Archive for Fan Mail

Fan Mail Wednesday #287: Writing Advice from Turkey

Here’s one all the way from Turkey . . .

Dear Mr. Preller,
I am a 5th grade student in Turkey and I read “The Case of the Best Pet Ever” as my project homework. I think that your book was very entertaining for kids like me who like mystery books. Jigsaw and Mila worked hard to find evidences and questioned suspects to solve the mystery of the stolen prize. I liked the book because it has a surprise ending, I wasn’t expecting Rags to win the medal. Jigsaw thought that Rags was a hopeless and useless dog but when Rags found the prize Jigsaw understood that everyone has their own talents. Rags may not be a very talented dog to win a pet competition but he is talented in finding treasures. I also liked the friendship and teamwork between Mila and Jigsaw. There were a lot of nice sayings like “Try to be the person your dog thinks you are.” My favorite simile was “I was as frustrated as a dentist in a candy store”. If I were you I would write more about the things they do to solve the mystery to keep the curiosity level higher. I will definitely read more of your books and thank you for your time.
Best Regards,
Derin ______
I replied . . .
Dear Derin,
You wrote an excellent letter, filled with good observations and sharp understanding. Thanks for that. 
It’s funny, I get a fair amount of letters from Turkey. My guess is that there’s one teacher there — somewhere! — who has a bin of my books. I’m grateful to that mysterious superfan.

Featuring illustrations throughout by R.W. Alley!

I always have bittersweet feelings about this particular book. I’ve written many, as you know; the newest title, The Case of the Hat Burglar (Macmillan, August 2019) will be the 42nd in the series. So, yeah, that’s crazy. Some books are more successful than others. Or in kinder terms, each has different strengths and weaknesses. Some are funnier; some have sturdier mysteries, better detective work; some have more heart, emotion; and so on.

This particular title came at a time when my oldest son, Nicholas (now 25), had been diagnosed with cancer. Just a little boy, dangerously sick. It was a hard time for our family. I did my best to work through those times, but on Best Pet Ever I had some help from a co-writer. I did my best, I’m responsible for every word, but I might have been floating in outer space when it was all happening. Anyway, today Nick is healthy and strong and living in the Big Apple, i.e., New York City. 
Thanks for your letter. I do hear your advice about the detective work. I’ll keep trying!
All good things,
James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #286: Inspired by “The Twilight Zone”

 

This one comes from Seattle, via a terrific tutor who went the extra yard for her student . . .

Dear Mr. Preller, 
My tutor and I were reading your book, Scary Tales: I Scream, You Scream and we loved it a lot.  We reached the end of the book and you left it on a cliffhanger.  We thought that it would be awesome if you could make a sequel to this book. I would love it if we could know what happens to Sam and Andy and Mr. Overstreet. 
I love this kind of story telling. I love scary books and after reading this book you’re my go to author for scary books.   
Are you going to make a new book for Sam and Andy?  
I think your work is great.  If you could make a new book it would definitely be a book I would tell my friends about.
I think you are a genius.
Sincerely,
Oscar
P.S.  I am using my tutor’s email to write to you.  

 

I replied . . .
Oscar!
Thank you so much for this outrageously kind letter. Genius? I’m afraid not! But I’m very glad you found my “Scary Tales” series — there are 6 books in all — maybe more to come someday. We can only hope.
Don’t you love Iacopo Bruno’s illustrations? I sure do. 
Have you ever heard of Fan Fiction? It’s where readers respond to books . . . by writing. Each new writer takes on those same characters to explore new adventures, new situations. By all means, feel free to write a scene or an entire story based on what you think could happen in a sequel. And if you do write something, send it my way!
For this series of books, I was very much inspired by the old “Twilight Zone” show. Each episode was different — new characters, new situations, and often different genres — but each one provided a unique twist. Viewers always got that “Twilight Zone” experience. I’ve tried to achieve that format and feeling in these six books. These days, I’m super excited that Jordan Peele is bringing back a new Twilight Zone for your generation. 
My new scary story is actually realistic fiction. A wilderness survival story titled Blood Mountain. A brother and a sister lost in the mountains. It comes out in October and I’m so proud of it. 
Please thank your most excellent tutor for sharing my books with you. 
My very best,
James Preller



Fan Mail Wednesday #284: Emergency Author Interview!

