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1. RE-POST: The Hilarious Way One School Librarian Received 100% Book Returns (Almost)

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NOTE: I am reposting this because it’s that time of year for school librarians. Enjoy! 

Her name is Alanna Almstead. She’s a librarian at Ichabod Crane in Valatie, NY. And at the end of each school year, Alanna faces the same vexing problem: Unreturned library books.

Because kids tend to forget. And some others, let’s hope, just fall in love with that book and can’t stand the thought of letting it go.

Alanna realized that the problem might be solved if she could only provide the proper motivation. Some sort of incentive. A carrot, so to speak.

But what could it be?

Here, I’ll let my friend Alanna explain it in her own words:


“The idea actually came about last June as my amazing aide, Lori, and I were discussing the shameful number of missing books at the end of the year. Always eager to see me make a fool of myself, I think the words “duct tape” first came out of her mouth.

Fast forward to May of this year. There I sat rambling at the end of a particularly fun library class about how important it was to return their books (we also give funny trophies to the five classes that return all of their books the fastest) when I suddenly blurted out that if the whole school brings their books back I would get taped to the wall. Yikes! Once that sort of thing gets said there is no taking it back, but no worries… It will never happen, I thought to myself.

11403263_10203095973960421_4328485250474245790_nI approached my principal, Suzanne Guntlow, after the fact. Suzanne is a wonderful supporter of the library and gave me her blessing, just in case the kids came through.

And come through they did! Although we fell short of the goal of all books returned school wide I am very happy with the results. In the end we had only 12 books still checked out in a building serving over 560 students. When the last third grader brought her book back I knew that I would have to make good on my promise.

And so, on the eve of the last day of school, I found myself making the rounds to several local stores to buy armfuls of duct tape. Variety seemed important, for some reason. When you’re nearly 6 feet tall and are faced with getting stuck to a wall you want the tape to work (and look pretty, of course!).

All of the third grade classes gathered on the last day of school to witness their reward for being so responsible. Afterwards I did hear a few students saying that it was the “best way to end the year.” (What does that say about what they really think of me, I wonder?!?).”

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Final comment: I think it’s pretty obvious what they think of you, Alanna. Those kids think their school librarian is a hoot. Great job, great spirit. And a huge hat tip to that incredible aide, Lori, for hatching the idea. Note: Yes, there’s actually a brief video of the moment when they removed the foot stool from beneath Alanna’s feet and — what joy, what laughter — she stuck!

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2. A Face for Radio!

From a recent school visit. I've been all over recently, Wallkill, Rochester, Binghamton, and tomorrow . . . Buffalo! Eleven schools and one book festival in 18 days.

From a recent school visit. I’ve been all over recently, Wallkill, Rochester, Binghamton, and tomorrow . . . Buffalo! Eleven schools and one book festival in 18 days.

 

If you’ve never heard me on the radio, boy have I got a link for you. Listen to me, along with Mark Teague and Jennifer Clark, as we discuss the Hudson Children’s Book Festival on WAMC with Joe Donahue.

Jump on the link here and amaze your ears to the dulcet sounds of . . . nevermind!

 

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3. “Teaching Is Believing” — My Short Essay over at THE NERDY BOOK CLUB

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I’m a big fan of Donalyn Miller.

Do you know her? As classroom teacher, Donalyn made a splash with her book, The Book Whisperer. I met Donalyn during a trip to a reading conference in Dublin, Ohio, where I had the opportunity to hear her present to a large audience.

If you are an educator, you should read this book.

If you are an educator, you should read this book.

Long story short: Donalyn has made a deep impact bringing books and young readers together, and she does it without ego or self-aggrandising motive. There’s nothing phony about Donalyn. She’s simply a positive force in the world of children’s reading. A tsunami of inspiration. My kind of people.

Several years back she started The Nerdy Book Club with, I believe, Colby Sharp. It’s an active, inspirational resource/blog for teachers and librarians who care about children’s literature. I recommend it. Over the past couple of years, Donalyn has allowed me to contribute a few essays to it, and I’m always grateful to reach that specific audience, and participate in that grand conversation.

I’m quite happy with my recent essay and I invite you please check it out (link below). The idea came as the result of a few things going on in my life, particularly the end of my coaching career. I reflected on what I had learned from those experiences with young people, and I connected those lessons to what I believe about teaching and writing. But don’t go by me. Judge for yourself.

Here’s the opening:

I’m at loose ends.

For the first time in 16 years, I find myself not coaching a baseball team. During those seasons, I’ve coached a men’s hardball team, and all three of my children at various stages of Little League, including All-Stars and competitive Travel teams.

Now it’s over.

All I’m left with are memories, some friendships, and my accumulated wisdom, which can be reduced to a single, short sentence. So I’m passing this along to the readers of the Nerdy Book Club because I think it connects to teaching. And writing. And maybe to everything else under the sun.

When I started coaching, my head was exploding with knowledge. I knew all this great stuff! Boy, was I eager to share it. I had an almost mystical awareness of the game: tips and strategies, insights and helpful hints. Baseball-wise, I knew about the hip turn and burying the shoulder, how to straddle the bag and slap down a tag. The proper way to run the bases, turn a double play, and line up a relay throw. As coach, I simply had to pour this information into my players –- empty vessels all –- and watch them thrive.

But something happened across the years. I found myself talking less and less about how to play. Fewer tips, less advice. It seemed like I mostly confused them. The learning was in the doing.

I became convinced that the most important thing I could do was believe.

< snip >

Please click here to read the whole enchilada.

But before you go, here’s a nice quote from Donalyn that I figured I’d share.

Truth!

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4. NEW Jigsaw Jones Book: Inside Info & Sample Chapter!

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I am very excited about the revival of my “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series, thanks to my friends at Macmillan. I owe a particular debt to three people: my agent, Rosemary Stimola, and two fierce women in publishing, Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla. Not only are they resurrecting some long out-of-print titles, but they’ve asked me to write a new book. Which a just did, The Case from Outer Space. Writing it was daunting at first — it had been some years since I’d entered Jigsaw’s world — but very quickly it felt like home again. It was a happy book for me to write, and I hope that comes through in the story. I like to imagine people reading it with a smile.

Right now my publisher, along with artist R.W. Alley, are exploring new cover designs for the series re-launch. My job, at this point, is to sit back and hope for the best. Fingers, toes, everything’s crossed! It’s not as hard as it sounds. I’m confident that the fate of my favorite detective is in good hands. Which is such a relief. Probably the most painful part of my publishing life has been to watch that beloved series, with more then ten million books in homes and classrooms, slowly die on the vine due to neglect. Nobody could buy them anymore. Well, that’s going to change, and I feel nothing but grateful.

One other small detail that pleases me about the new book is that I used a “Little Free Library” as a central device in the mystery. I love Little Free Libraries — we have several in our sunny burb — and I’ll glad to give the idea a moment in the spotlight. Readers may enjoy this terrific piece about the libraries by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan, originally posted over at The Nerdy Book Club.

tammylittle-free-library

In the meantime, here’s a sample from the upcoming book, due in the Spring of 2017, along with four more titles. Jigsaw is back!

Sample chapter from The Case from Outer Space.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

One Small Problem

 

I poured three glasses of grape juice.

“Got any snacks?” Joey asked. “Cookies? Chips? Corn dogs? Crackers?”

“Corn dogs?” I repeated. “Seriously?”

“Oh, they are delicious,” Joey said. “I ate six yesterday. Or was that last week? I forget.”

Danika shook her head and giggled. Joey always made her laugh.

I set out a bowl of chips.

Joey pounced like a football player on a fumble. He was a skinny guy. But he ate like a rhinoceros.

“So what’s up?” I asked.

“We found a note,” Danika began.

“Aliens are coming,” Joey interrupted. He chomped on a fistful of potato chips.

I waited for Joey to stop chewing. It took a while. Hum-dee-dum, dee-dum-dum. I finally asked, “What do you mean, aliens?”

“Aliens, Jigsaw!” he exclaimed. “Little green men from Mars –- from the stars –- from outer space!”

I looked at Danika. She shrugged, palms up. “Maybe,” she said. “You never know.”

