Archive for Jigsaw Jones

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #236: Jigsaw Jones, Long Island, Getting Ideas, My Favorite Color, and More

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Let’s do this people!

Good afternoon,
 –
I am a 4th grade teacher in Ludlow, Massachusetts.  My students have been selecting books to complete projects on and share them with their 51o-ewktyll-_sy344_bo1204203200_peers.  Today, 2 students shared your books, The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster and The Case of the Great Sled Race.  As the students were sharing facts about you, we all learned that you are from Wantagh!  Guess what?  I am from Wantagh as well!  What a coincidence!  Did you attend Wantagh High School?  My parents still live there and I go back to visit quite often.  My class would love to hear from you!  They would like to know the following about you:
 
* How old were you when you started writing books?
* How did you get interested in writing?
* How do you get the ideas for your books?
* What is the title of your favorite book that you’ve written?  Why?
* What was your favorite childhood book and author?  Why?
* Do you have a favorite sport?  Hopefully you are a New York sports fan!
* What is your favorite color?
 –
We would love to have you visit our school!  If you are ever in Western Mass. please contact me!  Happy Thanksgiving!  We’re looking forward to hearing from you!
Elysa B, WHS class of ’91
 
I replied:
 –

Elysa,

Thanks for your note, and thanks for reading my books in your classroom.

Yes, Wantagh, that’s my old stomping grounds. I did go to Wantagh High School, class of ’79. My parents moved away when I was in college — don’t worry, they told me where they moved! — so I lost my reason for visiting “home.” One of my first jobs was working at Jones Beach, a job I later gave to a character in a YA book, Before You Go. In the book Bystander, I blended the towns Bellmore and Freeport to create “Bellport,” where the book takes place. Sadly, I later learned that there really is a town called Bellport on Long Island. That was mistake I regret, though I think very few people actually noticed or cared.
The alma mater, a little before even my time.

The alma mater, a little before my time.

 
Anyway, questions:
 –
1) I wrote, illustrated, and sold books to my neighbors at an early age. In second grade, I teamed up with a friend, William Morris, and we wrote a play together, which we performed for our classroom. It involved bank robbers, as I recall. I published my first “real” book when I was 25 years old, in 1986.
 –

2) I often say that all writers are readers, and that’s true. But even though I am a social creature, comfortable with people, I’ve always needed time alone. That seems significant to me today, because you can’t create anything unless you unplug and spend time alone with your thoughts. For whatever reason, I’ve always carved that out in my life. And during those alone times, I’d often find a pen and a blank page.

3) Ideas are never a problem. They are everywhere. It’s just a matter of opening your eyes and ears. I also read a lot and try to learn something every day. The world is an endlessly amazing place. There are many difficulties when it comes to writing, hard times indeed, but ideas are not one of them.

Cover art from the upcoming Jigsaw Jones book, THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE (August, 2017, Macmillan).

Cover art from the upcoming Jigsaw Jones book, THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE (August, 2017, Macmillan).

4) I’m usually most excited by my newest work. I’m very happy with the book that just came out, The Courage Test (grades 4-7). In addition, there’s a new Jigsaw Jones title coming out this summer, The Case from Outer Space (Macmillan) and I’m over the moon about it. I love those characters, and I’m proud of the kindness & gentle humor of those stories. 
 –
5) As a kid, I loved a book called Splish, Splash, Splush — about three ducklings who couldn’t swim. I also remember looking at the pictures in a big, fat collection of stories: there were evil genies, a cyclops, men with swords and other fierce creatures. I couldn’t read, but I’d look at those illustrations for hours. Maybe it led, in some subtle way, to my “Scary Tales” stories (just right for 4th grade).
 –
6) I am a big baseball fan, love the game with all my heart. My team is the New York Mets. In 3rd grade, I actually attended the 1969 World Series. I remember it vividly.
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7) Favorite color? The older I get, I find that I’m partial to . . . gray. Go figure.
 –
Going gray. Not old. Dignified! Right?

Going gray. Not old. Dignified! Right?

– 
My best, 
 –
James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #235: “Smell Me!”

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Okay, this is a first. A fan letter in odorama!

“Smell me!”

And I did.

Yum, black crayon.

Thank you, Finn.

Maybe next time you’ll include a pair of old socks.

 

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Talking: Writing Process, Roald Dahl, Works In Progress, Lewis & Clark, and the Danger of the “Info Dump.”

Illustration by the amazing Quentin Blake, from DANNY CHAMPION OF THE WORLD -- a book that helped inspire THE COURAGE TEST.

Illustration by the amazing Quentin Blake, from DANNY CHAMPION OF THE WORLD — a book that helped inspire THE COURAGE TEST.

Deborah Kalb runs a cool website where she interviews a staggering number of authors and illustrators . . . and she finally worked her way down to me.

Please check it out by stomping on this link here.

Here’s a quick sample:

Q: You wrote that you were inspired by Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World to focus on a father-son dynamic in The Courage Test. How would you describe the relationship between your character Will and his father?

A: Yes, I came late to the Dahl classic and was struck that here was a loving book about a boy’s relationship with his father — not the kind of thing I’ve seen in many middle-grade children’s books. I found it liberating, as if Dahl had given me a written note of permission.

In The Courage Test, William Meriwether Miller is a 12-year-old with recently divorced parents. His father has moved out and moved on. So there’s tension there, and awkwardness; William feels abandoned, and he also feels love, of course, because it’s natural for us to love our fathers.

I wrote about this at more length, here, back a couple of years ago. In the unlikely event you are really fascinated by my connection to the Dahl book . . .

