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,
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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.
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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. 
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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!

 

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.
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I wrote:
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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.”

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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.”

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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
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Here is the fabulous reply I received:
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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.)

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 I just did, The Case from Outer Space. A daunting task 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.

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 series, with almost eleven million books in homes and classrooms, slowly die on the vine due to neglect. Nobody could buy them anymore outside of Craig’s List. 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.

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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.”

Heh-heh

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10 Things I Love (March 31st Edition)

 

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Blogs are dead, everybody knows it, the tweet spread the news long ago. Nobody reads blogs anymore. These days it’s all Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and short, short, short.

I get it, I do. We’re all feeling the time squeeze.

But because I’m childishly oppositional, I refuse to give up my blog. And I’m keeping my 8-Tracks, too. I started this blog back in 2008, so we’ve become attached. I like to have readers, but I’m not sure I really need them. It wouldn’t stop me from writing. There’s something about the open-ended blog format that offers room to spread out and say things, however long it takes. Whether anyone listens or not.

My pal, illustrator Matthew Cordell, used to blog with enthusiasm. One of his recurring features was his monthly-ish “Top Ten” lists, where Matt randomly listed some of his recent enthusiasms. It could be a song, a book, a movie, or a type of eraser (Matt was weird about erasers). It was always fun to read.

So I’m stealing it.

Here are ten things I’ve recently loved:

 

THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM

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I visited Cleveland with my son, Gavin, to check out Case Western Reserve University. The following day, we headed over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was spectacular in every way. (Except for: The Red Hot Chili Peppers? Really?) I’m a huge music fan, so it was perfect for me. I found the museum strangely moving in parts, my heart touched. I could see that rock music was big enough, and diverse enough, to offer a home to people from every walk of life.

CARRY ME HOME by Diane McWhorter

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Amazing, fascinating, and at times brutal Pulitzer Prize-winning book that’s stayed with me long after the last page. It provides a dense, detailed account of the civil rights struggle centered in Birmingham, Alabama. Martin Luther King, the Klu Klux Klan, Fred Shuttlesworth, George Wallace, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Kennedy, Bull Conner, and more. One of those books that helps you understand America.

FAN MAIL . . . WITH ILLUSTRATIONS!

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I’ve been ridiculously fortunate in my career, in that I’ve received a lot of fan mail across the past twenty years. But I have to admit, I especially like it when those letters include a drawing. There’s just something about children’s artwork that slays me, every time. This drawing is by Rida in Brooklyn.

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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This book has been on my list almost since the day it came out — the buzz was instantaneous, and huge — but on a tip from a friend, I waited for the audiobook to become available through my library. Here, Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a powerful reading. It’s poignant to listen to an author reading his own words, particularly since this book is essentially a letter to his son.

“WINTER RABBIT,” a poem by Madeleine Comora

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We’re not here to bash Jack Prelutsky. Because, after all, Jack Prelutsky is hilarious. But, but, but. There are times when I worry that too many people think children’s poetry begins and ends with Mr. Prelutsky. That a poem for kids always has to be bouncy and fast and slight and funny, i.e., Prelutsky-ish. Well, here’s a poem I came across while reading Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? and Other Disasters: Poems, unerringly edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. I admire the heartfelt, beautiful sorrow of Comora’s poem. “I thought of his last night alone/huddled in a wire home./I did not cry. I held him close,/smoothed his fur blown by the wind./For a winter’s moment, I stayed with him.” The illustration is  by Wolf Erlbruch. Click on the poem if your eyes, like mine, need larger type.

EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT

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I’m so grateful that I live near a cool, little movie theater that makes room for small foreign films such as this, a mind-blowing look at life on the Amazon, spectacularly filmed in black-and-white. Click here for more details.

THE AMERICANS

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My wife Lisa and I don’t watch hours of TV together, but we do like to have a show we can share. We’ve been a loss for a few months, but recently discovered season one of “The Americans” on Amazon Prime. We’re hooked.

