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1. Fan Mail Wednesday #185: Abigail from Casselberry Drew This!

 

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This terrific drawing was included at the bottom of a letter that arrived with a whole batch of similar letters, all sent by a caring teacher from Casselberry, Florida.

I finally grabbed a few spare minutes to sign their book plates, write a genuine response, and pop it back into the mail (in the fabulous SASE that was included).

There were a lot of drawings in the package, and for some reason I loved Abigail’s best of all. Maybe because it was sort of small and tidy. Who can explain it? The heart loves what it loves.

As always, I know how lucky I am. And I feel grateful. Thanks, Abigail. Thanks, Ms. Wilson!

 

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2. Thanks, SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, for the kind review!

nightmareland_cvr_lorezI was glad to hear from my editor at Macmillan, who passed along a quick review blurb of Scary Tales: Nightmareland from School Library Journal.

I was concerned that because this is part of a series, only the first book would get any kind of critical attention. You know, read one, read them all. Each story is different and independent. New setting, new characters, new twists and turns. So I am very grateful to the editors at School Library Journal for taking another look at the series. Thanks, folks.

Did you read that Jack Black is playing R.L. Stine — the real guy — in the upcoming “Goosebumps” movie? That’s just too fabulous for words. Last year in Austin I got to hang out with Bob Stine in his hotel room. We hung out on the deck, shooting the breeze, then headed over the to Texas Cemetery for a late-night reading in the dark, surrounded by tombstones. It was a pretty perfect night for me, a memory to keep, and I’m glad to see R.L. Stine mentioned in this review, which is from the August edition of SLJ.

 

 

PRELLER, James. Nightmareland. illus. by Iacopo Bruno. 112p. (Scary Tales). Feiwel & Friends. 2014. Tr $5.99. ISBN 9781250018939.
Gr 3-6–The latest spine tingler in Preller’s spooky chapter book series is sure to inspire a few chills. In this tale, a boy receives a new video game called Nightmareland. It warns users to “Enter at Your Own Risk,” a challenge that Aaron likes. He soons finds himself entangled in a world that seems like so much more than a mere game. Some genuinely creepy moments make this ideal for readers who can’t get enough “Goosebumps” and Alvin Schwarz tales.

 

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3. Fan Mail Wednesday #184: Highlights & Thank You’s & Student Art

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Often after a school visit I’ll receive a large package of thank you letters. Usually I’ll respond with one “thank you for the thank you letters” letter, but not always. Especially this time of year, or when I get overwhelmed with work and letters, time slips away and schools closes.

I realize how lucky I am, how fortunate, and I hope that readers understand how much I appreciate all of this great stuff that comes my way. Feeling blessed.

Anyway, I wanted to share a few highlights from a wonderful package sent from Minisink Valley by Mr. Freeman’s spectacular class. At the risk of sounding my own horn, here’s the (classy, handwritten) note from Trinke O’Connor that I found on top of the pile:

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This one from Sierra really caught my eye . . .

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Here, take a closer look at that joyous self portrait . . .

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She’s a writer, just like me. And while I realize that she was drawing a pair of glasses, they made her look like a superhero. And in case you missed this detail, Sierra had a suggestion . . .

Minisink 1b

I loved this one from Kelsi for the energetic artwork . . . Jigsaw Jones and Mila Yeh!

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And I have to say, this simple mistake by a very kind lad named Kevin made me smile . . .

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“You are my biggest fan.”

Yes I am, Kevin. Yes, I am!

Here’s one from Skylar, who appears to be hooked on my “Scary Tales” books . . .

 

Minisink 2

 

And another “Scary Tales” fan in Elizabeth . . .

 

Minisink 3

Here’s a sweet illustration from Alyse, who likes Jigsaw Jones and Scary Tales. Note the smart thing she did, copying the style of the “Scary Tales” covers by drawing in black-and-white and then adding just a splash of color. Smart and perceptive, Alyse! To answer your question, yes, I just finished writing Scary Tales #6: Swamp Monster! Guess what? It’s in a swamp! And there’s a monster!

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Check out this killer, blown-up detail of the one-eyed doll . . .

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I don’t think it’s practical for me to share every letter — and I do feel badly by highlighting only a few — but the internet only has so much space. I’ll wrap this up with a cool illustration from Holden . . .

Minisink 7

 

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4. Fan Mail Wednesday #183: Tough to Tackle

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How does a letter get selected for the blog? No idea! It’s pretty random, but it never hurts your chances when you include original artwork. I love that stuff. Here’s a letter from Ethan in Michigan, including an Ethan original . . .



