Archive for Fan Mail

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #274: From (Presumably) a Really Big Fan!

 

I can’t be sure — it’s hard to tell from here — but I suspect that this letter came from a GIANT named Brady. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Could there be any other explanation?

I replied:

Dear Brady,

Wow, you sent me the coolest letter ever! Kind of huge, don’t you think?

Thank you for reading Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Christmas Snowman. There’s plenty more where that came from!

I also loved your drawings. You’ve got a lot of talent, young man. Keep it up.

You wondered where I live. It’s Top Secret!!! No, actually, I live in upstate New York, a town called Delmar, just south of Albany. Our nearest river is the Hudson and the nearest Duncan Donuts shop is five minutes away. The way a car needs gas, I need coffee to run. In fact, if you ever see me stalled on the side of the road, bring me a cup of regular with milk, no sugar. I’ll perk right up!

I am 57 years old. But I don’t look any older than 54. It’s the little things, Brady.

I LOVE that one of your two favorite lines from the book was, “With what?” That was a good day when I wrote that line. 

Ah, sweet inspiration.

Hey, have a great summer. You addressed your stamped envelope to your elementary school, so I hope you get it before school starts up again.

Keep reading books, any books at all, even mine.

Your friend,

James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #273: Avigayil from Inwood!

 

 

You all buckled up? Let’s go. Because Avigayil is learning how to write letters.

I replied . . . 

Dear Avigayil from Inwood!

What an interesting name you have. I’ve received many letters, and signed a lot of books, but you are my first Avigayil. Congratulations.

Am I your first James? Or Jimmy? Or Jimbo?

For someone who is just learning how to write letters, you did an excellent job. Thanks especially for including the stamped, self-addressed envelope. That saved me time and money!

I’m glad you liked The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster and The Case of the Race Against Time. The second title features a bad haircut –- and let me tell you, I’ve had a few. I remember looking in the mirror and feeling sad. Ack! My head!

I wrote a new Jigsaw Jones book last year, titled The Case from Outer Space. I had a great time writing it, and maybe even made myself laugh here and there. I’m working on a new one right now. The title will be, The Case of the Hat Burglar. It centers around the “Lost and Found” at Jigsaw’s school.

Do you have a “Lost & Found” at your school? What do you think would happen if most of the hats were suddenly . . . missing? It’s time for Jigsaw and Mila to solve a new case.

But first, I guess I’ve got to write the book. When I start, I take notes and do a lot of thinking and planning. I don’t actually start writing until several weeks go by. Right now, I’m almost ready to begin. Thanks for your letter, Avigayil. Great job!

Your friend,

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #272: Meet Isaiah

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I recently spent a week in Hudson, Ohio. I don’t like to brag, but there it is — what a great community, and so many good places to eat. One night I did a signing at a bookstore, The Learned Owl, right there on North Main Street. That’s when I first met Isaiah, a boy who seemed particularly excited to meet a “real, live” author.

Two days later I spoke at Isaiah’s school. When my presentation was over, the students heading out, Isaiah came up and handed me this letter. I don’t think I can adequately describe the look in his eyes, other than to say he seemed to think he was in the presence of someone special. Or maybe that’s transference, because that’s exactly how I felt about him. 

I hope you can read Isaiah’s faint writing, because it’s an especially kind letter, and because he thanks me for being amazing. Hey, it’s about time somebody noticed!

 

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I replied . . .

Dear Isaiah,

First of all, did you see how I spelled your name? Not bad, right?

I remember when you came into the store to have your book signed. We talked for a while. Then I distinctly remember seeing you again, two or three days later, after I spoke at your school.

You had written a letter and you delivered it personally. Although we didn’t get a photograph –- I kind of wish we did that –- I can easily recall your face.

Thank you so much for that letter. I’m grateful you took the time to say those very kind words. You know, Isaiah, it’s not about me, James Preller. What I am most happy about is that you feel inspired to read, excited about books, any books, and that hopefully you’ll continue down that (amazing) road for the rest of your life. Who knows, maybe soon you’ll be writing your stories –- the ones only you can tell –- about your family, your experiences, your thoughts and feelings.

