News, Notes & Inside Info from a Children’s Book Author

Fan Mail Wednesday #53-55

July 21st, 2009 Posted in Fan Mail, Jigsaw Jones, the writing process

Watch out, folks — step back, step waaaaaay back. Because this here is Fan Mail Wednesday, the Triple Threat Edition!

Hello! I am an elementary school teacher and have a collection of author signed books in my classroom. I was wondering if I could send you my copy of Six Innings for you to sign for me. I would include return postage. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Shelly

I replied:

Happy to do it!

James Preller
12 Brookside Drive
Delmar, NY 12054

Note: I shared this email because the same answer goes for anyone else who wishes to make a similar request. I’m happy and honored to sign a book any time, any day of the week. I think the idea of building a classroom collection of signed books is pretty cool and probably not that difficult. I’d bet that most authors would be happy to do it. The SASE, a forgotten courtesy, is key.

Letter #54:

Hello Mr. Preller.

My son and I love your Jigsaw Jones books. We have a question about The Case of the Sneaker Sneak. Is there a typo on page 19 with the secret code? We have both done the secret code and it does not make sense. When we do the secret code we get the following:

Is Helen u nmts or what?

Thank you for your help.
Kelly + Kyle

My answer:

Dear Kelly & Kyle:

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. We have since located the person responsible for this error, and he has been flogged by wet noodles and reassigned to a warehouse in Outer Siberia.

Justice is swift and oh so sweet.

Erm, okay, this sounds vaguely familiar. Hold on while I take the book off the shelf:

Yes, there’s a mistake in there. When you crack the code it now reads: IS HELEN HELEN NRTS OR WHAT?

Ugh. Not what I had in mind. It should read: IS HELEN NUTS OR WHAT?

I remember finding that mistake in the finished book. It bummed me out. We’d like to think of our finished books as perfect, not a comma out of place, not a word misspelled. And we try so hard — all of us, the writer, the editor, the copyeditor (or proofreader), designer, etc. Unfortunately, mistakes happen. While I’ve made my share of them, I can honestly say that in this case it wasn’t my fault. Because the code could not be typeset in the standard manner, it became “art” rather than “text,” and not my bailiwick. Which is why things probably got messed up: too many cooks in the kitchen. Also, the publishing schedule for series books can sometimes be tight and unforgiving, and that compounds the problem.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Believe me, heads will tumble.

BWA-HA-HA-HA!

Oh, by the way: I recently read that book again, #16 in the series, for the first time in at least 6 years, and I was surprised by how much of it I really enjoyed. You inspired me to write about it in a future blog post, some behind-the-scenes stuff, as I’ve done for other books. But I will say this: I hate the title, I’ve always hated the title. Just the worst. I got overruled by the committee on that one. It happens. Rats and Snails! Double Rats!

JP

POSTSCRIPT: My editor at Scholastic, the mercurial Shannon Penney, wrote to say: “Just wanted to make sure you know that the code typo in SNEAKER SNEAK has since been fixed, so no worries about that!”

Letter #55:

Hello James
My name is Doha.
I am in 6th grade.
i am 11 years old.
You are my favorite author.
I love your Jigsaw Jones books.
My reading tutor told me to ask you how
many times did you have to edit and write
your last book before you published it?
And what was your last book you published?
Just wanted to say again i love your books.

Doha

I replied:

Dear Doha:

And if your reading tutor told you to jump off a bridge? Would you do it? Would you?

Doha, my friend, you can’t do everything your reading tutor tells you to do.

Unless, hmmm . . . have you been hypnotized lately? Think back: Do you remember any kind of watch swinging back and forth, back and forth, with your reading tutor murmuring the words, “You are getting sleepy, so sleepy.” Does any of that ring a bell?

Because it’s possible that you are under the spell of some kind of evil scientist crazy person. I’m just typing out loud here, throwing out ideas. We have to consider all the possibilities.

Anyway, for the sake of this letter, let’s assume that it was a harmless suggestion. “Write the author, bug somebody else for a change.”

Okay, okay. I’ll play along with your tutor’s sick twisted plan suggestion. I tend to revise as I go. Constantly. I don’t have a number for it. But it seems like every time I read something that I’ve written, I fiddle with it a bit. I have to change something, especially the first few times I read it. After a while, it sort of stabilizes. At the same time, when a scene doesn’t sit right, I’ll go over it and over it endlessly, twenty times, easily. Sometimes I’ll then revert back to the original — reinstate what I had crossed out — when I realize to my horror that some of my changes only made it WORSE!

I mean to say: There is such a thing as too much fussing around.

I believe a good policy would be to carefully read over what you’ve written two times. Be open to make changes, try your best to make it better, and move on.

But no matter what anyone says about the importance of revision — and it is essential, and actually kind of fun — the single most important thing is to get those initial words down on that blank sheet of paper. Let it flow, let the story and the feeling come without worrying too much about whether it’s any good or not. There are great things inside of us all. Writing is one way of letting them out. And in many ways that requires an act of faith, a leap of trust, a belief in yourself, in Doha — a belief that you’ve got something inside you that no one else carries around. Your thoughts and feelings, memories and fears, dreams and ideas.

Your job as a writer is to tap into that river and let the words flow.

Since you asked: My new book is called Bystander (isn’t the cover awesome?), and it will be out in late September. I hope you read it!

Thanks for writing.

JP

  1. 2 Responses to “Fan Mail Wednesday #53-55”

  2. By Nan Hoekstra on Jul 22, 2009

    This is just to say — I am a FAN of Fan Mail Wednesday. This week I LOVED the concept that there is no such thing as too much fussing around!

  3. By Jimmy on Jul 22, 2009

    Or, um, the opposite?

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