Fan Mail June 14

 

 

I replied:

Dear Ethan:

Thank you for your terrific letter.

I’m so glad that you liked Jigsaw Jones #16: The Case of the Sneaker Sneak. That first chapter, with the football scene, grew directly out of my own childhood memories from Wantagh, my home town on Long Island.

We used to play tackle football all the time. A bunch of neighborhood boys would head over to Beech Street School on our bicycles and play for hours. The hardest boy to tackle was a slightly older, tougher kid named Michael Leninger. I remember him clearly –- and I remember the pride I felt when I took him down all by myself. It was painful, but worth it. I gave those feelings to Jigsaw, more or less, when he tried to tackle Bigs Maloney.

For my blog readers, here’s how the book opens:

Scan 6Eddie Becker grabbed my football jersey. “Okay, Jigsaw. This is it. Tie score,” he urged. “If they score a touchdown now, we lose the game. You know what’s coming, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I grimaced. “Bigs Maloney, right up the middle.”

Joey Pignattano squeezed his eyes shut. Joey didn’t want any part of tackling Big Maloney. I didn’t blame him. We’d been trying to bring down Bigs all afternoon. It was like trying to tackle a refrigerator. 

Thanks, too, for noticing the opening to Jigsaw Jones #4: The Case of the Spooky Sleepover. That was the first time I ever wrote about Ralphie Jordan. He was “a world-champion smiler. Nobody had a bigger smile or used it more often. Only today, Ralphie wasn’t smiling.”

Have a happy, fun-filled, book-filled summer. And thanks for the awesome artwork! 

My best,

James Preller

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5. Final Cover Art: “ONE-EYED DOLL”

Be afraid, be very afraid . . .

Coming in October, in time for those traditional All Hallows Eve stocking stuffers!

 

OneEyedDoll_cvr_lorez

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6. Stephen King, Scary Stories, and Me

This comic made me laugh and shake my head in recognition.

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To be clear, I am not at all suggesting that I belong in the same sentence as Stephen King, the master, but I can identify with the perils of writing “scary” stories.

In my experience, it’s not the kids fleeing the room. I know for a fact that, generally speaking, there’s a huge readership out there for scary tales. I’ve stood before too many groups of excited students, from California to Michigan, Texas to New Jersey, Virginia to Connecticut (just this year) to have any doubts about the appeal of those stories. The big obstacle is the gatekeepers, the teachers and parents, people worried about what a scary story might do to a young reader — or, even worse, the worry about the potential backlash, the complaining parent. That’s the worst form of censorship in today’s world, I think, how the fear of parents complaint prevents some books from entering classrooms.

In the meantime, today I finished writing the first draft of Scary Tales #6: Swamp Monster. It was fun for me to invent new characters — twin brothers and a lively neighbor, Rosalee Serena Ruiz — and set that story near a polluted swamp somewhere in East Texas. New stuff for me, new challenges. I can’t wait to see what the illustrator, Iacopo Bruno, does with this one.

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7. Thank You, Arizona Library Association!

Good News! I received an email Kerrlita Westrick and Shirley Berow, co-chairs of the Grand Canyon Reader Award, organized by the Arizona Library Association. Instead of telling you about it, you can read the important bits for yourself:

Dear Mr. Preller,

It is out pleasure to inform you that your book, Justin Fisher Declares War, has been nominated for the Intermediate Book category of the 2015 Grand Canyon Reader Award! Congratulations!

The Grand Canyon Reader Award is a children’s choice award with approximately 45,000 Arizona students voting each year. Your book, along with nine other tiles, will be read by teachers, librarians, and students all over Arizona and voted upon by April 1, 2015.

Well, that felt good.

Justin FisherAs a writer, all I’ve ever wanted was to be read and, hopefully, acclaimed to some extent. Approved of. Valued. Appreciated. I dream of at least some fraction of the reading public to say, in essence, “Hey, you did good.”

Making it on these state lists is so important to keep a book in circulation. So, absolutely, a heartfelt thanks from me. Much appreciated. When I look at the other titles on the list, well, it’s just crazy. Not expecting to win, that’s for sure.

Though it’s been well-reviewed, and sometimes even praised, Justin Fisher has been pretty much ignored by the purchasing public (not to mention my own publisher). A paperback edition has never been made available in stores.

Justin Fisher was conceived as part of a series of school-based stories, including Along Came Spider, which was honored by the NYPL back in 2008. Both books share characters and the same setting, Spiro Agnew Elementary.

