Archive for Jigsaw Jones

Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar

 

UPDATE: I am reposting this from six years back. This book — like every Jigsaw Jones title — subsequently went out of print. Hard to find. I’m told that dedicated fans have success on eBay and Craig’s List. The good news is that Macmillan has contracted to bring eight classic titles back into circulation, beginning this August. I’ve also written a brand new mystery, The Case from Outer Space. And I’d gladly write another if anyone asks. To date, there are no plans for Snowboarding Superstar. 

 

As part of a continuing (read: sporadic) series of posts, I take a look back at old Jigsaw Jones titles with the intention of providing my Nation of Readers with more “extra juicy” background info.

If you are like me, you might gag at the thought of yet another writer describing his “creative process.” There is something oh-so-wearying about it. The phrase, “Don’t be a gasbag,” leaps to mind. But let’s see if I can pull this off without too much self-aggrandizement. The simple truth is that I am proud of this series and I sometimes (often?) wonder how much longer they’ll be around. I see this blog as document, as archive.

Today’s title is seasonally appropriate, Jigsaw Jones #29: The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar. It begins with Jigsaw chatting with two of his brothers, Daniel and Nick, as they prepare for a family ski vacation.

Some background: My father was a veteran of World War II, who returned home, got married, went to college on the G.I. Bill — a great investment by the Federal Government, by the way — and looked with my mother for a nice place to settle down and raise a family. Suburbia, preferably. He found a newly-built home in Wantagh, Long Island, designed after the Levittown model (for a fascinating history on that, click here). They bought a three-bedroom house for somewhere along the lines of $12,500.

One problem: My parents kept having children. Seven in all. It got crowded. At one point when I was still quite young, my folks slept in the back bedroom, my two sisters (Barbara and Jean) shared a small room, three boys had the front room (John, Al, me), and my father turned the garage into a bedroom for the oldest boys (Neal and Bill). I have strong memories of those early childhood days, sharing that crowded room with two big and somewhat mysterious brothers.

Below, here’s my whole family except for Mom, 1967. We always dressed that way! I shared a bedroom with the two goons on the right — don’t let the ties fool you.

The dynamic in the book’s first chapter, with two older brothers schooling Jigsaw, springs directly from my sense of those times.

They are teaching Jigsaw how to talk cool, in the snowboarder’s hipster jargon:

“Let us quiz you, Jigsaw,” Nick said. “What do you call someone if you don’t know their name?”

I thought for a moment. “Dude,” I answered.

“Excellent!” Nick cheered. “What’s a face-plant?”

“It’s when you fall into the snow face-first.”

“Awesome, Jigsaw,” Daniel said. “Totally gnarly!”

“Gnarly?” I asked. “What’s that?”

“It means very, very cool,” Nick explained. “Do you smell me?”

I sniffed, confused. “What?”

“Do you smell me?” Nick repeated. “It means, do you understand?”

“Not exactly,” I groaned.

In the next chapter, Jigsaw gets to try out his new language skills on Mila Yeh, his partner and best friend:

“I’m jealous,” Mila complained. “I wish I were going  on a ski trip.”

“Snowboarding,” I corrected her.

“It sounds hard,” Mila said. “I hear that beginners fall down a lot.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I think it will be sick.”

“Sick?” Mila asked. “Who’s sick?”

“Not who,” I said. “It. Snowboarding will be sick.”

Mila frowned. “I don’t get it.”

“It’s the opposite of wack,” I explained.

Okaaay,” Mila murmured.

“Do you smell me?” I asked.

Mila sniffed. “Well, now that you mention it, you do smell a little ripe.”

Don’t they have a nice friendship? Anyway, some random things:

* I loved the setup for the book, with Jigsaw away from Mila for the first time. It gave the book a different shape — and put Jigsaw in a tough situation. After all, this was #29 in the series, so I was eager to find new ways to keep it fresh. I know that some successful series, like The Magic Tree House, tend to follow a more rigid formula. And I understand the reasons why that’s appealing and reassuring for young readers. But it just wasn’t me. For better and for worse, I kept trying to mix things up.

