Archive for Fan Mail

Fan Mail Wednesday #232: Bears In Backyards



I received this note from Ethan, who likes my style. But before I get to that, I should note that 98% of my fan mail comes during the school year, and many arrive with the aroma of “assignment.” That’s not a bad thing, mind you, just reality. In today’s case, this is a letter I received in late July, along with a stamped and self-addressed envelope (love that!). I can’t help but sense a  parent’s helping hand making this all possible.

“Would you like to write to the author?”

I don’t know where I’m going with that observation. Except to say that behind every enthusiastic reader, there’s usually a loving adult helping to cultivate & nurture that experience. Thank you for that, and for this:




I replied:


Dear Ethan,

Thank you for your letter. I am pleased to learn that you like my style. Yes, style points!

You know, it seems like every Spring there’s an incident in Upstate, New York (where we both live), when a bear wanders out of the woods and into a town, or near stores, or into someone’s backyard. It’s a worrying thing, because bears are big, strong,  wild animals. Often, animal control has to get involved for everyone’s safety. I read articles like this in the newspaper every year.

I wondered why this happens, so I found an animal expert. He told me that bears are “territorial,” they like to have their own area –- a territory is like the property of your house –- and that sometimes a big male bear will make a smaller male go find his own territory. They don’t like to share. So the young male goes looking for somewhere to live, and sometimes he gets confused, make a few wrong turns, and ends up at Crossgates Shopping Mall. Yikes! What’s a bear doing at Banana Republic? The poor bear is lost. Bears don’t want to hurt people –- bears are usually shy; they don’t look for trouble -– but bears can be dangerous. It’s a sad and scary situation for everybody.

Writers often start with “what if?” questions. And that’s how I began The Case of the Bear Scare. I’m so glad you read it. Thank you.

This is a rough sketch for an illustration in my upcoming Jigsaw Jones book, THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, illustrated by my pal R.W. Alley. The character depicted here is Joey Pignattano on a stake-out.

This is a rough sketch for an illustration in my upcoming Jigsaw Jones book, THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE, illustrated by my pal R.W. Alley. The character depicted here is Joey Pignattano on a stake-out.

I just finished a new Jigsaw Jones book titled The Case from Outer Space. It will be out in the summer of 2017 and it’s pretty funny. I hope you check it out. My newest book is called The Courage Test (grades 4-7) and comes out in September. And guess what? There’s a mama bear in it, and a boy hiking in the woods of Idaho . . .

Stay cool and have a great summer!

Your friend,

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #231: These Kids Can’t Spell, But They Sure Can Communicate


Just wanted to share four terrific thank-you notes that I received after a school visit. I find that select teachers do that immediately after an author visit: they go back to the room, talk about what happened, and everybody writes. Sounds perfect to me. The debriefing is a valuable part of any new experience. What just happened? What did we learn? What did we like?

I love the artwork and the invented spellings. However, these comments do tend to make my visits sound something less than deeply pedagogical. All I can say, in my defense, is that it’s funny what makes an impression. Despite all my “valuable content,” most young readers respond best to the small details that make an author seem like an actual human being. And, of course, we remember the things that make us laugh.

"I liked the part when you said the diaper on the monkeys. It was funny."

“I liked the part when you said the diaper on the monkeys. It was funny.”

Comment: Um, does this need explanation? As in: Why is a visiting author talking about monkey diapers with our students? I guess you had to be there. But in this case, I gave an example of how a writer works. I needed to write a scene in a pet store, so I took my writer’s journal and visited a pet store. I looked around. I took notes. I found a cage of monkeys that were all wearing diapers. So I put it in the book, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster. The word diaper always gets an easy laugh.

"I liked the pat when you said drive me bananas. I liked every part."

“I liked the pat when you said drive me bananas. I liked every part.”

Comment: Those bananas look suspiciously like giant pieces of macaroni to me. But how about that last line? So sweet. “Evre part.”

"I liked when you said that our grandma was wearing a dead animal on your grandma."

“I liked when you said that our grandma was wearing a dead animal on your grandma.”

Comment: Well, Dean, that wasn’t exactly what I said. But, yes, it’s true. My grandmother wore a mink stole fur wrap. It both fascinated and terrified me.

Scan 4

Comment: The artwork in this one, by Lauren, is just insanely amazing. And again, yes,  this is true: early in talks, I sometimes joke to the little ones that if they call out and raise their hands while I’m trying to talk, that it will drive me bananas and I might jump out the window. Together we agree that wouldn’t be a great way to conclude an author visit — with a trip to the hospital. I ask to save their questions for the end. And then they ask me probing questions like, “I have a dog named Daisy, too.”

