Tag Archive for Jigsaw Jones preller

School Visit Season Comes to a Close

Every year, I go out and visit as many schools as I can. And I guess I always will, so long as I’m invited. I don’t take that for granted. I’m grateful to every librarian, teacher, PTA member, administor, and school that has given me that opportunity and responsibility. I do the best I can, give it all I’ve got, and hope to leave each school just a little bit better than when I arrived. It’s not about me; it’s about books, and literacy, and creativity, and the love of learning. Hopefully I help light that fuse.

Yes, please contact me directly at jamespreller@aol.com (go ahead, make your AOL jokes, I can take it) with your queries about future school visits. It’s helpful to get those dates on the calendar for next year. If your PTA finds itself sitting on a pile of extra money, zing me an email. Maybe we can squeeze in one last visit before the school year ends — launch these kids into summer reading. Discounts available.

The photo below was taken in Gravesend, Brooklyn, on a visit to Magen David Yeshivah on McDonald Ave. So nice to visit a school for a second time. It’s a great treat for me to spend time in Brooklyn, my old stomping grounds. Love it there.

Thank you, all!

Stories Behind the Story: The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar

 

UPDATE: I am reposting this from six years back. This book — like every Jigsaw Jones title — subsequently went out of print. Hard to find. I’m told that dedicated fans have success on eBay and Craig’s List. The good news is that Macmillan has contracted to bring eight classic titles back into circulation, beginning this August. I’ve also written a brand new mystery, The Case from Outer Space. And I’d gladly write another if anyone asks. To date, there are no plans for Snowboarding Superstar. 

 

As part of a continuing (read: sporadic) series of posts, I take a look back at old Jigsaw Jones titles with the intention of providing my Nation of Readers with more “extra juicy” background info.

If you are like me, you might gag at the thought of yet another writer describing his “creative process.” There is something oh-so-wearying about it. The phrase, “Don’t be a gasbag,” leaps to mind. But let’s see if I can pull this off without too much self-aggrandizement. The simple truth is that I am proud of this series and I sometimes (often?) wonder how much longer they’ll be around. I see this blog as document, as archive.

Today’s title is seasonally appropriate, Jigsaw Jones #29: The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar. It begins with Jigsaw chatting with two of his brothers, Daniel and Nick, as they prepare for a family ski vacation.

Some background: My father was a veteran of World War II, who returned home, got married, went to college on the G.I. Bill — a great investment by the Federal Government, by the way — and looked with my mother for a nice place to settle down and raise a family. Suburbia, preferably. He found a newly-built home in Wantagh, Long Island, designed after the Levittown model (for a fascinating history on that, click here). They bought a three-bedroom house for somewhere along the lines of $12,500.

One problem: My parents kept having children. Seven in all. It got crowded. At one point when I was still quite young, my folks slept in the back bedroom, my two sisters (Barbara and Jean) shared a small room, three boys had the front room (John, Al, me), and my father turned the garage into a bedroom for the oldest boys (Neal and Bill). I have strong memories of those early childhood days, sharing that crowded room with two big and somewhat mysterious brothers.

Below, here’s my whole family except for Mom, 1967. We always dressed that way! I shared a bedroom with the two goons on the right — don’t let the ties fool you.

The dynamic in the book’s first chapter, with two older brothers schooling Jigsaw, springs directly from my sense of those times.

They are teaching Jigsaw how to talk cool, in the snowboarder’s hipster jargon:

“Let us quiz you, Jigsaw,” Nick said. “What do you call someone if you don’t know their name?”

I thought for a moment. “Dude,” I answered.

“Excellent!” Nick cheered. “What’s a face-plant?”

“It’s when you fall into the snow face-first.”

“Awesome, Jigsaw,” Daniel said. “Totally gnarly!”

“Gnarly?” I asked. “What’s that?”

“It means very, very cool,” Nick explained. “Do you smell me?”

I sniffed, confused. “What?”

“Do you smell me?” Nick repeated. “It means, do you understand?”

“Not exactly,” I groaned.

In the next chapter, Jigsaw gets to try out his new language skills on Mila Yeh, his partner and best friend:

“I’m jealous,” Mila complained. “I wish I were going  on a ski trip.”

“Snowboarding,” I corrected her.

“It sounds hard,” Mila said. “I hear that beginners fall down a lot.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I think it will be sick.”

“Sick?” Mila asked. “Who’s sick?”

“Not who,” I said. “It. Snowboarding will be sick.”

Mila frowned. “I don’t get it.”

“It’s the opposite of wack,” I explained.

Okaaay,” Mila murmured.

“Do you smell me?” I asked.

Mila sniffed. “Well, now that you mention it, you do smell a little ripe.”

