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.
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).
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.