UnknownHere’s a nice review of Justin from a 5th-grade teacher, Franki Sibberson, who called it “One of my go-to funny books for boys.”

From the first  moment I saw these covers, I thought: “Uh-oh.” I expressed my worries to my editor, that they didn’t at all convey that the stories were school based, but was told that the decision had already been made. End of discussion. Oh well. Everybody does their best, I guess.

To help the humor come out, I had really, really wanted the books to be illustrated, ala “Wimpy Kid,” but that was not in the cards. But most wonderfully, a group of students from Pennsylvania sent me their own illustrations a couple of years back. I love student artwork. Here’s some highlights:

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Now I can only hope for an invitation to visit school in Arizona.

February is wide open! Brrrrr.

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8. Writing Process, from “Notes” to Final, plus a Brief Excerpt from NIGHTMARELAND

images-2I didn’t want to get an iPhone, but now I’m fighting an addiction. One feature that I use, in the absence of pen and paper, is the “Notes” function. Perhaps because of the inherent limitations of typing into a phone, any notes I input tend to be condensed, telegraphic, coded, and therefore borderline poetic. At least, sharing some of the qualities of poetry.

In the example below, I was thinking of a scene I had to write in Scary Tales #4: Nightmareland and I came up with a plot idea: He would write a message in the snow.

nightmareland_cvr_lorezMore background: The main character, Aaron, is trapped inside a video game. He is outside in the snow, hunted by a pack of wolves. It is very cold, a very dangerous situation. At the same time, his sister has just discovered his frozen body on the living room couch. She turns to the television screen and lo, there he is, inside the game.

Here are the exact notes I wrote to myself, followed by the scene I actually got around to writing and publishing.

 

< notes >

Moon falling into snow

Branches stars hands curled

Tight the cold air solid

In his chest winter

Pressing into his skull

Clouds form

From his mouth

He thought of Carrie

His sister his only

Hope

But how but how

And he knew

To reach her

He wrote in the snow

I’ve always liked that technique in poetry, by the way, the line rolling over into the next one, for example: “Branches stars hands curled/Tight . . .” Or, say, “His sister his only/Hope.”

I don’t think I was consciously “writing” at that point. Closer to scribbling. There were images, concepts I needed to get down so that later on I could recall them, write them out properly. So in that sense, the outline, if you will, was really just a bunch of trigger words. Seeds. Starting points. It was sort of interesting, though, how upon re-discovering these notes today I couldn’t help but appreciate the poetry in them, those jotted words clumsily & hastily thumbed.

Here’s how it went in the book, where really the only idea that survived in this section — outside of some of the mood I needed to capture, “moon falling into snow,” — was that he would write a message in the snow, drag his boot through it, to reach that someone who (he somehow sensed) was watching on the television set.

The rest is all iceberg theory. That 90% of what we write remains unseen, hidden beneath the surface.

Got it?

From pp. 43-44, “Nightmareland”:

Aaron inspected the torch. It was burning down, dropping gray ash. The flame wouldn’t last much longer. The wolves were patient. They sat on their haunches, biding time. The biggest wolf — the black one with the scar — lay down in the snow. The others in the pack followed suit.

The wolves were willing to wait for their next meal. 

Aaron was surrounded on all sides. Behind him loomed the great, iron fence.

He was trapped.

The flame began to sputter, like a candle in the wind.

Again he felt it, a presence.

Someone was watching him. He felt like a character in a movie. And he sensed something else: Whoever was watching Aaron, he or she was rooting for him.

He was not alone after all.

It gave him an idea. Acting quickly, Aaron dragged a heel across the snow. Up, across, down. Up, across, across, across . . . 

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9. Fan Mail Wednesday #182: A Jigsaw Jones Fan from Canada

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A tough time of year for fan mail, since I’m trying to respond before the school year ends. Oh well, I can only do my best. Here’s one that came from Canada — and included original art.

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Fan 182

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fan 182 letter

 

I replied:

Dear Shane:

Thank you for your kind letter. I’m glad that you enjoyed the first book in the “Jigsaw Jones” series. I wrote 40 of them. (Crazy, I know.) But don’t worry, you don’t have to read them in order. Or any of them, for that matter.

When I searched "marshmallow monster" on my computer, I found this. Yipes! It has nothing to do with my book. I don't think I'll ever eat a marshmallow again.

When I searched “marshmallow monster” on my computer, I found this. Yipes! It has nothing to do with my book. I don’t think I’ll ever eat a marshmallow again.

