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1. 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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2. Photo: Cat Eyes

I took this photo of my fat cat.

For an author of a series called “Scary Tales,” it impossible not to feel a little inspired.

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3. A Very Busy, Happy Week: Albany, Demarest, Parsippany, and San Antonio

I’m in the middle of a hectic stretch that has me running around.

On Saturday, I was invited to visit Giffen Memorial Elementary in downtown Albany for their 2nd Annual “Author/Illustrator Day.” It turned out to be a beautifully organized and attended event, sponsored by the good, kind folks at the First Presbyterian Church who have sort of adopted Giffen as their community school, as they try to positively impact its children and parents on many fronts.

It was an honor for me to be a part of it, along with Rose Kent, Myles & Sandra Pinkney (those Pinkneys pop up everywhere, like mushrooms after a rain storm), and Joseph Bruchac.

Probably not wise to play favorites, but Joe Bruchac — wow, wow, wow. He is a master storyteller and such a dignified gentleman and artist. Big respect.

I signed a lot of books, many of them purchased for the students by the folks at the First Presbyterian Church. In this case, the children came with their names written on Post-It Notes. By the end of the day, I had a stack of them and shoved it into my book bag. Look at these beautiful names!

On Sunday night, I drove to Tenefly, NJ, in preparation for a busy Monday.

I spoke with students in grade 6-8 at Demarest Middle School early in the day — great kids, terrific staff, beautiful area of NJ — then drove west on 80 to Parsippany Public Library for a truly lovely memorial event, the fifth so far, hosted by the family of Elaine Galliker, a former 2nd grade teacher who, by all reports, loved bringing books and readers together.

It was touching to be a part of something so heartfelt and community-focused. I gave a presentation to a group of adults and a few dozen young readers, and later, once again, signed a bunch of books. Special thanks to Roberta Abel for managing all the emails and small tasks that make these visits possible.

One cool thing about this library — they have a little door leading to the children’s section. Sure, there’s an ordinary big door for us taller, wide-bodied types. But there’s also a magical door for the wee folk. From what I saw and heard, the kids love it.

Tomorrow morning, I am taking a 6:00 AM flight to San Antonio, Texas for the TLA Conference. I have a late dinner date with a gaggle of teachers and librarians — as well as a few fellow authors and publishing types. Should be fun, not to mention filling. On Thursday, I’m participating in an afternoon panel discussion: “The Graveyard Shift: Programming Around Mysterious and Scary Books.” When that’s done, I’ll be racing off to the airport again.

Should be home by midnight, Thursday, tired and grateful and inspired to write.

Whew.

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4. A Perfect Passage from THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich

No offense to any librarians out there, but I prefer to own books, not borrow them. I realize there’s a financial downside to my predilection, but what can I say? It feels good to support the industry, the book stores, the publishers, the authors themselves. If I can manage it, I don’t mind spending the money on books.

For starters, I like having them around, living in my rooms. Books make great furniture and, in a way, furnaces: they warm homes.

Secondly, I usually read with a pen in my hand. I underline passages, write comments, exclamation points, stars, notes and complaints. It is the dying art of marginalia, a direct reader-response. I can’t do that with library books, and Post-It Notes simply do not satisfy.

I’ve been on nice reading streak lately — have picked out some good ones. I just finished THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir. Fabulously entertaining, and a celebration of science and the intelligence of man. A geek-hero who survives through his attitude, his determination, and his brilliant mind.

Before that, I read THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich. I loved it, every word. What a great writer. Seamless sentences, never a crack showing, and such human insight. A writer with soul. But I’ve got a problem and you can probably guess it: I borrowed the book from my local library and it’s past due.

I’ve been reluctant to return it, to drop it into the slot and hear the dull thunk as it hits the bin. Gone, gone, gone. My book no more.

One first-world problem is that I’ve been rereading, almost daily, the book’s perfect last paragraph. Over and over I return to it, stunned and speechless. That penultimate sentence, especially. What a beautiful evocation of lost innocence, the crossing over into something harder, more brutal and cold, adulthood and loss, “when we all realized we were old.”

I really didn’t want to let the book go, and maybe I’ll buy a copy for myself one day. In the meantime, I’ll type out that last paragraph here, so I’ll have it safely tucked away in the white, high-ceilinged halls of cyberspace. I don’t think there’s any spoilers revealed, it’s not that kind of book. A 13-year-old boy and his parents return home after a long drive.

Quick aside: I don’t play a musical instrument, but I love music. One of the things I’ve always envied about musicians is that they can play all these great songs, have those enduring melodies and fat riffs run through the fingers as they channel greatness.

That’s how I feel typing this passage from Louise Erdrich. Like I’m playing the guitar part from “And Your Bird Can Sing.”

How I wish that I could write as simply, as beautifully.

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IN ALL THOSE miles, in all those hours, in all that air rushing by and sky coming at us, blending into the next horizon, then the one after that, in all that time there was nothing to be said. I cannot remember speaking and I cannot remember my mother or my father speaking. I knew that they knew everything. The sentence was to endure. Nobody shed tears and there was no anger. My mother or my father drove, gripping the wheel with neutral concentration. I don’t remember that they even looked at me or I at them after the shock of that first moment when we all realized we were old. I do remember, though, the familiar side of the roadside cafe just before we would cross the reservation line. On every one of my childhood trips that place was always a stop for ice cream, coffee and a newspaper, pie. It was always what my father called the last leg of the journey. But we did not stop this time. We passed over in a sweep of sorrow that would persist into our small forever. We just kept going.

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5. New Slide for School Visits

Came across this today and thought it would make a good slide for my Middle School presentations. It basically expresses where I come out on all the tips and strategies for so-called “Bully Proofing” a school. It’s why these students don’t need to be preached to. They already know. They just need to be encouraged to listen, and supported when they do.

When my presentation is over — which is decidedly not about bully-proofing a school, it’s about writing books — I like to keep up a final slide while the students filter out. Most of my slides are just images, not words. But at the end, I think that last slide can have words. This one just might make the cut.

Thank you, Shel Silverstein!

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6. Fan Mail Wednesday #177: Second-Grader Turns Into Reading Monster

Okay, gather round, people, nice and tight. Here’s one from a proud mother in Indiana . . .