Thanks for being so nice to me. An author is lucky to meet a reader like you.

Keep reading, keep being . . . Isaiah!

Yes, your new friend,

James Preller

NOTE ABOUT THIS PHOTO: I sent my reply to Isaiah to his (wonderful) librarian, since I didn't have another way of reaching him. I didn't expect to see his reaction documented -- I never see that moment -- and it's awfully nice to see his happy grin. He's holding an old NY Mets baseball card, since I often include them in my responses. It's just a thing I do.

NOTE ABOUT THIS PHOTO: I sent my reply to Isaiah’s (terrific) librarian, since I didn’t have another way of reaching him. I didn’t expect to see his reaction documented — I never see that moment — and it’s awfully nice to see his happy grin. He’s holding an old NY Mets baseball card, since I often include one in my responses. It’s just a thing I do. Propaganda!

 

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #271: Lilly’s Fabulous Letter

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Do yourself a favor. Take a moment to read one of my favorite letters, just exceptionally sweet & kind. 

You know, it’s not about me. It’s about Lilly, and kids like her. There are so many of them out there. Pure and good and excited about books, open and bursting with light.

It could be any author or illustrator who walks into a school. Who gets that opportunity to stand before these children, talk about reading and writing and our silly pets. On this day, it happened to be me, and I reached a receptive reader named Lilly.

Again: How lucky am I? 

 

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I replied: 

Dear Lilly,

I enjoyed my visit to your school, and was especially glad to receive a wonderful batch of letters from your class, taught by Ms. B.

I read each and every letter. But I have to confess that yours, in particular, stirred my heart. You were so kind, said such nice things, that I wanted to take a minute to thank you.

Writing is a quiet life. At this very moment, I am alone in silent room of my house, pecking away at a computer keyboard. Sometimes I will speak the words out loud so I may hear them, to know they are okay. My cats don’t talk much. I play music, daydream, try to write. It can be lonely at times. I sometimes fill with self-doubt. 

Even when I finish books and send them out into the world, I never really know what happens to them. That’s why school visits are nice; I get to meet kids like you. And sometimes, on very good days, some of those readers write letters. And that’s when I know I’ve made a new friend.

Please say hello to Cally, your bird -– and, of course, your terrific fish. 

Happy to be your new friend,

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #269: Gerard in the Philippines!

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Dear Mr. James Preller,
Greetings!
I am Gerard _______, a Grade 11 student of Mapua University in the Philippines. I became fond of your book “Six Innings” because as a former student-athlete myself, I love sports and this book particularly caught my attention as one of my favorite sports is actually baseball. I got interested to playing baseball growing up as my father was once a baseball pitcher.
I would like to commend you for your amazing book and its success. Personally, every detail of the book was very well put together and I liked the fact that I can visualize every word of the book. You put a lot of thought into making this book, and that is a testament of how passionate you are about your career. I genuinely enjoyed reading every bit of your book.
paperback-cover-six-inningsApart from that, I know playing sports really does instill valuable lessons in life. As an author, where do you find the inspiration in writing “Six Innings?” I know every author has his or her inspiration. I would like to ask you this because I would try my luck in writing and telling my own stories, and garnering information from you would really help me.
You really did inspire me through your book. As I was reading your book, I keep getting flashbacks of my time as a former student-athlete, and looking back, I realized how much I have grown and I saw the things I was not able to before.
Keep inspiring your readers as we have, hopefully, inspired you as well. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for inspiring me in all aspects of my life as a son, as a student, and as a person. I wish you all the best in your career. Thank you for taking the time reading my email. I will be looking forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
Gerard _______
Manila, Philippines

 

Inspired by Gerard’s inquisitiveness, I replied at length . . .

