Tag Archive for Fan Mail Wednesday

Fan Mail Wednesday #300: Shyan Loves Scary Stories

Wow, this is the 300th fan mail response I’ve shared on Fan Mail Wednesday across more than ten years of blogging. I don’t know if that’s a world’s blog record, but it’s certainly the most on my street. Here’s Shyan’s letter and my reply . . .

 

Shyan writes . . . 

I replied . . .

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Dear Shyan,

It’s so nice to get mail, don’t you think? A real letter. Thanks, also, for including a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Much appreciated. In my work, I still receive snail mail fairly regularly, though not an overwhelming amount. But I wonder about someone your age. How many old-school letters have you received in your young life?

I’m glad you enjoyed the books in my “Scary Tales” series. I loved writing each one, particularly since I hadn’t written anything quite like it before. I love the shivery aspect, the dread and suspense. I especially loved breaking away from the demands of the realistic fiction genre, which is what I usually write. Suddenly, in the “Horror” genre, my imagination felt free, unchained. It’s hard to describe, but it was like I was exercising muscles I hadn’t used before. For each story, the impossible suddenly felt . . . possible. The trick was selecting that one impossible thing and then playing it out in a realistic context.

I believe that everything I write contributes to my future projects. The skills accumulate. I learned lessons and honed skills from those six “Scary Tales” titles that I was able to bring to future books. For example, my most recent novel, Blood Mountain, is a book a reader like you might enjoy. This story is realistic fiction — no zombies or evil dolls — where two siblings are lost in the wilderness. I wanted to generate much of the page-turning excitement and suspense that I achieved with “Scary Tales.” So, Shyan, if you feel like you’ve graduated beyond those books, but still want something similar-but-different, please give Blood Mountain a try.

I was glad to read that you wrote your own scary story. It’s interesting to ponder what scares us. Oh, there are obvious things –- ghosts and roller coasters and dark caves filled with bats – but it’s cool when you can think of some specific detail that feels fresh and new. A faucet that drip, drip, drips. A ghostly flicker on a television screen that makes you think, “Wait, what was that?” The feeling we get at the dentist’s office, when maybe something isn’t quite right.

Hmmmm. That gives me an idea . . .

Thanks for writing, Shyan.

(I love your name!)

All good things,

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #298: Request From a Teacher Who Wants to Read Online to Her Class

 

I’m sharing this letter from a 2nd-grade teacher since I know it’s representative of what’s going on out there for so many parents and educators. 

 

Good evening! 
I’m a second grade teacher in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. My class has been reading some of your Jigsaw Jones books and I was wondering if I could have permission to create, maybe You Tube, a video that my students can access at home. Or, if you have another idea I am welcome to it! We are on chapter 9 of The Case of the Stolen Baseball Cards but I’d probably have to start at the beginning since it’s been over a week since we have been in school. 
We’ve already read The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster and hope to read The Case of the Race Against Time next.
Thanks so much for your support!

Lori,

I replied . . . 
Lori,

Illustration by R.W. Alley from Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Hat Burglar.

Thank you for your email. You are doing valuable work, and I appreciate the request. Yes, emphatically, by all means, read and share and keep doing what you do.

The only request I have, suggested by my publisher, is that you delete the videos once school is back in session.
My best to you. Stay smart, stay safe, protect the vulnerable.
With love in my heart (I’m growing extra-sappy in these times).
And again, I feel very strongly that I’m the one who should be thanking you.
James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #297: Includes a Free Pro Tip on Becoming a Writer!

 

Fan Mail Wednesday actually falls on a Wednesday this time around, because eventually that’s bound to happen. The law of averages! This letter comes from Max, a Jigsaw Jones fan in Kentucky, which I understand is a state somewhere near Ohio. Never been there, though my rescue dog, Echo, hails from those parts. I’d love to do school visits in Kentucky someday.