 

At a recent school visit, an eager student came up to me after a presentation hoping for an interview. Unfortunately, it was toward the end of the day, I still had books to sign, etc. There wasn’t time. I said I’d be happy to answer questions if she wrote to me. Usually it ends there.

And guess what? She persisted.

We admire that attribute in young women, don’t we?

Here’s the email, sent by Chloe’s librarian, and my response.

 

Hi Jimmy,

I apologize for the rush, but a student of mine, Chloe, has some interview questions that she needs answering as soon as possible.
1. What was the first  book you ever wrote?
2. What was the favorite book that you’ve ever written?
3. If you were not an author, what would be your second career and why?
4. From where do you get your inspiration? Do your kids inspire you?
5. When you were young, were you good at reading?
6. What is your favorite book?
7. What “role” did you play when you were in school? Were you the teacher’s pet? The sports jock? The bully?  etc
8. Why don’t any of your characters get killed?
9. How does your childhood affect your career as a writer?
10. What made you decide to become a writer?
11. Are you working on a new book? And if so, what is it about?
12. Would you want to choose any of the covers for your books?
13. How long do you think you will keep writing?
Thank you so much!
Aliya
I replied:
Since this is a rush, let me answer without too much thinking . . .
1. Maxx Trax: Avalanche Rescue! It was a picture book about superpowered trucks.
2. Blood Mountain, coming in October.
3. Editor. Something with a creative element involving books.
4. Inspiration is all around me, including my children.
5. Good at reading? Hmmm, I think so; I don’t recall having any problems with it. But I was not an enthusiastic reader until high school, college.
6. Of all books? Oh my. Where the Wild Things Are is pretty darn good! I like Owl Moon a lot. My favorite novel from the past year is titled Overstory by Richard Powers.
7. I didn’t really fit into a category. Not a jock, not a clown. I flew under the radar with a small group of close friends. The misfits?
8. I have had characters die in The Fall and Before You Go, but those books are for older readers (grades 7-up). I’ve also had characters face serious illness in Six Innings and The Courage Test. So it’s not all been just rainbows, cupcakes and unicorns. And, technically, Adrian in Better Off Undead is a 7th-grade zombie — he died and reanimated — so I’ve got that covered, too.
9. My childhood, my roots, profoundly affect everything I write. Most clearly and obviously in the Jigsaw Jones series, where he is the youngest of a large family — like me.
10. I don’t think we “decide” to be writers, so much as we pick up a pen and make time to write. It can be a journal, a letter, a poem, a story, whatever. It’s just how I’ve processed my thoughts and feelings.
11. I am the “thinking” stage of a new book that features Mary, a minor (but crucial) character in the book Bystander. Haven’t written a word yet — but I’m getting there!
12. Would I like more of a voice in the creation of my book covers? Yes, yes, yes.
13. I will write until the day I die. There’s no reason to stop. Of course, I may not have any readers left. But the truth is, I’d do it anyway!
Thanks for asking.
 
My best,
James Preller



 

Fan Mail Wednesday #283: Madalyn’s Note

 

It happens fairly often on school visits. After a day of presentations, somebody hands me a note. In this case, a friend delivered it for a friend. I said thanks and tucked the folded page into my bag. My reply is below.

 

 

Madalyn, 

I totally remember you. 

You asked a question — and you wore a Hufflepuff sweatshirt. Is that right? You self-identified as a huge Harry Potter “maniac.” I noticed you when I gave my presentation. You were present, listening, involved, soaking it all up. That is, in other words, you were perfect. And impressive. Thank you. I’ve had kids fall asleep, you know! Teachers, too!

Anyway, hey, thanks for going the extra yard and writing that kind note. 