I took a long swig of grape juice. “You mentioned a note,” I said to Danika.

She sat tall, eyes wide. “It’s very mysterious, Jigsaw. That’s why we came to you.”

“Narffle-snarffle,” Joey mumbled, his mouth still full of chips.

I leaned back in my chair. I shoved my hands into my pockets. They were empty. Business had been slow. I was a detective without a case. “Let me make a phone call,” I said.

I never work alone. My partner’s name is Mila Yeh. We split the money down the middle, 50-50. Mila has long black hair. She’s crazy about books. And she’s my best friend on the planet. Together, we make a good team.

I asked Mila to meet us in my tree house. She said she’d be over in five minutes.

It took her three and a half.

Mila lived next door. And she was as quick as a rabbit.

As usual, Mila was singing. I knew the tune, but the words were different:

 

    “Twinkle, twinkle, little mystery!

     How I wonder what you are?

     Could you really be up there?

     Do Martians wear . . . underwear?”

 

“You’re funny,” Danika said. She sent a warm smile in Mila’s direction.

“That last line needs work,” Mila replied. She sang again, “Do Martians wear . . . underwear?” Satisfied, Mila sat down, criss-cross applesauce. We gathered in a snug circle. There was no choice. My tree house wasn’t exactly a palace. I am not complaining. But I don’t go up there on windy days. Mila’s eyes were active and alert. They moved from Joey to Danika, before settling on me. “Aliens, huh?” Mila asked.

“From outer space,” Joey said.

“Uh-huh,” Mila replied. If she thought Joey was crazy, Mila was too nice to say it out loud.

I took out my detective notebook. I opened to a clean page. With a blue pen, I wrote:

 

THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE

CLIENTS: Joey and Danika

CLUES:

 

I left that part blank. I didn’t have any clues. I wasn’t even sure I had a case. But it was better than nothing.

“Maybe we could start from the beginning,” Mila suggested.

“Hold on.” I slid forward an empty coin jar. “We get a dollar a day.”

Joey and Danika exchanged glances. “We have one teensy-weensy problem,” Danika said.

Uh-oh.

“No money,” Joey confessed.

“We’re flat broke,” Danika said.

“That’s the worst kind of broke,” I sighed.

Here's an illustration Jigsaw, Geetha, and Mila, taken from THE CASE OF THE PERFECT PRANK, illustrated by Jamie Smith. The art for OUTER SPACE hasn't been completed.

Here’s an illustration Jigsaw, Geetha, and Mila, taken from THE CASE OF THE PERFECT PRANK, illustrated by Jamie Smith. The art for OUTER SPACE hasn’t been completed.

“Maybe we could trade?” Joey offered. He reached into his back pocket. His hand came out holding a hunk of smelly orange glop. “I’ve got some cheese!”

Mila leaned away. “You keep random cheese in your back pocket?”

“My front pockets were full,” Joey explained.

I was afraid to ask. We were all afraid. No one wanted to know what was in Joey’s front pockets. A frog? A hard-boiled egg? Last week’s bologna sandwich? Anything was possible.

There was still the problem of payment. I did not liking working for free. It was bad for business. But I needed a mystery the way a fish needs to swim . . . the way a bird needs to fly . . . the way a three-toed South American tree sloth needs to hang upside down.

“Okay,” I decided. “We’ll look into it. No promises.”

“Thanks, Jigsaw,” Danika said.

“You can still have my cheese,” Joey said. He held out the orange glop as if it were pirate’s treasure.

Mila coughed. “That’s nice of you, Joey. Just hold on to it for now. For safe keeping.” She turned to Danika. “Let’s see that note.”

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5. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #228: One Letter’s Circuitous Path

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I haven’t been sharing too many letters lately — sometimes there’s a samey-ness to them, I suppose — and I almost didn’t share this one. It felt a little self-serving. But, hey, this is my blog! That’s what we do here! It’s all about the glorification of me, me, me!
 
Over the years, I’ve received fan mail from familiar sources. I begin to recognize the names, the places. Here’s such a letter, but its arrival took an unusual path. I’ll begin below with my response, and follow that with Ms. Betances’ wonderful reply to me. It seems we actually go waaaaay back. You’ll get the drift. By the way, thank you Matt Ball — old neighbor, old friend — who went the extra yard to see to it that I received a wayward package. Matt is a teacher, so it’s no surprise that he went above and beyond to help a fellow teacher and her students.
 -
I wrote:
 -
Dear Ms. Betances,
It is something of a miracle that your wonderful package, filled with great stories, actually reached me. Long ago, I lived at 38 East Bayberry Road, in Glenmont. Your letter was addressed to 32 East Bayberry. However, I now live at 12 Brookside Drive, Delmar, NY 12054. Been here for more than a decade.
 
Somehow an ex-neighbor came into possession of the package and drove it over to my house. Lucky me, lucky you. 
Art by Briana -- a good writer who found exactly the right word -- from "The Case of the Missing Rubik's Cube."

Art by Briana — a good writer who found exactly the right word — from “The Case of the Missing Rubik’s Cube.”

 -
So please make note of my current address. 
That said, hi, it’s nice to hear from you again. I appreciate your kind words about Jigsaw Jones and Scary Tales. I actually just wrote a new Jigsaw Jones book — THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE — and it will be out in Spring of 2017. I’m so excited about it, since those books have been out of print for several years now. They’ve moved from Scholastic to Macmillan, and for the beginning the plan is to re-release 8 old titles and sprinkle in something new. 
I’m very impressed with the stories you sent. So first a shout out to Irene and Shirley, Rida, Briana, Ileyana, Taya, and Michelle. Great work, writers! (And that’s a wonderful collection of names, by the way.)
 
I loved how each story was unique. The illustrations were especially terrific, though I apologize in advance that I couldn’t represent every artist in this blog post. Don’t you guys love mysteries? There’s something to that genre that hooks a reader from the beginning. And in each case, there’s a happy — and often surprising, sometimes even funny — ending.
Art by Irene and Shirley, from "The Case of the Missing Cockatoo.

Art by Irene and Shirley, from “The Case of the Missing Cockatoo.”

 -
Each story offered new pleasures. Michelle’s story about the missing eyeglasses could have been taken from my own life. I am forever looking for my glasses, and sometimes find them on top of my own head! I was relieved when Sally found the missing chapter book, that would have made me crazy. I loved the last sentence in Irene and Shirley’s story, “We are here to help, always here!” Plus it was cool to learn a little bit about cockatoos. Rida’s story was creepy and suspenseful — two of my favorite things. I especially loved the big illustration on the back. Briana’s story was lively and entertaining; it’s always good to ask Mom, she usually knows. Lastly, I’m pleased that Ileyana’s hands will never be cold again — though perhaps that’s a bit optimistic. Never is a long, loooooong time. 
Art by Michelle from "The Case of the Missing Eyeglasses.

Art by Michelle from “The Case of the Missing Eyeglasses.”

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Keep up the great work. I’m always glad to read a good mystery. The day I opened your package, I got to read six!
My best,
JP
 -
Here is the fabulous reply I received:
 -

Dear Mr. Preller,

OH MY GOD! Yes this was a miracle. You are not going to believe this but every year my new students read the letters you’ve  sent to my former classes. We have a pile of them. It so happened that the kids who were writing the letter took the address from the letter written in 2001. That was 15 years ago. Of course I trusted them and didn’t verify to make sure they chose the correct one. LOL.
Thanks, Tink!

Thanks, Tink!

It must have been Tinker Bell, our class fairy, who put the package back on the right path. The kids would have been disappointed if they didn’t get a reply from you. You are truly an amazing, unique and genuine individual. I have been teaching for 32 years and have never met an author who actually takes the time to really care about his fans. Thank from the bottom of my heart. My students love the mystery genre because  they really enjoy reading your books. Every student who has been in my class still thinks you are the coolest and best writer ever. Congratulations in being such a fascinating author. My last year class was speechless when they saw that you wrote a blog about their mystery. This year class loved the fact that you made a connection to their stories to your own personal life. I shared your letter with my principal and the staff and they were like WOW! WOW! that was incredible. The teachers as well as the students enjoyed your letter.