* Mila mentions to Jigsaw that she’s practicing for a piano recital. Her song will be “The Maple Leaf Rag.” This comes from my son, Gavin, who also played that song in a recital.

* Grams and Billy are left behind to “mind the fort.” This expression, used by Mr. Jones, was something my father commonly said. I love his old verbal habits, the phrases he often used, and I try to keep them alive as best as I can — more than ever now that he’s gone. It’s a way of keeping that connection alive. I hear those phrases and think of Dad, all the more so when his words come out of my mouth.

* I once edited a book on snowboarding, written by Joe Layden. I learned a lot about the sport in the process, so it was comfortable territory for me to explore in the context of a Jigsaw Jones mystery.

In my story, a star snowboarder named Lance Mashman (love that name!) is at the lodge for an upcoming exhibition. However, someone steals his lucky bandanna — and with it, his confidence. While working on No Limits, I was impressed by many of the top female snowboarders, such as Shannon Dunn and Victoria Jealouse. They had a vitality and strength that inspired me, qualities I love to see in my own daughter. Also, they conveyed a refreshing take on competition, much different than you normally hear in the context of traditional athletics. So I invented the character of Tara Gianopolis, a rival to Lance, and a very cool young woman:

Illustration by Jamie Smith — crudely scanned.

“But you two compete against each other,” I said. “You are enemies . . . .”

Tara shook her head. “Man, you don’t know much about snowboarders, do you? This isn’t like football or basketball. We’re athletes, but we’re just trying to be the best we can be. It’s about nailing a backside rodeo or pulling off a perfect McTwist. It’s not about winning medals or beating people. It’s about freedom and creativity.”

“So you don’t care if you win?” I asked.

“I care, I guess,” Tara said with a shrug. “But as long as I ride well, I’m okay with whatever happens.”

* One of the suspects turns out to be Lance’s manager, Bubba Barbo, named in honor of my former editor, Maria Barbo. Once again, that’s a great aspect of writing mysteries. The genre forces the detective out into the world, this moral compass encountering life, making observations, going places, meeting new people all the time. As a series writer, that holds tremendous appeal — new characters in every book. Here’s a snippet from a conversation between Jigsaw and Bubba:

“It sounds like you think Lance is annoying,” I commented.

Bubba growled. “I don’t think he’s annoying. Lance is annoying. He’s always late. He drives me up a wall and across the ceiling.”

“You don’t like him?” I asked.

Bubba made a face. “Whaddaya, kidding? I love the kid,” he said. “Lance has talent. He’s a genius on a snowboard. A great athlete. And besides that, Lance has heart. He’s good people. You know what I’m saying?”

Yes, I knew what Bubba was saying. “I heard that he fired you this morning,” I said.

Bubba stepped back, surprised. Then he laughed out loud. “Lance fires me every week and twice on Sunday,” Bubba claimed. “It doesn’t mean anything. We’re a team.”

 

NEW COVER: This “Jigsaw Jones” Comeback Is Getting Real

Wow, look at this . . .

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This cover is not absolutely final, but it’s getting there.

After being out of print and largely unavailable for several years, four titles come roaring back — led by a brand new story, The Case from Outer Space.

Look for them this August, brought to you by the good folks at Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan.

I’m especially grateful to the classroom teachers and school librarians who have kept these books alive and in the hands of young readers for the past 20 years.

I can’t wait to visit elementary schools and talk Jigsaw, and mysteries, and the love of reading with the early chapter book crowd.

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #241: From Zeynep in Istanbul, Turkey!

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This email traveled a long way . . .

 

Dear James Preller ;

Hello my name is Zeynep. I am writing you from Istanbul – Turkey. This year I am a 5th grader in Hisar Schools and my teacher gave us one of your books to read for a project and I just finished reading your book.