Don’t they have a nice friendship? Anyway, some random things:

* I loved the setup for the book, with Jigsaw away from Mila for the first time. It gave the book a different shape — and put Jigsaw in a tough situation. After all, this was #29 in the series, so I was eager to find new ways to keep it fresh. I know that some successful series, like The Magic Tree House, tend to follow a more rigid formula. And I understand the reasons why that’s appealing and reassuring for young readers. But it just wasn’t me. For better and for worse, I kept trying to mix things up.

* Mila mentions to Jigsaw that she’s practicing for a piano recital. Her song will be “The Maple Leaf Rag.” This comes from my son, Gavin, who also played that song in a recital.

* Grams and Billy are left behind to “mind the fort.” This expression, used by Mr. Jones, was something my father commonly said. I love his old verbal habits, the phrases he often used, and I try to keep them alive as best as I can — more than ever now that he’s gone. It’s a way of keeping that connection alive. I hear those phrases and think of Dad, all the more so when his words come out of my mouth.

* I once edited a book on snowboarding, written by Joe Layden. I learned a lot about the sport in the process, so it was comfortable territory for me to explore in the context of a Jigsaw Jones mystery.

In my story, a star snowboarder named Lance Mashman (love that name!) is at the lodge for an upcoming exhibition. However, someone steals his lucky bandanna — and with it, his confidence. While working on No Limits, I was impressed by many of the top female snowboarders, such as Shannon Dunn and Victoria Jealouse. They had a vitality and strength that inspired me, qualities I love to see in my own daughter. Also, they conveyed a refreshing take on competition, much different than you normally hear in the context of traditional athletics. So I invented the character of Tara Gianopolis, a rival to Lance, and a very cool young woman:

Illustration by Jamie Smith — crudely scanned.

“But you two compete against each other,” I said. “You are enemies . . . .”

Tara shook her head. “Man, you don’t know much about snowboarders, do you? This isn’t like football or basketball. We’re athletes, but we’re just trying to be the best we can be. It’s about nailing a backside rodeo or pulling off a perfect McTwist. It’s not about winning medals or beating people. It’s about freedom and creativity.”

“So you don’t care if you win?” I asked.

“I care, I guess,” Tara said with a shrug. “But as long as I ride well, I’m okay with whatever happens.”

* One of the suspects turns out to be Lance’s manager, Bubba Barbo, named in honor of my former editor, Maria Barbo. Once again, that’s a great aspect of writing mysteries. The genre forces the detective out into the world, this moral compass encountering life, making observations, going places, meeting new people all the time. As a series writer, that holds tremendous appeal — new characters in every book. Here’s a snippet from a conversation between Jigsaw and Bubba:

“It sounds like you think Lance is annoying,” I commented.

Bubba growled. “I don’t think he’s annoying. Lance is annoying. He’s always late. He drives me up a wall and across the ceiling.”

“You don’t like him?” I asked.

Bubba made a face. “Whaddaya, kidding? I love the kid,” he said. “Lance has talent. He’s a genius on a snowboard. A great athlete. And besides that, Lance has heart. He’s good people. You know what I’m saying?”

Yes, I knew what Bubba was saying. “I heard that he fired you this morning,” I said.

Bubba stepped back, surprised. Then he laughed out loud. “Lance fires me every week and twice on Sunday,” Bubba claimed. “It doesn’t mean anything. We’re a team.”

 

Fan Mail Wednesday #201 — Plus a FREE Bonus Drawing!

postalletter-150x150

Before I answer Kallen’s letter below, I wanted to share a cool drawing that was sent to me by a boy named Ethan, who lives in Ontario, Canada. Ethan is a fan my “Scary Tales” series, and I believe this is his version of Bloody Mary from the book, HOME SWEET HORROR.

Drawing by Ethan.

Drawing by Ethan.

 

Isn’t that great. I love the body; very creepy somehow.

Now here’s a letter from Wisconsin:

Scan 4

I replied:

Dear Kallen, 

Thank you so much for your super kind letter. I realize that it took you a lot of time and effort to write to me, and I want you to know that I appreciate it.

I’ve been busy working on new books –- I just finished one that took me nearly four years! — but I am happy to take a few minutes out of my (freezing!) Sunday to respond to your request.

Please find my lousy signature below. I say “lousy” because I have terrible handwriting; I blame it on the fact that I’m a lefty.

A great writer? Did you really say that?

I go back to your letter, reread it, then reread it again. Yes, Kallen really said it: “You are a great writer.”

I think I’ll just float around on white, fluffy clouds for the rest of the day!

Your friend,

James Preller

A Tale of Two Covers: What Scares Me, And What Doesn’t

I do not, typically, stalk myself.

I am not, usually, Googling myself.

But it has been known to happen.