I know you are a big reader. And I’m sorry to report I have not written any books that are 10,000 pages long. To me, reading and writing have always been connected. One feeds the other in a long, beautiful, continuous loop. Every writer is different, but we are all readers. Book lovers. 

Like you.

Get yourself a journal. A place to go with your thoughts. If you go to a movie, tape the ticket into it. Write about what makes you mad, or sad, or causes you to laugh out loud. Maybe start a story one day. Or not. It’s okay. There’s no hurry.

Oh: I forgot to tell you! I have a picture book coming out next year, ALL WELCOME HERE, that’s illustrated by Mary GrandPre. Yes, the incredible artist who did the art in all the original Harry Potter books. So I guess I have a Harry Potter connection, too. Isn’t that cool? I thought you’d appreciate it, as a Harry Potter fan. At least Madalyn will understand my excitement. After all, she’s a maniac.

     Love your self-portrait with the manga eyes. Stylish and hip.

Be well & keep reading, my friend,

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #282: Art & Poems from Ohio!

I received one of those rare, beautiful packages that fortunate folks in my line of work sometimes get — an envelope bursting with kind wishes from a classroom of young artists and writers, all masterfully orchestrated by a creative, book-loving teacher.

Each second-grade student made a watercolor painting on one side of the card, along with a haiku on the reverse side. (And boy, wouldn’t it be great if that became a thing — sending me haiku written by elementary school students. I’m all in.)

Here’s a few random examples to give you an idea of the poems and birthday wishes . . .

 

 

 

Believe me, I could have shared any number of them. All the students did a great job. Thank you, boys and girls and class hamster.

I replied to the class:

 

Dear Mrs. L,

It is such a nice thing to have good friends in Ohio. I feel truly blessed to receive your spectacular package in the mail. It combines so many of things I love into one simple manila envelope: artwork by young people, haiku, a love of books, good memories, friendship.

I’ve laid out the cards on my floor and I’m admiring them now. Such variety: snowflakes and snowpeople and rainbows and falling snow. But it’s the haiku I love the most. As you know, I have a book of haiku coming out . . . someday. It takes so long. I wrote the haiku back in 2016. The artist, Mary GrandPre –- who illustrated the Harry Potter books –- signed on to do the artwork. But it takes time to make a book. In this case, four years. It’s been delayed twice. The waiting is the hardest part. Now I’m hearing Spring of 2020. Oh well. In the end, all that matters is the finished book. When you hold a book in your hands, you don’t worry if the art came in late or not. Or if the publisher was slow in the turn around. You just want a satisfying book that touches your heart.

In the meantime, I still try to write at least one haiku every single day. It doesn’t always happen, but I do try to take a few minutes to look at things, to appreciate the moment. Yesterday I drove in a gusty winter storm, watching the wind whip the light, powdery snow in swirls, so I wrote:

 

Wind-swept snow twirling

in graceful patterns -– dancers

In satin dresses.

 

I don’t think that haiku is quite right — maybe it will never be — but I’ll likely revise it over the next few days. No matter, now I’ll always remember the way the wind moved that light, powdery snow.

Maybe the wind and snow were dancing together?

You are right: R.W. Alley –- we call him “Bob” –- is a terrific illustrator. I love his work; he really makes those characters come alive. I think, also, that Bob sees the kindness in the Jigsaw Jones stories, and you can feel it in his warm drawings.

You know, people complain about the winter. Well, people complain about a lot of things. But right now I’m sitting with a puppy at my feet –- his name is Echo –- and he’s a terror –- and there’s a blanket of snow on the ground. I can’t see the shape of the sun, hidden in the gray haze, but there’s a sharp brightness trying to pierce through the clouds. Faint shadows of tall pines lay quivering on the land. The world is a beautiful place, don’t you agree?

I loved my visit to your school last year. You laughed and laughed. I can close my eyes and hear it still. Thanks for your friendship.

All good things, your friend,

James Preller

 

P.S. Mrs. L can call me Jimmy!