I know that you are a very busy author but yet you always take the time to comment on their mysteries.
 
Thank you,
Your biggest fan
Anita Betances
TMK Leaders (The Magical Kids)
 

 

Art by Rida, who is fabulous, from "The Case of the Haunted Doll." (Yeah, I got a little scared.)

Art by Rida, who is fabulous, from “The Case of the Haunted Doll.” (Yeah, I got a little scared.)

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6. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #229: About Those Crazy Names

 

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Here’s one from the Sunshine State!

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Dear Mr. Preller,
 -
My name is Nicolas.  I am 8 years old and I am in 3rd grade at ____  Elementary School in Miramar, FL.  I am writing to tell you that I really liked The Case of The Sneaker Sneak.  This is the third Jigsaw Jones book I have read because I really like Jigsaw Jones.
 -

51Xxdj8lrdL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_Jigsaw is a lot like me.  He and I both like mysteries.  We like to solve puzzles.  I also like that Jigsaw plays sports.  I play sports too.  I play soccer, although I like to watch football like Jigsaw plays with his friends in the book. My family likes to watch and play football on Thanksgiving every year just like they do in the book.  I could really picture myself playing with those kids.  I think it is great how Mila and Jigsaw are always able to find clues to solve mysteries and help others.

One question I have for you is where do you come up with all the unique names of the characters in the book?  Do you know people named Solofsky, Pignattano, or Copabianco?  Do you have friends with nicknames like Bigs or Stringbean?

I really enjoy the Jigsaw Jones books and can’t wait to read the next one in my collection.

Sincerely,

Nicolas

I replied:

Dear Nicholas,

Thanks for your terrific letter. I am so glad that you are enjoying the series. I just wrote a new one, The Case from Outer Space, and it will be out in the Spring of 2017 — less than a year away! (You can click here to read a sample chapter. Or not! It’s a free world here at Jamespreller.com.)
 
I’ve never really thought about it before, but I guess you are right. I do put some unique names in the books. Joey Pignattano came directly from my love of the NY Mets. When I was your age, the Mets won a World Series in 1969, and one of their coaches was named Joe Pignatano. I changed his name slightly by adding an extra “t,” and that was that. Copabianco came from a girl I knew in college. It was just one of those long Italian names that musically rolls off the tongue. I did not know anyone named “Bigs” or “Stringbean,” but I did have a friend that we called “Wingnut” because of his large ears. 
86181-6228733Fr
 
The books in the Jigsaw Jones series have been a little hard to find lately, because they are in the process of moving from one publisher (Scholastic) to another (Macmillan). Hopefully there will be more available next Spring, with all new covers. Look for them where fine books are sold.
 
Keep reading, Nicholas, and I’ll keep writing! And if you ever feel up to it, you might enjoy checking out my “Scary Tales” series. They are not much harder to read than Jigsaw, but you do have to be the sort of kid who likes creepy, suspenseful stories. 
 
My best,
 
James Preller
P.S. For a lot more background on The Case of the Sneaker Sneak, click here — you won’t regret it!

 

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7. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY 216 & 217: Happy News About Jigsaw Jones!

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It’s a combo platter today, a rock block, a twofer — two fan letters in the same blog post!

Can’t be done, you say?

Impossible, you scoff?

Just watch me now.

In letter #216, Aiden wrote:

-

hmI love your jigsaw Jones book’s. Because I love detectives and I like codes, like the twist code, the missing voul code and the space code, and theirs much more. Anyways my name is Aiden I am 9 years old. It would be really cool if you made another jigsaw Jones book except Mila sends a letter to jigsaw Jones, but she didn’t write her name. So jigsaw and mila try to find out WHO wrote the letter. But they find out that mila is it!! That would be cool.
 -
I replied:
 -
Aiden,
What is a terrific idea! Can I steal it? I mean, er, “borrow” it? 
 -
The good news is that soon I’ll be writing a new Jigsaw Jones title. First one in a long time. Not sure about the mystery yet — all these stories begin after I figure out the crime at the core — but maybe I can incorporate your idea into the book.
 -
Let me think about it.
 -
Thanks for writing & for sharing your brilliant idea!
 -
James Preller
-
In letter #217, I received this note from Andrea in Canada:
 -
Hello Mr. Preller,
-
My son LOVES your series Jigsaw Jones Mysteries.  He is 10 yrs old and has a learning disability as well as ADHD.  He is an amazing boy and when he finds a book he likes he will read and read, it’s the only thing that keeps him calm. :)
 -
I am having a hard time finding your books.  We accidentally came across the box set 1-8 at a used book store about a year ago, he wants to continue to read them but he HAS to read them in order.  The library doesn’t have all your books.
 -
I have no problem paying for the books but I am wondering if you can help me out in any way.  Shipping to Canada can be very expensive, I have found your books but with shipping and handling it will cost an arm and leg to buy.  I am angry at myself, a box set became available through the Scholastic Program and I forgot to order it.  I missed the deadline.  My son cried for the rest of the day.  
 -
If there is anything you can do to help I would greatly appreciate it.
 -
I replied:
 -
Dear Andrea,
You are a good Mom, that’s for sure.
 -
I wish I had better news for you. But the series has been slowly dying on the vine for years, Scholastic allowing it to go out of print. I’ve recently retained the rights and it looks like I have interest from another publisher — fingers crossed! — so Jigsaw will be revived in some form or other. I’ll actually be writing a new one soon.
 -
UnknownFor your immediate needs, I think you should look at Craig’s List and eBay. Those books pop up all the time. You can contact Scholastic at a toll-free number, 1-800-724-6527. If you are persistent, you’ll find a helpful person who might go the extra yard for you.
 -
Good luck!
 -
If you give me your address, and the name of your son, I’ll be happy to send him a signed copy of #9, just because. 
 -
It’s my pleasure, 
 -
James Preller

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8. Book Signing at the OPEN DOOR Bookstore in Schenectady, Saturday @ 1:00, November 21!

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The flyer below gives you the facts.

Now for the honesty: Bookstore signings, for me, tend to be sad, dispiriting affairs. For the most part, nobody comes. I know I’m not the only author to experience this particular form of awfulness. Sitting there at the table, waiting, expectations low. I understand completely. Your lives are busy, the world has changed, it’s always at a bad time on the wrong day — and the fact is I’m just not that big of a deal (except for in my own mind, where I’m amazing!!!!).

Once in awhile, mostly as an act of good will & optimism — along with the gratefulness that comes with simply being invited — I say yes. And occasionally a scattered few do show up. A shy, young reader awkwardly arrives. We talk for a while. I sign a book, we take a photo, shake hands. And there for a few moments we achieve one good, pure thing in this shattered world of ours; it feels worthwhile, the coming together of a writer and a reader. True fact: I love to meet young readers. Book lovers. It gives me hope, makes me happy. Maybe it makes a small difference to somebody. At the very worst, I get to sit in a bookstore for an hour and a half. There are worse places to be.

See you there?

About these two books: THE FALL can be seen as a companion to BYSTANDER, deals with the fallout from cyberbullying, and is best suited for grades 6-up. SWAMP MONSTER is the 6th book in the “Scary Tales” Series, grades 2-5, and it’s simply a fast-paced, easy-to-read entertainment that even a reluctant reader can enjoy.

 

Open

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9. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #’s 222 & 223: Two for the Price of Nothing!

postalletter-150x150

 

Okay, let’s roll. This one is from Kieran in Jersey, and in the interest of time I’ll only show an excerpt:

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Scan

I replied:

Dear Kieran,

Thanks for your letter. Like you, I prefer The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar over The Case of the Groaning Ghost. There are 40 Jigsaw Jones books. I wanted them all to be brilliant and funny and entertaining, but of course no one can hit home runs every time they get up to the plate. Like the great slugger Ted Williams said, “I just try to put a good swing on the ball.”

As for your questions:

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he's making a big comeback in 2017. I'm so happy about this.

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he’s making a big comeback in 2017. I’m so happy about this.

1) Yes, I am currently writing my first Jigsaw Jones story in seven years. I don’t have a title yet, still fooling around with it. I believe we are hoping that it will come out in 2017.

