It’s a combo platter today, a rock block, a twofer — two fan letters in the same blog post!
Can’t be done, you say?
Impossible, you scoff?
Just watch me now.
In letter #216, Aiden wrote:
It’s a combo platter today, a rock block, a twofer — two fan letters in the same blog post!
Can’t be done, you say?
Impossible, you scoff?
Just watch me now.
In letter #216, Aiden wrote:
Hey hey, here’s one postmarked “Seattle WA,” one of the best places that I haven’t been to yet.
There’s a great sentence in this letter, a unique insight that I’ve never heard expressed exactly this way before. I wonder if you’ll find it.
What a nice name! My name, of course, is James. Or Jim. Or Jimmy. Or, hey, we’re friends — you can even call me Jimbo.
Just don’t call me “Worm,” like my brothers used to do. I wasn’t too crazy about that nickname. I mean, seriously. Worm. Do I look like a worm to you?
Don’t answer that!
Maybe we should stick with “Mr. Preller.”
Thanks for reading my books. I have great fondness for The Case of the Buried Treasure. Even the opening sentence tickles my fancy:
“It all started when the little round thing-a-ma-whoosie fell off the whatsit on Big Maloney’s chair.”
Ah, the discovery of the secret message and the start of Jigsaw’s most complicated mystery. I’m so glad you liked it.
There’s an idea in that book — that the treasure can be found under the “Big Y” — that I borrowed from one of my favorite movies from childhood. It was called “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” At that time, back in 1963, they used the word “mad” to mean “crazy.” They still do today, I guess, just not as often. In that movie, which is super funny (and crazy!), the treasure is hidden under the “Big W.”
Here’s a shot from the movie to help you understand:
I was especially happy to read that you felt you could understand the mystery. Do you know what that tells me? Keala must be a smart cookie! Because I tried to make that mystery really tricky. It’s not easy. But somehow you followed along and figured it out. Must be all those books you’ve read.
Better be careful or you are going to grow a big brain.
A huge, gigantic brain!
And you’ll need to buy all new hats.
Thanks for your letter, Keala. Have the best summer ever — why not? And keep reading books, any books at all, even mine.
There’s something undeniably direct about first graders. This girl liked my book and everything . . . she just would have changed a few things. Like, you know, the plot. And maybe some characters. I also like how Gracie worked so hard to fit everything on one page.
Thank you for your lovely letter.
Do you know what? I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. That’s right, my nose mashed into the wall. Grumble, grumble, grumble. For some reason, I was mad at the world this morning.
The alarm clock was too loud, my cereal was too soggy, my dog threw up on my shoes, and it was raining out. Grrrr.
Then I read your letter . . . and a big smile crossed my face. I thought to myself, “Wow, I am a lucky guy.”
So thank you, Gracie. Your letter turned my day around and my frown upside down. You asked a lot of questions and I’ll try to answer them. Okay, whew, here we go . . .
When I wrote The Case of the Secret Valentine, I wanted to keep the readers guessing. I figured that everybody, including Jigsaw, would assume that the note was sent by a girl. In the mystery-writing business, that’s called a “gender assumption.” I got everybody thinking in the wrong direction. I wanted readers to be surprised when they discovered the true identity of the sneaky letter writer.
It could also be because I am not as clever as you. I love your idea of a girl detective who wants to team up with Jigsaw. That would certainly make Mila jealous. Maybe that’s a story you could write this summer?
I have three children and three pets: Nick (22), Gavin (16), Maggie (14), Daisy (dog), Midnight (cat) and Frozone (another cat). Frozone was named after the character in the movie “The Incredibles,” a movie that we all love in this house. If you haven’t seen it, well, trust me, it’s incredible.
I began to write books when I was your age. I started by drawing pictures. Then with the help of my older brothers and sisters, I added a few words. I stapled the pages together to make books, put a price on the cover, and sold them to my friends and neighbors on the block. I made a lot of books when I was a little kid. I guess you could say that I never stopped.
About Theodore: Well, I wanted Jigsaw to have a name that he didn’t really like — so Theodore popped into my coconut. Boing! If I was named Theodore, I think I’d want to be called Ted or Teddy or “Hey You” — anything other than THEODORE!
