Tag Archive for Bigs Maloney

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #256: Favorite Characters

Here’s one from Jake in Iowa . . .

     dear mr. Preller,

my favrite charecter is bigs malony. And if your wondring i read your book The case of christmas snowman. Also your books are relley good i have read some of your other books. what is it like to be a author? how much time does it take to write chapter books? Because you are good at it. Right now my favorite book out of all yours right now is the case of christmas snowman. How much books have you written?
2nd Grader 

Cedar Rapids, Iowa 

I replied:

     Dear Jake,

I love writing about Bigs Maloney. Every class seems to have that one boy who is the biggest and toughest. That’s Bigs. He might seem scary on the outside, but deep down he’s a really sweet boy. He’s one of my favorite characters in Ms. Gleason’s classroom. I think Joey Pignattano is the funniest. He’ll eat anything!
A favorite moment from the series, when Jigsaw goes toe-to-toe with Bigs Maloney. Illustration drawn by R.W. Alley.

A favorite moment from the series, when Jigsaw goes toe-to-toe with Bigs Maloney. Illustration drawn by R.W. Alley.

I love being an author, especially when I receive kind letters like yours. I can write a Jigsaw Jones book in two months. It takes a while to figure out the mystery — to really think about it: the crime, the suspects, the solution — and then I can start writing. Good writing often begins with good thinking.
My brand-new Jigsaw Jones book is titled The Case from Outer Space and I am super proud of it. The books in the series had been hard to find the past few years, but now I’m a very happy to say that a bunch of them are back in stores and on Amazon. There will be 9 out in all by November. Unfortunately, The Case of the Christmas Snowman is still out of print. Good thing you have a terrific teacher who has an old copy. Give her a big hug for me.
Thanks for reading my books. Keep it up!
My best,
James Preller

Cover, Back Cover of Possibly My Favorite “Jigsaw Jones” Title

A funny thing about the newly re-published Jigsaw Jones books: I kind of like the back covers best of all. It’s nice to see all the new covers ganged up together. That great feeling of: there, we did it.

Buried Treasure_Back Cover (1)-A funny thing about the newly re-published Jigsaw Jones books: I kind of like the back covers best of all.A funny thing about the newly re-published Jigsaw

I mean compared to the front covers. (I still like the insides, the black squiggles between the covers, the stuff I did.)

I’m sometimes asked about my favorite Jigsaw Jones book. I don’t have a firm answer, but this title would definitely be in the running. Each book is different. In this one, I like how the mystery unfolds as a chain of mini-mysteries to solve, sort of a “Da Vinci Code” for grades 1-3, and I’m happy with the ending, always glad when there’s a sweet moment at the conclusion, some kind of heart that lifts the story up to a better place. To me, that’s when I’m happiest with a book. I often aspire to that pang at the end. And, okay, this book also includes a few sly references to the New York Mets.

This book is due out in November, I’m almost positive.

Buried Treasure

Fan Mail Wednesday #198: Jessica from Istanbul


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 6430030was 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. 



I replied:

Dear Jessica,

Please accept my apology for being a tad slow in replying to your lovely note.
I have excuses!
Do you want to hear them?
Probably not. But the truth is that I’m on deadline. I’m desperately trying to finish a middle grade book that I started years ago. (Yes, years.) It’s titled: DEAD, BUT CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC. Usually when I write, the work is awfully slow in the beginning. I struggle and bang my head against the wall. It’s a sad time. But at the end, when it all comes together, the story is all I can think about. I wake up with ideas, I have ideas in the shower and when I’m walking the dog. During those times, I try to push away the distractions and put all my focus on writing the book.
Anyway, sorry. I didn’t mean to call you a “distraction” but, well. You kind of are, though a happy sort of distraction for sure.
A favorite moment from the series, when Jigsaw goes toe-to-toe with Bigs Maloney. Illustration drawn by R.W. Alley.

A favorite moment from the series, when Jigsaw goes toe-to-toe with Bigs Maloney. Illustration drawn by R.W. Alley.

Istanbul, Turkey! Wow, that’s such a different world than mine, I can barely imagine it. I live in upstate New York. It’s cold out today, freezing actually, and the skies are slate-gray. Tomorrow I’m going to a party to celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends. Good times!
Thanks for reading my “Jigsaw Jones” series. I love those books and really enjoyed writing them. I recently wrote a series called “Scary Tales” that you might also enjoy. The stories are not that hard to read, a notch tougher than Jigsaw, but I should warn you: they can be a little bit frightening at times. No one gets hurt and every story has a safe conclusion, but if you don’t like being scared, I’d stay away! It’s for readers who like that kind of creepy feeling.
Thanks for your note, Jessica.
And thanks, also, to your teacher for sharing my books with students like you. I’m honored, truly, and grateful, too.
My best,
James Preller
"Give me the right word, and I will move the world." -- Joseph Conrad.

“Give me the right word, and I will move the world.” — Joseph Conrad.


FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #188: My Small Tribute to Raymond Chandler & John Reynolds Gardiner’s “Stone Fox”


Check it — a letter from Marcus!



I sent Marcus a note that included my lousy, lefty autograph and this reply:


Thanks for your letter. I’m so glad that you like my series, and The Great Sled Race in particular. It’s one of my favorites, too.


imagesOne of the things I try to do in each book I write, mostly just for myself, is to make a reference to a real book. It’s just a my way of connecting Jigsaw’s made-up world with the everyday world that you, the reader, live in. In this one, I decided that Ms. Gleason’s class would be reading Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner, which is a book that I greatly admire. She even introduces the idea of The Five “W” Questions essential to reading and writing: who, what, where, when, why. As Jigsaw realizes: “Reading was like detective work. Figure out the W questions . . . and you’ll catch the crook.”

jigsaw-sled-race-1By way of tribute, I lifted and transformed the setup of this story from Raymond Chandler’s great adult book, Farewell, My Lovely. The character of second-grader Bigs Maloney is partly inspired by a hulking ex-con named Moose Malloy. Remember that author’s name, Raymond Chandler, and you can catch up with his books in another 10 years or so.

