Tag Archive for James Preller Fan Mail Wednesday

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

Fan Mail Wednesday #316: Eight Questions from an Old Fan

You never know what’s going to be in ye olde in-box. In this case, more sophisticated questions and, in return, more realistic answers. 

 

Michael writes . . .

Growing up I was a big fan of your Jigsaw Jones books. I can’t remember when I last read them, but I’ve never forgotten them! I am currently enrolled in an English Capstone college course that features an assignment for me to interview someone with an English-related occupation, and my mind jumped to authors, which then jumped to you. If you are willing to answer a few questions within the next couple days, I’d greatly appreciate it. If you do not wish to or are unavailable after Wednesday, no worries. Thank you very much for your writings and I hope this message finds you well.

 

I replied . . . 
Sure, let’s see what you’ve got. Obviously if it’s too many questions, under a tight deadline, that’s not going to work.
Michael again . . .
I appreciate your interest! To make it easier, as the professor okay’d the e-mail method, I will send you the questions here and you may answer them at any time, at any length you wish. Here’s what I have:
1) What is your favorite aspect of your job?
2) What is the biggest con about your job?
3) What traits or skill would be most useful for someone or desirable for someone entering the field you are in?
4) What was the deciding factor for you in choosing this career over other ones?
5) What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing the career you are in?
6) What is a typical work day like for you?
7) Did you find unexpected barriers in pursuing your work and / or communicating with others in the field?
8) Is there anything you would have done differently in preparing for your career?
Please take your time, and whenever you can respond is excellent. I am eager to learn about you and your field! Thank you very much!
My reply . . .


1. The writing, when it is going well. There’s a lot about the business that is wonderful and parts that are heartbreaking and awful. The act of creating is the thing that pulls me back every time. It’s the core of what I do. The pleasure and satisfaction of making things, of self-expression, of putting something out into the world that would never exist without me.

2. The biggest con? Oh, gosh. The financial insecurity.
3. Talent. To do this job, you have to believe that good work will find a way.
4. It wasn’t a cold analytical decision. Certainly not a “reasonable” one. I’ve always believed in following your enthusiasms, trusting your enthusiasms, and that worthy considerations such as benefits and a solid health plan never entered into it. I wanted to do something that I loved. You don’t really go into it as “a career,” so much as you try to do this one thing in front of you, then the next, then the next, etc. For me, it started with a love of books and writing that has never let go. Not to be over-dramatic about it, or too self-regarding, but writing well — for years and years and years — is extremely hard and not always rewarding. You have to pick yourself up off the floor a lot.
5. Know that it’s going to be difficult and uncertain, that you’ll most likely need to make money another way. I’d advise doing it on the side until you are firmly established. Get a good job. Or, hey, partner up with a lawyer! OTOH, I think there’s a period — oh, youth! — when you should pursue your dreams to the fullest with total commitment. But there may be a point when you realize that you’ll never play shortstop for the Yankees. It’s good to have some kind of backup plan.
6. Desk, laptop, normal hours.
7. Being a mid-list author with a proven track record — quality work, solid working relationships, hitting deadlines — all the stuff that comes with being “a pro” — can become a negative at a certain point. I didn’t expect that. You are clearly not the Next Big Thing. The numbers don’t lie. In our culture, we tend to discard too easily and are forever chasing after the Next Big Thing.
8. I am not positive that I should have done this at all, at least as a primary job. Might have been a mistake. But here we are, feels like it’s too late now. The final chapters haven’t been written yet.
James Preller
Art by R.W. Alley.



Fan Mail Wednesday #315: Alexander in Alabama, Still Deciding If He Wants to be a Writer

 

 

This one came the old-fashioned way, so here’s a snap of it . . . 

 

My reply . . . 

 

Dear Alexander,

It’s a mystery. Your letter is dated “September 3,” but the envelope is postmarked “21 Oct.” And here we are in November. Time flies, I guess. Or maybe it’s just a really, really long walk for you to the post office?

Anyway, we’re here now, altogether!

Thank you for reading my Jigsaw Jones books. I like your strategy: If bored, read book. Works for me, too. 

The trick to the Secret Valentine, by the way, was that it centered on a gender assumption. You see this technique in other mysteries in movies, books, and television. It’s a magician’s trick, too, called a misdirection, where essentially the “trick” is to get you looking at the wrong thing. The detective assumes that the perpetrator (the person who carries out the “crime,” in this case, simply sending a card) is female. Well, not always!