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #230: On School Uniforms & Other Items



Hey, look here, a bunch of letters from Alabama! Let me reach my hand into the big barrel and pull out a sample.

It’s from Patrick:


I replied (because I usually do!):


Dear Patrick,

Thank you for your letter. Writing can be lonely work. For example, right this minute I am alone in a room in an empty house, plucking away at the computer keyboard. Just me, by my lonesome, trying to write.

Letters like yours make me smile, and make me feel connected to my readers. I write a book . . . and somebody out there . . . a boy named Patrick . . . reads it. The job wouldn’t be nearly as fun without you. So, again, truly and sincerely: thank you.

I suppose, yes, that Jigsaw is a little like me. We are both the youngest in large families (I am the youngest of seven), and we share the same sense of humor. I was never a detective, however; though I did love to spy on my brothers and sisters. I was sneaky.

You are lucky about the uniforms. I wore a uniform in Catholic school when I was a kid. Purple polka-dotted pants, striped shirt, red suspenders and a big yellow bow tie.

No, just kidding. Green pants, white shirt, green tie. Day after day, week after week, year after year. Sigh.

I just wrote a new “Jigsaw Jones” titled The Case from Outer Space. It will be out in the Spring of 2017. I hope you check it out –- there’s some really funny parts. And since you mentioned ghosts, you might enjoy my “Scary Tales” books. They aren’t hard to read, but they will make your heart go thump, thump, thump.

Stay cool and have a great summer!

That's me, top row, fifth from the left. Big class, huh?

That’s me, top row, fifth from the left. Big class, huh?

Your friend,

James Preller


FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #229: About Those Crazy Names




Here’s one from the Sunshine State!


Dear Mr. Preller,
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.

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.



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
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. 
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

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.
I wrote:
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.”

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.”

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.”

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,
Here is the fabulous reply I received:

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.)

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #227: The New Technology Embedded in this Letter Just Made My Head Explode!


This letter from Madison in Chicago was particularly amazing because it included a video message:

Scan 5

Fortunately my wife, Lisa, was home to help me with it. She downloaded a “QR Reader” app on her phone, we scanned the blobby thing, typed in the password, and instantly a video of Madison appeared on the phone. There she was, reading from my book! Incredible.

Here’s the letter in full, with my reply below:

Scan 2

My answer:

Dear Madison,

Wow, that was so cool. I’ve received many letters before, but yours was the first to include a QR Code. Is that what you call it? Amazing and wonderful to see you in that video. You read very well, and I liked where you were standing with those funky planks in the background, giving your video an artistic touch. Bravo! I appreciate all the work you put into it, and my guess is that your teacher helped a great deal in bringing this new technology into the standard “letter to the author” format. Very cool.

61ZJfCfXgSL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Thanks for reading four out of the six books in my “Scary Tales” series. Good point about Malick in One-Eyed Doll. He really did show a tremendous amount of courage. I liked that aspect of the story, that he was an older brother who looked out for his younger sister, Tiana.

You asked about six billion questions, so let me get to those:

* Correction: I’m now 55 years old. Rats.

* Correction #2: Thank you, but I do look at least several days older than 30. Weeks even. Months, years. Let’s put it this way: If someone thinks I’m 53, I smile, say thank you, and explain that I’ve been eating right and exercising.

* I have given up my dream of playing for the New York Mets. They don’t need me. But just this morning I signed up with a men’s hardball baseball team. I managed a team for years, then gave it up when I decided to coach my son’s All-Star and Travel teams. He just turned 16 and doesn’t need me in the dugout anymore, so now it’s my turn. I guess the lesson there is that if you enjoy something, keep doing it . . . even if it’s not for the New York Mets.

CourageTestFrontCvr* New books? Yes, for sure, that’s my job. I have a new book coming out this October that also touches on the theme of courage. It’s called The Courage Test. It’s about a father who takes his son on an unexpected trip — the entire time, the boy, Will, wonders what’s really going on — and they travel from Fort Mandan in North Dakota west along the Lewis and Clark Trail. So there’s a lot of history built into the story, about the Corps of Discovery, the native people they encountered, Sacagawea, York, and more. They meet new people along the way and have various camping and whitewater adventures. And they do encounter a bear, both literally and metaphorically. I hope you read it! I am also writing a new Jigsaw Jones book. 