Mr Preller,

Oh boy, you have created a Monster at my home!

My 2nd grader 8 yr old is hooked and In love with Scary Tales.  I found Home Sweet Horror, and she begged to stay up late to finish it.  Seeing this enthusiasm I was able to reserve I Scream, You Scream.  This was history in one afternoon/night.   Together we read the peak into Good Night, Zombie.    Oh NOoooooo, We can not find it anywhere!!   What is wrong with these libraries???   Ha ha, I’m just saying Thank you for a truly appropriate scary tale for kids.  Natalie loves bugs, frogs, rides and gross scary things…she now loves you :)

Thank you again,

Christina S

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I replied:
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Christina,

Thank you for that kind letter. The Irish call it “flowers for the living,” that you don’t have to wait for someone to die before saying nice things to or about him. I’m saying that I appreciate this did not come in the form of a eulogy.

I’m glad that Natalie has enjoyed the Scary Tales books so far. I have already completed #4 (Nightmareland) and #5 (The One-Eyed Doll), which will come out this June and October, I think.

It’s funny. I have two boys and a girl. The boys never cared from scary anything, but my daughter, Maggie, can’t get enough. She loves that stomach-churning, heart-pounding sensation. Maggie is the one who first told me about the urban myth of “Bloody Mary,” which I used in Home Sweet Horror.

My best to Natalie!

JP

P.S. The art is by Iacopo Bruno from the upcoming title, Nightmareland.


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7. “BYSTANDER” Honored As Contender for Global Read Aloud 2014

I arrived home last night after a terrific trip to Michigan, courtesy of the good, kind folks at West Bloomfield Township Public Library. I was treated much too kindly and given the opportunity to speak with young people from 8th grade all the way up to preschool.

(See what I did there?)

More details on that trip another day.

This morning a friend directed me to this link, with information about “The Global Read Aloud.”

“What in the world’s that?”

According to the site:

The project was created in 2010 with a simple goal in mind; one book to connect the world. Now with three years under our belt and more than 30,000 connections made, we realize we are on to something larger than us so we look forward to continuing the global connections.

The premise is simple; we pick a book to read aloud to our students during a set 6-week period and during that time we try to make as many global connections as possible. Each teacher decides how much time they would like to dedicate and how involved they would like to be. Some people choose to connect with just one class, while others go for as many as possible. The scope and depth of the project is up to you. In the past we have used Twitter, Skype, Edmodo, our wiki, email, regular mail, Kidblog, and any other tools we can think of to make these connections. Teachers get a community of other educators to do a global project with, hopefully inspiring them to continue these connections through the year.

I was surprised and honored to see one of my books listed along with such company. It’s nice to be in the conversation, much appreciated. The project looks at books in various categories, according to grades. There’s “Picture Book,” “Grades 1-3,” “Grades 4-6″ and “Grades 7-up.” Some of the folks named include some of my personal favorites, such as Peter Reynolds, Kevin Henkes, Kate DiCamillo, Anne Urso, Jo Knowles, and others.

Oh, wait. Before I forget, look at this cake that was made for me at Algonquin Middle School. It happened a while back, but I just found the photo on the net. I’m only a year and a half behind!

Here’s another sweet shot from that same visit to Algonquin. Thank you, Rebecca.

You can sign up for the Global Read Aloud right here.

Here are the 5 books listed for 7th-grade and up. It looks like I have some reading to do — which, to me, is always the primary point of these lists. Glad to be a contender:

  • Endangered by Elliot Schrefer
  • Bystander by James Preller
  • Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Gein

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8. Sneak Peak: Cover for SCARY TALES #5, “The One-Eyed Doll”

When I think of the five books I’ve written so far for the “Scary Tales” Series — currently working on #6 now — I sometimes consider their relative “fear factor.”

I have been open about my debt to Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.” Many people mistakenly think of TZ as a horror series. It was not, almost never. The stories were strange and always came with a twist. I’d call them intellectually ticklish. What I’ve tried to do with ST is capture some of that strangeness while still delivering the goosebumps.

This upcoming one, The One-Eyed Doll (September 2014), might be the scariest, creepiest of all. I’d put Home Sweet Horror in second place in terms of traditionally “scary,” Good Night, Zombie in third, with Nightmareland fourth. The least scary, but possibly most surprising, more in the thriller mode, is I Scream, You Scream. Of course, we all react differently. Some folks are afraid of spiders, others jump on chairs at the sight of mice.

When I started this series, I had big ambitions. I imagined — this is true — a painter working on a large canvas. I told my editor, “I don’t know if people will really see what I have in mind until I’ve done 20 titles, a color here, a splash there, because I want this to cross genre, move the “Horror” into Science Fiction, Fantasy, Thriller, Realistic and even Historical Fiction. I am most eager to do some Sci-Fi with this series, because in space they can’t hear you scream. But that’ll have to wait for now.

Here’s the new cover. I am so grateful for the opportunity given to me by Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla to write these books. Don’t they look great? Aren’t I lucky? And what do you think of Iacopo Bruno’s latest cover? I love it!

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9. Fan Mail Wednesday #176: The Video!

This one comes with a book trailer!

Kelsey, who has her own blog, writes:

I really enjoy your book. I am a student in edm 310 at the Univerity of South Alabama. My assignment this week was to make a book trailer. I chose your book because my kids enjoy it so much. I wanted to share the trailer with you.

I replied:

Kelsey,

Thanks for sending along that link. I love the trailer. Love the focus on the boy’s journey, well-edited, and the music was especially invigorating. It got me standing up, marching around the room, punching myself in the chest. (Which hurt a little bit, btw.) I was, I should say, fully prepped for a reading adventure!

I love Greg Ruth’s artwork in that book. He’s pretty spectacular and has a new graphic novel out, The Lost Boy. A staggering talent and a nice guy, too.

There is also a sequel out, A Pirate’s Guide to Recess. It expands on the boy — Greg and I call him “Red” — and his imaginary world, as it collides with another first-grader, Molly, and her swashbuckling crew of seafaring scallywags.

Good luck in your teaching career. We need good, young, committed teachers, now more than ever. Thank you for choosing that honorable path.

JP

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10. “Home Sweet Horror” Wins 2013 Cybil Award in Early Chapter Books Category

Okay, you might be asking: “What’s a Cybil Award?”

