Tag Archive for Indiana Jones

SCARY TALES SNEAK PREVIEW: Art & Excerpt from Book #2, “I Scream, You Scream”

I just got to see the illustrations for Book #2 in my upcoming SCARY TALES Series: I Scream, You Scream. Actually, what I saw was most of the art placed on the typeset pages, with some pages blank, art still-to-come. It’s exciting to see a book come together, especially one where the illustrations by Iacopo Bruno are such a big part of the overall appeal.

The good news, I’m in a sharing mood.

At about the middle of the story, after all hell has broken loose, two characters, Samantha and Andy, find themselves hiding in a cave. The way out was blocked. They had to explore the cave to find a new means of escape. Which gave me an idea — bats!

Here’s the scene from the manuscript:

The tight passageway opened up to a large cavern, with a ceiling at least fifteen feet high. “Wow,” Sam said. “Look at this place.”

Andy looked, as requested.

“But what’s that disgusting smell?” Sam complained.

She moved the beam to the rock floor. It was covered in some kind of thick, greenish slime. It smelled rank. Sam worked hard not to gag.

A steady trickle of droplets hit the rock floor. Plink, plink, plink. “Do you hear that?” Sam asked. “Could it be water falling from a stalactite?”

“No, not water,” Andy said. “I think it is called ‘guano.'”


“Bat droppings.”

Sam gulped. Bats. She hated bats.

Sam aimed the flashlight at the ceiling and stepped back in horror. The ceiling was alive. The roof of the cave was writhing, squirming, crawling with hundreds — no, thousands upon thousands — of bats. The bodies of mice, with human faces. Sam felt woozy, on the edge of panic.

This was worse than homework.

Way worse.

Oh, I should say another thing about my writing process here. When I realized that I was going to include bats in the story, I remembered that classic scene when Indiana Jones remarks, “Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?”

Part of the genius behind that scene was the script had previously established Indy’s fear of snakes. We learned it early in the movie and promptly put it away. So when he confronts the snakes, we know this isn’t just another obstacle for our hero. He’s facing one of his deepest fears.

Now, admittedly, my little book is operating on a simpler level. And I want to be careful about how scary to make this for my readers. So I went back to the first chapter and, while talking about Sam’s bravery (in the context of a thrill ride in an adventure park), I planted a seed:

Nothing frightened Sam Carver. Nothing, that is, except for dentists, bats, and homework. The usual things. Dentists, of course, with their fat fingers fumbling in your mouth. But bats creeped Sam out the most, with their leathery wings and tiny teeth and weird human faces.

I’m sure ideas for the cave scenes came from the light research I did on the topic. And, look, “research” is far too strong a word, implying more rigor than I applied. It was more a matter of casting about for inspiration by sorting through source material. I read about cave explorations and the bats of Bracken Cave in Texas, and tried to learn a little about bats in general. I even wandered over to Youtube, which can often be a spectacular research tool. This short, one-minute video really inspired me. BTW, pause on the video at 0:35, then look at the illustration below. I wonder if Bruno watched the same Youtube clip?

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

After their first bat discovery, Sam and Andy had to overcome their fears to figure out a way that the bats could help them escape the cave. They wake ’em up. Which led to this short paragraph:

It was amazing. Even beautiful, in a way. The bats flapped and flew to the far end of the cavern and spiraled up, and up, through a shaft of light.

I found another video that I particularly liked, this one a bit longer, which offered more information. I decided that Andy would be the character who knew something about bats. He was an expert, the way many boys his age can reel off facts about baseball, or trains, or most anything that’s captured their imagination. They absorb like sponges. After that, I had what I needed to write those brief scenes in the cave with Sam and Andy lost in the dark . . . with all those bats.

Gosh, I hope readers find these books.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Fan Mail Wednesday #92 (Monday Edition: Writing Tips!)