I liked Jigsaw’s complaint to Mila early in the mystery: “You know what the worst part is. This girl is ruining a perfectly good holiday. I mean, I like Valentine’s Day. You get to eat cupcakes. Why does she have to drag love into it?”

So, you suggested a book title: The Case of the Neighborhood Gaser. But you neglected to describe the plot. Is this a book about someone who FARTS A LOT??!! Are you suggesting that I write an entire book about flatulence? 

Scene one: Jigsaw and his friends enter a Mexican restaurant. “Tacos all around,” Joey orders . . . 

Anyway, thanks for the idea. 

Er, I guess. 

You wrote, “If you don’t get to read my letter it’s fine.”

Too late, my friend, too late.

I’m always glad to hear from my self-proclaimed #1 fan (though, be warned, you have rivals). Thank you, too, for the Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope (SASE). I appreciate that. Stamps ain’t cheap!

Probably the book I’m happiest with, if you asked me today, is titled Blood Mountain. It’s a wilderness survival thriller. You might also like my “Scary Tales” series: Swamp Monster, One-Eyed Doll, Nightmareland, etc. 

I hope this letter finds you well & in good spirits. By which I mean to say: I sincerely hope you aren’t a turkey. Thanksgiving is around the corner and things might get rough on the old ruffled feathers.

James Preller

Fan Mail #311: A Class in Queens, NY, Reads BYSTANDER

 

As the school year winds down, I received a bunch of letters from a classroom in Forest Hills, Queens, NY. They all read Bystander. I don’t think it makes sense for me to share them all here, but I did write a group response that you can find below. But to give you a taste — and hopefully a laugh — I’ve included Daniella’s very kind note here. You can tell that she’s a writer, too. It’s pretty terrific . . . 

 

  Dear James Preller,

    Bystander is such an interesting book! Everything leading up to certain points, that was amazing! Some things were expected, and that’s okay because everything else was completely unexpected, and that is one of the amazing things about your book!
Everything happening in the book was completely necessary to the plot, and I just love that. It wasn’t all ‘He ate dinner and then went to his room and studied’. No, there was actual detail. And you only included things like that (of course, filled with detail) when it really mattered!
So if you get letters from people saying that they don’t like your books, just ignore them. They don’t know what they’re saying. Their opinions make as much sense as a thriving Penguin in the desert.
-Daniela B

 

I replied . . . 

Dear Mr. Lynn, Alex, Cameron, Leanna, Jason W, Abril, Sophia, Daniella, Raiya, and, whew (!), Cassandra:

Well, that was an entertaining bunch of letters, thank you all for sending them. And also for reading my book, Bystander. I appreciate that more than I can express.

I hope you don’t mind that my reply comes in the form of a group letter, rather than individual responses. I’m on a tight deadline right now for my next book —- getting slightly anxious about it, honestly —- so I thought this would be the most efficient approach. 

But first, hey, Forest Hills! My parents grew up in Queens and my favorite baseball team plays in Flushing. Rhymes with pets. 

Fun fact: Out on Hillside Avenue, there’s a number of Little League fields named after my grandfather, Fred Preller, who was a NY State Assemblyman for 22 years. The complex used to be called Preller Fields, but recently another politician glommed onto it, so now it’s called Padavan-Preller Fields in Bellerose (right off the Cross Island Parkway).

Anyway! 

Alex liked the suspense of the scene where Eric sneaks into Griffin’s house. There’s an expression, “Bad decisions make good stories.” I think that’s part of what’s going on in this scene. I’ve heard from some adults who were critical of Eric’s actions. And I’m like, “Hey, don’t blame me, he’s the one who did it!”

That’s too glib, of course. But when you write books, and invent hundreds of characters, you can’t possibly have them all do and say the “right” things all the time. That would be booooring and unrealistic. Also, yes, I sensed that it would be a pleasure to write —- a suspenseful scene that would get the reader leaning in. Nobody wants to read about perfect people who always do the right thing all the time. That’s a pro tip: Invent a character and have them make a poor decision. What happens next?

Sophia, Cassandra, Abril and Daniella all commented on my writing. For sure, that’s an ego thing for me, I confess, but I do love hearing that. I try very hard to write my best, with rich images and vibrant language. For Bystander, I was also intensely focused on delivering a fast-paced plot to keep readers turning the pages.

These days, I think my book Blood Mountain might be the best written one of all. A brother and sister (and their dog!) become lost in a mountain wilderness. It’s creepy in parts, suspenseful and tense —- a survival thriller! You might like it.