Take care, be well, and keep reading books — any books at all!

James Preller

NOTE: Readers can click here to learn more background info about Jigsaw Jones #8: The Case of the Great Sled Race. I always hoped that a creative teacher might read Sled Race alongside Gardiner’s great book. They really do go together well.



Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Great Sled Race

There’s actually quite a few things in this story, numero ocho in the Jigsaw Jones series, that I particularly like. I’m pleased by the way I used  John Reynolds Gardiner’s wonderful book, Stone Fox, to loosely parallel Jigsaw’s journey. Ms. Gleason is reading it aloud in class throughout the book.

I’m also happy with the emphasis Ms. Gleason puts on “the Five W Questions,” who, what, when, where, and why. As she explains to the class:

“Mr. Gardiner is a terrific writer. But we’ve got a lot of other work to do.” She walked over to the blackboard. Ms. Gleason said, “As you know, we should always be thinking while we’re reading. That’s how we understand what’s happening in the story. Today I’d like to talk about a few strategies that will help us think about what we’re reading.”

Later Jigsaw has this revelation:

I suddenly realized it was like solving a mystery. Reading was like detective work. Figure out the W questions . . . and you’ll catch the crook.

But today I’d like to focus on a different aspect of the book. My confession: I lifted the setup from the opening of Raymond Chandler’s great book, Farewell, My Lovely. Remember, folks, it’s not stealing . . . it’s an homage! Seriously, I don’t think any of my readers notice this, it’s just something I do for the fun of it, and as a sly little tribute to a favorite author.

Like tens of thousands of writers before me, I owe a huge debt to Raymond Chandler, who defined the voice of the hard-boiled detective for generations to come. In fact, when I first began this blog one of my earliest posts was an appreciation of Chandler.

In Farewell, detective Philip Marlowe meets up with big, bruising Moose Malloy outside a sleazy dance club. Moose is fresh out of prison, a tough guy searching for his lost love, little Velma. As always, you can’t read two paragraphs without coming across a great, startling sentence. Chandler gets a lot of credit for his tone, his out-sized similes, and funny one-liners. Such as: “Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”

But to me, it was Chandler’s attention to detail, his concrete objective eye — like a great Imagist poet — that sets him apart as not only a memorable American stylist, but as a great writer, period. One quick example:

His skin was pale and he needed a shave. He would always need a shave. He had curly black hair and heavy eyebrows that almost met over his thick nose. His ears were small and neat for a man of that size and his eyes had a shine close to tears that gray eyes often seem to have. He stood like a statue, and after a long time he smiled.

You can learn a lot by giving Chandler a close reading. A shine close to tears that gray eyes often seem to have, indeed.

A few other quick lines, just to set the scene:

It wasn’t any of my business. So I pushed them open and looked in. A hand I could have sat in came out of the dimness and took hold of my shoulder and squashed it to a pulp.


He let go of my shoulder. The bone didn’t seem to be broken, but the arm was numb.

“It’s that kind of a place,” I said, rubbing my shoulder. “What did you expect?”

“Don’t say that, pal,” the big man purred softly, like four tigers after dinner. “Velma used to work here. Little Velma.”

So here’s how I handled the opening for Jigsaw, when he first meets up with Bigs Maloney (a name that intentionally echoes Moose Malloy):

Illustration by John Speirs, my apologies for the scan, it appears to be broken.

I was dragging my sled into the park when I spotted Bigs Maloney. Bigs was the roughest, toughest kid in second grade — but not taller than a grizzly bear and not wider than a soda machine. He was headed my way.

Bigs stared straight ahead, mumbling to himself. He stopped in front of me. “Velma,” he said. “I want my Velma back. You have to help me find her, Jigsaw.”

Bigs put his giant paw on my shoulder.

And squeezed.

“Lay off the shoulder, will you?” I pleaded. “I might need that arm someday.”

Bigs let go of my arm. He stared off into the distance. “I just want my Velma back,” he said. “You have to help me.”

It takes a return to Jigsaw’s basement office, and some tough questioning from Mila, to sort out the facts and propel the story forward:

Five minutes later, Mila was throwing questions at Bigs Maloney. “Who is this Velma you’re talking about?” Mila asked.

Bigs made a face, like he was disappointed in us. “Velma is a what, not a who,” he said.

“What kind of what?” Mila asked.

“A sled kind of what — that’s who!” Bigs shot back. “My Velocity Machine 2000. The fastest sled in town.”

Finally I understood. Vel-ocity . . . Ma-chine. Vel-ma.

“Oh,” I said. “Velma is the name of your sled!”

Bigs sneered. “And I’m gonna clobber the crumb who stole her.

Mila gave me a worried look.

“Listen, Bigs,” I said. “I don’t think clobbering anybody is such a great idea. We’ll help you find your sled. You know our rates. We get a dollar a day.”

For an added treat, check out this trailer for the 1975 film starring Robert Mitchum. His voiceover in the beginning is classic. I’d forgotten about the Joe DiMaggio reference, and now I feel better, since Hemingway did something similar in The Old Man and the Sea. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants. I loved this movie back when I was in high school. As I recall, it was in the early days of HBO, when they’d play the same few movies over and over and over again.

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