Book Nerd Interview
Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I contemplated various clever responses, but the only true answer is other books. That’s where all the possibilities of reading and writing come to me –- what a book can do, what a book can be. It’s been the essential, ongoing conversation of my entire life.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Ribbon. Pabst. Blue. (It’s a word scramble. And kind of a joke.)
What part of Sam did you enjoy writing the most?
What I really like about young teens is their malleability, their plasticity. They are becoming young adults, it’s an age of becoming, of dealing with serious issues and thoughts, but they are also still formless in many respects –- with feet in both worlds. They are open, not closed. Their minds have not yet turned to stone the way we see in too many adults. Who they are is still subject to change. Sam is a character who is still very much struggling to figure it out. It’s not clear yet which way he’s going to go. I respect that struggle. He wants to be a good person on the earth, just not exactly sure how to go about it.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Ha, a curious thought. There’s a character in a SIX INNINGS, Mike Tyree, who is a steadfast and loyal friend to a boy who is going through a terrible illness. He gets the last sentence, the last scene of the book. Morgan in THE FALL deserves and desperately needs a friend like that. Mila in the “Jigsaw Jones” is also that sort of friend – I’m really glad she met Jigsaw.
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
After the success of BYSTANDER, I kept thinking about the so-called “bully.” My conclusion was that bullying was a verb, a behavior, not a thing, not a label you can hang on a person. So I wanted to find a way to explore and convey the full humanity of a bully. Because I’ve found that usually a bully is a good person making some poor decisions. When I combined that perception with social media, the ease and detachment of our cruelties, I felt there was a story to tell.
Which character have you enjoyed getting to know while writing THE FALL?
Morgan’s sister, Sophie, enters the book about halfway through in a shadowy, tangential way. We meet her in brief scenes. She is slowly revealed to the reader – and, I guess, to the writer as well. I don’t believe I had a clear sense of Sophie when I began the book, so when she arrived it was with a sense of discovery. I admired her strength and she earned a pivotal role in a couple of important scenes late in the book.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I’m going to cheat with two answers. In the children’s book world, Arnold Lobel. I once I had to write a profile about him, early in my freelance career. So I reread his books and conducted my research. Lobel was an artist of deep integrity who had so much respect for the craft of children’s books –- and an abiding respect for his readers. At the time, I thought very clearly: This is how you do it. This is . . . The Way. He’s been my shining light in that regard. I only wish I had his talent. And in terms of the job itself, the work of a writer, I have to hand it to Stephen King. His work ethic is fierce. He simply rolls up his sleeves and writes to the best of his ability, day after day. It’s not precious or pretentious. He sets out to tell a good story. I admire that immensely.
How many books have you written?
It’s more than 80. I published my first book in 1986, went freelance in 1990.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Follow your enthusiasms.
Who was your first girlfriend?
Lisa from across the street.
Tell me about your first kiss.
We were young –- ten, I think –- and we came up with a plan to kiss twice a day at set times in a shed behind my house. I think I was late once and she was like, “You missed your chance.” The arrangement was a little too business-like, I’m afraid. We’re not even Facebook friends.
When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper?
A few days ago. I don’t write my letters by hand –- I have a terrible lefty scrawl -– but I regularly answer fan mail.
Where did you go on your first airplane ride?
We visited my oldest sister, Barbara, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I don’t recall where we flied into. I’m the youngest of seven children and Barbara was the first to get married, move away.
Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
I have always had flying dreams. But I also have paralysis dreams. Those times when I can’t move, when I’m desperate to move, when I absolute must move. And yet I’m stuck. The movie “Get Out” does a great job capturing the essence of this kind of dream. Trapped. But the chains are of the mind.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
What is your greatest adventure?
Parenthood, marriage, ordinary life. The revelation is that it doesn’t have to be “an adventure” for it to be, you know, life’s grand adventure.
Where can readers find you?
Readers can find pieces of me, like the shards of a shattered mirror, in every book I write. I’m in each one. Otherwise, I’ve run a lively blog over at jamespreller.com for the past 9 years. Stop on by. Readers can also write to me at email@example.com. Yes, AOL. A dinosaur, but not extinct yet. I generally shy away from social media because of the time suck factor. And self-promotion still strikes me, after all these years, as a little gross.
An innovative new perspective on the tragedy of teen suicide.
The summer before school starts, Sam's friend and classmate Morgan Mallen kills herself. Morgan had been bullied. Maybe she kissed the wrong boy. Or said the wrong thing. What about that selfie that made the rounds? Morgan was this, and Morgan was that. But who really knows what happened?
As Sam explores the events leading up to the tragedy, he must face a difficult and life-changing question: Why did he keep his friendship with Morgan a secret? And could he have done something-anything-to prevent her final actions?
From James Preller, the author of Bystander, another unflinching book about bullying and its fallout.
NOT LIKE ME
Two weeks before Morgan Mallen threw herself off the water tower, I might have typed a message on her social media page that said, "Just die! Die! Die! No one cares about you anyway!"
(I'm just saying, it could have been me.)
And I say "could have" because the message was anonymous. Untraceable. Nobody knows who said that horrible thing. That was the beauty of the deal. Nobody knew exactly who said what, except for Athena, I guess. The rest of us sent messages from the shadow places and let them run loose like wolves in the forest.
No one was responsible.
I sure don't know who typed what. Whose fingers punched the keys? Who said such cruel, unspeakable things? I wonder, Could it have been me?
No, that wasn't like me at all.
I barely knew her. Not many people did. But I knew this: She was out there.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you: Am I not allowed to say even that? It doesn't make me a bad person for stating the obvious. It was a fact-Morgan Mallen was different, but not in a good way. Like in a waaaaay way.
For example: The sky is gray, the grass is green, and Morgan Mallen became the saddest girl I'd ever seen. It even rhymes. Green, seen, mean, teen, sardine.
Some girls in school claimed she was this and alleged she was that. There was also a selfie that famously made the rounds. She maybe kissed the wrong boy. Who knows what really happened.
Once a message was spray-painted on the girls' bathroom door, and another day it appeared on the side of the snack shack by the football field: "Morgan Mallen is a slut."
Check that tense. Was, not is.
Was a tramp. A selfie-sharer. An outcast.
None of this makes me a bad person.
Copyright © 2015 by James Preller
Praise for THE FALL
“With its timely, important message and engaging prose style, Sam's journal ought to find a large readership.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Preller returns to themes addressed in his 2009 novel, Bystander, in an equally painful story about the aftermath of a teenager's suicide. After relentless bullying online, high school outcast Morgan Mallen throws herself off a water tower, leaving her tormentors to grapple with guilt over how they treated her. The narrative is composed of confessional journal entries written by one of Morgan's classmates, Sam Proctor... The journal format closely chronicles Sam's transformation from follower to leader, yet Preller avoids sermonizing, instead focusing on one individual's complicated process of grieving, accepting responsibility, and moving forward.” ―Publisher's Weekly
“A compelling look at the aftermath of bullying, from the bully's perspective. . . . Readers will relate to the teen, who's less a bully than an average guy who gives in to peer pressure and inaction. This fast-paced story will spark discussion on cyberbullying, depression, and how to deal with tragic events.” ―School Library Journal
“The pace is fast, yet the story unfolds slowly, one piece at a time. Readers will put this puzzle together, eager to see whether Sam ultimately accepts his role in Morgan's death, and wanting to see the whole story of what one person could have, and should have, done for Morgan.” ―Booklist
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