Jason dug the book’s “different vibes” —- I like that!

Daniella made my favorite comment of all: “So if you get letters from people saying that they don’t like your books, just ignore them. They don’t know what they’re saying.

Ha, ha, ha. Love that, Daniella!

Some of you, Raiya, and others, commented about possible sequels. It’s interesting to speculate on what happens to the characters after we close the book. I consider that a compliment, that somehow the character remains alive in (some) readers’ minds. The good news is that we just published Upstander, a prequel/sequel to Bystander that revisits many of that book’s characters in a new story focusing on Mary. It was named a 2021 Junior Library Guild Selection and I’m very excited about it. The book is so new (about 2 weeks) that I haven’t yet heard from one student who has read it. If you do read it, let me hear from you. Just zing me an email!

But please understand that I’ll be following Daniella’s advice. If you don’t like it, I’ll just think, “Well, they don’t know what they’re saying!”

More Preller Trivia: My son, Gavin, 21, just came out with a record. You can listen to it on Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, all those places. He records under his own name, Gavin Preller, and the album is called “There Is Wonder.”

My thanks to your teacher, Mr. Lynn, for sharing my book in his classroom.

Have a great summer. After this year, I think we all deserve it.

My best,

James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #304 and #305: Two Letters from Alaska

 

Here’s two for the price of none! The third book in my “Big Idea Gang” series, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin, seems to be getting some positive attention. Perhaps the environmental, activist message strikes a chord. Here two students in Anchorage wrote to me about it, so I thought I’d do a combo post here.

Here’s Hailey . . .

 

I replied:

 

Dear Hailey,

Thank you for reading my book, Bee the Change, from my “The Big Idea Gang” series.

You noticed an interesting detail in that story – how Kym, in that situation, was brave; but Lizzy, who was usually bolder and more confident, felt nervous.

It kind of flipped, right?

I think life is like that. No one can be great at everything. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. There are people who are nervous around big dogs, while other people just want to give ‘em a big hug. For the purpose of this story, it gave Kym an opportunity to shine (after Lizzy was mostly the “star” of the first book, Worst Mascot Ever).

Writing these books (there are three so far), I wanted to show how when we are faced with big problems, that it is often best to think small and make a difference in your community. There used to be a popular expression: “Think globally, act locally.” We can all become overwhelmed by the Big Problems in the world –- asking ourselves, “What difference can I possibly make?”

Hopefully in these stories I help shine a light on the small but important ways that children like you can help make the world a better, kinder, safer place in your own communities. You are our best hope for the future.

My favorite character in Bee the Change was absolutely Otis Smick. He makes me smile, and I love the way Stephen Gilpin, the illustrator, drew him.

Thanks for your sweet letter,

James Preller

And here’s Mia . . . 

I replied: 

Dear Mia,

I wonder if you go to the same school as Hailey? I’d bet a dollar that you do. Anchorage, Alaska. Wow. I’ve never been there, but it sure sounds like an adventurous place to live.

Are bears just like always eating people?

“Where’s Penelope?”

“Oh, she got eaten by bear.”

“Darn, I hate when that happens!”

 

Okay, probably not. But still, the Alaskan wilderness strikes me as vast and formidable and a little bit scary. What a cool place to live.

Anyway, thanks for reading Bee the Change. As you might have guessed, I am very interested in our natural environment –- I love the great outdoors, hiking and camping and exploring — and our connection to all the living creatures that share this planet with us. To quote the poet Gary Snyder: “We must try to live without causing unnecessary harm, not just to fellow humans but to all beings.”

Recently I’ve read fascinating nonfiction books about beavers, and coyotes, and buffalo. It’s just something I enjoy and care about. Some time ago I read about “colony collapse disorder” and became worried about honeybees. Later, when doing research for a different book (Better Off Undead), I met a middle school science teacher who kept a hive box in the school garden! My visit with her was similar to when Kym and Lizzy visited Ozzie’s farm. Like Ozzie, Ms. Ford enjoyed sitting quietly in a chair, a book on her lap, and watching the bees come and go. That’s where most ideas come from for me –- from real life, the things I see, the people I meet, and, yes, the books I read.

I am excited to learn that you and your friends are involved in a cleanup project. That’s so awesome. You are making a difference in our world! Imagine if everyone did just a little bit? What a difference we could make!

My best,

James Preller

 

ALSO IN THE SERIES . . .