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #234: Featuring Secret Codes from Vivien!

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First of all, wow, this is letter number 234 that I’ve shared on this blog. I started this feature late in 2008, I think. I don’t put every letter on the blog. These represent only a small sample. Here at James Preller Dot Com, we share only the freshest, the funniest, the best. This one is from Vivien. She qualifies!

 

Dear James Preller,                                                                            
I really like your Jigsaw Jones books.  They are really fun!  I think it is cool how Jigsaw and Mila send secret codes to each other.  Jigsaw is really smart.  I don’t think I would have been able to solve The Mystery of the Perfect Prank.  I would like to ask you some questions.  (I am going to write in a code!)  Why you writing Jigsaw books, did start the Jones?  What your color, is favorite?  Which your are favorite, of books your?  Are going write books, you to more?  Please answer these questions (if you can!) and please write back soon. 
 `
Sincerely, Vivien
 
I replied:
 

Vivien,

Thank you for this lovely note. And may I also say how much I love your name: Vivien. It’s even fun to say. It also reminds me of a favorite word: convivial.
Vivien is convincingly convivial!
 ‘
You are the first person on the planet clever enough to ask me questions in code. I did manage to figure it out. Confession: My first thought was that you were lousy at typing. But then I recognized that you had some kind of alternate word thing going on. I like it! Does it have a name? A Word Skip Code?
 
On to the questions!
 
I began writing these mysteries back in 1997. At the start, I was just messing around with words on paper. I had a character, named Otis, who had an extremely active imagination. He’d pretend to be a space explorer, a mad scientist, and a hard-boiled detective (like in the old movies). An editor at Scholastic, Jean Feiwel, read what I had written and said, “I like the part where he’s a detective. Do you think you could write a mystery?”
 
My favorite color? Well, the older I get, I have to admit — it’s gray.
 
Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE -- coming in the summer of 2017!

Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE — coming in the summer of 2017!

There are different scenes in each Jigsaw Jones book that I enjoy. A line that’s funny, a clue that might be particularly ingenious, or a moment of real heart. And I suppose there’s a few books with which I’ll never feel satisfied. 

I’m super excited about my new Jigsaw Jones book, The Case from Outer Space, which is coming out this summer, published by Macmillan. I hadn’t written one in several years, and I was so happy to re-enter that familiar world. It really might be the best Jigsaw Jones book I’ve ever done — and that’s saying something, because it’s the 41st book overall.
 ‘
Thank you for reading my books, Viv!
 ‘
Oh, by the way, I think I figured out a new code the other day. I made a note and stuck it in a folder. Maybe for the next book. Do you mind if I try it out on you?
 
Wait, before you leave the house — get dressed!
Most animals are fabulous dancers.
At first, the hippo appeared bored and soporific, but then he perked up.
The single best thing anyone can ever do is pour soup in their shoes.
I believe Vivien is actually a frog.
 
Stumped you, didn’t I?
 
Here’s a hint: I think I’ll call it a Third Word Code. And it’s harder to write than it looks! Whew. I’m gonna take a nap!
 
Your pal,
 
James Preller

COVER REVEAL — Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space!

I just opened a package that gave me shivers. Even, yes, a little warm pressure behind the eyes. For the brown padded envelope contained Advance Reader’s Copies of the Jigsaw Jones book, The Case from Outer Space, published by Macmillan. I have a few things to say, but let me start here:

Look at the new cover design, look at the terrific illustration by R.W. Alley, look at . . . Joey and Mila and Jigsaw.

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I wrote the first Jigsaw Jones mystery back in 1997 for Scholastic. To date, there are 40 titles in all, and more than 10 million copies have been sold, mostly through Scholastic Book Clubs. I’ve visited many schools as a guest author, and I’ve met a lot of young readers and teachers who know and enjoy those books. However, there’s really been nothing new for about ten years; Scholastic made a business decision to allow the series to die on the vine, with book after book slowly, painfully going out of print.

I put my heart into those characters. It’s the work for which I’m best recognized. I can’t easily convey how it felt to see those books fade into oblivion. I still receive letters from parents asking where they could get them. The note would explain that it was the first chapter book their a child had read by himself. I’d have to reply, “Try Craig’s List or eBay,” and a small dagger would slice into my soul. It was more than the disappointment of watching 40 books go out of print. It felt like a huge part of my career was being erased. All that work, the time and love, the accomplishment: poof, vaporized.

Oh well, right? That’s the deal. Writers go through this all the time. Publishing is a tough racket. Write something new.

But guess what? Jigsaw refused to go gentle into that good night. The books hung around in classrooms. There’s even a touring musical that still comes around, created by ArtsPower. Thanks to the efforts of three fierce women in publishing — my agent, Rosemary Stimola, along with Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel at Macmillan — Jigsaw has found a new home, and new life. Jigsaw Jones is back. The immediate plan is to bring out this new title in the summer of 2017 (20 years after the first one), along with four newly updated classroom classics. In 2018, there will be at least four more, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to write another new one. These are books that have not been available in stores for a long, long while.

Illustration by R. W. Alley, pages 12-13 from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. Available this summer from Macmillan.

Illustration by R. W. Alley, pages 12-13 from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE. Available this summer from Macmillan.

I hope that Jigsaw and his friends are discovered by a next generation of young readers. I hope that maybe a little cheer will go up in various classrooms around the country. But today I won’t worry about that. Today I’ll just hold this beautiful Advance Reader’s Copy in my hands, grateful for everything, and just smile, proudly.