The Cybils are awarded by bloggers for the year’s best children’s and young adult titles. The Cybils have been in existence since, oddly enough, the year 1843. No, wait. Check that: Since 2006. According to the website, their primary purpose is to:

“Reward the children’s and young adult authors (and illustrators, let’s not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and ‘kid appeal.’ What’s that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.”

I did not expect to win this award, in part because I did not even realize that my book, the first in a series of “Scary Tales,” had been among the finalists. In truth, “winning” anything like this is always dubious. But it is an honor to be listed among other finalists, to be part of that conversation of some of the better books of that year. I’m quite sure that my book is no better than the others listed in this category. So here they are, readers take note:

Dragonbreath #9: The Case of the Toxic Mutants, by Ursula Vernon

Kelsey Green, Reading Queen, by Claudia Mills

Lulu and the Dog from the Sea, by Hilary McKay

The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems, by Lauren Myracle

Violet Mackerel’s Natural Habitat, by Anna Branford

Home Sweet Horror (Scary Tales #1), by James Preller

The Cybils website described my book this way:

Liam Finn and his sister just moved into the old Cropsey house. Their father has transplanted his family from Hopeville to Upstate New York. Liam and Kelley are both opposed to the move, but since the death of their mother eighteen months earlier, the family is struggling to survive. Upon moving into the house, Liam begins to hear strange noises and even receives a threatening message in a mirror.  When Kelley’s friend, Mitali, comes for a visit and summons “Bloody Mary”, the tale quickly escalates to a spine-tingling conclusion.

Preller takes an urban myth and creates an enjoyable tale of horror that will appeal to the lower grade students. Bruno’s illustrations insert an appropriate amount of creepiness that adds to the ambiance of the tale. Younger readers will appreciate this scary tale without the graphic and gory details of older horror reads. This little page turner could become a campfire classic!

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My thanks have already gone out to the judges, panelists, bloggers, volunteers, and organizers for this nice honor. I’m grateful and, yes, I especially like that “kid appeal” is seen in a positive light.

In addition, any positive acclaim for this series grows out of the fact that it has been well-published by my friends at Feiwel & Friends, particularly Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel.  The illustrations by Iacopo Bruno are amazing.

And last, a special thank you to Jennifer Wharton, whoever you are!, for nominating my book. My appreciation. Jennifer, if somehow you find this, can I send you a signed copy by way of thanks? You can write to me with your address at Jamespreller@aol.com.

That’s right, AOL, because an elephant’s loyal one-hundred percent.

There are three other titles (so far) in the Scary Tales Series:

…..

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11. Fan Mail Wednesday #175: Flip Over!

This is more of an observation than my typical (and patented) letter-and-response combo.

The absolute truth is that I have a long and sordid relationship with fan mail. I’m grateful for every letter, of course, and I do my best to reply in an authentic manner to every one. I’ve had lapses along the way, times when I’ve gotten behind, felt overwhelmed. That is, my record is not entirely spotless. So I have a degree of guilt. Every piece of fan mail demands my time, effort, and often the cost of a stamp and envelope.

The important thing is those times when all that gets pushed aside and I recognize,  “Wow, this is really beautiful. How lucky am I?”

This week’s most favorite thing? When young people send me a long, two-sided letter and at the bottom of page one there’s instructions for what to do next, just in case I couldn’t figure it out on my own.

For example, this one, from Nicholas in Illinois:

Isn’t that great? So sweet.

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12. Fan Mail Wednesday #174: My Busted Baseball Career, The Next Book, and “Bullying” the Verb

Here’s one from Stephen with a “ph!”

Dear Mr.Preller,

My 7 grade English class is reading your hit book Bystander, and I love it. There are allot of cliff hangers for sure, and that is why i love it so much. I would like to read some more of your books like 6 Innings and more. I would like to ask you some questions about your life. Why didn’t you follow your dream to play for the Mets like you wanted to? I am sure you would have been as good playing as you are a writer. I would also like to know if you are publishing any books soon? If you are, I am sure they will be very interesting?

I replied:

Hey, Stephen. I would have loved to follow my dream as a baseball player, but I wasn’t any good! It was a little boy dream, really, nothing that concrete.

I’ve been putting out a series of books lately, SCARY TALES. There are three out so far: Home Sweet Horror; I Scream, You Scream; and Goodnight, Zombie.

I have another Young Adult novel, titled BEFORE YOU GO.

In addition, I just finished the first draft of a new hardcover book that can be seen as a companion to BYSTANDER, in that it explores many of the same themes and ideas, but is told in the first-person from the bully’s point of view. The characters and setting are different, so it’s not a sequel, strictly speaking. My working title is KINDER, TOMORROW, but we’ll see how that goes.

Actually, I have to say that I don’t like using the word “bully,” because it labels (and limits) a person. I think of bullying — the verb — as a behavior. Something that somebody does, rather than as a noun, “the bully.” In a lot of ways, that basic distinction was one of the primary inspirations behind this new book.

Peace out,

JP

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13. Remain Calm, Dress Warm, and Keep Reading

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14. Good Advice from Ira Glass

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15. Pete Seeger: Beacon of Light

Living in New York for almost the entirety of my life — first Long Island, then Brooklyn, then upstate (Albany, then Delmar, near the Hudson River) — I’ve seen Pete Seeger on many occasions.  I’ve even stepped on his boat, the famous Clearwater. Stood and applauded the man. Taken some money out of my pocket to contribute to his latest good cause.

It’s funny, I thought he was an old guy the first time I saw him, at a folk festival 30 years ago. And after that, all he did was persist. He kept keeping on, believing in good things, fighting the fight. Pete Seeger had great integrity of purpose. And soulfulness.

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes when you meet a person, you feel it: “Wow, this is a great man.” An awareness that you are in the presence of a truly evolved individual. He (or she) is elevated somehow. I can name a few dozen folks over the years, men and women, celebrities and neighbors, authors and near-strangers. You recognize something deep and good in that person. A spirit, a kindness, a wisdom. For me, Pete Seeger had that. And each time I’ve experienced the contradictory sensation of feeling both small and strangely ennobled. Small, because I was not there yet, probably never would get there. Too petty, too selfish, too unkind, too Jimmy. And yet lifted up somehow just by the proximity, because here I could see it, sense the possibility: What it means to be a really good person in this world.