2) I have gone skiing in some of the same places as you. These days, I prefer cross-country. No lines, no crowds! I’ve never gone snowboarding because I’m pretty sure I’d die.

3) Sorry, I don’t have any photos to send out. That’s just not something that fits my personality. Just the thought of a stack of glossy photos on my desk kind of grosses me out. I think I’m happier in the shadows. You’ll find the autograph below.

My best,

JP

 

Letter #223 comes from Spokane, WA . . .

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I replied:

Dear Dakota,

Hey, thank for that most excellent, typed letter. As you might know, I also write books for younger readers, and it’s refreshing to receive a letter that isn’t stained with grape jelly.

Thanks for reading Bystander and Six Innings. If you aren’t completely sick of me, you might also like The Fall, which explores some of the same themes as Bystander, but from the perspective of the so-called “bully.” It’s written in a first-person journal format, which makes it relatively quick and easy to read.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn't lie: There's a bear.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn’t lie: There’s a bear.

Yes, I love baseball. I guess you are a Mariners fan? I grew up a Mets fan, watching the games with my mother, and let me tell you, we’ve endured some rough seasons. But things are looking up these days. Got to love those big arms. My dream was to be a pitcher, but no fastball. Didn’t have the arm. Stupid DNA.

Good luck with ball this season. From the evidence of your letter, you are well on your way to becoming a very accomplished writer. I hope you keep it up. Sometimes our talents surprise us, in that they don’t always come from the expected places. You might dream of becoming a great ballplayer, like I did, only to discover that you have an innate talent for architecture, or medicine, or writing.

You never know!

BTW, nice signature. It will come in handy when you’re famous. 

JP

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10. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #224: Still No Snow, Etc.

As we learned from Susan on Seinfeld, licking envelopes is a dangerous business.

As we learned from Susan on Seinfeld, licking envelopes is a dangerous business.

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Just answered a big batch of letters about Bystander.

I replied:

Dear _______:

Here I am, another Saturday. I’m reading reports of snow all over the Northeast, and outside my window: nothing. Not a flake. It’s almost a bummer. Almost.

I’ve got a big pile of 25 letters from Elma, NY, including one from you. This feels a little like déjà vu. It is impossible for me to respond to each letter individually. It would also be dreadfully boring, since many contain similar questions. You all read BYSTANDER. So I’m sending out this single letter, one size fits all!

Proof: The letters on my office floor.

Proof: The letters on my office floor.

BTW: I can’t stand licking all these envelopes. Gross. I feel like I might die, like George’s fiancé on “Seinfeld.”

Anyway: Juliana wondered why Griffin would ditch his old crew. My intention was to show the reverse, that his friends had grown tired of Griffin’s petty cruelties; it wasn’t cool anymore. Research shows that bullying peaks in middle school, and quiets down after that. Partly I think that’s because people wise up. After the conformity of middle school, everyone trying to fit in, dressing alike, a lot of people realize that it’s okay to be themselves. Anyway, that was my thinking about Griffin moving on to new friends. He was forced to, since many of his old friends had drifted away. Remember, Griffin is not without charm. He’s smart, clever, good-looking, charismatic. Attracting new friends isn’t the hard part. The real trick is in keeping them.

Valerie asked about the inspiration for different characters. Most of them were composites -– that is, bits and pieces from real people, things I read, etc. Real people were the starting points for David, and Griffin’s father, as well as Eric’s father, who is based lightly on my brother John, who also suffered from schizophrenia.

Jessica asked for a signature, but was kind enough to add: “If not, that’s totally O.K.” Loved that!

Many asked about a sequel. THE FALL is not exactly that, it’s more of a companion book, but it should appeal to readers who enjoyed BYSTANDER. I hope! My next book coming out is called THE COURAGE TEST (October), about a father and son who travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. I’m very excited about it. There’s a brief excerpt on my blog.

The new paperback cover to THE FALL (September 2016). Now available only in hardcover.

The new paperback cover to THE FALL (September 2016). Now available only in hardcover.

Braden complimented me with an astute observation. He liked that I “did not rush to get the story over with.” Yes, Braden, thanks for noticing. It took me years to learn that skill, a common mistake in young writers. I try to recall the idea of “downshifting,” slowing down, allowing the moment to exist in full. A lot of writers just want to type “THE END.” And I get that, I do. My editor helps me, too; she’ll say, “Pause a beat. Slow down.”

Jenna says: “School ends in June so please write back if you can!” Yes, booyah, I just nailed another deadline!

Mikayla was interested in my family. I’m the youngest of seven children. I have a lot of information at my blog, jamespreller.com. Check it out 

Jacob’s favorite part of the book was when Eric got beat up. Guess what? It was my favorite part to write! I’d never done that before in a book. I also set that scene at a real place by my old high school in Wantagh, NY. Yes, President Nixon’s dog, Checkers, really was buried by my school.

Lily, that last scene is Eric’s wish, his heart’s desire, the reunion with his father that he longed for. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t.

Ethan, no worries, I wasn’t bullied in school. Classic bystander type. But I remember everything.

Alessandro, I would love to travel more, after I get my kids through college. So many places to see, other countries, but also love to see more of America. I really want to go on a river trip by the White Cliffs in Montana. (I recently got obsessed with Lewis & Clark.)

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail, a road trip that offers readers a genre-bending blend of American history, thrilling action, and personal discovery.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail, a road trip that offers readers a genre-bending blend of American history, thrilling action, and personal discovery.

Aubrey writes: “My favorite character would have to be Mary because she basically changes throughout the whole book.” Yes, yes, yes! Mary may be a minor character, but she is critical and possibly the book’s true hero. She’s key, for exactly the reason you stated. Brilliant, Aubrey!

For those of you I haven’t mentioned: Riley, Ryan, Lauren, Melanie, Ada, Owen, Daniele, Brandon, Mary, Ethan, Cal, Maggie (my biggest fan), Maddy, Anna, and Liam. Sorry, just ran out of time! Thank you, one and all. Teachers, too!

My best,

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11. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #225: Kentucky Student Pretends to Be . . . Me!

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JoeyJPIMG_1909

I received this note from a mother the other day:

My son, Joey, completed his reading project that I mentioned in an earlier CourageTestFrontCvre-mail.  He had to read three books from one author, provide summaries to the class, create a poster, and be the author for a class presentation.  This is a picture of him after the big event.  He read Bystander, The Fall
and Before you Go.  His classmates were very interested in the subject material.  They asked many questions after the presentation.

In any case, thought you might like to see the picture.  We were going to put facial hair on but the teacher did not allow make up.

Joey is looking forward to your new book, The Courage Test.

I keep imagining this dear, kind mother sitting at the kitchen table shaking her head, “Why, Joey? Why?”

There are, of course, copious tears.

There’s even a Youtube video of Joey, as James Preller, giving a brief presentation. It was a strange sensation for me, as if staring into a mirror and seeing a much improved version of my actual self. I liked that Joey wore the Mets hat, and it’s fairly remarkable that he came up with an Oneonta sweatshirt. It is too bad about the rule against facial hair. That would have nailed it.

Thank you, Joey. I’m grateful and a little shocked that you would pick me out of all the possibilities. Though I suppose I was a better choice for you than, say, Beverly Cleary. I just don’t see you in those glasses.

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12. SCARY STUFF: Highlights from My Interview at the “Awake At Midnight” Blog

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I want to direct readers to a recent interview I did over at the Awake at Midnight blog. My gracious interlocutor, Sean, was well prepared, asked great questions, and best of all, genuinely respects and values the craft of scary stories. Honestly, it was one of the better blog interviews I’ve ever done — so thank you, Sean. Great work.

Please start clicking wildly right here to get the whole kaboodle in full glory. In the meantime, here’s a few random sample selections, just because.

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Talking about a favorite scary book from childhood:

“At a young age, I endlessly pored over those illustrations. They were frightening and fascinating. I can close my eyes and still picture them. That’s the thing I’ve learned about scary. It jars you. It upsets you. It disturbs your universe. And for that reason, it sticks to you.”

 

From SWAMP MONSTER.

From Scary Tales: SWAMP MONSTER.

