes action when an avalanche threatens to destroy the energy station and imperils his family.

“Maxx Trax” eventually sold 1 million copies and Preller’s writing career was underway. He left New York City for the space to start a family in a more affordable climate here in Albany County. From a work standpoint, Preller’s output was varied, writing a mix of early readers and film adaptations — “Space Jam,” “The Iron Giant” and “Godzilla” — for Scholastic. From 1998-2007 or so, he struck gold with the 42-book “Jigsaw Jones” series. Since then, Preller has balanced the lighter, preschool-and-elementary-aged material with books that reflect more serious themes.

If there’s a throughline from “Maxx Trax” to something like “Upstander,” it’s that Preller tries to base all his work in reality. For his first middle-grade novel “Six Innings,” he relied on his own family’s experience with pediatric cancer as a reference. To add verisimilitude to the mountain hiking-based “Blood Mountain,” he regularly corresponded with a park ranger in Lake Placid. Even “Maxx Trax,” has a real-world connection: Maxx, like Preller, is the youngest of seven siblings.

“Every book is different and has its own challenges,” he said. “A lot (of the interest in mid-grade literature) was my own children getting older and wanting to write some things with a little more depth and grit in their content. I can go into deeper things than I can with ‘Exit 13’ or (the spooky story series) ‘Scary Tales.’

“I tell kids when I speak at schools, that even if you aren’t writing about a human, whether it’s super-powered trucks like Maxx Trax or writing about a dragon or a wombat, you’re still drawing upon your own emotions and experiences,” Preller added.

With the new “Exit 13” out in stores, Preller is now looking ahead. He has four more books under contract — a middle-grade novel dealing with a student-athlete coping with post-concussion syndrome and three picture books — that will keep him busy well into next year. And there’s another idea or two percolating for beyond then.

If Preller has it his way, he’ll sustain this level of activity for years to come, and hopefully continue inspiring kids to read.

“I’m 62 and live in a town with a lot of state workers who are retiring,” he said. “Do I want to still be publishing new books at 75? Absolutely.

“I have no ideas or high hopes when a book comes out and I’ve learned to let go of the outcomes,” Preller continued. “I’m very aware that this is entertainment and I just want to give the reader the best possible experience, so they’ll go, ‘Oh, I’ll read another book.’ ”

Gary Paulsen & Me: An Appreciation

“I owe everything I am 
and everything I will ever be
to books.”
— Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen passed in October, 2021, and I wanted to hang back and wait a bit before bringing up my very slight connection to the great writer. I didn’t know the man, we’ve never met. And unlike others, I’ve only read a few of his books, all as an adult.

My 2019 novel, Blood Mountain, was compared in three separate reviews to Paulsen’s Hatchet. No reviewer suggested that my book was as good as Hatchet, and certainly not as important (arriving, as it did, 30-plus years later). But they noted that I was working the same vein as Paulsen’s masterwork. Writing in that tradition of wilderness survival and, as is the nature of such an endeavor, within the tradition of wilderness respect and appreciation.

Both books are, in their way, love stories.

The quotes on Blood Mountain:

“Fans of Gary Paulsen’s books will likely be hooked from page one.” — Publishers Weekly.

“Preller combines brave characters with vivid descriptions of the perilous mountain, grasping readers’ emotions in the same way as Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet series.” — Booklist.

“A thrilling purchase for middle grade collections, perfect for fans of adventure novels by Jean Craighead George, Peg Kehret, and Gary Paulsen.” — School Library Journal

What I admire most about Paulsen is his engagement with the natural world. He was an outdoorsman, comfortable and expertly capable in the wild. I don’t have 1/10th of his skills and knowledge. But in my own way, I try to see things, appreciate and name the trees, the birds, the world around me. That’s what he offered us, more than anything: his own innate sense of wonder and respect.

There’s a deceptively simple line by Roger Tory Peterson, the artist and writer known for the famous Peterson Guides. He said, “The more you look, the more you see.”

I believe Gary Paulsen was telling us the very same thing. And his message became, for me, all the more relevant as we drifted further and further from the real world into cyber-whatever. And as the natural world became more endangered — witness the great species die-off — and as we all became more entangled in our phones and apps and the algorithms of social media, I find myself holding closer to the message of writers like Gary Paulsen, Bill McKibben, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gary Snyder, Thich Nhat Hanh, Peter Wohlleben, Jane Goodall, Robert Macfarlane, and many more.

Paulsen said to us, in effect: Go outside. Look, see, love every blessed living thing.

I’m honored to enjoy the slightest, most gossamer connection to such a compassionate writer.

Here’s a very short excerpt from Blood Mountain:

Grace spends much of that day gathering anything that will soften her bed. She works doggedly, with purpose. Grace saws at the branches of a hemlock, scraping her knuckles, covering her hands with sap and dirt. Hauls the boughs up, which is not easy with her injuries. She spreads the curved branches with the ends stuck in the dirt, so there’s a slight hump in the middle. Then she adds a mattress of moss and soft boughs.

By the end, she is exhausted. Her entire body throbs.

She lies down, breathes in the piney air, satisfied. And for that brief moment, Grace doesn’t feel lost anymore. 

Blood Mountain is a Junior Library Guild Selection.

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.