Archive for December 28, 2017

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #263: It’s 2 Degrees Out, Let’s Talk Baseball (Obviously)!


The mail always gets delivered — through rain, sleet, and mind-numbingly (toe-numbingly?) cold weather. This one’s from Kaprice in Iowa!


I replied:

Dear Kaprice,

I am always glad to receive a letter about Six Innings, but it’s especially true today in the midst of frozen winter. It is actually 2 degrees outside as I type this. Two skinny degrees! Fortunately the sky is clear, the color of a robin’s egg, and the sun brightly reflected on the snow. Not a good day for baseball, but not so bad for sipping tea and staring out the window.

Titles can be tricky! For some books, I know the title from the beginning: Bystander and Six Innings, for example. For my new book, Better Off Undead, oh dear, that one took forever. But that book took me six years to write (don’t ask!), so I had plenty of time to come up with a lot of bad ideas. My original title was Zombie Me, which I still think is pretty good.

paperback-cover-six-inningsLike you, I am a baseball fan and enjoy reading about the sport. Roger Angell once famously quipped that writers love baseball so much because it’s the only sport that’s slow enough for them to understand. For Six Innings, my idea was to use the game as a structure for writing about characters, people. I knew from the beginning that I wanted the heart of the book to take place over the course of one game, six innings at the Little League level. But again: the game was only a device for exploring character. Real people, what they think and feel.

My oldest son, Nick, 24, is a two-time cancer survivor. I was inspired by his experiences, in particular his friendship with a boy named Sam Lewis. I find that’s often how it works with writing: the details of our own life inevitably leak into our stories, even the ones that are “made up.”

Thank you & Happy New Year!

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #262: A Remarkable Letter from Istanbul



Such an impressive letter from a young reader in Istanbul . . . 


Dear Mr. James Preller,

Hello, my name is Damla. I am a 9 years old 5th grade student from İstanbul Hisar School. I read your book named “ The case from outer space”. Your book was very fun and interesting and I want to share my thoughts with you in this letter.


First of all the Jigsaw Jones character was my favorite because he has good friends, he is smart and fun. Also he likes adventures and that’s why he is curious.

I chose to first read this book from the series because I am interested in getting to know more about space!

I was very curious about what would happen and what all those codes meant. So I kept reading and reading.

Finally finding out that it wasn’t an alien but a lady astrounot coming to school was a great surprise to me.

If I could be one of the kids I wish I was Jigsaw because you created this character with great curiosity, courage and power to finish whatever he starts.

Thank you for creating such a story and writing it so nicely so that I could read.

Best Regards,

I replied . . .

Dear Damla,

That was a gorgeous letter, Damla, so kind and thoughtfully crafted. Thank you very much for that.

And all the way from Istanbul, too!

You are right about Jigsaw. It’s not that he’s the smartest guy in the room. But he’s got spirit and integrity and he never gives up. Fortunately, as you noted, Jigsaw has good friends, especially Mila. She helps him a lot.


Yes, I really like outer space too. It’s something that fascinates me. The great unknown. One of the ideas the book asks is if there’s life in outer space. Okay, perhaps not little green men from Mars. Or, um, definitely not men from Mars. But why not from some other distant planet? Perhaps a planet we don’t even know about yet!

When I researched for the book, I read about scientists who have made it their life’s work to listen for messages from deep space. They keep sending out signals, working to improve their equipment, hoping that someday, somehow, we people of earth will receive an answer. That’s why I ended the book the way I did, with the notion that maybe our current phones just aren’t good enough yet.

Like those cell phone commercials: “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?”

I particularly like that final chapter when Jigsaw, Grams, and his father walk out into an open field to stare up at the night sky. Haven’t we all done this?


“Oh hush, you two,” Grams said. “Just look at the stars.”

And so we did.

We stood in an open field.

In the dark of night.

And gazed at the stars.

In perfect silence.

“That’s the real mystery, Jigsaw,” my father said. “Are we alone in the universe? We don’t know yet. It’s a mystery that can’t be solved –- even by the best detectives.”

“Not yet,” I said, gazing at the night sky. “Not yet.”

Not terrible, right? Don’t you love that illustration by R.W. Alley? His real name is Bob. I love those brief, quiet, family moments in these books. I try to tug at the reader’s heart a little bit if I can. 

Thank you for that truly exceptional letter, Damla. Here in the United States, a 5th grade student is usually 11 years old. Our 9-year-olds tend to be in our version of 3rd grade. It’s just one of the little cultural differences between us.

You know what? Boy, I’d love to see photo of you and your school. Your teacher. Your friends. Your dog. Whatever you want. You don’t have to send me anything — no pressure — I’m just happy to have a reader so far away. I’d love to see your face.

When you get a tiny bit older, and a more accomplished reader, you might like my new books The Courage Test and my brand-new one, Better Off Undead. I’d love to think of you with one of those books in your hands (and my words in your head).

Until then, I’d like to imagine that you and I will both step outside on the same warm night, to look up in silence at the same twinkling stars and distant planets, full of wonder and happiness.

Your friend, truly, 

James Preller

Four New Jigsaw Jones Titles Just Published: And Then There Were Nine!


Hey, hey, look here!