We need those beacons, shining that good pure light.

And that’s all I’ve got to say.

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16. JUST FOR LAUGHS: Mad Men Without Smoking

Both of my parents smoked. I grew up in a cloud of cigarette smoke. We’d go on long drives for our summer vacations in Vermont, seven children and my parents packed in a station wagon, and they’d smoke for seven hours, windows closed. Mom made dozens of sandwiches for the road, wrapped in wax paper. We chewed and gagged, swallowed and coughed. Things were different back then. Not complaining, it’s just the way it was, especially growing up in the 60s and 70s (born in 1961). So I guess I’ve always had an affection for smokers, or at least sympathy.

When I watch Mad Men on TV, I see my parents’ world re-imagined, an era that speaks to my soul.

Anyway, this is funny . . . Hat tip to the “Ellen” show.

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17. Fan Mail Wednesday #173: Sally from South Korea Asks About “BYSTANDER”

Here we go, folks. Since this letter essentially consisted of questions, I broke format and inserted my answers directly beneath each question. For your reading pleasure!

This is South Korean student reading your book, Bystander. I really enjoyed reading your book. Your book is even used in debate topic in S.K’s book debate. I am little confused with some parts. And I hope you answer my questions. Thanks.

1. Why did Hallenback hate Eric so much? Eric wanted to help Hallenback.

I don’t have all the answers on this, and by that I mean that your insights are just as valid as mine. For me, I think you need to go back to the opening scene of the book. Hallenback has just been terrorized. He is covered with ketchup, scared and humiliated. Who does he run into but Eric Hayes.  At that first meeting, Eric witnesses David in his time of shame. Utterly degraded. In Eric’s eyes, David Hallenback would always be that bullied kid, covered in ketchup, and Hallenback instinctively knew it.

Later on we learn that David desperately wanted to belong to Griffin’s group. He would have been a lot better off if that was not the case. David resented how the new kid in school, Eric, could quickly be accepted in Griffin’s group of friends. I think when Eric tried to show sympathy to David in the hallway, David perceived it as pity, that Eric was “feeling sorry” for him. So that angered David, too. Remember, when David is hurt or rejected or humiliated, he feels anger — but he doesn’t want to direct it at Griffin. That anger needs a different outlet. Later when Griffin whispers into David ear, asks a favor, David is only too glad to accept. Finally he’ll have a seat at the table.

2. Why did Hallenback try to be friends with Griff?

Oops, I sort of answered that above. For a variety of reasons, Griffin held a certain appeal for David. Griffin was smart, handsome, popular, all the things David wished he could be.

3. What did Eric help directly to Hallenback? He just advised him that don’t let Griff to treat himself with sneer. He just said he understand Hallenback. What help did Eric give to Hallenback?

Foremost, I think Eric was basically decent to Hallenback. Not friends, but civil, respectful, tolerant, compassionate. One time (chapter 19), Eric even tried to reach out to Hallenback a little bit, advise him against Griffin. It only made David angry. In the end, Eric tries to show David another small kindness by offering him a seat at the lunch table, a show of acceptance, but David rejects the offer. Oh well.

4. When Cody got angry with ‘Weasel’ and fought, why did Eric smile in the end? He even thinks ‘Hallenback found out the way to be in Griff’s group’ Is this mean Eric understand Hallenback betraying him, and kicking him? Is he that kind?

No, he’s not that kind. Though maybe he has a twisted sense of humor. The smile and laugh came when Eric was on the ground, bleeding and beaten, and he understood at that moment why Hallenback had betrayed him in the cemetery. David had gotten his unfortunate wish. The smile also signaled to the reader that Eric would be okay.

5. Is Hallenback changed in the end? If he does, how??

I don’t think he’s changed at all, actually. He’s still the same guy. But we’ve seen changes in the people around him. Eric has gained in understanding. Mary changed a lot; so did Cody. We also saw that the police had their eye on Griffin, who had been stealing from parked cars. The future does not look bright for Griffin Connelly. I think in some ways that is what is different about the book. Usually we see how the “bully” is transformed in some positive way. He turns into a nice guy, realizes the error of his ways, everybody becomes friends, etc. I didn’t want to write that kind of book. My focus was on the bystanders, the vast majority, the place where I thought the most meaningful change could occur. I’ll leave you with a quote by Martin Luther King: The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.

I have so many questions on this. I am so curious about these to know. I hope you would answer these. Thanks~

You are very welcome!

JP

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18. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #171: 10 Questions and Answers (Mostly About My Book, BYSTANDER)

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Okay, I’m reaching my arm deep into the giant barrel of letters I keep here in my office . . . I’m swirling my hand around . . . and what’s this? . . . an email from Virginia!
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How’d that get in here?
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Thanks so much for coming to our school today. The students were very excited, and as an English Teacher let me personally thank you for writing a book (BYSTANDER) that interested 7th graders. Many a day, the students wanted to continue past the points I stopped to know what was coming next. All students were able to participate in discussions. On that note, my students had some questions I’m hoping you can answer when you have a moment. Thanks again.
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1. When was your first book published and how old were you?
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2. How long did SIX INNINGS take to write?
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3. What had been your favorite book and why?
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4. Is there going to be a movie for BYSTANDER?
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5. What advice would you give to young writers?
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6. What made you decide to be an author?
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7. How long did BYSTANDER take to write?
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8. Was Eric’s dad really in the crowd at the end or was that wishful thinking?
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9. What is the premise of your next book?
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10. Who was Eric based upon?
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I replied:
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1. I published my first book in 1986. I was 25 years old. It was titled MAXX TRAX: AVALANCHE RESCUE! It sold more than one million copies. I signed a bad, flat-fee contract and earned only $3,000 from the book. No royalties. I’m not bitter! That was 27 years ago. I’ve forgotten all about it! Really!!!
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2. Hard to remember, but probably about 3 months to reach a finished, first draft. Revision was tough on that one, because I had to cut 10,000 words. I guess I wondered down a lot of side paths and needed to get back on the main road, or what I think of as the “through-line” in the narrative.
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3. I don’t think in terms of favorites, but I really do love the character of Jigsaw Jones.
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4. There are no plans for a movie, but — ca-ching! — that sure would be fun.
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5. Writers come in all shapes and sizes. We all have stories to tell. You need to read a lot — and read, at times, slowly, thoughtfully, with the mind of a writer. Rather than getting totally caught up in the story, try to become aware of the writer behind the words, the choices, the decisions. Also, obviously: Spend time writing.
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6. The dream formed in college. I wasn’t one of those kids who loved going to library.
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7. I research BYSTANDER for a couple of months, visiting schools, talking to experts, reading widely. The writing, which took four months, grew out of that.
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8. That’s wishful thinking. Look at the words on the page. “All the while quietly hoping — in that place of the heart where words sputter and dissolve, were secret dreams are born and scarcely admitted . . .”
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9. The book I’m writing now returns to some of the themes in BYSTANDER, but is sympathetic to “the bully.” For me, I don’t like to label kids as any one thing, especially as “a bully.” Bullying is a behavior, not a thing, not a person. I’m looking at it from that perspective.
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10. Eric is not based on anyone in particular. I see him as witness, observer. He’s new in town, so the reader meets the characters in school at the same time as Eric.
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Thanks, I loved visiting Virginia and I hope to make it back again someday soon.
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JP