On how to judge if a story is too scary?

“For starters, I decided that children today are quite sophisticated. They’ve all watched Harry Potter. If they picked up a book by their own choosing that’s called “Scary Tales,” the worst reaction would be for them to shrug and say, “That wasn’t scary.” They are seeking a certain quickening of the senses, the heart beating faster. You don’t go on a roller coaster and hope it travels at cautious speeds. For readers at this level, which I’ve seen range from grades 2 all the way up to reluctant readers in grades 6, I decided that no character would get killed. In the end, everyone comes out okay. I would deliver the reader back to a safe world. As for your other question, how do I know? Well, I don’t. I can’t know. But I’ve learned that the best children’s writers have a natural sense of their audience, a way to tap into the age group that is completely outside any sort of calculated analysis. I think we see that in everyday conversations between adults and children. Some folks can make that connection, others simply can’t.”

On how to convey shivers without getting too intense for young readers:

“I always think of Alfred Hitchcock, that close-up of the footsteps slowly climbing the stairs, step by step. I decided that the best sentence for my purposes was: The doorknob slowly, slowly turned. It’s all about tension, the twisting knot in the stomach, anticipation and suspense -– rather than the bloody payoff and cathartic release.”

Scary Tales: ONE-EYED DOLL, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.

Scary Tales: ONE-EYED DOLL, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.

On why scary stories are important:

“Many brilliant scholars and artists have spoken eloquently about the value of a good, safe scare: The experience of it, and the experience of moving beyond it. Whew, you know? I survived. I have decided that some of us actively seek the bone-rattling thrill of having our universe disturbed. A feeling of “up-set-ment.” As a parent watching the development of my children, I’ve come to believe that growth follows a simple, reliable pattern. There’s a period of disequilibrium, followed by equilibrium, in an endless pattern, like a set of stairs going up, up, up. You can’t grow without some sort of “dis-ease.” A new school, a new job, a new friend. You grapple with the changes and adjust. A lot of people want to be scared; they like it. There’s value in having our universe disturbed.”

 

Art by Iacopo Bruno from SCARY TALES: NIGHTMARELAND.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from Scary Tales: NIGHTMARELAND.

Again, I’m not looking to steal content from Awake at Midnight, just hoping to wet your whistle (and whet your appetite). See what I did there with my fancy grammatical flourishes, wet and whet used correctly? There’s lots more over at Sean’s place.

Thanks for stopping by.

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13. Jigsaw Jones Inspires Real Detective Agency: Inwood Kids Seek Mystery!

795.Sch_Jigsaw_jones_0.tif“The kids said they learned everything they know from reading mystery and detective books, like the “Jigsaw Jones” series and Nancy Drew novels.”

 

A friend alerted me to a charming article by Carolina Pichardo about two kids, a brother and sister, who were inspired by my Jigsaw Jones books to create their own business.

That takes courage in today’s economic climate, particularly in NY State, which has not always been supportive of small businesses.

But nonetheless! I am very impressed by Jack and Phoebe of the “Gore & Gore Detective Agency” in Inwood, NY.

Here’s a link to the full article, click here. Or read below the slightly terrifying photo. I sure hope that plastic gun isn’t loaded.

 Jack and Phoebe Gore said no case is too small for their new detective agency in Inwood. 

 

Siblings Jack Gore, 10, and Phoebe Gore, 7, founders of the Gore & Gore Detective Agency, already have three solved cases under their belt. They’re organized, quick and know what it takes to build a solid reputation solving mysteries.

With only a few weeks in business — and using nothing more than a whiteboard, notepad, handmade fliers and a customized badge their grandfather, a retired lieutenant of the NYPD, gave them — the brother-and-sister duo have helped their neighbors find everything from a lost dog tag to an earring to a wad of cash.

The red-headed pair have only one demand from their would-be clients: “We don’t want them to waste our time,” Jack said. “We tell them, ‘no dishonesty.’ “

For Inwood resident Lisa Rainwater, a call from the pint-sized gumshoes came as a surprise, since she didn’t realize she had misplaced her dog Willoby’s name tag.

“They told me they had found a dog tag in Isham [Park],” Rainwater said, “and I looked at Willoby and sure enough, it was missing.”

It was their first case, Jack said, but it was nonetheless solved rather quickly. The kids came across the tag while walking in Inwood Hill Park, called the number listed on it and arranged to meet with Rainwater, Jack explained.

Rainwater said that when she met the kids near the entrance to the park, Phoebe handed her the dog tag while Jack handed her a flier for their agency.

“They were very professional,” she said.

Although the kids charge $6 per case, Rainwater said they didn’t ask for money that day, since it was a case the Gore & Gore Detective Agency picked up itself.

“They said, ‘This is our service to you,’” she said with a laugh. “It was the highlight of my day — if not my week or year.”

The kids’ mother, Tara Kapoor, said she enjoys seeing the passion they put into solving cases. The “training” comes in handy and keeps them alert as to what’s going on around them.

“They’re pretty in tune,” she said.

Kapoor said her kids’ keen sense of observation helped them solve their favorite case — when they found $820 in cash tucked inside an envelope on the ground in the lobby of their apartment building.

The pair put up flier announcing they’d found the money and asking its owner to come forward.

“We asked them to tell us the exact amount, what it was in [and] where they were walking,” Jack said.

The real owner — a nanny who worked in their apartment building — called immediately and they were able to return the cash.

“It was her weekly pay,” Kapoor said. “She was so grateful.”

The kids said they learned everything they know from reading mystery and detective books, like the “Jigsaw Jones” series and Nancy Drew novels.

Jack added that he also gets inspiration from watching “intense” episodes of “Law & Order.”

“I can tell if someone is telling a lie by watching their eyes,” he said.

Phoebe added she has learned how to dust for fingerprints using simple tools like powder and a brush.

Their mother loves how the work keeps the kids entertained and involved in their community.

“It’s good, old-fashioned fun,” she said. “They’re involved with each other, and it teaches them independence.”

The Gores, however, said they realize some good cases will be hard to come by.

“Not too many people are going to call two kids for cases,” Jack said. “They’re mostly going to call the cops.”

“But we’re hoping to get calls for missing dogs or something,” Phoebe added.

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14. This Week’s Greatest Thing Ever: Giant Dog Photos!

 

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There’s something fetching about a giant dog, isn’t there?

Many of us still remember Clifford the Big Red Dog, and the wonder of that so-simple idea: a really, really big dog.

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Well, this guy has the same issues.

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Except his dog is a goldendoodle, like ours here at Chez Preller, the lovely Daisy. They are, I think, a goofy but lovable breed. And so fun to look at.

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It is possible, however, that the photographer here, Christopher Cline, is just having a blast with Photoshop. I’m saying: This might not be a real dog! Don’t believe everything you see on the internet, folks. But in this case, well, wouldn’t it be awesome? In 1817, the poet Samuel Coleridge first wrote about the “willing suspension of disbelief,” and I think that’s where I’m going to live for a while longer. Marveling at this amazing dog. Believing. I think Norman Bridwell would approve. To read more about Chris and his photos, click here.

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15. Outpost Centerfield: Reading & Writing About Baseball

Willie Mays, "the catch," from the 1954 World Series. Arguably the greatest play in the history of center field.

Willie Mays, “the catch,” from the 1954 World Series. Arguably the greatest play in the history of center field.

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I was recently reading a book by Philip Roth and came across a similarity to something I had written back in 2008. His words struck me as eerily familiar.

The relevant section in my book, Six Innings, focuses on center fielder Scooter Wells. For this book, my original idea came from watching an elaborate tracking shot by film director John Sayles. I actually forget which movie, and I may have all the details wrong, but the essence stands: I admired how the camera followed a character into a crowded room, came across a new face and then trailed after that new person until someone else came into view, and the camera again swiveled and changed direction to follow that character. I wondered if I could try a similar device by using a ball in a Little League game. Tell the story of each character as they naturally step into the game’s flow. If you catch the ball, it’s time for your story, and so on.

Anyway, in this moment, we’re out in center field with Scooter. An opposing slugger, Nick Clemente, has just struck a ball far and high. The pitcher, Dylan, immediately figures it’s gone . . .