Thanks for writing to me, Gracie. You really made my day. Enjoy your summer. May it be filled with books!
When I was in college, back in ’81 or so, an English professor drove me and a couple of other aspiring poets to Hudson Falls, NY, where we got to visit with the poet William Bronk. It was an experience I’ll always remember. We sat in his living room and talked about poetry!
Well, life happens and tables turn. I was recently up in Hudson Falls as a visiting author, speaking at the primary school and later doing a family event that evening.
On the heels of that visit, I received an envelope that included two letters and several snapshots. Check it out:
Dear Heidi, Ben, and Greta:
I remember you! I forget exactly what led to it, but I was speaking to the gathered group at the evening event and a hand shot up. It was Greta’s and she confessed, a little slyly, “My mother once swallowed a fly!”
So it’s a pleasure to hear from you all again.
Heidi, thank you so much for taking the time and care to write that long letter. It’s always nice to hear from parents, and a true gift to get the sense that maybe, in some small way, I made a difference.
Big Ben, dude, great letter. Thanks for reading my books. And thanks, too, to your teacher for having them in a book bin in your classroom. My Jigsaw Jones books are getting hard to find these days, so I really appreciate the teachers who have kept them alive and current in classrooms.
I’m very glad to hear that you and your friends are writing stories of your own. (I personally don’t believe that alien farts could cause volcanic eruptions, but I’ve been wrong before!)
Have a great summer, and keep those ideas flowing!
My best, your friend,
I love this illustration by Jamie Smith from one of the Jigsaw Jones books. I mean, the glove looks like it might have been drawn by an Englishman, which it was, but the spirit is right. I am very grateful that Jamie illustrated so many books in the series; he was, I think, exactly right.
And, yes, I’m glad to see my love of baseball creep into another book.
On school visits, readers often as if I am a particular character.
Am I Eric in Bystander? Jude in Before You Go? Am I the great detective Jigsaw Jones? Or the mouse in Wake Me In Spring?
(Okay, no one has ever asked that last question. And the answer is: no, I am not the mouse in Wake Me In Spring! Yes, we both have beady little eyes and whiskers, but beyond that the similarities are purely accidental.)
Back to the Jigsaw question. No, I’m not Jigsaw Jones. It’s rare for any character to fully stand in for the author. But, of course, there are elements of my life and personality — most definitely exhibited in Jigsaw’s sense of humor — in that character. And there are trappings of my childhood in his world.
Like me, Jigsaw is the youngest in the family. Like me at that age, Jigsaw’s grandmother lives with him. And like me, the boy loves baseball.
It was easier to write that way, more natural; I intimately knew those feelings.
But as I’ve grown as a writer, especially from my early days in college, I’ve learned how to distance myself from my characters. The writing, in my case, has become less autobiographical and more fully its own creation. The characters seem to stand and move around on their own two feet, acting according to their own (fictional) inner compasses. I don’t ask what I would do; I ask what they might do. At the same time, parts of my life, my world, leak into everything. How can it be any other way?
Anyway, I didn’t expect to write this muddled post today. I mostly wanted to share my excitement about the coming baseball season. I am coaching again this year, a really nice group of 15-year-old boys. We’ll play a travel season and enter some tournaments. My 10th-grade son, Gavin, will be playing JV baseball. It’s an impressive accomplishment; not so easy to make those teams in our town. And last but not least, my heart is filled with hope about my beloved New York Mets.
Dare I say it? I think they might actually be good this year.
I often sign copies of Six Innings the same way. “Dream big, and swing for the fences!”
Is there any other way to play?
This one arrived in a rather thick envelope, since the letter inside it had to be folded several times in order to fit. Just look at the size of it:
Dear Mrs. Fairchild and Mrs. Hatton’s Fabulous First Graders,
I have received many letters from readers who claimed to have been my biggest fans. But yours was definitely the BIGGEST LETTER I ever received.
I fact, you had me scared. I thought that it might have been from a GIANT. Who else could have written a letter that large?
You really don’t have to beg me to write more books. I think that I’ll always be writing – even when I’m an old, old man without any teeth! Of course, by then I’ll probably write books about how much I miss eating apples. You know, sitting in my rocking chair, eating Jell-O, remembering how nice it was to have my own teeth.
