Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Haunted Scarecrow

Here’s another in a series of “inside stories” about my Jigsaw Jones books, with the idea that it might be interesting and/or useful to teachers and students engaged in the writing process. Hopefully I’ll work my way through all the titles eventually, but don’t hold your breath. For similar posts, click here, or here, or here.

Illustration by Jamie Smith.

I’m not great at saving things; I’m more of a chucker than a keeper. But before writing this post, I pulled out my folder for this book, Jigsaw Jones #15: The Case of the Haunted Scarecrow. In it, I found a mess of index cards with words scribbled on them. Brief, typed passages had been taped to most cards (see below).

As I recall, it was an experiment in plotting, inspired by a method employed by a famous film director (forget who). I had this vision of all these color-coded index cards thumb-tacked to the wall, helping me see the flow of story. Some examples:

CARD SAMPLE #1

Scene: Jigsaw talks w/ X about Solofsky, who is always a suspect.

“He’s a real stone in my shoe.”

“Huh?”

“It’s like a pain in the neck. Only lower.”

——-

CARD SAMPLE #2

Mila

Tough questions.

What If —

Who profits from this, and how?

——-

CARD SAMPLE #3

Mrs. Rigby on sidewalk. With broom. Witch-like. Scary.

Gives credence to magic scarecrow theory.

Does she say something to support this notion?

This goes back to my haberdashery comment from the other day. Like many writers, I begin with scraps and remnants that occur to me in the early stages of brainstorming — snatches of dialogue, an idea for setting, a key moment for a character — and later try to stitch them all together. In the process, a lot of fabric get pushed aside, swept into a heap, thrown away. In this case, the idea on CARD #3 was never used.

An early draft of the book begins with Jigsaw opining:

Don’t get me wrong.

I like leaves. But I like ’em when they’re hanging around. Not when they’re falling to the ground.

Sure, it’s not their fault. You can’t blame a leaf for being a leaf. It’s not like they want to dry up and die. So I blamed my father instead. He’s the one with the big ideas. Every year he makes us rake the yard . . . .

By the final draft, I deleted that preamble and began the book:

Every fall my dad makes us rake the yard, front and back. He calls it “The Big Fall Cleanup.” I call it something else.

——-

There’s a strong Beatles element to this story. At one point, Jigsaw has to venture out alone for a dusky, dangerous meeting:

I walked down Abbey Road. The evening chill nibbled on my ears like a pet parakeet. I turned right onto Penny Lane.

The other Beatles connection is the old, lonely widow who lives in the spooky house, “the Rigby place.” If she keeps her face in a jar by the door, I never mentioned it. But I did think of my own grandmother when I described her:

There was nothing remarkable about Mrs. Eleanor Rigby. There were probably ladies like her all over town. She lived alone in a big old house. She had white hair. She wore a pink sweater with large white buttons. Her right arm, I noticed, trembled nervously.

And she smelled of butterscotch.

What else?

* I usually reference a real book in these stories, and in this one it’s Owls In the Family by Farley Mowat.

* There’s a moment when Kim Lewis, clearly upset over losing a necklace, hires Jigsaw. I like the way he responds internally, when his thoughts speak to the heart of detective work.

I’d seen the same look on other clients. Kim was counting on me. That’s the way it is when you’re a detective. You’re the guy who is supposed to make everything right.

And for a dollar a day, you do the best you can.

* The book features a Double Backward code in a note Jigsaw sends to Mila: EM RETFA DESAHC DNA EVILA EMAC WORCERACS A YRROS.

* People ask me to name my favorite books, and I’ll often reply that I have favorite “moments” in my books, chapters that I like, passages. Here’s one sly bit of humor, with a brief description that I think deepens the mood. While searching for clues, Mila and Jigsaw inspect the scarecrow in front of the Rigby place:

Mila slapped her forehead and exclaimed, “How could I be so dumb!” She reached behind the scarecrow and fumbled with the shirt collar. “My father’s a neat freak,” Mila jabbered. “He organizes everything. He even writes my name in the back of all my clothes.”

She smiled triumphantly. “Look,” she said.

I craned my neck to read the label. “We’re looking for a kid named Eddie Bauer,” I said.

“That’s the clothing label!” Mila said. “Read the other name!”

I read the name that was printed in black marker: BUZZY LENNON.

I looked up at the trees. There were hardly any leaves left. The sky was crisp and bright. Halloween was next week, then Thanksgiving, then the frozen days and nights of winter. I turned to the front door of the sad, old, silent house. “Let’s see if the doorbell works,” I said.

The door slowly opened with an eerie squeak. Mrs. Rigby’s small, red-rimmed eyes blinked in the sun.

“Yes, what is it?” she asked.

* Mrs. Rigby’s name was originally McCartney, to complement the character of Buzzy Lennon, but that changed along the way. Do young readers notice such things? Do they care? Probably not. But I like it, these little homages, and figure a few parents might enjoy them, too.

Alas, Haunted Scarecrow is yet another Jigsaw Jones title that appears unavailable in trade. On sad days, when rain streaks the windows, it doesn’t feel like I’m promoting these books — it’s more like I’m giving them a proper burial. The good news is — and there’s always good news — you can contact Scholastic Book Clubs at a toll-free number, 1-800-724-6527, or go to this website for more information. I hear they are receptive to customer’s requests, and will try to do everything possible to be helpful.

2 comments

  1. Carol Robinson says:

    I just finished reading this book to my 6 year old grandson. The Beatles references make me think of some of the jokes on Sesame Street when I used to watch the program with my children. I remember that I laughed at some of the adult jokes that surely the little tykes had no clue about.

    Was Buzzy LENNON also part of the Beatles thread? Also, liked the Eddie Bauer reference, a la “Back to the Future”, Kevin Klein bit.

    • jimmy says:

      Thank you, Carol. Yes, there’s a lot of Beatles in that book, good on you for noticing. I hadn’t consciously made the connection to “Back to the Future” — I usually know where I’m borrowing from — but now that you mention it, I did enjoy that movie’s Calvin Klein reference. Yes, same idea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *