Archive for Fan Mail

Fan Mail Wednesday #279: Chubby Hubby Edition

Here’s one that came from not far away, via a librarian-friend who lives in my community.

Don’t you like the envelope?

Adelaida wrote:

I replied:

Dear Adelaida,

Well, it seems like we have a nice connection, since I’m friends and neighbors with your wonderful librarian, Ms. Furlong. Her daughter, a senior, is in the same school and grade as my daughter, Maggie. Meanwhile, her husband is a craft beer-loving, long-suffering Mets fan. I’m the same way about the Mets, though I’m not really a fan of fussy anything, including craft beer, haircuts, clothing, etc. Keep it simple.

What were we talking about? Oh, your letter! So happy to hear from you. You asked a few questions, so let’s see:

1) Letters like yours come to me from time to time. It always feels like a gift from the universe, like a new star appearing in the night sky. I’m grateful and humbled and, mostly, just heartened to meet another person, like me, who is enthusiastic about books. Any books.

2) I like “Chubby Hubby” by Ben & Jerry’s.

3) Two of my three children are devout vegetarians, so they’ll hate this answer: If it’s a special treat, yes, I love a good steak. I’m eating less red meat these days, but!

4) My favorite book so far is the one I’m currently finishing, Blood Mountain. It’s due to my editor, Liz, in two weeks. Should be available a year from now. It’s really pushed me to be my best –- I’ve had to learn so much just to write it accurately –- and I’m never been more absorbed in my work. In short: “Hatchet” meets “Misery,” plus there’s a dog. A brother and sister get lost in the mountain wilderness for six days. It’s exciting and suspenseful and, I hope, powerfully written.

5) Oh: I’ve included a gift. Don’t tell anybody!

My best,

James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday Double Dip: #277 & #278!

 

Two quick ones, featuring Bystander and Jigsaw Jones.

William zinged over a quick email:

 

In my class, we are going to read Bystander as a group activity, and I have one question. How did you become such a good author?

I replied:
William,
Every February I spend two weeks meditating in a yurt in Mongolia.
Pro tip!
That’s pretty much it.
Oh, and: I mostly learn from reading. Slowly, thoughtfully — not blazing through to get it over with, but reading as a writer.
And then, of course, now that I’ve written so many things for so many years, I learn from writing, too.
My best,
James Preller
SPECIAL BONUS MAIL . . .

Rees writes:

 

Hi Mr. Preller,
My mom is letting me use her phone and write to you. I have a book report to do about my favorite character. Mine is Jigsaw. What color are his eyes? What color is his hair? What do you think is special about him?

Thank you for your help.
Rees
2nd grade
(My mom helped with punctuation and capitals.)

I replied:
Rees,
You have a nice mom. Don’t drop the phone in the toilet or she’ll be mad. My wife, Lisa, has done that — twice!
Jigsaw has brown hair and . . . I don’t know what color eyes. If you look at drawing, it’s just black dots. 
You can say hazel and no one will ever know the truth.
There are many things that make Jigsaw special.  In no particular order:
* His honesty.
* His sense of fairness.
* His kindness — he’s a good friend.
* His determination.
Jigsaw isn’t perfect. He makes mistakes. But he never, ever gives up. 
Now give that phone back to your mom before I hear a splash.
Thanks for writing. I just finished writing a new Jigsaw Jones book, The Case of the Hat Burglar. It’s about how items from the school “Lost and Found” begin to disappear. Someone has been stealing them!
Your friend,
James Preller



Fan Mail Wednesday #276: “The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”

 

I’ll transcribe this letter from Annabel in Massachusetts. The original was lightly written in pencil and my scanner wasn’t up to the task:

Dear James Preller,

My name is Annabel. I read The Courage Test. William is awesome.

One of the things I like is the adventure. The bear and the water rapids parts have a lot of adventure. In the book it said, “If she is making this display to terrify me, it’s working.” It shows William is scared and has encountered something dangerous. There will be a lot of action in that part of the story that’s interesting to read.

How long have you been an author and what’s your favorite type of book?

Sincerely,

Annabel

 

I replied:

 

Dear Annabel,

I’m so happy to receive a letter from a reader of The Courage Test. With a new book, I’m never sure if anyone will find it. So: yes, thank you and hooray.

I like the exciting parts, too. It’s those moments when you can almost feel, as a writer, the reader leaning in. One of these days I should try to write a book composed entirely of exciting parts, like those movies that are two-hour car chases. Actually, the thought of that exhausts me.

Ideally, I think we want our stories to have shape and pace, quiet moments, important conversations, laughter, insightful description –- and, sure, somebody almost drowning in the rapids. I think when my writing is at its best, all those elements are woven together.

Yesterday I wrote a dramatic scene for an upcoming book, Blood Mountain, that centers on a brother and sister who are lost in the wilderness for six suspenseful days. A lot happens in this book, so if you like exciting parts, you’ll have to check it out. In the scene I wrote yesterday, the boy, Carter, is alone, exhausted, near hypothermia, desperately hiking through a bog. Oscar Wilde has a great quote: “The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.”

And also, it’s helpful to try to come up with characters that readers care about –- and then do awful things to them. That’s an idea put forth by author Kurt Vonnegut in his famous “8 Rules for Writers.” You might like my newest book, Better Off Undead. It’s about a 7th-grade zombie, Adrian, who meets a girl who can see into the future, along with a beekeeper and a detective, and there’s evil billionaires, and, I promise you, exciting parts.

I published my first book in 1986. The last time the New York Mets made the World Series. And truthfully, I like all kinds of books –- even some of mine!

My best,

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #275: Free Skype Redux

Can you feel it? Summer’s last gasps. Here on the East Coast, we’re making the big turn and heading into the school year. From the point of view of this blog, that means we’re coming to life again after a quiet summer sojourn.

Nice to see you, welcome back!

A while back, I enjoyed a lovely Skype with a class in Miami. A beautiful, diverse group of students read The Courage Test and I answered questions about the book for about half an hour. No fee.

It’s something I’m trying to be open to in the future — the free Skype — for a variety of reasons. But first this: I’ve managed to survive as a children’s book writer over the past 20 years by actively visiting schools and presenting to young people. It’s been an essential source of revenue for me; the paid visits keep the ship afloat. And I love doing them. I’m immensely grateful for every invitation. So I’ve always been conflicted about “giving it away.” But it can’t be denied: in many situations, Skype is the only way to connect with these teachers and students, for geographic or economic reasons. It’s also rewarding to speak deeply about a book that everyone has read, rather than doing the typical one-sided overview of, ahem, the writer’s life. Also, yes, I believe in my books and I’m trying to get them out there, into the hands of young readers. That’s what it’s all about.

Today I’m sharing the follow-up to one of those Skypes. File this under: some people are raised right.

Nice, right? The handwritten “thank you” note. A rare sighting!

The package arrived with teal t-shirt and a bevy of beautifully illustrated cards from students, each containing a thoughtful comment about our Skype together. 

Look:

 

I don’t need or expect that kind of response, but it’s awfully nice to receive. The satisfaction of coming full circle. Thank you, Denise, thank you, Miami!

For more information about my school visits, please click here

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