DAVID BROMBERG: “SAMMY’S SONG”

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We have tickets to see Bromberg this coming weekend. He’s an old favorite of mine, first saw him in 1980 on Long Island. I’ve just rediscovered “Sammy’s Song,” which I haven’t heard in decades. What a chilling coming-of-age story, brilliantly performed. Oh, about that harmonica part? That’s Dave’s pal, Bob Dylan, with an uncredited guest turn.

JIGSAW JONES

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I just finished writing my first Jigsaw Jones book after a long time away. For many years, Scholastic had allowed the series to die on the vine, with book after book slowly going out of print. It’s been a crushing thing for me to stand by helplessly and watch. But with the help of my agent, I got back the rights, and now Macmillan has plans to relaunch the series. I am thrilled. There are more than 10 million copies of those books out there in world, and it seems like every second-grade classroom in America has a ragged copy or three. Writing the new book, The Case from Outer Space, was such a pleasure. It felt like being home again.

THE DAY THE ARCS ARRIVE

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For an author, it’s a special day, always, always. That book you’ve been toiling over for months, years, finally arrives in book form. Uncorrected, unfinished, but for the first time you can hold it in your hands — a book! — and think, “I did that!” Note: Arc = Advanced Reader’s Copy. The Courage Test, a middle grade novel, will be out for real in September.

BONUS SELECTION . . .

THE BARKLEY MARATHONS

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I love documentaries of almost any nature, but I can’t recommend this one highly enough. A pure joy, with twinkling mischievous wit and surprising heart, too. If you like running at all — or not! — see this movie. About the toughest, wildest, and weirdest race in the world. Catch it on Netflix Instant!

“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 a 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. She was impressive and her message was inspiring.

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 motives. There’s nothing phony about Donalyn. She’s simply a positive force in the world of children’s reading. 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, and I’m always grateful to reach that specific audience, and to participate in that grand conversation.

I’m 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 baseball coaching experiences. I reflected on what I had learned from those times coaching young people, and I connected those lessons to 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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A Few Snaps from School Visits: A Typical Day on an Elementary School Visit

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There’s nothing particularly outstanding here, but I thought I’d throw up a few snaps from recent school visits and walk you through a typical arrangement.

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Yes, that’s truly “a good sign” for any author visit. It is welcoming and shows that the school has invested time and thought into the visit. I’ve said it a thousand times: Authors don’t do school visits, schools do author visits.

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I visit elementary schools and middle schools. Next week, for example,I’ll even be speaking to 380 students in one packed auditorium, grades 7-12. When I visit traditional K-5 elementary schools, I try to arrange to meet with K-only groups for shorter, more intimate visits. Then I’ll see groups of grades 1-2, grades 3-4, and grade 5 only. My material and message seems to fall in line with those groupings.

 

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When I see grades 5-only, it allows me to include in my presentation a bit about Bystander and bully-themed issues. It’s a little older, more mature, a little deeper.

 

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For K-only, I’ve learned that it’s best to sit in a chair, speak softly and gently. I tell kids how the bear in Wake Me In Spring reminds me of my father, snoring in his big, comfortable chair.

 

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Reading from the first chapter of Bystander. I’ve pretty much got that thing memorized.

 

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This is a grades 3-4 group, where they are extremely enthusiastic about “Scary Tales.” We talk a lot about the creative process here, building a story. The photo on the screen is of a swamp. I’m talking about the setting of one of my stories, one of the basic building blocks of any story: where, who, what; setting, character, plot. For grades 1-2, I tend to center it around Jigsaw Jones and writing from real life.

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.

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.

13 Questions & Answers: On Childhood Memories, Writing Advice, Favorite Fictional Worlds, and More

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One thing about being a published author is that every blue moon your publisher asks you to do things. For example, I was just called on to answer a series of questions which will be published in the back matter of the paperback edition of The Fall (coming in October, 2016).

