Archive for Jigsaw Jones

Fan Mail #319: Loren Uses SOOOOOO Many O’s!

 

Here’s a nice letter from Loren in Delaware — but wait, hold up. First I want to say that this is the time of year when I usually don’t post as regularly. I have a couple of interviews in the works, and several new books coming up, but nothing feels super urgent. I don’t post all the fan mail that I receive, just the special ones. Like Loren’s. As always, I am immensely grateful to every teacher, librarian, and adult who helps put my books in the hands of young readers. Thank you. 

 

 

Dear Loren, 

Thank you for your enthusiastic letter. 

I counted 16 o’s when you wrote that you love my books “soooooooooooooooo much.”

Why not 17? Did your hand cramp up?

The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster was the first Jigsaw Jones book I wrote — and it’s still by far the most popular. Unfortunately, it’s out of print now (meaning: it’s hard to find, and never in bookstores). I’ve tried to bring it back, but publishing is a strange world. 

The good news, part 1: You’ve already read it!

The good news, part 2: There are still 14 other Jigsaw Jones titles available in stores and online. Either new books or newly revised and updated. So if you are looking to spend big money, Loren, hey, there’s your chance.

The good news, part 3: You can usually find them for FREE at your local public library.

The good news, part 4: A couple of years ago, I made a series of FIVE VIDEOS on Youtube where I read the entire book. You should check ‘em out! So even if readers can’t find Hermie, they can still HEAR it on Youtube. 

 

I’m glad you mentioned liking the scene in the pet store. To write that scene, I had to do some research. Can you guess? I found a pet store that sold snakes and other animals. I went to it, walked around, asked questions, and took lots of notes. In the back, I saw a cage full of monkeys. And guess what? They were all wearing diapers!

Ha, ha, ha. I had to put that in my book!

Silly monkeys.

Thanks again for your terrific letter,

James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #318: Jigsaw Jones & the New York Mets

 

Here we go — an exceedingly kind letter from Matthew in Connecticut! He’s so nice, he says it twice. We bond over grape juice, holidays, and the New York Mets. 

I replied . . .

 

Dear Matthew, 

You write a very fine letter, my friend. Thank you for that. I’m glad to read that you are a “big reader” of my Jigsaw Jones books. 

However, it made me a little bit sad to learn that you zipped through The Case of the Haunted Scarecrow in only one hour. Rats. It took me a lot longer than that to write it!

It’s interesting that you noticed that you shared similarities with Jigsaw. You both like the New York Mets, grape juice, and holidays. Guess what? Me, too!

While Jigsaw is not exactly me, James Preller, we do have a lot in common. We’re both the youngest in large families. My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up —- just like Jigsaw’s. And our grandmothers both had false teeth they kept in a glass at night! Yuck.

My mother was a huge Mets fan, so I followed right along. True story: When I was in 3rd grade, one day I was allowed to skip school to go see the New York Mets. The next day, I was extremely worried that my teacher, Miss Thompson, would be angry. You can’t miss school to watch a baseball game! But instead, she came to my desk with a big smile and said, “Lucky you! That must have been so exciting to see a World Series game!”

And that part is true, too, Matthew. The year was 1969 and I was there at Shea Stadium for Game 5 of the World Series —- the game when the New York Mets won it all! I still remember that game vividly. I kept score in the scorebook, which I still have (somewhere). The fans swarmed the field and dug up tufts of grass to bring home as souvenirs. 

Our seats were at the tippy top. The very last row. There was no way we were climbing all the way down into that crazy scene. When the Mets were losing 3-0, I’m pretty sure that a tear or two fell from my eyes. Those Mets —- they can still make me cry. Or at least pull the hair out of my head!

I’ve included a few baseball cards for you. Consider it a gift for being such a terrific reader. After all, we Mets fans have to stick together.

My best,

James Preller

The Legend of Talal Mirwani: How I Spoofed Jack Reacher in BETTER OFF UNDEAD

The character Jack Reacher has been having a moment on Amazon Prime. Good for the Big Lug! Until recently, he’s been best known as the main character in Lee Child’s popular book series (and the unfortunate Tom Cruise movie). Reacher is a lone wolf, a drifter, and a former military investigator who always manages to find trouble. Or, as the cliche goes, is it Trouble that finds him?! The books are action-packed and wildly entertaining. You don’t read so much as devour them.