The books are getting hard to find these days –- they like to hide in dark places, like hamsters -– but it sounds to me like your teacher has several in your classroom. Be sure to thank her for me.

Also, libraries are great places, don’t you think? I recommend that you go to the library often this summer. All those beautiful books and fabulous air conditioning!

I love that you included an illustration with your letter. What a nice bonus!

Have a terrific, fun-filled, book-filled summer.

My best,

James Preller

 

P.S. If you like scary stories, you might want to check out my “Scary Tales” series. There are four books out so far. You might want to wait a year or two, it depends on how you feel about spooky things. Maybe you should only read them during the day?

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10. SCARY TALES #4: “Nightmareland” — Now Available Where Fine Books Are Sold!

Happy to remind you that this book was published on Tuesday and is now available. This is a story that came directly from suggestions from students on class visits — a basic idea I heard over and over again. Welcome to Nightmareland. Where you’ll meet Aaron, Addy, and Freddy the pizza guy.

 

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I published my first book almost 30 years ago, in 1986. By now, most of them have gone out of print. That’s the way it goes, I guess. Especially with my old publisher, Scholastic, where they recently let every book I’ve done with them go out of print, including beloved titles that sold more than a million copies each, such as WAKE ME IN SPRING, HICCUPS FOR ELEPHANT, and the entire “Jigsaw Jones” series.

Just, poof, gone.

(Note: You can still find the books, for now, but it’s not easy.)

So much for immortality. It’s a tough business, not for the meek or, I’ve learned, the idealistic. It’s hard not to feel discouraged by it all, as I do.

But you keep writing, because that’s all you know, and you keep trying to do the best work possible. Let that be the best revenge. And you hope that maybe it adds up to something the end.

Fortunately, my books with Macmillan are almost all still available (except for Mighty Casey, which never sold).

In addition, I have regained the rights to many of those out-of-print titles, including the entire 40-book Jigsaw Jones series, so I’m holding out the faint hope that another publisher might wish to revive ‘em. I would love to write a new Jigsaw Jones book someday.

Though there are days when I feel like guy . . .

hamster

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11. Fan Mail Wednesday #181: “I Hate Reading”

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Here’s a snippet of a much longer letter from Anabel in NY:

Fan Mail 181

I replied:

 

Dear Anabel:

I’m sorry to see that your long, lovely letter was postmarked March 12th. Since it was sent directly to my publisher, I can only surmise that it languished there for many weeks before finally reaching my home in upstate, NY.

So, please forgive the delay.

You do remember writing to me, don’t you?

It’s so interesting to learn that you “love writing” but “hate reading.” Usually the two things go hand in glove. I wonder if you’ve been reading the wrong books? In any event, I’m glad that you enjoyed Bystander. Books have given me so much pleasure in my life, I’d hate to think you’d miss out on the fun.

Don’t give up on books!!!

9780312547967To answer your questions: I have three children, now ages 21, 14, and 13. When I wrote Bystander, about 5 years ago, I guess I was beginning to project my own youngest two children in that middle grade environment. In conversations with my editor, Liz Szabla, we often got around to the topic of bullying and what we felt were unsatisfactory, unrealistic attitudes about it. Together we felt that it would be a good topic for me, because I’m sort of an anti-Disney type writer. It’s not all cupcakes, rainbows, home runs and unicorns with me.

I set the book on Long Island because I grew up there. It was a familiar environment and, for some reason, I placed this particular book there. At the same time, I’m currently writing one of my SCARY TALES books and it’s set in a swamp in southeast Texas –- and I’ve never spent a minute in that area. I had to learn and research as I wrote, which can also be fun.

I was never bullied in my life, nor was I a bully. I was a bystander, like so many of us, and that’s partly why I wrote the book from that perspective.

My best,

James Preller

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12. This Makes Me a Gnome, I Think

I’m trying to say that, quite unexpectedly, I made a brief sidebar appearance in this month’s Better Homes & Gardens magazine. Thank you, Elizabeth Lombardo, whoever you are!

What, you don’t believe me?

Look, proof!

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13. Coming In 7 Days — SCARY TALES: NIGHTMARELAND!

I’m looking forward to the fourth book in my Scary Tales series, Nightmareland, available on June 10th where horrifying books are sold. (Note: Books do not need to be read in order; each story stands alone, different setting, different characters.)

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This book always gets a huge response when I talk about it on school visits, but I always have to end with the same comment: “Yeah, no, you can’t buy it yet and this is my only copy.”

