Archive for Fan Mail

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #317: “Guess I’ll Go Eat Worms!”

Sometimes a letter from a reader makes me pick up an old book, leaf through the pages. Often there’s a surprise. This one reminded of a song we used to sing long ago on the Adelphi Road of my childhood. 
Hello my name is Ali and ı am 10 years old, I read your book the mummy mystery and I want to give my opinion:
The book was great because they have to find the mummy mystery and they never heard any mummies in their neighborhood. My favorite character was joey because he was so brave and smart but he was a child and a detective he could find and clue for the missing things. Thats why I loved your book.
I replied . . . 

Ali,
Thank you for your kind note. It is a gift to me — to hear what a reader like you thinks about one of my books. 
I’m glad that you enjoyed Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Mummy Mystery
As a little boy, my brothers used to sing that song to me: 
“Nobody likes me,
Everybody hates me,
Guess I’ll go eat worms.
First you peel the skin off,
then you chew the guts up,
Ooey-gooey woooorms!”
I always remembered that (gross) song. Years later, when it was time to write this book, I decided to put that song into it. That’s how writing often works for me. The small memories, the little events, the details of our lives help us compose the stories that make sense of our past. 
Keep reading!
James Preller
And Ali wrote back with a correction . . . 
I am so excited to receive a response back from you, I never thought I would get a reply from the author of the book I read! I am thrilled! 
I am really glad that you liked my opinion. I had some mistakes in the email I sent. My favorite character was Jigsaw but i accidentally wrote Joey.
Kind regards,
Ali 

Sweet Note from a “Retired” Teacher: (I Don’t Think the Good Ones Ever Really Retire)

This sweet note, out of the blue, made me feel better about everything. 

 

Good morning James,
I had written to you last year regarding word choice in one of your books. I have recently retired and subbing one day a week. My task is to buy books and target reluctant readers. I thought I’d share with you my growing collection. The students are really enjoying them.
Thank you,
C

Fan Mail Wednesday #316: Eight Questions from an Old Fan

You never know what’s going to be in ye olde in-box. In this case, more sophisticated questions and, in return, more realistic answers. 

 

Michael writes . . .

Growing up I was a big fan of your Jigsaw Jones books. I can’t remember when I last read them, but I’ve never forgotten them! I am currently enrolled in an English Capstone college course that features an assignment for me to interview someone with an English-related occupation, and my mind jumped to authors, which then jumped to you. If you are willing to answer a few questions within the next couple days, I’d greatly appreciate it. If you do not wish to or are unavailable after Wednesday, no worries. Thank you very much for your writings and I hope this message finds you well.

 

I replied . . . 
Sure, let’s see what you’ve got. Obviously if it’s too many questions, under a tight deadline, that’s not going to work.
Michael again . . .
I appreciate your interest! To make it easier, as the professor okay’d the e-mail method, I will send you the questions here and you may answer them at any time, at any length you wish. Here’s what I have:
1) What is your favorite aspect of your job?
2) What is the biggest con about your job?
3) What traits or skill would be most useful for someone or desirable for someone entering the field you are in?
4) What was the deciding factor for you in choosing this career over other ones?
5) What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing the career you are in?
6) What is a typical work day like for you?
7) Did you find unexpected barriers in pursuing your work and / or communicating with others in the field?
8) Is there anything you would have done differently in preparing for your career?
Please take your time, and whenever you can respond is excellent. I am eager to learn about you and your field! Thank you very much!
My reply . . .


1. The writing, when it is going well. There’s a lot about the business that is wonderful and parts that are heartbreaking and awful. The act of creating is the thing that pulls me back every time. It’s the core of what I do. The pleasure and satisfaction of making things, of self-expression, of putting something out into the world that would never exist without me.

2. The biggest con? Oh, gosh. The financial insecurity.
3. Talent. To do this job, you have to believe that good work will find a way.
4. It wasn’t a cold analytical decision. Certainly not a “reasonable” one. I’ve always believed in following your enthusiasms, trusting your enthusiasms, and that worthy considerations such as benefits and a solid health plan never entered into it. I wanted to do something that I loved. You don’t really go into it as “a career,” so much as you try to do this one thing in front of you, then the next, then the next, etc. For me, it started with a love of books and writing that has never let go. Not to be over-dramatic about it, or too self-regarding, but writing well — for years and years and years — is extremely hard and not always rewarding. You have to pick yourself up off the floor a lot.
5. Know that it’s going to be difficult and uncertain, that you’ll most likely need to make money another way. I’d advise doing it on the side until you are firmly established. Get a good job. Or, hey, partner up with a lawyer! OTOH, I think there’s a period — oh, youth! — when you should pursue your dreams to the fullest with total commitment. But there may be a point when you realize that you’ll never play shortstop for the Yankees. It’s good to have some kind of backup plan.
6. Desk, laptop, normal hours.
7. Being a mid-list author with a proven track record — quality work, solid working relationships, hitting deadlines — all the stuff that comes with being “a pro” — can become a negative at a certain point. I didn’t expect that. You are clearly not the Next Big Thing. The numbers don’t lie. In our culture, we tend to discard too easily and are forever chasing after the Next Big Thing.
8. I am not positive that I should have done this at all, at least as a primary job. Might have been a mistake. But here we are, feels like it’s too late now. The final chapters haven’t been written yet.
James Preller
Art by R.W. Alley.



Fan Mail Wednesday #315: Alexander in Alabama, Still Deciding If He Wants to be a Writer

 

 

This one came the old-fashioned way, so here’s a snap of it . . . 

 

My reply . . . 