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First of all,I read “The Case Of The Bicycle Bandit”. When I started reading the book it made me excited immediately because the book starts with dialogue which makes it easy to read. Two pages after I understood what the story will be about. I like that there isn’t so much description in the book however It sometimes makes us hard to understand the characters. For Example, I don’t know so much about Jigsaw, is he a nice boy or naughty boy? How is his relationship with his mother and father? Or where do they live? I looked for these questions answers but I couldn’t find them anywhere.

I always liked this moment in the book when Mila consoles a distraught Ralphie. He looks around and the outside world reflects his inner emotions: "His eyes followed a bird circling in the sky. It circled once, twice, three times. Then it flew off. Leaving behind an empty sky."

JP COMMENT: I always liked this moment in the book when Mila consoles a distraught Ralphie. He looks around and the outside world reflects his inner emotions: “His eyes followed a bird circling in the sky. It circled once, twice, three times. Then it flew off. Leaving behind an empty sky.” Lovely illustration by Jamie Smith. Just right.

Finally I have to say that when I read that it was Ralph’s brother who stole the bicycle I was surprised! I couldn’t believe it. I think you did a great job by writing this mystery book because I couldn’t guess and solve the puzzle myself while I was reading.

I hope that you can continue your series in a successful and fun way.

Thank you,

Zeynep

I replied:

Zeynep, 

Greetings from Delmar, New York!

It’s exciting for me to hear from you, all the way from Istanbul. I’ve never been there. And despite books and movies, I still find it difficult to imagine your world. I wish you could have sent me a picture of your school or family or something/anything.

Or your cat! How do you say “meow” in Turkish?

It’s amazing that a book can bring us together like this. I’ve been lucky enough to have some of my books translated into other languages — Spanish, German, Korean, Japanese, Greek, Arabic, Indonesian, and more — but it always leaves me in awe.

Could there really be a young man in Turkey turning the pages of a book I wrote in 2001?

I guess so!

Thank you, friend.

Books are small objects that we read alone, usually in silence, often away from others. But they are also connectors, portals, ways of bringing people together. A shared experience. Pretty cool when you think about. We go off by ourselves to connect with other people, across time and space.

I was inspired by my own childhood for the “Bicycle Bandit.” I’m the youngest of seven children, with four big brothers who were 7-12 years older than me. I watched them as if they were creatures from another world. Neal, Bill, John, and Al. Well, behind our house we had a shed that was packed with battered old bicycles in all sorts of disrepair. Missing tires, rusty chains, torn seats, twisted fenders. They’d love to patch the bicycles together from broken parts and pieces. That’s where I got the idea from Ralphie’s bike, “Old Rusty.”

This is my family, minus Maggie, who is the prettiest of all. Gavin, Lisa, JP, and Nick. These are not our normal clothes. We are headed to a wedding.

This is my family, minus Maggie, who is in the all-time “Top 5” Best Looking Prellers. From left: Gavin, Lisa, JP, and Nick. These are not our normal clothes. We are headed to a wedding. And we’re going to dance. Badly.

 

This is Maggie.

This is Maggie.

I am married and we have three children. Our oldest, Nick, lives in nearly Albany in an apartment with two friends. He’s 23 years old. My other two kids, Gavin (17) and Maggie (16) live with us. Tonight Gavin has to work as a busboy in a nearby restaurant. Maggie is at crew practice; she is an athlete who rows on the Hudson River. Very strong! My wife is still at work. I think I might order a pizza pie tonight. But I’ll have to bundle up. Last I looked, it was 19 degrees fahrenheit outside. Brrrr.

Sound good to you?

Thanks again for your note. I tried to give you a little better sense of my world. Feel free to write back if you wish.