2874077Out in center field, Scooter Wells knows better. He instantly realizes that the ball is going to stay within the yard. Most important, Scooter figures he’s got a chance to catch it. Somehow he does all that figuring — the mathematics of it, the cool calculus of force and trajectory, distance and wind patterns — by pure instinct. It’s a gift; he knows how to read a ball coming off a bat. To Scooter, center field is like a fire tower in the high peaks of the Adirondacks, an all-seeing observation post, the ideal vantage point to watch as the game unfolds.

< snip >

Now the ill-treated ball, so rudely bashed, travels in a soaring arc toward the right-center field gap. Scooter Wells, part physicist, part Labrador retriever, bolts toward the fence. “It’s mine! It’s mine!” he pointlessly yells, for the ball can be no one else’s. At full gallop, Scooter’s hat flies off his head. He extends his arm and snares Clemente’s bomb in the webbing of his glove.

Inning over.

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An aside: I don’t think anybody ever noticed it, but that passage includes a small tribute to the great Willie Mays. The “Say Hey Kid” had a signature habit of losing his hat, or his helmet if he happened to be tearing around the basepaths, whenever he took off on a mad sprint. At least that’s the way I remember it.

Here’s the section from Roth’s book, Portnoy’s Complaint, that caused me to to reread what I had written. For the record, I never read Portnoy until this past week, so I don’t see how I could have borrowed those images even subconsciously:

220px-Portnoy_s_ComplaintDo you know baseball at all? Because center field is like some observation post, a kind of control tower, where you are able to see everything and everyone, to understand what’s happening the instant it happens, not only by the sound of the struck bat, but by the spark of movement that goes through the infielders in the first second that the ball comes flying at them; and once it gets beyond them, “It’s mine,” you call, “it’s mine,” and then after it you go. For in center field, if you can get to it, it is yours.

 

As a baseball-loving southpaw from Long Island, I never played second base, shortstop, third base, or catcher. Those positions were and still remain strictly in the domain of right-handed ballplayers. So I pitched a lot, played first base, and eventually moved out to the hinter lands, center field, a position — and vantage point — I instantly loved.

What a great view to enjoy the game.

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16. Win a Free, Signed Copy of My New Book: SWAMP MONSTER

 

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So this box came in the mail containing the “author copies” of the 6th book in my “Scary Tales” series: Swamp Monster.

I’m very pleased with the story, the art, the whole she-bang.

By way of expressing my thanks, I thought I’d give away FIVE FREE, SIGNED COPIES to the first five people who raise their hand.

All you’ve got to do is shoot me an email at Jamespreller@aol.com. Type “SCARY TALES” into the subject heading. Please remember to include your mailing address. If you’d like me to personalize the inscription, don’t forget to include the name. I’m not a mind reader, you know.

Thanks for stopping by. I really do appreciate your interest and support. Hope you’re all having a nice summer!

 

 

 

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17. Fan Mail Wednesday #214: Another Happy Contest Winner!

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This letter came from a super mom who entered a contest for a free book giveaway. She accompanied it with a nice letter so I figured I’d share our exchange.

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Hello! I’d like to enter the contest for book#6 for my son Aidan! He’s been waiting so long for this book to be published! Your Scary Tales series are his very favorite books to read, he happened to find them at the library and devoured them all immediately. I’ve tried to find similar books for him,  since he’s usually not very enthused about nightly reading time,  but so far nothing had come close to grabbing his attention as your books. He would be so excited to win your signed, newest book! But either way he’s going to read it,  and love it I’m sure! Thanks for entertaining so many children, I hope you never stop!
Sincerely,
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April
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I replied:
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Illustration by Iacopo Bruno from SCARY TALES #6: SWAMP MONSTER.

Illustration by Iacopo Bruno from SCARY TALES #6: SWAMP MONSTER.

Thanks so much for your kind letter. As a parent, I know how it feels when I see my children connect with a series or an author. My daughter, Maggie, has never been a huge reader — and yes, that’s been frustrating for me as you might imagine. But now, suddenly, she’s reading anything by Jodi Picoult. It’s not my taste, but you won’t hear me complaining. I think one of the tricky parts about being a parent, or even a teacher, is to honor every reader’s individual taste. No judgment, just support. Because we have to trust in the process, we trust that one good book leads to another. Which is in no way to imply that my “Scary Tales” are not good books — I actually think they are! — just that maybe I’ve grown a bit sensitive about the horror genre in general. Now I know what Stephen King has been complaining about all these years. “Scary” doesn’t get a lot of respect, and many people think they know what it is without even reading the books.

Anyway, I digress. I’ve signed the book for Aidan and stuffed it into an envelope. I hope to get to the post office tomorrow.

My best to you and your family,

James Preller

 

 

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18. Best Last Lines of Books, Revisited

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48328I recently read a masterpiece by Richard Yates titled Revolutionary Road. You may have read it, or seen the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

The entire book left me in awe, frankly. But why I’m posting today is the ending was just so perfect. A man is sitting in his chair while his wife prattles on and on, perhaps representing the banalities and sometimes-pettiness of suburban life, the smallness of minds. She goes on uninterrupted for almost two full pages. Then he comes the final paragraph:

But from there on Howard Givings heard only a welcome, thunderous sea of silence. He had turned off his hearing aid.

Wow. The end.

A thunderous sea of silence.

And by best last line I should say, best ending for that specific book. For Revolutionary Road, the man turning off his hearing aid was just right. Shutting out the noise.

Anyway, that ending reminded me of all old post I had written maybe four or five years ago. Since I think it still has entertainment value, here you go . . .

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Stylist magazine has put together a list of The Best 100 Closing Lines from Books. Here’s a few of my favorites . . .

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Animal Farm, George Orwell

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Steig Larsson

“She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.”

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

“It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx

“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.”

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

“A last note from your narrator. I am haunted by humans.”

The Beach, Alex Garland

“I’m fine. I have bad dreams but I never saw Mister Duck again. I play video games. I smoke a little dope. I got my thousand-yard stare. I carry a lot of scars. I like the way that sounds. I carry a lot of scars.”

The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

“The old man was dreaming about the lions.”

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

“I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

“Are there any questions?”

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini

“I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran.”

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

“She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

“I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

The Outcast, Sadie Jones

“He didn’t think about it, he went straight to a seat facing forwards, so that he could see where he was going.”

Before I Die, Jenny Downham

“Light falls through the window, falls onto me, into me. Moments. All gathering towards this one.”

They also compiled a list of 100 Best Opening Lines from Books.

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As an author, I guess it’s something to think about. It’s even more important with picture books. As James Marshall once told me in an interview, “The ending is what people remember. If the book fizzles at the end, they remember the whole thing as a fizzled book. It’s important to have a very satisfying ending for the reader. They’ve entered a world and now they are leaving it.”

Perhaps my best closing line comes from Hiccups for Elephant:

“Ah-choo!”

From A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, as “Red” enters the library:

“I passed the mess and crossed the halls. Until thar she blew — me treasure!”

From longer works, I especially like the closing lines from Along Came Spider:

“Without looking back, Trey nodded, yes, tomorrow, then stepped inside, yes, and was gone.”

Here’s the closing lines from Bystander:

“All the while quietly hoping — in that place of the heart where words sputter and dissolve, where secret dreams are born and scarcely admitted — to score winning baskets for the home team. To take it to the hole and go up strong. Fearless, triumphant. The crowd on their feet. His father in the stands, cheering.”

Recently a reviewer wrote that the last line of The Fall brought tears to her eyes, that it wasn’t until the final moment that she fully realized the book had touched her in that way.

I don’t think it was the brilliance of the last line, but more the culmination of feeling. Here it is anyway:

TheFall

“I guess I will remember everything. Your friend, Sam Proctor.”

And while I’m updating this section with recent titles, I also like the last lines of Before You Go, if you don’t mind me saying so:

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“He didn’t know what would happen with Becka. Maybe that’s why he needed to be alone on the beach, to watch the sunrise, to be okay with himself, despite everything. Sometimes life seemed impossibly hard, full of car wrecks and souls that shined like stars in yellow dresses. So much heartbreak and undertow. Jude bent down, picked up a smooth white stone, measured its heft in his hand. And he reached back and cast that rock as far as he could.