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19. Barbara Park: A Conversation Remembered

“I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value

if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two.

It’s perfectly okay to take a book, read it, have a good time,

giggle and laugh — and turn off the TV. I love that.”

Barbara Park (1947-2013)

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I was surprised and saddened to read that Barbara Park passed away on November 15th at the young age of 66. I never met Barbara in person, but I certainly got a strong sense of Barbara through her books. Every reader knows and feels this experience. When we read the best books, when we feel that electric connection, there is a communion that endures beyond time and space and even death.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to interview more than a hundred authors and illustrators. One of them was Barbara Park, who was genuine in every way. We spoke sometime in the late ’90s,  and a bunch of those interviews were later compiled in a Scholastic Professional Book called, rather klunkily: The Big Book of Picture-Book Authors & Illustrators.

Good luck finding it. The book is long out of print (big sigh), but there are treasures within. It’s worth seeking out on eBay or wherever. I seriously wish I could write another someday.

I enjoyed memorable, lively conversations with so many great artists. A few of my favorites were Molly Bang, Aliki Brandenberg, Ashley Bryan, Barbara Cooney, Mem Fox, Kevin Henkes, Karla Kuskin, James Marshall, Bill Martin, Patricia Polacco, Jack Prelutsky, Faith Ringgold, Lane Smith, Peter Spier, Bernard Waber, Vera B. Williams, Charlotte Zolotow . . . and, of course, Barbara Park.

Barbara was warm, and kind, and modest, and funny, and absolutely genuine, just as you’d expect.

Here’s what ended up in the book, which was intended to be shared with students:

Best-selling author Barbara Park did not take the usual path to becoming a writer. “As a kid, I didn’t even read much,” Barbara confesses. “I bought books from the school book club because I liked the smell of them. It was nice to have this pile of new books. But I really had no great desire to read them!”

Barbara was a lively, active child with a motormouth and a sharp sense of humor. She had a great many interests, but writing was not one of them. “To me, writing was an assignment, period. I was no particularly imaginative. I didn’t sit around and make up stories to entertain my friends. But I was always the class clown. In high school I was voted ‘Wittiest,’ which, let’s be honest, is just a nice way of saying ‘Goofy!’”

It wasn’t until after college, marriage, and the birth of two children, that Barbara began to think seriously about writing. “I wanted to see if I could put my sense of humor to work. Because, sad to say, it was the only thing for which I’d ever got any recognition. I thought, Maybe I can write funny.”

Working at home while her two boys were in school, Barbara concentrated on books for middle-grade readers. Barbara lists The Kid in the Red Jacket, My Mother Got Married (and Other Disasters), and Mike Harte Was Here as personal favorites. She considers her best work to be Mike Harte Was Here. Many readers agree. In a stunning achievement, Barbara addresses a boy’s tragic, accidental death with writing that is at once deeply heartfelt and — amazingly — joyously funny.

In all of her books, no matter the seriousness of the theme, Barbara’s humor spontaneously bubbles to the surface. In fact, Barbara has made something of a career out of focusing on funny, irreverent, wisecracking kids who, like her, just can’t walk away from a punch line.

Though Barbara’s books are moral in the truest sense of the word, she steers clear of heavy messages and “life lessons.” Says Barbara, “I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. It’s perfectly okay to take a book, read it, have a good time, giggle and laugh — and turn off the TV. I love that.”

In the early 1990s, Barbara was approached by Random House with the idea of writing a series for younger readers. It scared her half to death. Barbara admits, “There was some question as to whether or not my dry sense of humor would be picked up by younger kids.”

In the end Barbara decided that she’d have to write to please herself, to be true to her own sensibilities. “I can’t change my sense of humor,” Barbara explains. “If I did, it wouldn’t even be me trying to write this book. It would be me trying to write like somebody who didn’t think like me!”

Barbara soon created the irrepressible character Junie B. Jones. This best-selling children’s character, who often said and did all the wrong things, elbowed her way into the spotlight. Barbara didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “Junie B. is me in an exaggerated form,” Barbara admits. “I think the core of most of my characters is me. I mean, where else is it going to come from? It’s got to be from you.”

Though Junie B. is in kindergarten (with a move to first grade coming soon), Barbara has an uncanny knack for inhabiting her world. She says, “I’ve never had a problem becoming five years old in my head. I really think that you basically stay the same person all your life. I fell the essence of me hasn’t changed.”

Junie B. is by no means perfect. She acts out in class, she’s not always respectful, and she tends to massacre the English language whenever she opens her mouth (which is often). An ideal role model? Forget about it. Junie B. is much more than that — with her foibles and mistakes, she is as genuine as her readers. Junie B. is a pretty terrific kid doing her best to get it right — and happily succeeding most of the time.

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20. Charlotte Zolotow Remembered: “Books for Boys.”

“All of my books are based on an adult emotion that connects

with a similar emotion that I had as a child. I like each of my books

for a different reason, because each comes out of a different emotion.

If a book succeeds in bringing an emotion into focus,

then I like that book very much.” – Charlotte Zolotow.

“Emeralds,’ said the rabbit.

‘Emeralds make a lovely gift.”

Charlotte Zolotow, from Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present.