 

Dear Alexander,

It’s a mystery. Your letter is dated “September 3,” but the envelope is postmarked “21 Oct.” And here we are in November. Time flies, I guess. Or maybe it’s just a really, really long walk for you to the post office?

Anyway, we’re here now, altogether!

Thank you for reading my Jigsaw Jones books. I like your strategy: If bored, read book. Works for me, too. 

The trick to the Secret Valentine, by the way, was that it centered on a gender assumption. You see this technique in other mysteries in movies, books, and television. It’s a magician’s trick, too, called a misdirection, where essentially the “trick” is to get you looking at the wrong thing. The detective assumes that the perpetrator (the person who carries out the “crime,” in this case, simply sending a card) is female. Well, not always!

I liked Jigsaw’s complaint to Mila early in the mystery: “You know what the worst part is. This girl is ruining a perfectly good holiday. I mean, I like Valentine’s Day. You get to eat cupcakes. Why does she have to drag love into it?”

So, you suggested a book title: The Case of the Neighborhood Gaser. But you neglected to describe the plot. Is this a book about someone who FARTS A LOT??!! Are you suggesting that I write an entire book about flatulence? 

Scene one: Jigsaw and his friends enter a Mexican restaurant. “Tacos all around,” Joey orders . . . 

Anyway, thanks for the idea. 

Er, I guess. 

You wrote, “If you don’t get to read my letter it’s fine.”

Too late, my friend, too late.

I’m always glad to hear from my self-proclaimed #1 fan (though, be warned, you have rivals). Thank you, too, for the Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope (SASE). I appreciate that. Stamps ain’t cheap!

Probably the book I’m happiest with, if you asked me today, is titled Blood Mountain. It’s a wilderness survival thriller. You might also like my “Scary Tales” series: Swamp Monster, One-Eyed Doll, Nightmareland, etc. 

I hope this letter finds you well & in good spirits. By which I mean to say: I sincerely hope you aren’t a turkey. Thanksgiving is around the corner and things might get rough on the old ruffled feathers.

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #314: On Math & Writing — the Rule of Three — and Ted Lasso

 

Sometimes questions come from far afield — in this case, the field of mathematics. Natalie — who could not have been any nicer or more considerate — wrote to me with questions for a school project. 
Natalie wrote . . .
I would like to ask you a few questions. If you do not feel comfortable answering my questions please don’t feel pressured to! I’m doing a project for one of my classes about writing, and how it can relate to math. For this project I need to ask a writer questions, and I heard you reply. My questions are;
1.) Can you describe what you do for a living?
2.) How is math used in your career?  Can you provide examples?
3.) How often is problem solving used in your career?
4.) Is there anything else you would like to tell us about how math relates to your career?
I replied . . . 
Natalie,
These are interesting questions. I’ll do my best.
1. I am a children’s book author. I write a range of books, from picture books for very young readers to young adult novels.
2. I get complicated royalty statements filled with numbers that make me cry. Seriously: confusing numbers, percentages, discounts, etc. Creatively, I think that math enters into story structure, the classic three-act formula. Beginning, middle, and end. Picture books are almost always 32 pages due to folios and printing standards. At some point, you have to be very aware of how (and where) your story is landing on the page. 
3. In storytelling, there’s the “Rule of 3.” We see it in humor, particularly, i.e., his bedroom smelled of old socks, axe body spray, and stale cheese. For some reason, it’s funniest with 3 items. Four is too many; two is not enough. Another example would be, oh, let’s see, a penguin who is determined to fly. For some reason, it appeals to the mind when we show the penguin fail once, twice, three times . . . and then succeed (in some way). I think that’s because it takes three to establish a pattern, a rhythm. It’s somehow comforting to the reader. My old picture book, Hiccups for Elephant, is extremely mathematical, since it is centered around patterns and repetition. All the animals are asleep. Except for elephant. Chimp wakes up, offers advice. It doesn’t work. Hiccup! Lion wakes up, offers advice. It doesn’t work. Hiccup! Zebra wakes up, offers advice. It doesn’t work. Hiccup! See that, Natalie? One, two, three. Now, finally, mouse wakes up, offers advice. It works! Ah-choo! The funny twist at the end. Simple mathematics. 
4. Not really, no. Ha! But, okay, as you know, math is hardwired into our brains. When I read a book — this is just me & my own idiosyncrasies — I am always doing the math. That is, I first like to locate the last page and note the number. The book I’m currently reading is 278 pages. I don’t have to look that up, it’s burned into my brain. While I read it, I am aware of when I’m 1/3 of the way through, 1/2 way through, 2/3 through, etc. It’s not just racing to the end, it helps me sense the shape and body of the story. Do you watch Ted Lasso? That was originally conceived as a three season arc. A beginning, middle, and end. Season 1 was wonderful because it set up the situation, introduced all the characters, established the problem. Season 2 suffered, in my opinion, because it was the middle. The inevitable sag. Middles are very, very difficult to write. But it will lead us to the conclusion, the end, Act 3: the satisfying resolution. Simple math, yes. It’s everywhere. 
Hope that helps.
James Preller
Natalie, again . . .
Thank you so much for the reply! I love these answers, and the examples used. I didn’t expect to get a reply from anyone until, I found a thing of you showing that you do try your best to reply to anyone, and everyone. I will be sure to put your quotes, and phrases into my presentation! Sorry for the random email. And if there was anything you felt uncomfortable with. If you have any questions as to why I asked, or maybe as to what the presentation is about don’t be scared to ask! If there is anything you wouldn’t like in the presentation let me know!

 

 



Subject: Interview questions (school project)