Tag Archive for Jamie Smith

NEW Jigsaw Jones Book: Inside Info & Sample Chapter!


I am very excited about the revival of my “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series, thanks to my friends at Macmillan. I owe a particular debt to three people: my agent, Rosemary Stimola, and two fierce women in publishing, Jean Feiwel and Liz Szabla. Not only are they resurrecting some long out-of-print titles, but they’ve asked me to write a new book. Which I just did, The Case from Outer Space. A daunting task at first — it had been some years since I’d entered Jigsaw’s world — but very quickly it felt like home again. It was a happy book for me to write, and I hope that comes through in the story.

Right now my publisher, along with artist R.W. Alley, are exploring new cover designs for the series re-launch. My job, at this point, is to sit back and hope for the best. Fingers, toes, everything’s crossed! It’s not as hard as it sounds. I’m confident that the fate of my favorite detective is in good hands. Which is such a relief. Probably the most painful part of my publishing life has been to watch that series, with almost eleven million books in homes and classrooms, slowly die on the vine due to neglect. Nobody could buy them anymore outside of Craig’s List. Well, that’s going to change, and I feel nothing but grateful.

One other small detail that pleases me about the new book is that I used a “Little Free Library” as a central device in the mystery. I love Little Free Libraries — we have several in our sunny burb — and I’ll glad to give the idea a moment in the spotlight. Readers may enjoy this terrific piece about the libraries by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan, originally posted over at The Nerdy Book Club.


In the meantime, here’s a sample from the upcoming book, due in the Spring of 2017, along with four more titles. Jigsaw is back!

Sample chapter from The Case from Outer Space.




One Small Problem


I poured three glasses of grape juice.

“Got any snacks?” Joey asked. “Cookies? Chips? Corn dogs? Crackers?”

“Corn dogs?” I repeated. “Seriously?”

“Oh, they are delicious,” Joey said. “I ate six yesterday. Or was that last week? I forget.”

Danika shook her head and giggled. Joey always made her laugh.

I set out a bowl of chips.

Joey pounced like a football player on a fumble. He was a skinny guy. But he ate like a rhinoceros.

“So what’s up?” I asked.

“We found a note,” Danika began.

“Aliens are coming,” Joey interrupted. He chomped on a fistful of potato chips.

I waited for Joey to stop chewing. It took a while. Hum-dee-dum, dee-dum-dum. I finally asked, “What do you mean, aliens?”

“Aliens, Jigsaw!” he exclaimed. “Little green men from Mars –- from the stars –- from outer space!”

I looked at Danika. She shrugged, palms up. “Maybe,” she said. “You never know.”

I took a long swig of grape juice. “You mentioned a note,” I said to Danika.

She sat tall, eyes wide. “It’s very mysterious, Jigsaw. That’s why we came to you.”

“Narffle-snarffle,” Joey mumbled, his mouth still full of chips.

I leaned back in my chair. I shoved my hands into my pockets. They were empty. Business had been slow. I was a detective without a case. “Let me make a phone call,” I said.

I never work alone. My partner’s name is Mila Yeh. We split the money down the middle, 50-50. Mila has long black hair. She’s crazy about books. And she’s my best friend on the planet. Together, we make a good team.

I asked Mila to meet us in my tree house. She said she’d be over in five minutes.

It took her three and a half.

Mila lived next door. And she was as quick as a rabbit.

As usual, Mila was singing. I knew the tune, but the words were different:


    “Twinkle, twinkle, little mystery!

     How I wonder what you are?

     Could you really be up there?

     Do Martians wear . . . underwear?”


“You’re funny,” Danika said. She sent a warm smile in Mila’s direction.

“That last line needs work,” Mila replied. She sang again, “Do Martians wear . . . underwear?” Satisfied, Mila sat down, criss-cross applesauce. We gathered in a snug circle. There was no choice. My tree house wasn’t exactly a palace. I am not complaining. But I don’t go up there on windy days. Mila’s eyes were active and alert. They moved from Joey to Danika, before settling on me. “Aliens, huh?” Mila asked.

“From outer space,” Joey said.

“Uh-huh,” Mila replied. If she thought Joey was crazy, Mila was too nice to say it out loud.

I took out my detective notebook. I opened to a clean page. With a blue pen, I wrote:



CLIENTS: Joey and Danika



I left that part blank. I didn’t have any clues. I wasn’t even sure I had a case. But it was better than nothing.

“Maybe we could start from the beginning,” Mila suggested.

“Hold on.” I slid forward an empty coin jar. “We get a dollar a day.”