Dear Gerard,

Thanks for your letter all the way from the Philippines (that’s one “l” and two “p’s” for the spelling-challenged, I tell myself). While I have previously enjoyed receiving letters from far-flung places, it never ceases to amaze me.
 
Some dude named Gerard in the Philippines read my book!
 
We connected across all the distance.
 
Aren’t books amazing? Such a solitary process — the writing of a book, as well as the reading of a book — and yet here we are, connected, a lit fuse.
 
You asked about my inspiration for Six Innings. 
 
Since you are obviously a thoughtful reader, a little older and — maybe? — a writer yourself, I thought I’d try to answer that with a little more detail than usual.
 
Inspirations are slippery things, very hard to pin down. Once you think you’ve got it — ah-ha! that’s why I wrote the book! — it squirts away like a bar of soap. There is rarely, for me, one single inspiration. It’s more of an accumulation of events, perceptions, feelings. At a certain point you commit to a path, start hacking away in the jungle, and there’s no turning back.
 
But let’s begin with my mother. She was a huge baseball fan when I was growing up. My mother loved the Brooklyn Dodgers when she was a girl in Queens, NY, and later transferred her allegiance to the NY Mets. At a certain point, I came along, her seventh (and best) child, and shared her love of the game. I now believe that my love of baseball is also an expression of my love for my mother, the two are deeply connected in my mind and heart.
 
I have vivid memories of playing Little League baseball when I was a small boy — I can tell you exactly what happened on baseball diamonds nearly 50 years ago, which is crazy. That stuff stayed with me. Forever, it seems. And that awareness informed me that it was also true for other kids. These games were important to them. It mattered. It was where they lived. Later as a father, I had the opportunity to coach and manage many teams and hundreds of games at every level (even adult). So I began to see the game from that perspective, too.
 
I also enjoy reading baseball books, and I’ve read quite a number over the years. In fact, I have a pretty good collection of baseball classics on my bookshelves. It felt inevitable that one day, I would give it a try. I wanted one of my books on that shelf.
 
Then I had my “magic ball” idea (which I ultimately abandoned, but nevermind!). I was watching a film by John Sayles, I can’t recall which one, and it featured a long tracking shot. It occurs to me that I might be making this all up, something I imagined, but hang with me, Gerard. The camera follows a man as he enters a crowded party, people coming and going. A woman walks by and — whoosh! — the camera shifts and follows her. She bumps into someone else and — whoosh! — the camera swerves and now follows that person. It was all fluid and organic, not accomplished with editing, but via one long shot with a camera on wheels. The camera simply followed the next person to come along.
 
And I thought, Could I do that with a baseball?
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The pitcher holds the ball. I tell his story. The ball is thrown, the batter hits it, the center fielder races it down in the outfield. I tell his story. And so on. It could be that a foul ball goes into the stands — I can now tell that person’s story, the mother, the uncle, the friend. Just keep following the ball. My idea was to use the game to explore all these characters on the field. Through the initial writing process, and the editorial back-and-forth, we decided to hone tighter to the game itself. I had to cut more than 10,000 words of character sketches, background info.
 
It struck me that books move in two directions. Forward, or down. Forward means action, the plot moving along. Down is when we develop character, go deeper into things, stop time. When you write a book, that’s the tension — between forward or down. It’s very hard to do both at the same time (but possible in brief moments of revelatory action, where the action serves as a revelation of character). However, when a writer spends too much time exploring character, too much time digging, the plot stalls. There’s no forward motion! At the same time, if a book is only forward motion, a giant chase with nonstop action, then readers won’t connect with the characters.
 
Which is to say: My notion for the book ultimately failed in the first draft, in part, because I lost track of the forward motion (which was, of course, the game). Once I revised and got tighter to the game, I found there was still room to explore character; I just had to strike the proper balance. Every reader, of course, has his or her own preferences. Some people like a lot of plot, the page-turner; others want the depth of character, the closely observed scenes.
 
Thanks for your letter, Gerard. Dream big & swing for the fences!
 
James Preller