However, I grew tired of Reacher after 3-4 titles. He was too perfect for my taste. Confession: As the author of 42 Jigsaw Jones mysteries for young readers (ages 6-9), I have a semi-professional interest in literary detectives. One of the amusing things that Reacher does — amusing to me, serious to him — is he’s a deft profiler. You might be familiar with this sort of fuzzy technique popularized in various crime dramas, where a detective makes intuitive inferences about a criminal’s personality. In other words, after examining a crime scene, the brainy detective will announce, “We’re looking for white male in his 40s. He has mother issues and probably drives a Prius. He buys his clothes on sale at JC Penney. Favors white shirts and narrow yellow ties. He has a taste for 80s Britrock — some of the lesser-known cuts from The Smiths’ “Meat is Murder” album — and still slices the crust off his grilled cheese sandwiches . . .”

And on and on and on it goes.

This mode of detective work has roots in Sherlock Holmes. “How did you know that?” Dr. Watson asks. “Elementary,” Holmes explains. The Power of Deductive Reasoning.

Jack Reacher performs this magic act time and again in the novels and, now, in the (pretty fabulous, if I must say) television show. There’s a scene, early on, when he offhandedly does it to Police Chief Oscar Finlay and stops Finlay cold with its uncanny accuracy.

How does Reacher know? It’s elementary!

Unfortunately, what makes good television does not always make for solid investigative practices. The work of profilers has been largely debunked these days, a strategy that’s mired in fallacy and too often morphs into half-dressed guesswork. At best, a profiler like Reacher can examine the nature of the crime — using objective observation — and use inferences to provide a broad indication of a type of individual who might likely have committed the crime. At worst, it can lead the investigation wildly astray. The proverbial wild goose chase. In the annals of FBI investigations, there are a few startling successes — but they are far outnumbered by the total misses.

I spoofed this a few years back in my 2017 middle-grade novel, Better Off Undead. As a contemporary example of “climate fiction,” the novel — set in the not-so-distant-future — touches on pandemics and face masks, a super flu, colony collapse disorder, white nose syndrome, data farming, and more. My idea: stick my characters in a world gone wrong.

LET ME SET THE SCENE: our hero Adrian Lazarus is sitting in a middle school cafeteria with his best friend, Zander Donnelly. Adrian has problems, he’s a misfit, an outcast, and, not coincidentally, a reanimated corpse, i.e., zombie. That’s when, in chapter 21, our detective enters the scene and the novel shifts toward the main mystery . . .

A slight kid walked up, wearing a fedora and a long brown raincoat. He had black hair and light brown skin. The boy placed a hand on the back of an empty chair and asked, “You gents mind?”

“It’s all yours, no one’s sitting there,” I said, expecting him to drag the chair to another table. But to my surprise, he sat down with us.

Zander stopped talking and paused to stare at our uninvited guest. The look on Zander’s face was basically: What the what?

“The name’s Talal” — he pronounced it slowly, tah-LAHL, so we got it right — “but you can call me Tal. That’s easier for most people,” he said in a soothing voice. Talal rested an elbow on the back of the chair. He folded an ankle across a knee. “And you are the zombie guy,” he added, turning to address me.

“That’s me,” I said. “The zombie guy.”

“Why are you here?” Zander asked. “We’re not bothering anybody.”

“I’m a detective,” Talal replied. “You could say that I’m working on a case.”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“I prefer the term gumshoe,” Talal continued, “except nobody knows what it means anymore. So, sure, I’m a private eye.”

I decided to play along. “How can we help you, gumshoe?”

“Call me, Tal. It’s simpler.”

“Okay, detective,” I replied.

Zander glanced in my direction. He clearly didn’t trust this new kid at our table. But as far as I could tell, Talal seemed harmless. Besides, I was curious.

Talal lifted the fedora off his head and placed it, ever so gently, on the table. He clawed his hand through his hair, as if scratching the back of an appreciative Labrador retriever.

“What makes you a detective?” Zander asked.

“What do you mean?” Talal asked.

Zander looked annoyed. His voice rose a notch in volume. “I mean, big deal, you say you’re a detective. Anybody could say that. Saying so doesn’t make it true.”

