Tag Archive for Fan Mail Wednesday Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #244: New Thoughts on a Sequel to “Bystander”

postalletter-150x150

Here’s a letter with a familiar request, but it’s written in such a way that I’m forced to rethink my standard answer. Maybe Rowan is right. Maybe there should be a sequel to Bystander.

41m-cvcfcxl-_sx337_bo1204203200_

 

Hello. My name is Rowan and I am a 7th grader at ______ Middle School. Our school recently read Bystander for our Community Read, and I LOVED it! I have read some of your fan mail on your website, and have noticed that many people have requested a sequel. Although this might not have been your original intent, I know that many people would enjoy it. I was very saddened to find out that there wasn’t a sequel, because I would really love to know more about the characters. Mary and Cody in particular. The way the book ended just left you wanting more. Even if you are not interested in a second Bystander, I would love it if you would reply with possible ideas for the second book. Thank you for your time.
 –
Sincerely,
Rowan
 
I replied:
 

Rowan,

Thanks for your email.

I appreciate your thoughts on a sequel. And you are right. Though a sequel wasn’t my original intent, maybe it is something I should consider more seriously.

My bias against sequels is that so many seem like a crass money grab, where the only motivation is to cash in on the popularity of the original. There’s got to be a better reason than that. Writing a book is a huge commitment, a lot of time & energy goes into it, you more or less live with the thing for months, and I need a deeper reason to sustain that kind of “all in” focus.

Though, hey, don’t get me wrong. Money is important, I have bills just like everybody else (and two more kids to get through college). I’m not above money — or donations if you’ve got any to spare!

Anyway, okay, I will sincerely give it more thought. I think you are perceptive, in that I slammed that door shut without ever seriously giving the idea a serious chance.

I used to answer that if I did go back to a sequel, I’d want to tell it from the bully’s POV (point of view). Because I don’t like slapping that label on anybody. We all wear many hats, “I contain multitudes,” as 9781250090546.IN01Walt Whitman said. Nobody is just a bully, just a target. So I felt there was potential for a story there, bringing out the complex dimensions in a seemingly shallow, unlikable character.

However, I feel like I did that in The Fall, which I hope you’ll take a look at. In some respects, I see it as a companion book to Bystander, or at least a complementary read. I take the so-called bully’s POV, and the story is revealed entirely through his journal entries.

But back to Bystander: You are right — again! — about Mary. I think her story is under-developed. Much of what happens with her is off-stage, as the expression goes. We hear about it, but don’t witness it. At the time, I chose to hone close to Eric and his perceptions. I’m also glad to hear you mention Cody. In fact, I believe that Mary and Cody are the two characters who change the most over the course of the book; you can see their growth; in that respect, they are the most interesting. As readers, it’s always good to look for that, the areas of change and transformation. Cody surprised me. When I started the book, I didn’t intend for him to go off in that direction.

I will say that I don’t mind it when readers half-complain that the ending to a book left them “wanting more.” It sure beats the alternative! I like movies that keep me thinking days and weeks and months after I see them. Good stories should trouble our minds that way. You want the story to live on in the mind of the reader/viewer. If it all gets wrapped up too completely, like a seal box, there’s no room for rumination.

It’s best to leave some windows open.

I promise to open my heart to the idea of a sequel. If you have ideas, I’m all ears. I pay $6 — American cash money! — for any truly amazing idea. After royalties, of course.

a-shocked-chickenThought: Maybe there’s a degree of fear involved in all this? Maybe I’m just chicken? I wrote a good book that people seem to like. I don’t want to mess that up.

I wonder if my publisher would want one? We’ve never seriously discussed it.

My best,

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #243: From Johanna in CT

postalletter-150x150

I recently turned 56. That’s 8 in dog years, or time you start thinking about getting a new puppy. You know, to ease the transition. It’s disconcerting to discover that I’ve been getting a little weirder over the years. A tad stranger. Or maybe that’s just the liberation of time, of caring less what might be misconstrued, of feeling free to speak my (scattered) mind. It might be a good thing, writing-wise. Anyway, I sometimes feel a little sorry for the poor kid who sends me a beautiful letter and receives whatever I might dash back. When it comes to answering fan mail, I’m not a machine. There’s no brilliant strategy here. I just start typing and try to keep it real. For better and for, I’m sure, worse.

Here’s the opening of Johanna’s two-page letter, followed by my reply:

Scan 3

< snip >

 

I replied:

Dear Johanna,

Thank you for your well-written (typed!) letter.

While reading it, I found that I admired you quite a bit. Not because you liked my book. I’m not that shallow. But because your words revealed a pensive, inquisitive, open mind. An admirable brain & spirit!

I don’t know. I’m fumbling. What am I trying to say?

I’ll never forget when a friend in college said to me, in a casual, offhanded sort of way, “Oh, I learned that question yesterday.”