I am trying to write new stories for readers your age. But I have a rule: Never talk about a book until it is finished. I don’t want to jinx anything. When you get a little older -– and braver -– you can try some of my “Scary Tales” books.
In the meantime, thank you for that super-sized letter. I loved it! Keep reading books, any books at all, even mine.
I have been away on school visits, so it’s time to catch up on actual work — you know, writing stuff! — and responding to mail from readers, some of which I feature here on my good old, trusty old blog-o-rama.
This one is from a girl who named her cat after toilet paper. (I think.)
So I’m a-gonna proceed with caution:
Thanks for your letter. I often wonder about cats. I wonder, specifically, at what number does a person cross from being a “cat lover” to becoming “a little teensy bit crazy.”
Anyway, I see that you’ve named your cats Lily, Jack, and Charmin.
Like the “ultra soft” toilet tissue?
While I joke about cats, what I’ve found is that people who have a lot of cats tend to be extremely compassionate people, true animal-lovers. They can’t bear the thought of a single creature being without a home or, worse, sent to the shelter. I can’t knock them for having kind hearts. At the same time, you don’t necessarily want to be known in your neighborhood as “the nutty cat lady down the block.”
I’m happy you liked The Case of the Disappearing Dinosaur. I like it, too! This one features Danika Starling and her fabulous magic show. In this book, number 17 in the series, I tried something different. There’s actually two mysteries in one book. I’ve never been sure if it was completely successful — I usually stick to one per story — so I’m glad to hear that it worked for you.
I would love to write more Jigsaw Jones books, but I haven’t been able to find a publisher who wants one. After all, I wrote 40; maybe that’s enough. Lately I’ve been writing a new series called “Scary Tales.” You might like them. They are not very hard to read, but they are on the creepy side. I’m sorry to inform you, however, that nobody gets murdered in my stories. Everybody is safe in the end. But hopefully you’ll experience a few thrills and chills along the way. The most recent book in the series is titled Scary Tales #5: One-Eyed Doll. Every book is different and you don’t have to read them in order (or at all!). Check ‘em out . . . if you dare!
About your questions: I’ve met many authors over the years. We are all different, coming from different parts of the world, with different backgrounds and beliefs. But we are the same in one way: we are all readers. I think that’s how I became an author — I loved books so much, I just wanted to have a part of the action. I enjoy many different genres and don’t really have a favorite. I like fiction, biography, mystery, horror, science fiction, etc. As a writer, I want to try them all!
In what I hope will be a recurring feature on an irregular schedule, I thought I’d try to convey some of the background to each of my Jigsaw Jones titles.
And in no particular order.
The Case of the Ghostwriter has a lot of cool little things in it that most readers might miss.
I dedicated this book to Frank Hodge, a near-celebrity local bookseller on Lark Street in Albany, who is known and beloved by many area teachers and librarians. He’s one of Albany’s living treasures. When I moved to the area from Brooklyn, in 1990, Frank’s store, Hodge-Podge Books, was right around the corner. Of course, I stopped in and we became friends. I actually put Frank in this story: a guy named Frank owns a store called Hedgehog Books. I even included his cat, Crisis. Jigsaw and Mila visit Frank’s store in the hopes of tracking down a mysterious author.
Chapter Eight begins:
Hedgehog Books was a cozy little store. Our parents had been taking Mila and me since we were little. My mom said that Frank’s favorite thing was to bring books and kids together.
In the story, there’s a series of popular books — The Creep Show series — loosely modeled on R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps.” Mila has been eating them up, reading titles such as Green Wet Slime and Teenage Zombie from Mars. The author’s name on the cover, a pen name, is R.V. King. (Ho-ho.) There’s a rumor that he’s coming to visit room 201 for the “Author’s Tea.” Who can the Mystery Author be? I bet you can guess.
For me, the part I’m proudest of in this book is Chapter Seven, “My Middle Name,” a tribute to my oldest brother, Neal, who passed away in 1993, a few months after my first son, Nicholas, was born.
Ms. Gleason has the students reading family stories in class, Abuela by Arthur Dorros and The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Pollaco. The students, including Jigsaw and Mila, are asked to write their own family stories.