Talal stared long and patiently. He slow-blinked once, twice, with all the urgency of a three-toed sloth. Then he fished in the depths of his trench coat pocket and produced a business card. He ran his thumb across the edge of it and, flicking two fingers, sent it spinning across the table and into my lap.

TALAL MIRWANI
Detective
NO CASE TOO LARGE OR SMALL

Talal turned to Zander. “Believe whatever you like. I’m what the card says I am.”

Zander smiled. “And I’m a horned toad. There, I said it. Does that make it true?”

Talal was amused. “No, big guy, the saying doesn’t make it so. It’s the believing that matters. You don’t really think you’re a toad, do you?”

Zander didn’t answer.

“It’s the believing in things that counts,” Talal repeated for emphasis, “as long as you’re asking.”

“Like in Santa Claus?” Zander teased.

“Like in anything,” Talal replied. “The tooth fairy, dinosaurs, zombies, kindness, whatever floats your boat.” Talal returned the hat to the top of his head and deftly zipped a pointed index finger across the front brim. “I didn’t come here to philosophize. You have my card.”

“We don’t need it,” Zander said.

“Maybe not you, but I think he might,” Talal said, jerking a thumb in my direction. “And I bet he knows it, too.”

“I’m not going to hire a detective,” I protested.

“It’s already been handled,” Talal replied. “Your friend paid for my services.”

“My friend?” I couldn’t think of anybody.

“A tall and angular girl,” he intoned, “the angel looking over your shoulder. Cash in advance. Consider yourself lucky.”

“Gia?”

Talal shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “She said trouble’s coming your way, and figured I might be able to steer you clear.”

I struggled to process the information. My unlife was getting weirder by the minute. It felt like Gia had some sort of plan for me, but I had no idea what it was. Still, there was something oddly reassuring about Talal. He was a character, for certain, but I guess I heard Dane’s voice in my ear: Everybody’s different and nobody’s perfect.

Who was I to say that Talal wasn’t good enough to sit at our table? There was plenty of room.

Zander, on the other hand, acted protective. “How are you going to help Adrian? All I see is a kid in a trench coat who talks tough, like you just stepped out of some old black-and-white movie. What do you know?”

[EDIT: Pay Attention, Folks! Here’s where Talal profiles Zander!]

Talal leaned back in his chair, calmly tented his fingers together. “What do I know? I’ll tell you what I know . . .”

He spoke the next part in rapid pitter-pat style: “I know you had a rough time this morning. You barely had a minute to wolf down a bowl of Rice Krispies. You missed the bus, but that’s no problem, because Mommy drives you anyway.”

“Hold on,” Zander said. “How did you know–?”

Talal explained. “There’s a trace of shampoo in your right ear, your socks don’t match, and there’s a dried Rice Krispie kernel stuck to your shirt. Judging by the mud splatter on the cuffs of your jeans, I’d bet ten balloons you tried to jump the puddle by the curb at the student drop-off. You didn’t quite make it. Don’t feel too bad, champ — it’s probably because of the extra twenty pounds of books you lug around in your backpack, because you are exactly the kind of kid who carries his books everywhere. I’d bet another ten balloons you make the honor roll every semester. You’re smart and you work hard. That’s a good thing, congratulations.” Talal flicked a finger. “I can also see the pink edge of a late pass poking out of your shirt pocket. What else do I know? You’re a little sloppy, but it doesn’t take a detective to figure that out. More importantly, you are not the kind of guy who spends time in front of a mirror. Either you don’t care how you look, or you care too much. So much that maybe it hurts. Hard for me to say, we’ve only just met, but I know this: Everybody cares, we just hide it in different ways.”

Zander didn’t need to hear any more. He squirmed in uncomfortable silence, like a living butterfly pinned to a wall. Talal turned out to be a pretty sharp detective after all.

SOME REVIEWS . . . 

“This uproarious middle grade call to action has considerable kid appeal and a timely message. A strong addition to school and public library collections.” — School Library Journal.

Preller stylishly delivers a supernatural tale of a middle-schooler who craves normalcy, and environmental issues with some currency make the story even more relatable. Espionage, mystery, and the undead make for a satisfying experience for readers, and they’ll be glad of the hint at a follow-up. — Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books.