Joey and Danika exchanged glances. “We have one teensy-weensy problem,” Danika said.


“No money,” Joey confessed.

“We’re flat broke,” Danika said.

“That’s the worst kind of broke,” I sighed.

Here's an illustration Jigsaw, Geetha, and Mila, taken from THE CASE OF THE PERFECT PRANK, illustrated by Jamie Smith. The art for OUTER SPACE hasn't been completed.

Here’s an illustration Jigsaw, Geetha, and Mila, taken from THE CASE OF THE PERFECT PRANK, illustrated by Jamie Smith. The art for OUTER SPACE hasn’t been completed.

“Maybe we could trade?” Joey offered. He reached into his back pocket. His hand came out holding a hunk of smelly orange glop. “I’ve got some cheese!”

Mila leaned away. “You keep random cheese in your back pocket?”

“My front pockets were full,” Joey explained.

I was afraid to ask. We were all afraid. No one wanted to know what was in Joey’s front pockets. A frog? A hard-boiled egg? Last week’s bologna sandwich? Anything was possible.

There was still the problem of payment. I did not liking working for free. It was bad for business. But I needed a mystery the way a fish needs to swim . . . the way a bird needs to fly . . . the way a three-toed South American tree sloth needs to hang upside down.

“Okay,” I decided. “We’ll look into it. No promises.”

“Thanks, Jigsaw,” Danika said.

“You can still have my cheese,” Joey said. He held out the orange glop as if it were pirate’s treasure.

Mila coughed. “That’s nice of you, Joey. Just hold on to it for now. For safe keeping.” She turned to Danika. “Let’s see that note.”

All Over the World: Selected Titles in Arabic, Indonesian, German, Korean, Greek, Spanish and More

For someone who has such difficulties with the English language, it’s something of a shock for me to realize how many of my books have been translated into different languages.

Yesterday I got two new ones in the mail: Jigsaw Jones in Arabic and Scary Tales in Indonesian. I always discover these translations in a haphazard way. They just come in the mail or, in many instances, never come at all. I gather that the Arabic translations of Jigsaw have existed for years. Who knew? Not me. They keep us writers in the dark; like mushrooms, we prefer damp, dank places.

Today I warmed up the trusty, rusty scanner to share a random few translations with you. I have others in French, Italian, Portuguese, and more, but nevermind that. Look here . . .

Arabic versions of The Case of the Race Against Time and The Case of the Golden Key.

Arabic versions of The Case of the Race Against Time and The Case of the Golden Key.

Here’s a sample page . . .

Cool, right? Here's Geetha, the class artist, showing Mila and Jigsaw an artist's rendering of the suspect.

Cool, right? Here’s Geetha, the class artist, showing Mila and Jigsaw an artist’s rendering of the suspect. Illustration by Jamie Smith.

In German, Jigsaw Jones was entirely re-illustrated and translated into “Puzzle Paul.”

Jigsaw Jones -- I mean, Puzzle Paul --searches for a valuable coin in the German translation of The Case of the Christmas Snowman.

Jigsaw Jones — I mean, Puzzle Paul –searches for a valuable coin in the German translation of The Case of the Christmas Snowman.

Here’s the back cover of one of my Scary Tales titles, newly translated into Indonesian.

Scan 1

They love baseball in Korea too:

Six Innings, the Korean translation.

Six Innings, the Korean translation.

Let’s see, how about an interior from the Spanish translation of Hiccups for Elephant?

Poor Mouse was trying to sleep. Illustration by Hans Wilhelm.

Poor Mouse was trying to sleep. Illustration by Hans Wilhelm.

I’ll stop here with this one, a favorite, the Greek translation of Bystander. Isn’t it amazing? Aren’t I lucky? Doesn’t it just blow your mind to think about it, writing books that are read all over the world?

Scan 6

One of My Favorite Moments in the “Jigsaw Jones” Series . . . A Small Tribute to My Late Brother

Illustration by Jamie Smith from Jigsaw Jones #10: The Case of the Ghostwriter. This is one of my favorite illustrations from the entire series for reasons explained below. Jamie gave me the original artwork -- for free, here, take it -- and now I hang it on my office wall, and it always makes me think of my brother. Every day.

Illustration by Jamie Smith from Jigsaw Jones #10: The Case of the Ghostwriter. This is one of my favorite illustrations from the entire series for reasons explained below. Jamie gave me the original artwork — for free, here, take it — and now I hang it on my office wall, and it always makes me think of my brother. Every day.