In a nutshell: Sister takes brother, Aaron, shopping. He purchases video game from discount rack, “Nightmareland.” Mom is out of town on business, expected home late. Dad’s not around. Boy starts playing video game and it slowly pulls him in . . . and he enters the world of Nightmareland, a game filled with images from his own secret fears. Snowstorms in cemeteries, hungry wolves, fierce snowmen.

The hooded character in the game looks strangely familiar to Aaron.

The hooded character in the game looks strangely familiar to Aaron.

Sister discovers Aaron in near-frozen state, realizes he’s trapped inside the game. How does she save him? She’s never much cared for video games. Maybe the pizza guy can help. The clock is ticking. Together, they must beat the game.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from Scary Tales: Nightmareland.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from Scary Tales: Nightmareland.

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14. Fan Mail Wednesday #180: Sorry, But Accidents Happen

 

 

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Okay, you guys know how to do this by now:

Hi, James – My students are loving your Scary Tales #1: Home Sweet Horror, but were astute enough to point out that your description of the basement stairs did not match the illustrations.  The stairs, according to the writing, have “no railing, nothing to grip,” yet both illustrations of the stairs clearly show a handrail/railing.  Pretty bright kids! (And, to think that I thought they weren’t paying attention!)

Have a great weekend!

Colleen 

I replied:

Colleen,

Thanks for sharing the book with them. Yes, your students are correct. Sometimes those kinds of miscommunications happen — I don’t get to see the illustrations until the art is finished and in place. Almost always too late for a correction. Sometimes it’s easier, if the mistake is caught in-house, to adjust the text. In which case I could have rewritten the description to include the railing, or just not mention it one way or another.

Sorry for the poor quality of my scan from pages 18-19. It cannot be denied: That sure looks like a hand rail to me. Art by Iacopo Bruno.

Sorry for the poor quality of my scan from pages 18-19. It cannot be denied: That sure looks like a hand rail to me. Art by Iacopo Bruno.

Because your students have been such great, attentive readers & listeners, they definitely should not have any homework tonight.

My best,

JP

 

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15. Girl from the North Country

 

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I want to tell you a little bit about Annika, the pink-laced lass pictured above, whom I met on a recent visit to northern New York, or where locals refer to as “the North Country.”

During a period of downtime in the school library, Annika came to have her book signed. I had remembered her face from an earlier presentation. She had that kind of presence, the way she leaned in and listened. When I talk to a group, it’s natural to scan the gathered faces. The bored ones, the curious ones. I’m grateful when I find a student who is fully there, like a friend, smiling, enjoying it.

So now here she stood, still smiling, asking for me to sign her book. Of course, I was honored to do so. We got to talking. About movies and books and stuff. Neither of us in a particular hurry.

I later learned that Annika happened to be the daughter of the school librarian. “Ah,” I said, the pieces falling together. I was also informed that Annika was not merely an avid reader. She was a trapper, too. Like her daddy. “She earned $500 last winter,” her mother told me. “Skins ‘em herself, too.”

Really?

Oh, yes, really.

“She’s a real North Country girl,” her mother said. “Here, let me show you a photo . . .”

And so she did.

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That’s one of the reasons why I love to do school visits. They get me out of the house, out of my small world. I see new places, try to look around if I have some time, open my eyes a bit wider. Some days I get to meet seven-grade wonders like Annika, and I am always glad for it.

Meeting Annika reminded me of a favorite song by Bob Dylan, “Girl from the North County,” off the Freewheelin‘ LP.

The lyrics:

If you’re traveling the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine.

If you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see if she has a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds.

Please see if her hair hangs long
If it rolls and flows all down her breast
Please see for me if her hair’s hanging long
For that’s the way I remember her best.

I’m a-wonderin’ if she remembers me at all
Many times I’ve often prayed
In the darkness of my night
In the brightness of my day.

So if you’re travelin’ the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was the true love of mine.

Dylan wrote this song in 1962, soon after spending time with folksinger Martin Carthy, who introduced Dylan to a great many traditional English ballads. You can hear in the syntax of the lyrics, the entire setup of the song (the instructions to the listener, “If you’re traveling,”), and even in the song’s closing lines, borrowed verbatim from an old ballad, “Scarborough Fair,” later popularized by Simon & Garfunkel. Importantly, while the traditional lyrics of “Scarborough” call on the lost love to perform a series of impossible tasks, in Dylan’s tune he wishes only for her warmth and remembrance.