Don’t make me beg, people. Zing me a text at Jamespreller@aol.com and we’ll work it out. Of course, we can wait for this virus to settle down. Weird, right?

BTW, I love it when a FREE BONUS DRAWING is included. Thanks for that, Max. Anyway, the letter: 

I replied:

Dear Max,

Thank you for your kind letter. I’m so happy you read The Case from Outer Space. It is one of my favorites. Were you surprised by the ending?

Illustration by R.W. Alley.

One of the first inspirations for that book came from my love for “Little Free Libraries.” I’d seen them popping up all over the place and they appealed to me enormously. I’ve even seen schools that have them. Leave a book, take a book. I love that!

So I began to ask myself a writer’s two most important words: WHAT IF? Those are the magic words that get the imagination wandering. I thought, What if someone finds a mysterious note tucked inside a book in a Little Free Library?

Could such a thing be possible? I talked to librarians. They told me they find items inside books all the time. Photos, grocery lists, baseball cards -– even a banana peel.

Another part of the book came from a long interest in NASA and space exploration. I’ve often gazed at the stars and wondered if anyone else might be out there, somewhere in the twinkling beyond, far past our solar system of eight planets and into the outer reaches of the expanding universe. Wow. I smile just thinking about it.

If you truly wish to become a good author, there’s good news. You are already on the right path! Keep reading, keep feeding your brain with words and ideas. Just about every writer I know started out by being a reader. But you don’t have to sit around reading all day. Live! Do things! Play sports, run around, make friends, build stuff, look at clouds and trees, cook yummy desserts, enjoy yourself and everything there is in this amazing world of ours –- and, okay, also read.

And, you know, Max, maybe one day you’ll pick up a pencil and draw a picture. You’ll write down some words. Maybe start a story of your own.

Keep thinking, keep reading, keep being good old Max.

Thank you, my new friend in Kentucky, I’m so glad to receive your letter.

James Preller

 

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #296: This Detective Means Business!

 

I spent the last six weeks engrossed in the stretch run of a manuscript that was due on March 1st. During that phase of the process, the big finish, I’m focused and absorbed. I don’t want to eat, or shower, or change my clothes. I’m locked in on writing the book, therefore neglecting some of the other administrative duties that come with being a professional writer: school visits, book festivals, fan mail, etc. In the middle of February, I received a brief email from “Detective Andrew K.”

It read . . .

 

Hi Mr. Preller,

My name is Andrew, and I am a huge fan of your books. They really inspired me. Specifically, I enjoyed the Jigsaw Jones series.

Now, I am a detective. I hope you’ll make some new books soon.

From, 

Andrew

I wrote back . . . 

Andrew,

Wait a minute. What do you mean, you’re a detective?
You solve mysteries? You work for the FBI? Are you an old guy leaning back in a chair, feet on the desk, smoking a cigar? Or a kid, inspired by Jigsaw Jones, who solves mysteries?
Please tell me more.
(And thanks for reading my books.)
My best,
James Preller
Andrew replied, again briefly (a busy detective, I assume), to clarify the situation. Here is the entirety of that response  . . .
First of all, I’m a kid. Who is 8 years old. And your last answer was correct.
I zinged back a response . . .
Andrew,
Good to hear back from you. Thanks for reading my books. I’m glad they inspired you.
Best of luck, detective!
James Preller

I figured that was it. Now I’d have to go back to work on my manuscript. But the best (by far) was yet to come. This time, Andrew’s email arrived with an attachment . . .