In what I hope will be a recurring feature on an irregular schedule, I thought I’d try to convey some of the background to each of my Jigsaw Jones titles.

And in no particular order.

The Case of the Ghostwriter has a lot of cool little things in it that most readers might miss.

I dedicated this book to Frank Hodge, a near-celebrity local bookseller on Lark Street in Albany, who is known and beloved by many area teachers and librarians. He’s one of Albany’s living treasures. When I moved to the area from Brooklyn, in 1990, Frank’s store, Hodge-Podge Books, was right around the corner. Of course, I stopped in and we became friends. I actually put Frank in this story: a guy named Frank owns a store called Hedgehog Books. I even included his cat, Crisis. Jigsaw and Mila visit Frank’s store in the hopes of tracking down a mysterious author.

Chapter Eight begins:

Hedgehog Books was a cozy little store. Our parents had been taking Mila and me since we were little. My mom said that Frank’s favorite thing was to bring books and kids together.

In the story, there’s a series of popular books — The Creep Show series — loosely modeled on R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps.” Mila has been eating them up, reading titles such as Green Wet Slime and Teenage Zombie from Mars. The author’s name on the cover, a pen name, is R.V. King. (Ho-ho.) There’s a rumor that he’s coming to visit room 201 for the “Author’s Tea.” Who can the Mystery Author be? I bet you can guess.

For me, the part I’m proudest of in this book is Chapter Seven, “My Middle Name,” a tribute to my oldest brother, Neal, who passed away in 1993, a few months after my first son, Nicholas, was born.

Ms. Gleason has the students reading family stories in class, Abuela by Arthur Dorros and The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Pollaco. The students, including Jigsaw and Mila, are asked to write their own family stories.

To research his family stories, Jigsaw interrupts his parents while they are playing chess. “Now’s not a good time,” his father replies. “I’m trying to destroy your dear mother.” (I always liked that line.)

At bed that night, Jigsaw and his father have a heart to heart. Mr. Jones tells Jigsaw about his middle name, Andrew, who was Jigsaw’s uncle. Now this part is totally true, because my son’s middle name is Neal, after his uncle.

“And he died,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Andrew died.” I heard the air leave my father’s lips. The sound of a deep sigh.

I put my head on his shoulder. “Why did you name me after him?”

They talk some more:

That’s when I noticed it. The water in his eyes. A single tear, then another, slid down his cheek. My father was crying. I’d never seen him cry before. It made me nervous.

“Don’t be sad, Dad.” I hugged him with both arms, tight.

He wiped the tears away with the back of his sleeve.

He sniffed hard and smiled.

“I’m not sad, Jigsaw,” he said. “It’s just that I remember little things that happened. Little things Andrew said or did. And I’ll always miss him.”

“Can you tell me?” I asked. “About the little things?”

My father checked his watch. “Not tonight, son. It’s late already. But I will tomorrow, promise.”

“Good night, Dad,” I said. “I’m sorry you’re sad.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “That’s life, I guess. Sometimes we lose the good ones. Good night, Theodore Andrew Jones. Sleep tight.”

Then he shut the door.

I’d never attempt to read that chapter aloud to a group. I can never read it  without remembering, without crying. I guess in that scene, I’m Jigsaw’s dad — and my son, Nicholas Neal Preller, stands in for Jigsaw, trying to learn about an uncle, my brother, whom he never had the chance to meet.


NOTE: I originally posted this in 2009.

Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Frog-Jumping Contest

There’s a little bit of Mark Twain in this book, mostly from two sources, his short story “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” and, of course, his Huckleberry Finn character.

The story begins with a standard thriller device, the ticking bomb. Throw a deadline into a standard mystery and you immediately ratchet up the tension. In this case, look at the book’s opening paragraphs:

“My frog is missing,” croaked Stringbean Noonan. “And I MUST have him back by this Sunday at noon.”

“Sunday at noon?!” Mila exclaimed. “That’s only twenty-four hours from now.”

Stringbean stuffed two dollars into my coin jar. “There’s more where that came from,” he sniffed. “Just find that frog.”

Adonis, the missing frog, was no ordinary frog. (Love that name, btw.) He was a champion jumper with hops to spare, and there was a big frog-jumping contest coming up — with a $20 cash prize for the longest leap.

So already we’ve added motive to the mystery.

“Twenty dollars,” I whistled. “That’s a lot of money.”

I borrowed the first Twain idea in Chapter Five, “Want to Bet?” Most famously, there’s a character in Twain’s “The Notorious Jumping Frog from Calaveras County,” a noted gambler named Jim Smiley, who loves to bet. On anything. And everything. Twain describes him thus in the story:

“If he even seen a straddle bug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get to — to wherever he going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road.”