* I’ve won some awards over the years, nothing too spectacular, usually by making state lists and whatnot. Books that have won something include: Along Came Spider, Wake Me In Spring, Six Innings, and Bystander

* I can write a Jigsaw Jones book, or a Scary Tales, in two months. Longer books for older readers tend to take more time. Six months, nine months, even years. 

Illustration by Iacopo Bruno from Scary Tales #5: ONE-EYED DOLL.

Illustration by the great Iacopo Bruno from Scary Tales #5: ONE-EYED DOLL.

* My brothers are named Neal, Bill, Al, and John. My sisters are Barbara and Jean. Sadly, I have lost two brothers, Neal and John. Both are gone but not forgotten. My children are Nicholas, Gavin, and Maggie. The boys don’t like scary stories or movies, but Maggie is more like you. She loves to feel a sense of suspense, fear, and anticipation where her heart is racing, going boom, boom, boom. I think I wrote that series for readers like my Maggie.

* Cats are Midnight and Frozone. Our dog is Daisy.

Thank you for your fabulous letter. You really knocked it out of the park.

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #226: Word from an Aspiring Author




Here’s a kind note from an aspiring writer.

Hi! My name is ___ and I am a fifth grader from Sacandaga Elementary school. I was sick when you came and I was so sad. I love to write and your books inspire me! I am reading Justin Fisher Declares War and it makes me randomly laugh! I love having your signature in it! I wish I could have met you! I write to get my mind off things. I am going to start a book called Fake inspired by Bystander! Please get back to me, wish I could have seen you!

Confession I never liked the cover to this one, was hoping for something much more funny and school based, but I do like the tag line: "Fifth grade is no joke."

Confession: I never liked the cover to this one, was hoping for something funny and school-based, but I do like the tagline: “Fifth grade is no joke.” Too bad you can’t see it. Grumble, grumble.

I replied:

 ____, what a bummer! I’m sorry you were sick, I could have used a friendly face in that rough crowd. Just kidding. Everyone at Sacandaga was great — in fact, I loved it so much, I even learned how to spell Sacandaga. When in doubt, type an “a.”

I wrote Justin Fisher immediately after Bystander, which was fairly serious, so I felt like writing something that was humorous and light-hearted. I’m glad you enjoyed both of them, my yin and yang. 

Please give me your address and I’ll try to get something in the mail to you one of these days. But be patient, I’ll be traveling soon. 
I’m always glad to hear from a fellow writer. And for the record, Fake is a great title.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #’s 222 & 223: Two for the Price of Nothing!



Okay, let’s roll. This one is from Kieran in Jersey, and in the interest of time I’ll only show an excerpt:



I replied:

Dear Kieran,

Thanks for your letter. Like you, I prefer The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar over The Case of the Groaning Ghost. There are 40 Jigsaw Jones books. I wanted them all to be brilliant and funny and entertaining, but of course no one can hit home runs every time they get up to the plate. Like the great slugger Ted Williams said, “I just try to put a good swing on the ball.”

As for your questions:

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he's making a big comeback in 2017. I'm so happy about this.

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he’s making a big comeback in 2017. I’m so happy about this.

1) Yes, I am currently writing my first Jigsaw Jones story in seven years. I don’t have a title yet, still fooling around with it. I believe we are hoping that it will come out in 2017.

2) I have gone skiing in some of the same places as you. These days, I prefer cross-country. No lines, no crowds! I’ve never gone snowboarding because I’m pretty sure I’d die.

3) Sorry, I don’t have any photos to send out. That’s just not something that fits my personality. Just the thought of a stack of glossy photos on my desk kind of grosses me out. I think I’m happier in the shadows. You’ll find the autograph below.

My best,



Letter #223 comes from Spokane, WA . . .

Scan 2


I replied:

Dear Dakota,

Hey, thank for that most excellent, typed letter. As you might know, I also write books for younger readers, and it’s refreshing to receive a letter that isn’t stained with grape jelly.

Thanks for reading Bystander and Six Innings. If you aren’t completely sick of me, you might also like The Fall, which explores some of the same themes as Bystander, but from the perspective of the so-called “bully.” It’s written in a first-person journal format, which makes it relatively quick and easy to read.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn't lie: There's a bear.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn’t lie: There’s a bear.

Yes, I love baseball. I guess you are a Mariners fan? I grew up a Mets fan, watching the games with my mother, and let me tell you, we’ve endured some rough seasons. But things are looking up these days. Got to love those big arms. My dream was to be a pitcher, but no fastball. Didn’t have the arm. Stupid DNA.