Hi Mr. Preller,
I wanted to write more but I can’t type well. Please check the picture.
From Andrew
So, yeah, that was awesome and deserved a more detailed reply . . . 
Dear Andrew,
I’ve been traveling, sorry for the delay in my reply.
I loved your letter. Thank you for taking the time to write it.
Do your seven chickens have names?
I was visiting with a group of school children just yesterday and one asked me, “Are you Jigsaw Jones?”
I explained that it rarely works that way, where a writer and a character are the same exact person, so I could never say, “That’s me!”
I’m not as smart as Jigsaw, or as focused and determined, but we do share a lot of similarities. Same sense of humor, I think, and similar world view.
I am the youngest of seven children, and my grandmother lived with us late in her life. When I began writing Jigsaw Jones, I made him the youngest in a large family. I had his brothers call him “worm,” just as my brothers did to me. And, yes, I gave him a grandmother who lived in the same house.
So I guess, in some ways, I’m a Jigsaw Jones “clone” just like you. That means we’d probably be friends if we ever met — or, who knows, maybe fierce RIVALS!
Stay safe, Detective!
James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #295: When Joseph Basically Asks Me to Do His Homework

 

It happens often enough that just about every middle grade and YA author has experienced it. The ever-so-brief fan mail from a student that turns out to be an indirect request to do their homework. On one level: Resourceful! On another: Hey, you’re not fooling me, I see what you are doing, think for yourself

Over the years I’ve responded differently, depending on my mood. For this one, I felt chatty and gave an honest answer. Yes, I wanted a good grade! When I received Joseph’s response, I realized I probably let him down. Oh well! You’ll see.  

Here’s the first note from Joseph:

Hello, James. I am a fellow student who’s in high school in my sophomore year, I was curious to ask some questions about your book, THE FALL. I wanted to know what type of rhetoric device fits well in this story?

Thank you!

Joseph

 

I replied: 

Ha, Joseph, I am so glad I’m not in high school anymore. I would have failed this assignment!

There are a lot of different rhetorical devices in the world, most of them I’m not ever consciously employing. Asterismos and eutrepismus, hypophora and parallelism, procatalepsis and tmesis.

Oh boy, good times.

Can you tell I had to look all those up? I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ve used them at different points in my career, but not quite knowingly.

I think a lot of what we do as writers becomes instinctive, based on years and years of reading. You kind of eat it. Digest it. Absorb it and internalize all those storytelling strategies. So when you are telling your own story — trying to communicate — you just reach for whatever tool seems handy at the time.

The biggest conceit to The Fall, the Big Device, is that it’s presented as if it were Sam’s journal entries. He’s recounting the events to himself as a way to understand this really big and terrible thing that happened. He’s processing and, in turn, owning responsibility for his role in Morgan’s tragedy. As readers, we are looking over Sam’s shoulder, going through that experience with him.

Another device that comes to mind, which I used in one spot of the book, the “Not Me” chapter, is that Sam writes as if he’s on trial, addressing the jury. And you, the reader, of course, are on that jury. I didn’t carry that device throughout the book — I think it would have felt forced — but it seemed right at the time. And as readers, we are making those judgments of each character. Sam is acutely aware of being on trial.

Sam includes a few of his own poems, the way someone like Sam might. Maybe there’s a name for that, maybe it’s a rhetorical device, I don’t know. I just wanted to show Sam’s depth of feeling, how this stuff was pouring out of him, how he thought and felt, and the simple poems, again, seemed right for this journal format. It’s what I did as a kid in my journals, anyway.

Hey, Joseph: You forgot to tell me how much you loved the book! Don’t you know that’s how you are supposed to begin these letters? It’s a rhetorical device called “blowing smoke up someone’s butt.” Writers love that stuff. It gets our attention! And we immediately think, “What a smart young fellow!”

Next time: 1) Begin with a compliment; then 2) Ask me to do your homework!

(By the way, the above numbering technique is an example of eutrepismus, separating speech into numbered parts. We all do it, but 99% of us have never heard the name before. That’s writing, I think.)

All good things,

James Preller

Joseph politely replied the next day:

Thank you so much! So sorry, but this book was inspiring though haha! Its just I had include one Rhetorical Devices. those are 1. Repetition 2. Parallelism 3. Slogan and saws 4. Rhetorical questions

I had to choose one of them and explain why I chose it and how you used it in this book.

Oh well, I tried!