Anyway, I reread the story during the brainstorming stages of the book, when I was casting about for ideas, so I decided to give that character trait to a minor character, Jigsaw’s classmate, Eddie Becker, who I had established in previous books as being highly motivated by money.

Eddie loved to bet — and there wasn’t anything in the world he wouldn’t bet on. Two birds might be sitting on a telephone line. Eddie would bet which one would fly away first. He’d bet on a ball game or the color of the next car that drove down the street. The weirder the bet, the happier he was. Eddie was just one of those guys who needed to keep things interesting. Regular life wasn’t quite enough for him. Nah, there had to be something riding on it.

Jigsaw and Eddie enjoy a friendly bet. Later Eddie casually mentions a new suspect, Sasha Mink (another name I love). With Adonis now out of the way, Sasha stands to win the frog-jumping contest with her entry, Brooklyn. Eddie tells Jigsaw that she lives in the big house on the corner of Penny Lane and Abbey Road.

(These Jigsaw Jones books are loaded with pop culture references that likely float over the heads of 98% of readers. Just for fun — and for Mom or Dad who might be reading the story aloud.)

Jigsaw eventually decides he needs to learn more about frogs, so he enlists the aid of Slim Palmer, the best frog trainer in town. Here’s an illustration of Slim, as drawn by the book’s wonderful illustrator, Jamie Smith.

Look like anybody you know?

That’s Huckleberry Finn, folks. And the resemblance is intentional.

I had great fun writing the “frog whisperer” chapters, where Jigsaw meets 14-year-old Slim Palmer (and there’s a nod to Chili Palmer here, too, from the movie “Get Shorty,” based on the book by Elmore Leonard, just his casual cool). Another side note: that’s one of the advantages of writing detective stories. Each new mystery takes the detective out into the world — a bastion of moral integrity in a world gone sour: in this case, the second-grade version — where he meets new characters, good and bad. It keeps the series fresh for readers, and entertaining to write, too. Whenever the series felt boring or stale, I knew it was time for Jigsaw (and me) to encounter new faces and places.

“You’re going about this case all wrong,” Slim told me. “First thing you got to do is you got to start thinking like a frog.”

“Thinking like a frog?” I repeated.

“Exactamundo,” Slim said with a sharp nod.

“Ribbit,” I croaked.

“I’m not joking,” Slim protested. “Frogs are serious creatures. They don’t joke around.”

I researched on the internet how to catch frogs, learned some things about using a burlap bag and a flashlight, so wrote a scene where Slim urged Jigsaw to step (reluctantly) into a rather gross lake. Together they succeed in snagging a frog, and before he departs, Slim offers one final bit of advice:

“Oh, don’t you worry,” Slim said. “You’ll be fine. Just remember what I said. You have to be kind to that frog. Treat him nice, like he’s your little brother or something. A happy frog is a good jumping frog. You have to love him. A frog gets scared or nervous, he’ll jump sideways, backways, anyways. You’ll never win nothing with a jittery frog.”

Slim also advised Jigsaw to keep his frog with a pan of water. It was important to keep them wet. As he explained, “You don’t want a dry frog. They don’t jump so good when they’re dead.”

POSTSCRIPT: I have to share this letter that I was handed last week on a visit to Tioga Hills Elementary. One student, Alyssa, apparently read a book a day in preparation for my arrival — and wrote a letter to me about each one. Amazing, amazing. I have more than a dozen letters from Alyssa. Here’s the one she wrote for The Case of the Frog-Jumping Contest. Thank you, Alyssa, you rock.


Fan Mail Wednesday #86 (Thursday Edition)

Below, a nice note from a young marshmallow enthusiast! But first, take a gander:

Illustration by Jamie Smith.

Dear Mr. Preller,

I like you and your books! Jigsaw Jones is cool! They are my favorite books to look for at the library. My favorite book is The Case of the Marshmellow Monster because it has marshmellows in it! I love marshmellows! Thank you for these fun books.

Thomas, 1st grader

I replied:


Thank you very much for your kind email. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, but baseball season started and I’ve been DISTRACTED.

You know what that means?

When I should be working, I keep daydreaming about line drives and high fly balls and stolen bases.

I love marshmallows, too. In fact, just last night I had the most amazing dream. I was eating the world’s largest marshmallow. It was huge, and it took me forever to swallow it.

When I woke up, my pillow was GONE!


Be careful what you dream.