“The author sets his tale in a near-future world in which climate change and pandemics are wreaking odd paranormal phenomena as well as predictable havoc. Having inexplicably survived a fatal hit-and-run accident over the summer, aptly named Adrian Lazarus is off to seventh grade, sporting a hoodie to hide his increasing facial disfigurement and lunching on formaldehyde smoothies to keep himself together. Simultaneously resenting and yet understanding the varied reactions of his schoolmates—which range from shunning to all-too-close attention from a particularly persistent bully—Adrian is also surprised and pleased to discover that he has allies, notably Gia Demeter, a new girl with a peculiar ability to foretell certain events. Preller might have played this as a light comedy (and there are some hilarious bits), but he goes instead for darker inflections. Even as Adrian sees himself becoming ominously aggressive (while developing tastes for roadkill and raw meat), his discovery that fabulously powerful data miners Kalvin and Kristoff Bork are ruthlessly scheming to put him under the knife in search of the secret to his longevity cranks the suspense up another notch. Nonetheless, in a series of splendidly lurid exploits, Adrian beats the odds as he fights for a well-earned happy ending.” — Booklist, Starred Review

“Preller takes the physical and emotional awkwardness of middle school to grisly levels . . . [and] thoughtfully chronicles the anxieties of middle school, using a blend of comedy and horror, to send a message of empowerment and acceptance.” — Publishers Weekly.

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK AND CHEAP!

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #317: “Guess I’ll Go Eat Worms!”

Sometimes a letter from a reader makes me pick up an old book, leaf through the pages. Often there’s a surprise. This one reminded of a song we used to sing long ago on the Adelphi Road of my childhood. 
Hello my name is Ali and ı am 10 years old, I read your book the mummy mystery and I want to give my opinion:
The book was great because they have to find the mummy mystery and they never heard any mummies in their neighborhood. My favorite character was joey because he was so brave and smart but he was a child and a detective he could find and clue for the missing things. Thats why I loved your book.
I replied . . . 

Ali,
Thank you for your kind note. It is a gift to me — to hear what a reader like you thinks about one of my books. 
I’m glad that you enjoyed Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Mummy Mystery
As a little boy, my brothers used to sing that song to me: 
“Nobody likes me,
Everybody hates me,
Guess I’ll go eat worms.
First you peel the skin off,
then you chew the guts up,
Ooey-gooey woooorms!”
I always remembered that (gross) song. Years later, when it was time to write this book, I decided to put that song into it. That’s how writing often works for me. The small memories, the little events, the details of our lives help us compose the stories that make sense of our past. 
Keep reading!
James Preller
And Ali wrote back with a correction . . . 
I am so excited to receive a response back from you, I never thought I would get a reply from the author of the book I read! I am thrilled! 
I am really glad that you liked my opinion. I had some mistakes in the email I sent. My favorite character was Jigsaw but i accidentally wrote Joey.
Kind regards,
Ali 

Jigsaw Jones Says . . . “Get a Clue!”

If it feels like I’m repeating myself — like we are caught in some “Groundhog Day” time loop — it’s only because it’s true. 

I posted this piece of art, by the wonderful illustrator R.W. Alley, a year ago around this time. 

Then things were looking up for a while. But now? Here we go again. 

I’m encouraged by what I’ve read about Omicron. Highly contagious but, hopefully, not quite as devastating for most people. 

My wife is in the health field. She’s been wearing a mask all day at work for a long, long time. Often it’s one of those tight N95 jobs. When I want to complain, I think of what she goes through on a daily basis and shut my mouth. I slip on my cloth mask, zip into the hardware store, buy my duct tape, and I’m free. I do what I’ve been asked to do by public health officials. They know far more about this than I do. 

I do it to keep myself safe. My friends and family. And everyone else, too. It’s that simple. 

Have a happy holiday and a lovely winter. I know that some of us feel weary of it. Sick and tired. But we will get through this. After all, we’ve got our friends, our families, and books!

Lots and lots of books. 

I mean to say: thank you for coming around here. For the support. For the many kindnesses. The best gift you can give to an author is reading one of his or her books. 

Any one you want.

I am so very grateful for that. I don’t take it for granted, not for a single moment.

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, BIG & SMALL,

JOY TO YOU, ONE & ALL!

 

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