This is not usually my favorite thing to do. I enjoy talking about the work, the writing, but I’m not a fan of questions that focus on personality. At the Albany Teen Con this past year, the day’s events got kicked off with questions from the audience addressed to the panel of authors. Almost every question focused on personality. What’s your favorite food, etc. I realized that readers like to know this stuff, and that I have to get over it (to the degree I’m able).

So here you go, Dear Nation of Readers, a sampling of some of the Q & A which will appear in paperback later this year. The complete version is simply more than any single blog reader should be required to endure.

 

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

pen-and-notebookAs a young kid, ages 8-10, I used to invent these elaborate dice games that revolved around baseball. Roll a seven, the batter strikes out; roll a three, he hits a double. I filled entire notebooks with the box scores of these imaginary games. Looking back across the decades I realize that: 1) Dice games? OMG, I’m getting old; and 2) I was experiencing, and passionately seeking out, the core experience of being a writer. I was alone with an empty notebook and a pen in my hand. Later in life, those fictional baseball statistics became words and stories. The clear dream of desiring to become a writer happened in college.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

There are so many and they come in such a disordered jumble, like the splatters of an action painting by Jackson Pollack. I have snippets and impressions. Overall, the feeling is of being small in a crowded household. Being safe, being loved, being entertained. One story: I shared a room with two older brothers, John and Al, when I was quite young. John had an electric guitar and at night, he would turn off the lights and scare me with it. He’d hit a low note, make creepy noises in a deep voice, and I would hide in the darkness under the bed –- shivering with fear and loving it.

What were your hobbies as a kid? What are your hobbies now?

Do kids have hobbies? It seems like the wrong word for it. I’m sure I was pretty sports obsessed; I was active and athletic. Music has always been a presence in my life. The accumulated family record collection was pretty incredible, and for some reason I really connected to those records at a young age. The thing I wish for every young reader is to have passions, interests, things that get your blood pumping. In general, for me, that’s usually connected to the arts in some way. Books, movies, music, paintings, etc. But I have to admit, thinking about my teenage years, we spent a lot of time hanging out. Getting together with a few friends and doing a lot of nothing much. When I look at the lives of my own children, that’s a part that seems missing in today’s world. There’s just not enough free time. I loved hanging out! Is that a hobby?

What book is on your nightstand now?

James Marshall's fabulous characters, Martha and George.

James Marshall’s fabulous characters, Martha and George.

I mostly read adult books. I just finished with Norwegian Wood by Haruk Murakami, who is a beautiful writer; the book before that was Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner. Now I’m reading a nonfiction book about the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, Carry Me Home, by Diane McWhorter. On the children’s front, I just reread every “George & Martha” book by James Marshall. They are hilarious and perfect.

What sparked your imagination for The Fall?

After I wrote Bystander, I received many requests for a sequel. And I always thought, well, no. I felt satisfied with that book, finished with those characters. But I realized that I was still interested in the subject matter, the social dynamics of young people at that age. I began to feel a degree of sympathy for the so-called bully. I wanted to try to write something from the bully’s point of view, perhaps to show a fuller picture than I was seeing in other books and articles. When I read in the newspaper about a girl who had killed herself because of being “terrorized on social media,” I set down the newspaper and immediately started writing in my notebook. It was that direct. I knew I wanted to tell the story of a boy who wrote some terrible things on her social media page. I kept wondering, “Can we be defined by the worst thing we do?”

What challenges do you face in the writing process, and how do you overcome them?

I’ve published more than eighty books in my life. The gift that comes with that is an awareness that sooner or later, eventually, I do get around to putting words on the page. In the words of a writer friend, “I know I can land the plane.” Even so, part of my “process” is that I go through unproductive periods. I’m lazy, unfocused, distracted, a mess. A period of self-loathing eventually sets in. It happens every year, these creative lulls, and every time I grow to hate myself for it. And yet, every time, I fight my way out of it. I recently learned something from cooking (and I hate to cook). It’s the idea of marinating. The chicken tastes so much more flavorful after we marinate it for a period of time. Now I see those quiet, supposedly “unproductive” times as perfectly necessary and valid; it makes for a better, richer book at the end. Even when it looks like I’m not productive, hey, check it out: I’m marinating!