Good luck with ball this season. From the evidence of your letter, you are well on your way to becoming a very accomplished writer. I hope you keep it up. Sometimes our talents surprise us, in that they don’t always come from the expected places. You might dream of becoming a great ballplayer, like I did, only to discover that you have an innate talent for architecture, or medicine, or writing.

You never know!

BTW, nice signature. It will come in handy when you’re famous. 


FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #221: Free for Everyone to Ignore!



Readers should know that I don’t post every answer I give to fan mail. That would get incredibly boring, believe me. But when the letters are funny, or somehow fresh, or if I think my reply might be of interest to a wider readership, I share it here. This way, everyone gets a chance to ignore it.

Okay, got that? Cool.

This was a daunting collection of letters — all including individual SASEs, meaning that I had to lick 20 envelopes, yuck — but I did my best to offer a good reply, while keeping the process under two hours.


Here’s how I replied:


Dear ______________,

Today I was incredibly grateful to read through 20 letters from Mr. Frommann’s class, including one from you. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to respond to each letter individually. Since there was degree of overlap, it’s my hope that a single letter will suffice. (Hey, I’m doing my best, folks!)

Here goes nothing, in no particular order:

Evan wrote: “Your book is by far the most down to Earth book I have read in a long time.” Thanks. I tried to make BYSTANDER as realistic as possible.

9780312547967Many of you asked about a sequel, but Isabella framed it most charmingly: “With many questions to be answered, might I suggest writing a sequel?” Ha! Yes, you may suggest it, Isabella. At this point, I have no plans for a sequel, nor do I think that a novel should –- even if it could, and it can’t! –- answer every single question. I like that “fan fiction” has become popular, where readers respond to books . . . by writing. Maybe that’s the best way to find out more about these characters. Make something up. (It worked for me!)

Brittany made me happy: “You are an amazing writer with amazing details. It made me feel as if I was in the book too. You are a fantastic writer!” Well, you know the way to a writer’s heart. Thank you. Others said equally kind things. I can only say thanks. A writer is nothing without readers like you. Like Wayne and Garth say, “I am not worthy!!!”


Madison: “It’s okay if you don’t reply, although I would like it if you did.” Fair enough!

Many of you asked about David’s family. I imagine that you discussed it in class. To me, that’s when the book I wrote years ago truly comes alive. When readers think about it, feel it, complain, debate, etc. There are no right answers. As a reader –- and I read all the time, always, every day –- I often think a book is best when I have to look away, lost in thought. That is, when it makes me stop reading . . . and start thinking. Does that ever happen to you?

Anyway, “G” had a theory on David and I want to share it. But first, I laughed when he wrote that the ending was “kind of bad.” Oh well! Later in the letter, he wondered about David’s parents: “Well, I have a theory. He doesn’t tell his parents because he thinks Griffin would be mad and not want to be ‘friends’ and in Chapter 13, ‘Pretzel,’ Hallenback says nothing to the monitor.”

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! I did a great deal of research on the topic of bullying, and one thing that frequently came up was that many targets go to great lengths to hide the fact they were being bullied. We can all speculate on the different reasons why that might be.

Avery and several others asked if I’ve been bullied as a kid, and the answer is no. I’ve been a witness, a bystander. And yes, I guess I wrote the book to “raise awareness,” in Charlotte’s phrase. Stories have a unique power to help us feel things, to step into someone else’s shoes, and through stories we build empathy and compassion.

Surely the world can use more of that.

Lucas complimented me on the “great visualization” in the book, and that pleased me, since that’s something every good writer tries to accomplish. I want to reader to “see” what’s happening, as if watching a film in the back of his or her skull.

The upcoming paperback cover to THE FALL (September 2016). Now available only in hardcover.

The upcoming paperback cover to THE FALL (September 2016). Now available only in hardcover.

Guys, gals, Mr. Frommann, I’ve got to go! I’ve got three kids upstairs who are hungry. And I’ve got a new book to write. Oh, wait, about the sequel. I should say that after writing BYSTANDER, I remained interested in the perspective of the so-called bully. That’s why I wrote THE FALL, which I see as a companion to BYSTANDER. Along the lines of, “If you liked BYSTANDER, you might also like . . .”

So if you are looking for something else by me, check it out. It’s in hardcover new, paperback in September. And I’m really proud of it. My book SIX INNINGS is also good for 6th graders who like baseball. It even won an ALA Notable!