Just to see the splash.”

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19. Coming In Two Weeks . . .

My son, Gavin (16), taught himself Photoshop a couple of summers ago. He’s enterprising that way. I asked him to put something together for me, in preparation for a few book festivals that are coming up.

Thanks, Gavin. I think it looks great. Nice to see all those kind words in one place.

The Fall Ad

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20. Great News from a Young Writer I First Met Three Years Ago

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Three years ago I wrote a post titled, “I May Have Just Met the Best 6th-Grade Poet in America.

Her name was Erin, and she was in 6th grade, and I was lucky enough to meet her during a school visit outside of Chicago. You can read an excerpt from that post below, or click on the link. Anyway, since that time we’ve kept in touch. Mostly Erin letting me know what she’s doing, and me saying clever things like, “Wow!” Or, “You’re awesome!” And always always always, “Keep writing!”

This weekend I received a box in the mail . . .

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And inside there was a self-published book by Erin Rosenfeld . . .

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And a very kind note . . .

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Let’s be clear: I did almost nothing. I read some pages, made a few incoherent comments. When it comes to the work, Erin did all of it. My role was to try to be encouraging across a few scattered emails. I wish I was one of those wise people who knew how to help writers take that next step, but I’m not very good when it comes to advice. Maybe it’s because I don’t really believe much can be done for someone else. The best work a writer can do is to write. That’s the classroom. That’s the job. It’s a solitary business.

I recognized Erin’s talent when she handed me one of her poems three years ago. But talent only gets you so far in this world. Obviously, Erin knows that. She gets her butt in the chair.

You can purchase Erin’s book, Half of Me, by clicking here. (Ha, ha, I already have my own signed copy in green ink!)

In the book, Erin gives a new twist to the classic theme of switched identities. Grace and Mia are identical twin sisters, and total opposites. But for one fateful day they make the switch . . . and things go horribly, tragically wrong. One twin dies. The other lives. In the days and weeks that follow, both sisters are forced to endure the consequences of their decisions: one on earth, and one torn between life and death.

Erin wrote Half of Me in alternating voices, employing two distinct writing styles. Mia tells her half of the story in prose, while Grace’s chapters are in spare, elegant verse.

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Erin Rosenfeld, congratulations! I’m so proud of you!

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I have a new book, too!

TheFall

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In education today, where the pendulum has swung far to the right with a misguided, misbegotten emphasis on testing and precise measurements, where the arts have been slashed and all but discarded, it’s important to remember what it can mean to invite an author into our schools — or a musician, or painter, or dancer, or even (heaven forfend) a mime! I am grateful every time I am given the opportunity to visit a school. To speak, and maybe be heard. Every time I try, in my small way, to make a difference. Thanks, Erin, for helping me believe that it’s still possible.

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Originally Posted in October, 2012:

When I speak at schools, a teacher will often come up to ask if I wouldn’t mind wearing some kind of amplifier/microphone thingy around my neck for a student who is hearing impaired.

And of course I don’t mind. I put it on and forget about it. Easy.

Styles vary, but it usually looks something like this.

After a presentation last Friday at Northbrook Junior High, about 25 miles north of Chicago, a small female student approached to ask for the return of the assistive listening device that hung around my neck. She had a nice smile, a sweet presence, and I liked her immediately. We chatted for a short while. I asked how she managed when people didn’t wear the device, and about lip reading, and getting by. I told her that I suffered from hearing problems myself, a surgery with a specialist in Ohio and a second one planned. I understood, on a personal level, how terribly isolating hearing loss can be.

We said goodbye. As she left, I commented to a nearby teacher about how much I liked that girl. “She’s probably a writer,” I added. You can often tell. She was thoughtful and attentive, a watcher, an observer. In my experience, those are the types who make writers. The quiet ones. And there’s that other thing about writers: it’s something you sense in people, the way they absorb their surroundings. You can tell there’s something going on between the ears.

It’s rarely the way they talk, but more the quality of their listening.

“Yes, she’s a very good writer,” the teacher informed me.

A few minutes later, my friend, Erin, was back. She handed me a poem. A small group of teachers and I were about to have lunch in another room. But I read the poem while Erin stood by, watching. And finally, when I reached the end, I told her that it was incredible, that I was moved by it, that I admired and envied her talent. “You are such a great writer,” I told her, and I meant it. Erin smiled, a terrific smile, and told me that I could keep the poem. And I did, but not until I got her autograph. In green ink, no less.

Erin RosenfeldThe writer.

I don’t know. I do a lot of school visits, a lot of blabbering about me, me, me. But it’s always these small moments that make it worthwhile, that make me feel like there’s value in it. When out of the blue a connection is made, and I meet somebody like Erin, and maybe in some small way she’ll remember this moment, for I know I’ll remember her . . . 

<< snip >>

Click here if you wish to read Erin’s poem and the rest of my original post.

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21. Whirlwind Trip to Long Island & Warwick, NY — with Photos!

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I figured I’d share some snaps from my recent trip down to my old stomping grounds on Long Island.

On Wednesday night I drove to New London, CT, to take the ferry to Greenport, Long Island. That’s where my dear old mom lives, so I crashed at her place for two nights. Mom is 89 years old and, these days at least, a very happy Mets fan . . .

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On Thursday, I drove out to the Sequoya Middle School in Holtsville where I was invited by Jennifer Schroeder and Sandy Bucher. Like all the best days in my life, it started with lunch! I ate with students from the Summer Reading Club.

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What a great way to start the day. With pizza . . . and a great group of young, intelligent, enthusiastic readers.

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I didn’t just eat and chat. I also signed books, gratefully.

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This is Sandy and Jennifer, who made the day the possible.

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These three won prizes in a raffle, though I felt like the real winner all day long.

On the way to the assembly with an audience of 260 students, one girl asked me in a soft voice if I’d seen the poster. “Yes, it’s fantastic,” I said. And after a pause, I wondered, “Did you make it?”

She sure had. Of course, I demanded her name and a photo. Angela looks proud, doesn’t she? So much talent and a great smile, too. How is that fair?

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Later I drove home and watched the Mets with my mom. It’s how we roll.

On Friday, I visited Bellport where I presented to a large group of librarians from Suffolk County. There were about 100 in the room, my guess, and I think it went well. Librarians are my kind of people, so hopefully it was relaxed and enjoyable for all concerned. My fingers are crossed in the hope it will lead to more school visits in the area. Thank you, Gail Barraco for the invitation!

Next I took a ferry . . .

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. . . and drove to a hotel near Warwick, NY. The next morning, Saturday, I signed books at the fabulous Warwick Children’s Book Festival, thanks to Lisa Laico, Christina Ryan-Linder, and Judy Peterson. The amount of work that goes into these things — the months of planning, the degree of detail — is mind-boggling. What a great gift to the community.

As an author, I am always grateful for a chance to meet other “real, live” authors. Every time I meet someone new . . .

I loved meeting Rita Williams-Garcia. She was so warm and friendly, we got along instantly.

I loved meeting Rita Williams-Garcia. She was so warm and friendly, we got along instantly.

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. . . and I also get the chance to catch up with established friends.

I've become a real fanboy when it comes to Wendell and Florence Minor. All they do is quietly make high-quality books, year after year. I have huge respect for their work and for way they conduct themselves: wise, kind, grateful, modest, and so talented!

I’ve become a real fanboy when it comes to Wendell and Florence Minor. All they do is quietly make high-quality books, year after year. I have huge respect for their work and for way they conduct themselves: wise, kind, grateful, modest, and so talented!

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After that, it was time to head home. My real job, the essential job, is for me to sit alone in a quiet room. That’s where I’m at now, trying to figure out the next book. But it’s trips like this that energize and inspire me to keep at it, even during the difficult times. Many thanks to one and all!

 

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22. I Took the “Page 69 Test” for THE FALL

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I was recently invited to take the “Page 69 Test” for my new novel, The Fall. Since I rarely get invited out, I put on my best slacks & my cleanest dirty shirt, and decided to give it a shot. The idea is simple. You turn to page 69 of your book and discuss how it is (or isn’t!) representative of the rest of the book. I was also asked if it would encourage a reader to keep reading. One would hope so.