And so in this sad week another one of my favorite children’s book writers has passed, the great Charlotte Zolotow, whom I’ve admired so much and for so long. I’ve written about Charlotte a few times over the course of this blog. Here’s a past entry from 3 1/2 years ago . . .

“William wanted a doll.”

And so begins Charlotte Zolotow’s classic picture book, William’s Doll, illustrated by William Pene Du Bois. Published 38 years ago, and dedicated to Billy and Nancy, it is still relevant today — and very possibly moreso.

This title has been on my mind a lot lately, and comes to mind whenever the discussion turns to “books for boys.” Somehow the collective thinking about boys and reading has become muddled, to the point where “boys” has become a code word for “reluctant readers.”

I’ve talked about this before, here and here and here and elsewhere, and I don’t wish to repeat myself endlessly. Except to paraphrase Walt Whitman: Boys are large and contain multitudes. I find it unsettling, even disturbing, when I come across lists of “books for boys” that offer all the usual standbys: bodily humor, nonstop action, cars and trucks, sports, violence, and so on. You know, the kinds of stuff all boys like.

Imagine such a list for girls. Would it offend you?

And now imagine all the great books, and important thoughts, that would be missing from such a list. Because the nature of such lists is reductionist and simplistic and full of stereotypes, a narrowing of what children are and what children can become. Girls and boys.

Yes, for sure, I am strongly on the side of a teacher or parent who longs to turn a reluctant reader onto books. I can understand the desire for something sure-fire, a book that will turn the trick, unlock the door, open up the world of reading. But once that door has been pushed open, let’s not forget that boys can be sensitive, thoughtful, dreamy, mild, frightened, lonely, tender, loving, sad, and a thousand more things. It’s not just farts and firetrucks.

When my oldest son, Nick, was sick with leukemia, we struggled as parents. It was tempting to give him things, do things for him, make the experience easier and more enjoyable. In short: spoil him. After a spinal tap, how do you not buy that kid a lollipop? And a DVD of whatever he wants. So we did. But not always. My wife Lisa once said one of the most profound things about parenting I ever heard. Talking about this subject, she reminded me: “We’re not only trying to take care of a sick boy — we’re trying to raise a healthy adult.”

I think that applies to boys and reading.

So let’s look at this book, William’s Doll. To me, the best illustration is on the first page, before even the title page. You know, the page we hurry past on our way to the story. It’s a picture, we will learn, of William and Nancy from next door. Nancy is holding a doll. But if you glance quickly at that illustration, look at it from a distance, it is a portrait of every young family in the world. Father, mother, and child.

“He wanted to hug it

and cradle it in his arms

and give it a bottle

and take it to the park

and push it in the swing

and bring it back home

and undress it

and put it to bed . . .”

His brother and the boy next door did not approve.

William’s father brought home a basketball instead.

He practiced a lot

and got good at it

but it had nothing to do

with a doll.

William still wanted one.

So his father brought home an electric train. With similar results.

One day his grandmother visited. William proudly showed her the basketball and his new train. He also expressed his desire for a doll, explaining, “My brother says it will make me a creep and the boy next door says I’m a sissy and my father brings me other things instead.”

His grandmother listened attentively.

“Nonsense,” she said.

She bought him a doll. I love the detail in this description, the clicking of the eyes. It reminds me of my mother’s Shirley Temple doll (not that I ever played with it!).

The doll had blue eyes

and when they closed

they made a clicking sound

and William loved it

right away.

William’s father was upset. “He’s a boy!” he said.

And so the grandmother must patiently explain to her son:

“He needs it,” she said,

“to hug

and to cradle

and to take to the park

so that

when he’s a father

like you,

he’ll know how to

take care of his baby

and feed him

and love him

and bring him

the things he wants,

like a doll

so that he can

practice being

a father.”

I highly doubt you’ll find this book on a list of “books for boys.” It’s probably too sissyish. No, instead we’ll give them books about trains and basketball.

ENDNOTE: A song based on the story, with lyrics by Mary Rodgers and music by Sheldon Harnick, was included in the bestselling album, “Free to Be . . . You and Me.” In 1974, it was turned into a television special. According to producer Marlo Thomas, ABC fought to have the song dropped from the show. She recalled: “They wanted William’s Doll cut, because it would turn every boy into a homosexual.”

True to her ideals, and (importantly) armed with enough marketable power to win this battle, Ms. Thomas refused to comply, and the song remained. Somehow civilization was not destroyed — by this show, at least.

Click here for more on the sources of Charlotte Zolotow’s inspiration for this story, which was based on personal experience as a mother and wife. Commented Zolotow: “I wrote it out of direct emotional sorrow.”

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21. Donalyn Miller’s “The Book Whisperer” Reaches Cultural Icon Status

I met Donalyn Miller at a Literacy Conference in Ohio. She was the keynote speaker and I came away impressed, inspired, and determined to read her book, THE BOOK WHISPERER: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.

I started reading it yesterday, frustrated over my own 9th-grade son’s brutal, book-hating experience in advanced, 9th-grade English.

I underlined this passage from Donalyn’s book, page 18:

Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters — the saints and sinners, real or imagined — reading shows you how to be a better human being.

The book is filled with passages that make you want to stand up and cheer.

Anyway, this morning Donalyn Miller shared her enthusiasm over this fun bit of pop culture stardom:

Good for Donalyn Miller, good for Jeopardy.

It’s funny, isn’t it? That’s a real touchstone in America today. An undeniable sign that you’ve arrived and made your mark. You become a clue on Jeopardy!

Donalyn is also a founding member of the Nerdy Book Club, which you should definitely follow. Seriously, I insist.

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22. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #170: Seth from Iowa Is Scared & Happy About It

Here we go, folks. It’s time for Fan Mail Wednesday — and it’s actually Wednesday, a first for the entire staff here at Jamespreller.com!

I’m reaching into the big box of letters . . . ah, here’s one from Seth in Iowa!

Dear James Preller,

Hello, my name is Seth. I am a fourth grade student in Iowa. Our class is writing letters to our favorite authors. I chose you. You write Scary Tales. What do you do when you get stuck? Also, what book are you writing now? Here are some suggestions; Scary Tales: Slenderman’s Eye because it is really scary. My favorite book is Good Night Zombie. It is captivating! You keep me into the book and the characters. I liked your book because it’s scary and fun to read. What book did you make and like the most? I obviously like GOOD NIGHT ZOMBIE!!! It’s really scary. You also give me courage to read your books. You give me the chills when I read the books. You inspire me to read and write. Thank you for writing stuff like scary books!