I love the understatement of this lyric, the quiet poetry, the things not said. Remember me to one who lives there. He wants to know, simply, that she has a coat to keep warm from the snow and howlin’ winds. He wants, only, for her to remember him, as he remembers her after all these years. Through time and absence and cold winds. Just beautiful.

 

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16. Kids, Don’t Let This Happen To You: 3 Photographs

JP & Mom, '73

This would be yours truly, guessing age 12-13, circa 1973, and that’s my dear old Mom. In background, the Lincoln Memorial.

Yes, lots of hair. I know.

More recently, here I am on a school visit.

Time waits for no man.

I suppose I should be happy that I still have hair — some hair — any hair at all.

It is always a great sign when a school puts in the time and effort to decorate the halls in anticipation of an author visit. When I see stuff like that, I know they will be excited and prepared.

 

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Oh, and this is my daughter, Maggie, age 13, at the Bronx Zoo, riding a camel. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Not that it was Maggie, but I hope that you recognize a camel when you see one. For most of my life, the only camels I ever saw were on the cigarette packs that my parents smoked.

Hump Day came on Thursday this week.

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17. Student Artwork: A Riot of Zombies to Celebrate an Author Visit

If I’ve said it a hundred times . . .

Authors don’t do school visits.

Schools do author visits.

I arrived home last night after a brief trip to New York State’s magnificient North Country — Chaumont and Clayton specifically — where I enjoyed visits to two wonderful schools.

I’m on deadline, late with a manuscript, so don’t have much time to dilly-dally today. Or not as much as usual. However, I am free to dither. Mostly I want to share some student artwork with you.

I have no idea what might have inspired students to create their own zombie art.

I have no idea what might have inspired students to create their own zombie art.

The art comes from the Lyme Central School in Chaumont, one of those cozy K-12 schools you sometimes see in less populated areas. My visit was organized by the incredible Linda Lepper, who assured me that this was not her first rodeo. In fact, I was the 28th author that Linda had invited to visit the school. Or maybe I was the 27th, not sure.

In any event, Linda finally worked her way down, down, down the list and got to me.

This is a school where they really embrace an author visit. There are activities all week, posters, art, themes, games, quizzes, and on and on. By the time I arrived, the students were prepared and enthusiastic. For my part, I spoke to four distinct groups: Grades 1-2, Grades 6-8, PreK-K (mini version), and Grades 3-5. Quite a range, which helped keep things fresh and fun for me. It’s a different show every time, folks.

To prepare for my visit,  many students created artwork, which was displayed throughout the school. A lot of them focused on zombies:

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And from the younger grades, a brilliant spin on my “Pirate’s Guide” series. In this case, those rapscallions are concerned with water safety.

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Caption reads: Never dive in shallow water.

Caption reads: Never dive in shallow water.

Thank you, students at Lyme Central. I’m sorry I couldn’t share all your work, but there’s only so much space available on the internet. And thank you most of all, Linda Lepper and all the teachers and staff at your warm, clean, well-lighted school.

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18. Fan Mail Wednesday #179: Asking “What If?” Questions

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Uh-huh, yes, you are correct. It is that time again, where I share with you a letter from a fan, along with my answer.

Past visitors might notice that I changed the furniture around, bought new drapes. This blog got its start back in 2008 and it was time for a new look. Some tweaks may still be in order.

Here’s a letter from Natalie, who was kind enough to include art work, which always makes my day.

Fan mail, natalie & art

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I replied:

 

Dear Natalie:

Thanks for your letter and, most especially, your brilliant artwork. I recognized the scene immediately, from when Jigsaw, Ralphie, and Mila pull a prank on Ralphie’s brother, Justin.

“I can make this bucket of water stick like magic to the ceiling. Want to see?”

It’s cool that you make ghost traps, too. Have you ever caught one? That would be pretty awesome. Or terrifying, I’m not sure.

The simple question — “What if?” — is so important for a writer. What if a girl named Natalie set a ghost trap . . . and it worked? Imagine that. What happens next?

Since you like “spooky and action stories,” you might want to check out my new series, SCARY TALES, which should be just perfect for readers who are ready to move beyond Jigsaw Jones. The stories are not hard to read, but I should warn you that there are some thrills and chills and creepy parts. Not everybody likes that stuff, while other people –- such as my daughter, Maggie –- can’t get enough. The creepier, the better! Maggie helped inspire the main character in SCARY TALES #2: I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM.

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Each book is different, new characters, new settings, but each one promises to make your heart beat faster. Boom, boom, boom. Don’t they look great?