41m-cvcfcxl-_sx337_bo1204203200_It struck me as funny. The idea of learning a question. Aren’t we supposed to learn answers? Figure stuff out? Know things? And now I think . . . well, yes and no. A big part of life is learning the questions. And one of the biggest is, What do I do with time here on Earth? How should I spend my days? How do I treat others? What does it mean?

I don’t think a book, or an author, or anyone else can provide us with the answers. We find those inside ourselves. We discover, we learn, we grow. And it all begins with the search -– the seeking, the quest! –- the quest/ions –- the inner desire to think and learn. You’ve got that, I could instantly sense it, and that’s a great quality to have. It’ll take you far.

Anyway, I’m sorry; feeling weirdly philosophical today. Maybe it was the tone of your letter. You seem to be the kind of person who enjoys that sort of conversation.

Oh, hey, not to turn this into a commercial, but you might also very much like my book, The Fall, which touches on some of these same themes but goes to a darker place. Check it out at your school or town library. Or hey, go buy it in paperback for $6.99 and line my pockets with gold.

I really appreciate your (deep!) thoughts, thanks.

James Preller

 

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

postalletter-150x150

 

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.
 –
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 #226: Word from an Aspiring Author

postalletter-150x150

 

Here’s a kind note from an aspiring writer.

Hi! My name is ___ and I am a fifth grader from Sacandaga Elementary school. I was sick when you came and I was so sad. I love to write and your books inspire me! I am reading Justin Fisher Declares War and it makes me randomly laugh! I love having your signature in it! I wish I could have met you! I write to get my mind off things. I am going to start a book called Fake inspired by Bystander! Please get back to me, wish I could have seen you!

Confession I never liked the cover to this one, was hoping for something much more funny and school based, but I do like the tag line: "Fifth grade is no joke."

Confession: I never liked the cover to this one, was hoping for something funny and school-based, but I do like the tagline: “Fifth grade is no joke.” Too bad you can’t see it. Grumble, grumble.

I replied:

 ____, what a bummer! I’m sorry you were sick, I could have used a friendly face in that rough crowd. Just kidding. Everyone at Sacandaga was great — in fact, I loved it so much, I even learned how to spell Sacandaga. When in doubt, type an “a.”

I wrote Justin Fisher immediately after Bystander, which was fairly serious, so I felt like writing something that was humorous and light-hearted. I’m glad you enjoyed both of them, my yin and yang. 

Please give me your address and I’ll try to get something in the mail to you one of these days. But be patient, I’ll be traveling soon. 
I’m always glad to hear from a fellow writer. And for the record, Fake is a great title.
 –
JP

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #’s 222 & 223: Two for the Price of Nothing!

postalletter-150x150

 

Okay, let’s roll. This one is from Kieran in Jersey, and in the interest of time I’ll only show an excerpt:

Scan

I replied:

Dear Kieran,

Thanks for your letter. Like you, I prefer The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar over The Case of the Groaning Ghost. There are 40 Jigsaw Jones books. I wanted them all to be brilliant and funny and entertaining, but of course no one can hit home runs every time they get up to the plate. Like the great slugger Ted Williams said, “I just try to put a good swing on the ball.”

As for your questions:

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he's making a big comeback in 2017. I'm so happy about this.

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he’s making a big comeback in 2017. I’m so happy about this.

1) Yes, I am currently writing my first Jigsaw Jones story in seven years. I don’t have a title yet, still fooling around with it. I believe we are hoping that it will come out in 2017.

2) I have gone skiing in some of the same places as you. These days, I prefer cross-country. No lines, no crowds! I’ve never gone snowboarding because I’m pretty sure I’d die.

3) Sorry, I don’t have any photos to send out. That’s just not something that fits my personality. Just the thought of a stack of glossy photos on my desk kind of grosses me out. I think I’m happier in the shadows. You’ll find the autograph below.

My best,

JP

 

Letter #223 comes from Spokane, WA . . .

Scan 2

I replied:

Dear Dakota,

Hey, thank for that most excellent, typed letter. As you might know, I also write books for younger readers, and it’s refreshing to receive a letter that isn’t stained with grape jelly.

Thanks for reading Bystander and Six Innings. If you aren’t completely sick of me, you might also like The Fall, which explores some of the same themes as Bystander, but from the perspective of the so-called “bully.” It’s written in a first-person journal format, which makes it relatively quick and easy to read.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn't lie: There's a bear.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn’t lie: There’s a bear.

Yes, I love baseball. I guess you are a Mariners fan? I grew up a Mets fan, watching the games with my mother, and let me tell you, we’ve endured some rough seasons. But things are looking up these days. Got to love those big arms. My dream was to be a pitcher, but no fastball. Didn’t have the arm. Stupid DNA.

Good luck with ball this season. From the evidence of your letter, you are well on your way to becoming a very accomplished writer. I hope you keep it up. Sometimes our talents surprise us, in that they don’t always come from the expected places. You might dream of becoming a great ballplayer, like I did, only to discover that you have an innate talent for architecture, or medicine, or writing.

You never know!

BTW, nice signature. It will come in handy when you’re famous. 

JP