Here’s the link to the site, which is part of the “Campaign for the American Reader” initiative, where you can find many other examples from a wide range of authors.

And here’s what I wrote:

12000905_679002038902805_5407176596026301396_oThe conceit for The Fall is that a boy, Sam, is writing in his journal. He’s reflecting upon the events of the past year, piecing together the narrative entry by entry, writing about events which led to the tragic death of his secret friend, Morgan. I write “secret” because that’s one of the book’s themes, one of identity, and of owning one’s own actions. The things we did and didn’t do. The footprint we make in the snow.

My editor at Macmillan, Liz Szabla, made the decision not to have the book over-designed; to my pleasure, the book is straight-forward. We didn’t jump through hoops to make it look like someone’s faux-journal. There is on some pages a fair amount of white space, and that’s the case in this instance.

On page 69, Sam basically fails to write. The page is nearly blank. He does write, “I need … I need … I need … something.” There’s a bit more, but that’s essentially it for page 69: It conveys, I hope, Sam’s struggle and failure to write. The idea is that he’s promised himself to try to write in that journal each day, focusing on Morgan, for at least fifteen minutes. Some days are better than others, and on this day nothing comes easily for Sam. This page, this emotion, directly follows upon the events and feelings of the previous pages, so my intention is for the reader to “get” why Sam can’t write that day. Will the reader be curious enough to keep reading? I sure hope so. Part of the book’s appeal is in the format, it’s loose and easy, and it zips along at a swift pace. Some pages include poems and snippets; others offer more traditional, expository narratives. He tells the story in a variety of ways. There’s no reason to stop reading. The craft is in the slow accumulation of detail, the sedimentary layering of thoughts and feelings, as readers slowly learn more about Sam’s role in Morgan’s life and death. The things he did and didn’t do. His footprint in the snow.

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For more reviews and information about The Fall, you can stomp on this link with both feet while shouting loudly, “Cowabunga!”

 

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23. FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #215: Advice to a Young Writer & the Idea of “Downshifting”

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I’m posting this one for two reasons. First, Megan’s sweet reply, so simple and direct, surprised and moved me. That last sentence. And secondly, because I am frequently asked for “advice” and often fail to give a satisfactory answer. In this case, I don’t fail quite so miserably as usual and it included a notion that applies to a great many young writers I’ve encountered over the years — the idea of downshifting. I don’t have time for many exchanges like this, but I do what I can.
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This begins, atypically, with my response. Megan, I’d guess, is 13 or 14, and she genuinely inspires to be a writer. This wasn’t a question of a student dutifully asking a question that her teacher would approve of. No, Megan wanted to send me her book and I was like, “Oh, please, don’t do that. Send me an excerpt.”
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This is my reply, which she waited for patiently.
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Megan,
 
Greetings. I’m very impressed with your story, and I’m grateful for your persistence & patience.
 
I am wrestling with a deadline of my own, have a pile of unanswered letters, etc., so I hope you’ll understand that this will be brief, of necessity.
 
In general, I’m not a great advice-giver when it comes to writing. I’m not full of tips, largely because I’m still trying to figure it out for myself. The standard pieces of advice are still the best: Read widely, read often, & read with a writer’s eye; and write. You’ve got to write. Have a place where you can write, a crummy journal, anything. And try to write everyday. Don’t let all your best work be text messages.
 
The other thing that I really believe in is that you should trust your enthusiasms. If you are excited about a topic, an idea, a writer, a series of books, an activity — then pursue it. Don’t worry so much if it will be practical or publishable or realistic. Just try to find those things that get your heart racing. That make you happy. And trust that good things will come out of it.
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follow-your-enthusiasm
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As for your story, you are filled with many interesting characters and ideas. When I read, I know there is a lively mind at work here. An interesting mind. That’s very good to see. So many good, descriptive details. At the same time, your work reflects an inexperienced writer. That makes sense, because it’s true. You are young and inexperienced and you have not yet honed your writing muscles.
 
The one idea I want to convey to you is “downshifting.” Slowing down. You have enough ideas in here for a 500-page story, so all of it feels rushed, like you are in a hurry to get to the next thing, then the next, then the next. You need to slow down, add a beat, let each scene, each moment, have it’s own moment (if you will).
 
I loved the initial sense of the magical in the air that begins the story. The girl in the woods. (I didn’t like that she was trudging, especially after I learned that she was sent to give an urgent message; to me, that’s not a trudging errand, that’s running, exhaustion, resting, eating, running, and so on). It’s lungs burning, muscles aching. Then as readers, we are caught up in that feeling. There’s a deadline, a rush, and something important is at stake. We are eager to know why.
 
The visit with Corporal Hillson’s needs to slow down. Take your time. I didn’t understand why Hillson was telling Vivian all this. Why did he trust her? What was she doing there? I didn’t completely get it. His news is “extremely secret,” yet he blabs it to her. Why? You need to set this up better.
 
Next, almost as suddenly, she is in a cavern. That’s cool. The two girls. Again, slow down. Stay in the moment more, linger over the details, set the scene.
 
Downshift.
downshifting
 
Good work, Megan. You have talent and, as I said before, a lively, inventive mind. You probably have more story here than you are fully capable of writing at this point in your life. Keep at it. Focus on individual scenes. Word by word, sentence by sentence. And also, write poems, write short stories, and keep writing.
 
You are already much more accomplished than I was at your age.
 
Good luck,
 
James Preller
 
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Megan replied:
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Dear Mr. Preller,
Thank you for your support. You have no idea how much this means to me. I will edit my story so that I do that. Thank you for your time. I would give anything to write like you. 
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24. Make Sure Your Teens Know About the 2nd Annual “ALBANY TEEN READER CON” — Coming This Saturday, October 17th!

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I'm excited to discuss my brand new book, THE FALL. "A heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship, bullying, and the aftermath of all of it." -- Expresso Reads.

I’m excited to discuss my brand new book, THE FALL. “A heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship, bullying, and the aftermath of all of it.” — Expresso Reads.

Middle school and high school students can connect a wide range of popular middle-grade and YA authors at the Second Annual Teen Reader Con on Saturday, October 17th, in Albany.

It will be a day-long celebration of teens and literacy designed to inspire and share a love of reading and writing — and it’s all free, sponsored by Capital Region BOCES. The event will run from 9:00 to 4:00 at the University at Albany Downtown Campus.

Featured authors:

* Jennifer Armstrong

* SA Bodeen

* Eric Devine

* Helen Frost

* David Levithan

* Jackie Morse Kessler

* James Preller

* Eliot Schrefer

* Todd Strasser

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It’s a pretty spectacular list, filled with accomplished, popular writers (and me). I’m bummed out that I will be giving three presentations, because what I really want to do is sit in the audience to listen to and learn from some of my friends (SA Bodeen, Todd Strasser), while making new discoveries.

Each author will sign books in addition to giving several presentations throughout the day. They work us like dogs at this thing. This is a very cool, inspiring event for readers 11 and up, and a really worthwhile way for teenagers to spend the day or just a few hours.

I’m honored to be invited.

Advanced registration is encouraged, but not required. Go here for that.

 

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25. ‘Tis the Season . . . for Scary Stories

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Illustration by Iacopo Bruno from ONE-EYED DOLL.

Illustration by Iacopo Bruno from ONE-EYED DOLL.

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Just a friendly public service reminder, folks. It’s that time of year, and I’ve written some “Scary Tales” for readers ages 7-up. As I tell kids, apologetically, nobody gets murdered in these stories. There’s no gore, no maimed body parts. Just old-fashioned suspense and the boom, boom, boom of the heart as the doorknob slowly, slowly turns.

From SWAMP MONSTER.

From SWAMP MONSTER.

NIGHTMARELAND.

NIGHTMARELAND.

ONE-EYED DOLL.

ONE-EYED DOLL.

GOOD NIGHT, ZOMBIE.

GOOD NIGHT, ZOMBIE.

 

Collect ‘em all, read ‘em all.

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