Sincerely,

Seth

I replied:
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Seth,

Thanks for your email. You just saved me fifty cents on a crummy stamp. And stamps don’t grow on trees. (Though trees grow on stumps, sort of. Nevermind!)

I’m especially happy to read your email, because you are one of the first readers to write about my new SCARY TALES series. I’m glad you enjoyed Good Night, Zombie, which is the third book in that series. I love that story, just wall-to-wall action and suspense. I’ve written two more in the series that are due to come out around June or so, I’m not really clear on the dates. It takes a lot of people to make a book, and now is the time for the designer, illustrator, editor, and copyeditor to do their part. Except for some proofreading, my job on those books is pretty much done.
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Scary Tales #4 is called Nightmareland. It’s about a boy who loves video games. Unfortunately, he gets sucked into one of them and it’s up to his sister to find a way to help him escape. Yes, there are wolves. Yes, there are dangerous snowmen who guard a castle. Yes, there is fire and adventure. It’s a lot of fun. The 5th book will be called The One-Eyed Doll and my editor thinks it’s the creepiest one yet. Around here, I consider that a compliment.
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EDITOR: “Your story is really creepy and gruesome.”

WRITER: “Oh, thank you very much. You don’t look so bad yourself!”

I currently have several projects in the fire. My focus right now is a new novel along the lines of my middle grade book, Bystander. Many of the same themes, but all new characters and situations. I’m writing, researching, and zinging along. It’s the first book that I’ve written in the first-person since my old “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series. Other two works in progress are both middle grade novels, a crazy one tentatively titled Zombie Me in the wild and wooly tradition (I hope) of Kurt Vonnegut, and a straight-on science fiction story set on a distant planet. In that one, I’m trying to bring “scary” into outer space.

There will be a 6th book in the Scary Tales series, but at this point I have no idea what it will be about. What is this “Slenderman’s Eye” you are talking about? Seriously, I’m open to new ideas, just as long as we are clear about one thing: I’m not sharing the money, Seth!

I don’t believe in writer’s block and don’t worry too much about getting stuck. My father was an insurance man who ran his own business. He had a wife and seven kids. As far as I know, he never sat around complaining about “insurance block.” Sometimes you just have to strap yourself into the chair and . . . make something up! I do think we experience “stuckness” when we are bored. That is, we are writing a story that has become boring to us. How awful is that? If you are bored by your own story, imagine how the readers might feel. At that point, you’ve got to sit back and try to figure out how to get your story back on track. Or dump it and start a new one.
The world does not need any more boring stories.

Thanks for writing, Seth!

My best,

James Preller

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23. My Interview at “Author Turf”

I was recently invited for an interview by Brittney Breakey over at AUTHOR TURF. Brittney has really accomplished a lot with her site. It’s worth checking out. She’s recently interviewed Holly Goldberg Sloan, Sally Nicholls, Gennifer Choldenko, Jo Knowles, Kathryn Erskine . . . and my great pal, Lewis Buzbee.

For me, that’s a double-edged sword. I’ll be honest, I’ve always hoped to be the kind of person who somebody wanted to interview. It’s an incredible compliment. And a true honor.

In my career, some of the first work I ever did was interviews of authors for promotional brochures. I think Ann McGovern was my first interview, back when I worked as a junior copywriter for Scholastic. Or it might have been Johanna Hurwitz. I don’t think I saved them. This would have been in 1985, I guess. Life went on and I’ve interviewed some talented authors and illustrators over the years.

You’d think I’d have learned some things along the line, but my basic feeling is usually one of disorientation, a sense that I have no idea what I’m doing, most likely saying the wrong things, awkwardly. Oh well.

I do have lucid moments, times when I think, “Okay, not terrible.” But in general I can’t read things like this without wincing, without twitching and blinking too often. I don’t know, it’s weird. I try to be honest, authentic, and hope for the best.

Below, you’ll find a brief excerpt of a much longer interview. Click here for the whole shebang.

What’s the worst thing you did as a kid?

It’s interesting you ask this, because I recently wrote about it in my journal. A theme that I’m exploring in the book I currently writing (or should be writing), which is a quasi-sequel to BYSTANDER. I have superstitions about talking about books before they are finished, but I’ll say this: In the summer between 7th and 8th grade, a girl in my homeroom died unexpectedly. I didn’t know her well, and wouldn’t call her a friend. When I first heard about Barbara’s death, I was with a bunch of friends –- I can picture it vividly, a bunch of us lounging around — and I said something dumb, snarky, immature. Of course, the death of a peer was completely new to me, a big deal, and I didn’t know how to react. I still feel a sense of shame about it, across these forty years, that one dumb thing I said that no one else even noticed. I’ve been reflecting a lot about identity lately, the idea of self not as a revelation, but as a made thing. Something you earn. Bryan Stevenson gave an incredible presentation for TED Talks -– everyone in America should Youtube it -– and he said, “I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” That’s a huge, complicated, controversial idea –- and it speaks directly to the topic of my next book. [NOTE: I've embedded Stevenson's talk, below.]

Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue?

Yes, I’ve wanted to quit. Absolutely. Mostly because it’s hard, and because I’ve felt (and still feel, though less so) insecure about my own ability –- that I was a pretender, a self-deceiver, a fake. Also, it’s a bunny-eat-bunny business that can crush your soul at times. As a husband and father, I’ve worried about my ability to provide for my family, to keep paying the bills. But that’s life, right? You have to keep getting up. You can’t just lie there on the canvas. That said: Every day I feel blessed that I can do this for a living. The hard is what makes the good.

What’s your favorite writing quote?

It’s not a quote, so much as an attitude about doing the work, a sort of blue collar distrust of pretentiousness. In a phrase, shut up, sit down, and write. Or not! But either way, shut up. It’s hard, writers are told that we need to promote ourselves, we need to “have a presence” on the web, we need to “get out there.” And I just keep thinking, we need to write great books. That’s all that matters.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily?