My best,

James Preller

POSTSCRIPT: I am thrilled to report that this book, long out of print, will be re-released this summer by Macmillan, along with these other Jigsaw Jones titles: The Case of the Smelly Sneaker, The Case of the Mummy Mystery, The Case of the Glow-in-the-Dark Ghost, and the brand new title, The Case from Outer Space.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #240: Here’s Hannah (Sorry, No Bananas)

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I got a little absurd with my reply to this one. Poor Hannah.

Hey, it happens!

At least I’m not a robot spitting out form letters.

fan-mail-hannah

I took two silly pills and replied:

Dear Hannah,

I am going to try my best not to call you “Hannah Banana.” You’ve probably heard that a lot from other people, and I guess you might be sick of it by now.

bananaYou know, the whole “Hannah Banana” thing.

It rhymes. Fine, okay, but people need to get over it. At a certain point, a serious person –- such as yourself – can’t go around being called “Hannah Banana.”

So I’m saying to you, I respect that. I will not call you “Hannah Banana.” Or hardly ever.

You asked six questions:

1) I had a dream that I wanted to write books. I felt I had something inside of me that had to get out: ink spilled on white paper.

2) I started thinking about a character, a boy, with a huge imagination. In one scene, he pretended to be a detective. The rest is history. 41 books in all!

3) No, I’ve never been to Madison. But I’d love to someday.

Here's an illustration by R.W. Alley from the upcoming book, THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. The mystery revolves around a note found tucked into a book at a "Little Free Library." I know: genius!

Here’s an illustration by R.W. Alley from the upcoming book, THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. The mystery revolves around a note found tucked into a book at a “Little Free Library.” I know: genius!

 

4) I don’t have a favorite book, but I find that I’m usually most excited about my newest book. In this case: The Courage Test (grades 4-7). I have a new Jigsaw Jones coming out, The Case from Outer Space, and I love how it turned it. Very funny. Look for it this summer.

5) I have a dog, Daisy, she’s a golden doodle; and two cats, Midnight and Frozone. They are both black. One is fat, the other not so much.

6) I loved college. The freedom! The books! The fun!

Thanks for your letter, Hannah Banana! Oops!

Star of Stars, Wonder of Wonders

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When we write, sometimes we reach for something we can’t quite express. In this case, a sense of wonder in the great big world.

It’s the trying that counts.

This illustration is by R.W. Alley from the upcoming “Jigsaw Jones” book, The Case from Outer Space. It’s the concluding image from the book, placed on second-to-last page.

I had the opportunity to review the sketches before R.W. went to finals. He does such an exceptional job, full of care and warmth, I don’t ever say too much. In this instance, I had only one change to suggest.

Here’s the initial sketch for that final scene:

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I asked Bob if he’d consider making them smaller. Pulling way back. I wanted to see Jigsaw, his father and grandmother, together under the stars, small in the great wide world.

More sky.

The book concludes:

After a while, we headed to the car.

My father led the way. He took the flashlight. 

I walked with Grams.

She held my elbow.

We went slowly.

“Careful,” I said.

And together we headed back.

Home.

 

I don’t think I ever did that before, stringing together so many one-line paragraphs. It seemed to fit the mood I was searching for.

I don’t know if I completely hit what I was reaching for in this scene, but I do know that Bob’s illustration will help bring readers a long way toward that goal. It’s nice for an author to have someone to lean on.

One other note. My mother is 90 years old. There’s a bit of her and me in that scene, when Grams takes him by the elbow, fearful of falling.

Today I’m grateful for this book, for Bob Alley, for my mother, and for our smallness in this great big world.

It’s a good thing, right? Just to be reminded of that fact. Our smallness.

This site, featuring images from the Hubble Space Telescope, does that for me. A place to visit every now and then. A reminder of our smallness, yes, but also our connection to the deepest, greatest mysteries.

Merry Christmas, folks. Or happy holidays. Or however you wish to express your wonder, your joy, your sense of beauty, your love.

CHEERS,

KIND READERS,

AND THANKS

AS ALWAYS

FOR STOPPING BY.