To research his family stories, Jigsaw interrupts his parents while they are playing chess. “Now’s not a good time,” his father replies. “I’m trying to destroy your dear mother.” (I always liked that line.)
At bed that night, Jigsaw and his father have a heart to heart. Mr. Jones tells Jigsaw about his middle name, Andrew, who was Jigsaw’s uncle. Now this part is totally true, because my son’s middle name is Neal, after his uncle.
“And he died,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “Andrew died.” I heard the air leave my father’s lips. The sound of a deep sigh.
I put my head on his shoulder. “Why did you name me after him?”
They talk some more:
That’s when I noticed it. The water in his eyes. A single tear, then another, slid down his cheek. My father was crying. I’d never seen him cry before. It made me nervous.
“Don’t be sad, Dad.” I hugged him with both arms, tight.
He wiped the tears away with the back of his sleeve.
He sniffed hard and smiled.
“I’m not sad, Jigsaw,” he said. “It’s just that I remember little things that happened. Little things Andrew said or did. And I’ll always miss him.”
“Can you tell me?” I asked. “About the little things?”
My father checked his watch. “Not tonight, son. It’s late already. But I will tomorrow, promise.”
“Good night, Dad,” I said. “I’m sorry you’re sad.”
“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “That’s life, I guess. Sometimes we lose the good ones. Good night, Theodore Andrew Jones. Sleep tight.”
Then he shut the door.
I’d never attempt to read that chapter aloud to a group. I can never read it without remembering, without crying. I guess in that scene, I’m Jigsaw’s dad — and my son, Nicholas Neal Preller, stands in for Jigsaw, trying to learn about an uncle, my brother, whom he never had the chance to meet.
NOTE: I originally posted this in 2009.
Before I answer Kallen’s letter below, I wanted to share a cool drawing that was sent to me by a boy named Ethan, who lives in Ontario, Canada. Ethan is a fan my “Scary Tales” series, and I believe this is his version of Bloody Mary from the book, HOME SWEET HORROR.
Isn’t that great. I love the body; very creepy somehow.
Now here’s a letter from Wisconsin:
Thank you so much for your super kind letter. I realize that it took you a lot of time and effort to write to me, and I want you to know that I appreciate it.
I’ve been busy working on new books –- I just finished one that took me nearly four years! — but I am happy to take a few minutes out of my (freezing!) Sunday to respond to your request.
Please find my lousy signature below. I say “lousy” because I have terrible handwriting; I blame it on the fact that I’m a lefty.
A great writer? Did you really say that?
I go back to your letter, reread it, then reread it again. Yes, Kallen really said it: “You are a great writer.”
I think I’ll just float around on white, fluffy clouds for the rest of the day!
There’s something deeply satisfying, and sort of crazy, about sitting down on a cold day in my basement office and clicking on an email from a young reader in Istanbul, Turkey.
How could that be so?
The answer is easy, and it’s not at all about me. Somehow we got swept along in this great river of books that connect us all. The power of books to touch our lives — to make us feel — and to cause vast distances & differences to disappear. It’s beautiful when you think about it.
Here, meet Jessica . . .
Dear Mr. Preller,
My name is Jessica. I go to ______ School in Istanbul, Turkey. I am a 5th grade student. I am so excited to send you this mail. I read your book Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Christmas Snowman. I had so much fun when I was reading. I like the book because it was an exciting book and it was so nice. Of course it has morals, too. I liked the story because it was so mysterious and you don’t know what will going to be next. Whether they are going to find the coin or not, and if they can’t find the coin what will Lucy go and say to her dad. That’s why it was so mysterious. I liked that. I looked into the internet for your other books as well and I think I am going to order your other books. When I read the last part of the book I was really surprised because I was really thinking that the coin was in the snowman, but it came out that Mr. Copabianco found it inside the trash, when he swept the floors. I was so surprised. When I heard that we were going to read this book, I hesitated because I didn’t hear your books, but when I read the book I loved it. That’s why I searched for your books. I am thinking that I will read your books. The idea in your book was amazing, I loved it. I had a big experience from your book, that’s why I thank you so much.