The whole thing is a challenge. One thing about having published a bunch of things over a long period of time is that I’ve come to understand that each book is its own, self-contained thing. You write the story that’s in front of you. Then you write the next one. And the next. You don’t control what happens after that and, on good days, you accept that plain fact.

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24. RE-POST: Imaging the Character of Griffin Connelly in BYSTANDER

I just enjoyed a terrific visit to Virginia, three nights, visiting Matoaca Middle School and Davis Middle School. I stayed in Richmond, was treated like a conquering hero, and all I can do is express my heartfelt gratitude one more time. Thank you to three librarians, Mrs. Masters, Mrs. Green, and Miss Warshen (I hope that’s how you spell it). Most singularly: The trip would not have been possible without the near-heroic efforts of Amanda Brata — and all the teachers/administrators who decided to make Bystander a school-wide read for their students. That’s an amazing honor I don’t take lightly.

SIDENOTE: I know I’m forgetting the name of someone who took me around to classrooms on Monday, and it’s killing me. It’ll come to me, promise!

Over three days, I gave eight (fabulous) large-group presentations. I was also offered the opportunity to enjoy several brief classroom visits. One perceptive student asked about how my intentions when it came to creating the character of Griffin Connelly. It was thoughtful question that I tried to answer as best I could. The truth is, I suspect that I write better — clearer — than I talk. So while I was fumbling for an answer, I referenced this blog post about Griffin’s two-faced quality.

Here’s an excerpt of that old post.

——-

Let’s talk about smiles . . .

I began my work on the book that would become Bystander by hanging out in the local library with a composition notebook. At the top of the first page of that notebook I see that I copied a line from Michael Connelly’s  Echo Park: “What is the bad guy up to?” I was excited. After writing 30-plus Jigsaw Jones mysteries for younger readers, I finally had a bad guy. It wasn’t going to be all benign misunderstandings and well-intentioned foul-ups; here, I had a character with potential for real darkness.

I see that I was reading Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children, by Jonathan Kellerman. A powerful, disturbing book that looks at antisocial youth, from aggressive bullies to cold-hearted killers.

And right there on that first notebook page I started a list of potential “bully” characteristics. I wrote:

Smart, charismatic, charming, popular, superior, tortures animal?, trouble with police?, lights fires, COLD, raised by grandmother?, non-compliant, poor grades, not affected by discipline, causes fear, lucid, psychopathic?, free of angst, free of insecurities, (later, when caught, self-pity), preternaturally CALM.

I was in the first stages of character development — and for me, I’m at my best when character evolves into story, as opposed to plugging character into plot. That is: character first. With my focus exclusively on this “bad guy,” I even came up with a potential book title: Predator.

It became important to me that my main antagonist, Griffin Connelly, was divorced from the bully stereotypes we often see in books and movies. You know, the bully as gross coward, unlikeable lug, dim-witted brute, dirty, ugly, unpopular. It simply wasn’t realistic, and by turning bullies into  one-dimensional characters, we surrendered much of the complexity (and difficulty) of the topic (and story).

A quick plea: There’s a tendency to slot any topical book, such as this, into the bibliotherapy shelf. But Bystander is a story, a page-turner with thriller elements that a biased Jean Feiwel called, “Unputdownable.” It’s not a thesis paper. It’s a good, fast read. I hope boys find it.

Whew. I see that I’m letting this post get away from me, because I’m trying to talk about too much. So I’ll get specific:

I wanted Griffin Connelly to be  a great-looking kid, with charm and verbal dexterity and a great smile. He would be, in every sense of the word, attractive. All the surfaces would shine. The ugliness concealed.

His smile was one of the keys to his character. But what is  a smile if not a baring of teeth? The smile beams beatifically, but also represents a flashing of fangs. A threat. The wolfish grin. There’s menace under the surface.

Griffin Connelly was the kind of person who would smile at you while he stuck a knife in your back. And maybe, for pleasure, gave the blade a twist. The toothy smile was the mask he wore, this master of the mixed message.

Page 7, when Eric first meets Griffin:

The shaggy-haired boy in the lead pulled up right in the middle of the court, halfway between the foul line and the basket. He stayed on his bicycle seat, balanced on one leg, cool as a breeze. The boy looked at Eric. And Eric watched him look.

His hair fell around his eyes and below his ears, wavy and uncombed. He had soft features with thick lips and long eyelashes. The boy appeared to be around Eric’s age, maybe a year older, and looked, well, pretty. It was the word that leaped into Eric’s mind, and for no other reason than because it was true.

Some random examples now . . .

Page 11:

Words came easily to Griffin, his smile was bright and winning.

Page 18:

Griffin flashed a smile, that hundred-dollar smile he could turn on in an instant. He reached out his fist. “Are we cool, buddy

Page 50:

“Mrs. Chavez!” Griffin exclaimed, smiling cheerfully. “Please let me help you with that . . .”

Page 68:

There was no way Eric could tell Griffin Connelly that story. So he told bits and pieces and white lies. Eric wondered if Griffin sensed it, the whole truth, if somehow Griffin already knew, saw into Eric’s secret heart and smiled.

Page 78:

“You want to hang out, don’t you?” Griffin asked. He smiled, put an arm around Hallenback’s shoulder.

Page 130:

Griffin winked at Eric. Then gave that big Hollywood smile, and swept the hair from his eyes.

Page 130:

“What are you going to do? Punch me?” Griffin taunted, grinning.

Page 131:

“I’ll be seeing you around, Eric,” Griffin said. His smile was like a pure beam of distilled sunlight. His long lashes blinked, his cheeks pinkened. He wore a perfect mask of kindness and light.

Page 165:

Griffin smiled wide, folded his hands together, and said in a soft voice, “We’ll see about that.”

Page 186:

Griffin grinned through the insults.

——-

Presented in this way, it may seem a little much. But  in the context of the story, I suspect it’s unnoticed. The accumulated effect, I hope, is creepiness. Here’s a guy you can’t trust. Every threat comes with a smile. White teeth gleaming in the sunlight, fangs bared.

“My Grandma, what big teeth you’ve got?”

Don’t let that smile fool you.

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25. EDUCATION IS . . .

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela.

Today I came across this remarkable 1994 photograph by Michael S. Williamson, and this powerful quote, and thought I’d bring them together here.

For my own self. And for you to stumble upon.

That is all.

Carry on.

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