I’ve been bad with the fan mail lately. Here’s one from a young writer:

Hi Mr. Preller,
I hope you remember me. You wrote a message in one of my jigsaw Jones books saying that I have talent and that I should keep writing.  Well I have been writing a lot since you taught me “show, don’t tell” in fifth grade at Hamagrael. Can you please give me some advice on how to  be a better writer? I am writing a novella, an anthology, and I am not  sure if I am ready to start a novel draft. How can I make a plot more interesting? What can you tell me about the editing and revising process?


To my surprise, I replied at some length:


It’s nice to hear from you again. Yes, I remember.

The only difference between a novella and a novel is length — and length is largely determined by story. Some stories take more time to tell. At some point, either in writing this novella or another story, you’ll find that the telling of it requires more words. The story will naturally grow longer, because there’s simply more to be said.

It’s a funny about plots, I always come back to a very simple idea:

Make something up!

Really, in some ways, it’s that simple. If you find the story drags, or if you sense that you are getting bored, it might be time to insert some new element into the story. A new conflict, a new obstacle, something. Or it might be the opposite — time to take something out, to cut the fat, eliminate (cautionary note: don’t worry too much about cutting early in the process; first you build, later you can trim). As a writer, I worry an awful lot about pacing, the speed of the story, how quickly the plot moves along. I learned some of those lessons while writing the Jigsaw Jones series, where I balanced the elements of the traditional mystery (problem, clue, clue, clue, solution: fence-post scenes that gave me a powerful through-line for the narrative), with all the little asides and explorations I like to include to provide depth.

Am I confusing you? I don’t mean to, but I remember you as being pretty smart, so I’m keeping my answer at a high level, writer to writer.

Sticking with Jigsaw, you can look at those stories as containing two separate strands: 1) The mystery, the propelling force that pushes plot forward to its conclusion, like an arrow shooting through the pages of the book; and 2) All the other stuff — the character development, small moments at the dinner table, or the classroom — that tend to deepen the story without particularly driving it forward.

So “story” usually runs in two basic directions: Forward or Down. Of course, the two can work together, and a specific comment about, say, a character’s fear of snakes will later have huge implications on plot. It’s not either/or. Remember Indiana Jones: “I hate snakes.” He says it early in the movie, almost as a throwaway line; later on, the seed planted, it grows into a pivotal scene in the film.

(And if you haven’t seen that movie yet, it’s time you did. Fabulous storytelling.)

As a writer, you should always try to be aware of what’s happening in your story. Ask yourself, What is the purpose of this scene? What is its function? What am I trying to do here? And then you write with that intention very much in mind; you have to know what you are trying to accomplish with each sentence. It could be that two people are great friends, it could be that Aunt Rosie has a cruel streak, or that Rachel is really lonely. But with each scene you write, you need to understand what you are doing and how it pushes along or deepens plot.

I’m not a great one for advice. I don’t like giving it, to be honest. Writers have to discover these things for themselves. But here’s a link to two recent blog posts by Lois Lowry that I found instructive. She’s a smart writer, highly aware of her craft.

Lois Lowry: thinking in scenes, etc.

Lois Lowry on character description: some details, but not too much.

Likewise, if you look at my blog, you’ll find a sidebar to the right. Under the heading CATEGORIES, you’ll find “The Writing Process.” It brings together dozens of blog entries that concern my experience as a writer. I don’t have the answers for you; every writer has to go down that road alone. But I do try to share my own experiences, the things I’ve learned about writing over the years. You might wish to randomly explore the links at your leisure.

Advice? Keep on writing, keep on reading — and pay attention to the world and the people around you. Value your individuality, the things inside you that no one else in the world can offer. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. There’s a lot of subtle forces in the world, peer pressure and societal expectations (and writing teachers included!), that will try to mold and shape you into something that conforms with everyone else. Resist that, especially with your writing. When you write, that’s where you should be most free, most truly Peggy.

Have a great summer and stay in touch.