The fourth book in the “Scary Tales” Series, NIGHTMARELAND, is due to come out in June, 2104. The fifth book, THE ONE-EYED DOLL, comes out in October, in time for Halloween.

Be well, and keep reading!

Your friend,

James Preller

 

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19. Setting the Scene for My Next “Scary Tales”: The Importance of Place

I’ve had a semi-solid idea for the next “Scary Tales” book (number 6, untitled), for a while.

But nothing real specific.

I’ve been fleshing out characters, still debating the introduction of a third character, wondering if she’s necessary or not. Definitely going with twin boys.

As for place, I always thought — without giving it much thought — some kind of swamp. Down south, I assumed. Had to be, right?

Lately that notion of place has gotten more specific. I’m zeroing in on Southeast Texas somewhere. Still have more research to do, more looking at maps, more figuring and fact-checking. And, of course, all that in turn effects my characters. How they talk, how they live.

I recently spent time on Google, looking at images, checking maps, gaining inspiration. It seems to be something I’ve been doing of late, part of my writing process.

Here’s a few you might enjoy . . .

And last but not least . . .

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20. Hudson Children’s Book Festival: May 3, 2014

Like the song goes . . .

“It’s the most, happiest time of the year!”

Truly a wonderful event, with just a staggering list of talented authors and illustrators, new faces and old faces and — best of all — young faces.

Eager faces. Kids who are excited about books, stoked to meet “real, live” authors, to have a book signed, to have that great literary moment.

If you’ve never gone, it’s time to straighten that out. Come to Hudson. Bring the children, from picture book readers to your outwardly cynical, eye-rolling YA book-lovers.

Celebrate what you value. Reading, books, education, fun.

Then go hang around in Hudson a little bit, eat dinner, chill. You’ll have a great day, promise.

Here’s the link, go experience the awe.

And then come. Stop with the excuses. Everybody is busy. There’s a million reasons why not to go. But this is “make a statement” day. This is “put your house in order” day. This is” show ‘em what you think is important” day. This is “go have a great time, together, as a family” day, centered around books and a lifelong passion for reading.

It’s a beautiful thing. I’m blessed to be a small part of it. You can be, too. Come.

Okay, here’s a partial list: Ellen Jensen Abbott, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Jennifer Berne, Ann E. Burg, Bryan Collier, Bruce Coville, Debbie Dadey, Bruce Degan, Diane deGroat, Chris Grabenstein, Ellen Hopkins, Ty Allan Jackson, Sylvie Kantorovitz, David A. Kelly, David Kirk, Ann Haywood Leal, Jeff Mack, Wendell & Florence Minor, Jane O’Connor, JAMES PRELLER (!), April Jones Prince, Hudson Talbott, Mark Teague, Jane Yolen, Michelle Zink, and many more! And by that I mean, lots more. Seriously, lots.

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21. Fan Mail Wednesday #178: Crayola’s Dumb Mistake

Yes, we’re gonna do this again . . .

This sweet letter came from Ohio!

I replied:

Dear Alexis:

Ah, you read one of my favorite books.

Quick, sad story: That book came out in 2008, was named one of the top 100 books of the year by the awesome folks at The New York Public Libraries . . . and it went out of print three years later. Just like that, poof, gone.

Hard to find these days, especially in paperback.

Can you imagine how that feels for me?

Anyway, ah, pish and tosh. I like ALONG CAME SPIDER for the same reasons that you did, for the mixed feelings it gave you. Friendship is a complicated thing, and it’s not always clear what’s the right thing to do. I do believe, personally, that we know the answers in our hearts, or in our stomachs, if you prefer. Unfortunately, the right thing to do is often not the easiest.

Anyway, favorite books? That’s tough. I’m liking BYSTANDER a lot, and feel that might work for you, too. Lately I’ve been having a blast writing the “Scary Tales” series. So much fun. Right now I’m trying to create a toxic swamp creature.

Could anything be more fun than that? I don’t think so!

Of course, I’ll always love my favorite character, Jigsaw Jones.

I wrote a new book, THE FALL, due out in 2015. It’s a tough, sad book set in a middle school and I’m really excited about.

Be well, take care. Sorry, I don’t have any photos that I can send out – consider yourself lucky!

James Preller

P.S. As a reader of the book, you might enjoy this recent photo I discovered. I guess the folks at Crayola finally wised up. Good for them.