Thanks for your letters. I’m sorry if I didn’t mention you by name in this missive. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy your letter. Just ran out of time!

Peace out!

James Preller

P.S. I’m bummed about David Bowie today. I have 104 of his songs on my iPod, so I think I’m just going to roll through them all today.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #220: “If You Don’t Like It, Write Better”



While — sure! of course! — I always enjoy receiving a big, old, 8 1/2″ x 11″ envelope filled with student letters, I admit to mixed feelings. Yes, I’m grateful and honored. Yet I can’t help but recognize that this was the product of an assignment. Some letters can seem rote, and I get it. However, I recently received a particularly wonderful batch, 23 letters in all, filled with insights & curiosity & ridiculously kind words. Here’s the teacher’s cover letter and my response to the class . . .


Scan 4



I replied at length:

Dear Ms. Becker & Students,

Thank you for that impressive package of letters. I’ve received similar packages before, but yours was particularly outstanding for the overall quality of the letters. They struck me as authentic, rather than, say, written by a bored kid going through the motions.

And, hey, if you were a bored kid going through the motions, good job, you sure fooled me!

I’m sorry to say that I simply don’t have the time to respond to your letters in the manner that you deserve. I apologize for my one-size-fits-all reply.

Several of you asked about a sequel, and I didn’t plan on one while writing the book. I was satisfied with the ending, leaving the future for these characters up to the reader. People ask what happens to them –- and that’s a nice compliment to give a writer – but the honest answer is that I don’t know. Or more to the point, I never got around to making up those stories. Books have to end somewhere, or else I’d be writing about Mary’s grandchildren.

Even so, I remained interested in the perspective of the so-called bully. That’s why I wrote THE FALL, which I see as a companion to BYSTANDER. Along the lines of, “If you liked BYSTANDER, you might also like . . .”



Jessica asked if anyone helped me with the story: Yes, my editor, Liz Szabla, was particularly important with this book. Mostly her help was in the form of conversations. We talked about the ideas, our own experiences, things we’ve seen and felt. She didn’t really inject herself into the writing of the book -– she left that up to me – but she was a great sounding board. In life, it’s essential to have that person who says to you, “I believe in you. Go for it.” For this book, for me, that person was Liz.

Philip asked if I have “a secondary job in case book writing fall through.” That kind of made me laugh, while giving me a minor heart attack. Do you know something I don’t know? Philip even included a bonus scene, where I could glimpse a future adventure for Eric. I liked it; nice work. BTW, Philip, to answer your question: No, I don’t. And some days it scares me silly. No kidding.

Some asked about Eric’s father and how he might figure in the book’s ending, or, I should say, an alternative ending for the book. If you go to my blog and search, “My Brother John . . . in BYSTANDER,” you’ll get the background story about Eric’s father. It’s not a tale with a happy ending, I’m sorry to say.

Many of you said really, really kind things to me. I want you to know that I appreciate your kindness. In particular, Alyssa, thank you! Paige and Grace and Katelyn and Toby, you guys, too. The truth is, this can be a hard business sometimes. It’s not easy to make a living. It’s not easy to be rejected, or suffer poor sales, or watch a good book go out of print. I am often filled with doubts and uncertainties. There are times, especially recently, when I feel like a failure. Lately I’ve been thinking of myself as “moderately talented.” Nothing great, you know? Oh well. But this is what I do, what I love, and I have to keep working at it. I have a Post-It note on my computer that reads: “IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, WRITE BETTER.” That’s what I’m trying to do.

My current mantra.

My current mantra.

I just wrote a book about a father and a son traveling along the Lewis & Clark trail. It’s a genre-bending blend of nonfiction and fiction, a story of family, a wilderness adventure –- whitewater rapids, an encounter with a bear –- and, I hope, a quest for the real America. The book, titled THE COURAGE TEST, should be out in 2016. After that, I wrote a pretty wild story that’s set in the not-too-distant future. And, yes, there are zombies in it –- but it’s not their fault! I’m also trying to write haikus, making a small study of them, because I’ve got the seed of an idea. They are not as easy as they look!

The next idea is always the flame that burns the brightest, that keeps creative people moving forward -– making paintings, performing in plays, practicing the guitar, telling stories. We all have to find the thing that makes us happy. And if you are lucky enough to find it, then hold on tight.

Thank you –- each one of you – but I’ve got to get to work! I’m sorry again for not writing to you individually. Thanks for understanding.

James Preller