Fan Mail Wednesday #5

After taking a week off from the grueling schedule of Fan Mail Wednesday, it’s time to get back in the saddle and ride. So let’s turn that big wheel round and round — please imagine a giant hamster wheel in my office, filled with a tumble of letters, as I turn a huge crank — and see what we’ve got.

Vivian from Baltimore, Maryland, writes:

I have read your book, Jigsaw Jones #18: The Case of the Bear Scare. I liked that book. It was a very interesting book. I want to know how you knew so much about bears. Do you think a black bear could come to my backyard?

Thanks for that letter, Vivian. I got the idea for that book when I read in my local newspaper about a bear that had wandered into a suburban neighborhood. Like many writers, I began to ask myself “What if?” questions. (That’s a good tip for any writer, by the way. Ask “What if?” questions — the answers just might become your next story!)

Then the fun part began. For that book I not only researched Australian slang (kids are called “ankle-biters”), but I also had to learn about bears. I started by locating a bear expert named Lou Berchielli, a black bear specialist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. We spoke on the phone and he patiently answered many questions. For example, he told me that bears love bird seed and compost heaps. Because bears are territorial, young males are often kicked out of an area by a larger male and forced to find their own territory. This usually happens in the Spring. Lou told me that bears are also great swimmers, which I didn’t realize. While looking for a new home, these young bears will sometimes get confused, make a wrong turn or two, and end up in the parking lot of a suburban strip mall. It happens all over the country every Spring. I also learned about scat, or bear poop, which is about as fun as research gets. I knew it was the type of info that would appeal to Jigsaw.

To answer your last question, I don’t know if there are many bears in the Baltimore area. It seems like you are more likely to be visited by Edgar Allan Poe’s ghost. I visited Poe’s gravesite when I was last in Baltimore, many moons ago. If there was ever an author who might rise from the grave to take a murky midnight stroll, it would be old Edgar. Hmmm . . . I wonder . . . WHAT IF that really happened? Why would his ghost be haunting the streets? Could the ghost be looking for something, or someone? What if . . . ?

JP

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