Macmillan has just come out with four more Jigsaw Jones titles. Each one is newly revised and updated. For more on that process, go here to the Nerdy Book Club. It’s kind of interesting, actually.

After struggling through a dark few years where no Jigsaw Jones titles were available, now we’re back in business. As of today, there are nine early chapter book available to a new generation of readers — and that makes me very happy. 

Take a look at my dedication from The Case of the Million-Dollar Mystery:


I am truly grateful for every teacher and librarian who has helped kept Jigsaw on their classroom shelves and in their school libraries. These books simply don’t get into the hands of your readers without your help. I am grateful and indebted.

Also available:

61ZSo6aljVL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_     61zeQwFgrZL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_     61oEluAvG+L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_     61Aa4mCR8tL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

I'll be featuring my new Jigsaw Jones book: THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, and many others.

I’m Crowdsourcing My New Year’s Resolutions



In case you missed the headline, I’m crowdsourcing my New Year’s Resolutions for 2018. Because who knows better than you? No-bah-dee. I’m in such deep denial about my faults that I’m not going to be any help at all. I’m just staring at a blank paper here. 


Besides, the old way of doing resolutions doesn’t work. We’ve all been there. The calendar year turns and it’s time to make our big New Year’s Resolution. Or Resolution(s) if we’re feeling particularly ambitious — or covering our bases in the event of, you know, not bothering. Often people pick one big thing, for instance, “Lose Ten Pounds,” or “Spend Less Time on Social Media.” 


The whole concept never takes hold. By late January there’s broken resolutions scattered everywhere. Collectively, across the country, we’re unresolved.


Because there’s too much pressure on that one big resolution. The success of an entire year rises or falls on that single thing. Did you learn how to macrame? Did you read more “serious novels”? Did you give up wheat? (You never even tried, did you?) Twelve months later you look back and it’s an “epic fail” because of course you didn’t lose those last ten pounds, nobody dreamed you would, in fact you packed on six more. Oh well.

I’ve come to believe that it’s much better to spread our the burden of resolutions as if they came in a large tub of room-temperature margarine. I’m not talking about a tub of ten solutions. Or even twenty. I’m talking about a very, very large tub.


I’m announcing my intention of having 1,000 resolutions in place and fully documented by midnight, December 31st. In fact, while typing this I thought of my first resolution:

1) Never again say or type “epic fail.” In fact:

2) Never say or type “epic” anything. That word sucks now.

See? I need only 998 more resolutions.

Oh, wait:

3) Read at least one poem a day.

4) Don’t get my hopes up. Across the board. Just. Don’t.

Now here’s where you come in. I need only 996 more resolutions.


Oh, wait, again:

5) Don’t believe any swimmer when he or she tells me the water is “refreshing.” That person with blue lips is a liar. Don’t get fooled again!

6) Say “namaste” at least once this year and actually believe it instead of, you know, faking it. I think it has something to do with a light.

7) Enough already with the IPAs.

8) Help more with housework.

8A) Ask Lisa where she keeps the broom. 

8B) Do we own a broom?

8C) Buy Lisa a broom for her birthday.

9) Boo somebody, anybody, but not an athlete. Ideas: baristas, politicians, family members, random strangers, the plumber, etc. Really let ’em have it.

10) Write Bill McKibbon a fan letter.

11) If it doesn’t look delicious, don’t eat it. Tasting things that look horrible is not open-minded, it’s overrated. Trust my eyes.

12) Tell Paul what I really, really think about him. Truth to power!

13) Get other people to finish my lists.

Okay, I need 987 more.

Got any suggestions?


FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #261: Aloha, Cody!


Oh, that face!

This is Cody, a precocious 5-year-old from Hawaii who just read his first chapter book all by himself. He’s also a contest winner. I actually have a hard time giving away free books on my blog. I try, and sometimes succeed, but generally don’t get a big response. People don’t read blogs that often — and I totally understand that — and, I suspect, if they are like me, they likely figure, “Oh, I never win anything anyway.”

Cody’s mother wrote:

My 5 year old Kindergarten son just picked “Good Night, Zombie” out at the library on November 2nd. This was his first chapter book EVER! He just finished it this morning before school. When I was googling the book to see what reading level it was, I came across the contest…that just ended. However. He was excited to do it and I was excited to share with you that my little guy loved the book. He told me after reading it that he had to get number one and three books (since the one he chose is number three). I wanted to thank you for your book!! My son enjoyed it…and got a little scared too! Which made me happy because I knew he was comprehending what he read. 


I replied by sending Cody two books. While I think “scary” is highly individual in how readers respond to it, I wanted to give Cody a mellower option so tossed in a signed Jigsaw Jones, too. Five years old felt a little young to me. But again, as I half-apologetically tell kids (in grades 3-up) on school visits, “Nobody gets murdered in these books.”

They groan, good-naturedly, in disappointment.


By the way, I loved Cody’s mom’s comment that she was happy he got a little scared because it showed he understood what he was reading.

I don’t think it’s the end of the world if a reader gets a little scared, either. The heart goes boom-boom-boom. I think it’s in those moments of disequilibrium, of “up-set-ment,” when learning takes place.

I believe I’m in the business of disturbing the universe. It’s my job.