If you could live in any fictional world, what would it be?

CourageTestFrontCvrI’m not really a “fictional world” kind of guy. The real world is quite enough for me. I am curious about the past, however, so if I could have a magical tardis like Doctor Who, and travel from place to place, and time to time, that would be great. The thing is, I believe that books do that for us. Books are the tardis, the magic portal into other worlds. I just finished a manuscript titled The Courage Test, and in order to write it I had to read in depth about the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-06. What an amazing time, when America was new and wide-open and little known. When I want a fictional world, I read a book.

 

Who is your favorite fictional character?

I don’t make lists of favorites. First place, second place, third place, and so on. I’m just not built that way. Instead, they all sort of co-exist swimmingly in the gumbo of my mind. I love Gandolph and Hermione, Wilbur and Atticus Finch, the character in Hemingway’s Old Man in the Sea (did we ever learn his name?), that fabulous fat-bellied father in Hop on Pop. As a writer, I really enjoy slipping into the fictional world of Jigsaw Jones. He’s always a good time.

I do love writing about these two characters, entering their world.

I do love writing about these two characters, entering their world.

 

What’s the best advice you have ever received about writing?

Jane Yolen talks about “BIC.” Butt in chair! If you want to write, you have to sit down and do it. Talking about it won’t get the work done. Also, from other sources, write from the heart. And . . . the day you send out a book submission, start a new one. The worst thing you can do is sit around and wait for someone else’s approval. Be true to yourself, that’s another one. Trust that good work will find its way into the world. And lastly, you don’t have to write your book in order! You can bounce around. Write the scene that feels most urgent at that moment. You can always go back and fill in the empty spaces at

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.

a later time. Every book is different, and requires different things from me as a writer. For The Fall, that was a book I very much wrote out of sequence. I think this was because of the journal format. By the end, I had a lot of separate piece I had to weave together, like sewing a patchwork quilt. The challenge was that Sam’s mind -– like any mind -– would bounce freely from the present to the past and back again in an instant. One minute he’s remembering something that happened a year ago, then he’s back in the present moment looking at the rain outside the window. Writing a book that offered up that time-traveling experience was a real challenge, since I didn’t want to confuse the reader in the process. Um, er, what was the question?

 

What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were younger?

I don’t know, I think life has to teach you through experiences as you go along. I’m not convinced that anyone can tell us the secrets, you know? We have to stumble along and fall and learn and grow. When I look at my own children, I wish for them to be open to new people, new experiences. Not be too judgmental. To greet the world with open arms and an open mind. But I can also see that part of growing up, developing into your own unique self, is to look at aspects of the world and think: “Not me, not me, not me.” In a sense, we need those walls to build a sense of our own home place. So do I have any advice? Be kind, be kind, be kind.

What do you want readers to remember about your books?

Every book is different, so is every reader. Simply to be remembered at all is the goal. To have somehow made a lasting impression, whatever it might be, is a huge accomplishment for any writer. I hope that my books are open enough –- porous, in a way -– that each reader is free to respond in his or her own way. It’s not a case of, “Here, this is the message.” It’s more like, let’s take this trip down the path. Keep your eyes and ears open, keep your heart open. The thoughts you have along the way are entirely your own.

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

Flawless grammar. Yes, I’d be the dullest superhero in the world (not the most dullest).

What would your readers be most surprised to learn about you?

chicken_lgI can juggle a chainsaw, a bowling pin, and a live chicken. Also, I didn’t know that I’d be a writer at an early age. I wasn’t even much of a reader. It came later. In my teens, as I said early, my main focus was on hanging out. I’m pretty good at it, by the way. So that’s what I’d say to you, Dear Reader: Hey, you never know!