For readers of this blog who don’t know the book, Trey is a boy on the spectrum. He enjoys drawing, especially with his crayons. At one point, Trey muses, accurately:

There used to be a color called Flesh, but in 1962 — the same year that Wilt Chamberlain scored one hundred points — the name got changed to Peach. Trey had read about that once. It made perfect sense to him. People were different. They came in all colors and shapes. You couldn’t say that one color was Flesh, and Trey thought it was really dumb of the Crayola people to make that mistake.

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22. 2 Snaps from the Hudson Children’s Book Festival

Okay, this would be me, at a table, in front of a dark blue brick wall.

And yes, my eyes are shrinking into my skull.

I’m saying: That’s not me squinting. It’s me . . . eyes wide shut.

That’s how we roll these days.

Next, these four beauties were the first girls to visit my table, right when the doors opened. They had read all three books from my “Scary Tales” series. I had the fourth one on hand — my only copy — and that kind of bummed them out a little bit. The next book, Nightmareland, comes out in early June.

Again, to be filed under: How Lucky Am I.

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23. A Children’s Book That Left a Lasting Impression

I was recently contacted by a journalist for a national newspaper who wanted me to name a book I read as a child that left a lasting impression.

That’s a tough question for me, because I sense that my answer is never exactly what the questioner is seeking. I don’t have a poignant story about Charlotte’s Web or Harriet the Spy, that glorious day when I suddenly knew that reading was for me, and forever. I can’t describe in loving detail the book I encountered as a fresh-faced welp. (Though I do recall loving Splish, Splash, and Splush.)

Nonetheless I did somehow grow up to become an author, and therefore my answer is, I guess, legitimate. It’s the only story I’ve got.

Here’s how I replied, limited to 150 words:

Born in 1961, I have no memory of my parents reading to me. That’s not a complaint, by the way. I grew up surrounded by six older siblings and they were (mostly) all readers. I guess I got the message by sheer proximity. As a baseball-mad boy in a world without ESPN, I devoured the sports pages in the daily newspaper. Those were the first writers I desperately needed. By age 13, I encountered Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions.” It was funny and easy to read. There was no YA back then, my generation naturally graduated to Steinbeck, Bradbury, Brautigan, Vonnegut, Plath, whomever. “Breakfast” blew me away. Here was something as devilish as the kid in the back row, irreverent, rebellious, hilarious, wild. In a word, subversive. In those pages I first recognized the possibility that a book could be supremely cool. Thanks, Kurt.

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24. The Circle of Life: A Little Red Bird Meets My Wife, Driving a Car

This morning my wife, Lisa, and daughter, Maggie (13), pulled into our driveway after an energizing run. What a great way to start the day.

Lisa, alas, did not notice the cardinal that was moving awkwardly on the pavement. Or, I guess, Lisa just expected that it would fly away. Most birds do. This one did not. Splat.

Maggie said, “Mama? Did you just . . . ?”

Our daughter was upset. Well on her way to becoming a young woman, Maggie was suddenly a little girl again, traumatized, struggling to understand.

“Mama?”

The poor bird had no chance against a Toyota Camry.

In the car, there was a pause. Maggie distraught, in disbelief.

Lisa thinking, “Uh-oh.”

My wife steps out of the car to see what’s to be done, figuring it will involve a shovel and a garbage can and perhaps a few years of therapy for the aforementioned Maggie. Insurance almost certainly won’t cover it.

Suddenly a large black crow swoops down, grabs the splattered cardinal in its claws, and flies off.

Bye-bye, birdie.

Maggie catatonic now, sputtering, “Mama? Mama?”

Two minutes later, our neighbor across the street texts Lisa, asking, “What did that crow just take from your driveway? It was red. Did you just run over a bird?”

Damn, a witness!

Good morning, folks. Carry on.

Nothing to see here, nothing at all.

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25. Then This Happened: “Bystander” in Greek

Out of nowhere, without any discussion, I received in the mail three copies of a Greek translation of BYSTANDER.

I have the same-old standard observation about books: You just never know. Sometimes the world shrugs, indifferent. Books go out-of-print faster than ever these days. Not just the crummy ones, either. Other times, certain books take on a life of their own. Bucking the trend, BYSTANDER has actually managed to grow in popularity over the past several years.

You write a book, do the best you can, and release it into the world. You’ll need some luck, some help, and maybe some more luck. I grateful for this success — and I love seeing my name spelled out in Greek, where they use an entirely different alphabet.

I did not secretly, diabolically, hatch a plot for world domination. But, hey, I’d gladly settle for one measly Greek island (surely hey’ve got one to spare). Corfu, anyone?

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