Though less and less.

Curiously, new things do pop up.

Yesterday, seeking a jpeg book cover image of my newest SCARY TALES book, Good Night, Zombie, I came across this . . .

I learned that it was the Australian cover — or possibly the British cover? — to the book. Let’s look at the American version for reference . . .

Obviously, they’ve taken the circle logo and made it drippy, like paint splatter. From a design standpoint, I understand that. The strength of the circle is also its design flaw. It is abrupt, awkward, intrusive. The circle does not at all “work” with the other elements. Quite the opposite. The artist, the spectacular Iacopo Bruno, has to illustrate around the logo. It’s an obstacle and it prevents a lot of illustrative possibilities. Which, again, is its strength as a design element — the in-your-faceness of it. Blam, it’s right there. Try to not see it.

Green is the perfect color here, by the way. And the fourth book, Nightmareland, has to be red. It’s in the text. I was at a book fair in Chappaqua on Saturday and had the wonderful opportunity — as an author who normally sits in a windowless room — to watch young readers look at and choose between books #1 and #2 in the series (or, hey, pick up Bystander or Six Innings or slide past to the next table). They look at the yellow Home, Sweet Horror and the purple-ish, I Scream, You Scream. And it’s simply true that boys are turned off by certain colors. Or, okay, have decided preferences. The color to I Scream is something that some boys have to overcome, and the creepy dragon and freaky guy help.

The Australian cover also has an interesting tagline: “Scare Yourself Silly.”

I like it, I think, because in a subtle way they are signaling that maybe this isn’t the “deep gore” some adults might fear. It’s scary, for sure, in that heart-quickening way — anticipatory, suspenseful — but the reader will survive.

OTOH, what does the reader want?

The reader wants to be scared.

(Though perhaps not terrified. Everything is a matter of degrees, personal preferences.)

I’ve heard some parents say, “Will this give her nightmares? I don’t want her to have nightmares.”

And I always silently think: Well, good luck with that.

We all have nightmares. I had a dream last night that two frail, pink-eyed, white rabbits were in my house and my cats were on the slaughter. It was a mess. I woke up. Life goes on. Maybe you had a nightmare about a missing Blackberry. And your kid is worried about the ropes course in P.E.

Nightmares are going to happen, with or without SCARY TALES. The wind in the trees. The lightning. The thunder.

I’ve visited schools and talked about bullying. Talked about, recently, the suicide of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl I think about every single day. I’ve done this at grades 5-up. She haunts me, that girl. I’ll tell children about my oldest son’s experience with cancer. About how he was really sick for a long time. I’ve written about teenagers who drive cars into trees. And I’ve been asked to not discuss ghosts (not that I do, much, and only passingly). I’ve been asked — in two schools, same district — to not talk about SCARY TALES at all. (I declined that invitation, btw.) Because they are scared, too. Afraid of the parent who might complain, the headache they might endure, the freedoms they might have to defend.

I am sympathetic to a point. But personally, just being me here, I find real life to be a whole lot scarier than any story I can make up about ghosts or zombies or androids or freaky snowmen. You just close the book, put it away. Process it . . . however. Real life is something altogether different.

Also: I’m just trying to write the most entertaining stories possible. Lively, fast-paced, suspenseful, surprising, fun. Scary? Sure. But it’s not only that, or merely that.

At the same time, I heard from a librarian yesterday about how the students can’t wait to get their hands on these stories. About what a huge hit they are in the school. It’s such an interesting world, and a curious experience to find myself in the middle of it. Nobody ever complained about Jigsaw Jones or Hiccups for Elephant.

Fan Mail Wednesday #129

This one is from Canada — I can tell, because it will cost me almost a dollar to send a reply.

And yes, folks, that’s a hint! Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

I replied:

Dear Troy,

Thanks for your letter. I love hearing from fans of Jigsaw Jones, because I think he’ll always be my favorite character. Jigsaw and me — we’re tight. I’m proud of those books.

Ideas come from everywhere and everything — but most often, for me, from real life. I think of it as a diving board. I bounce on real life, spring into the air, and land into a pool of imagination. That’s writing for me, real life splashing into the liquid world of “anything goes!”

Does that make any sense at all? I start from real life, then . . . sort of make stuff up. And that’s one way of describing the genre, Realistic Fiction.

My publisher, Scholastic, has been kind enough to publish 40 Jigsaw Jones titles. At this point, they don’t want any more. I’d love to write another story with Jigsaw. Who knows, maybe someday.

Yes, I suppose Jigsaw and I are similar. We share the same views on most things. We vote the same in general elections. We both like the Mets and cereals that are bad for our teeth; we both dislike making our beds, and people who eat tuna fish with their mouths open. I admire a lot about Jigsaw — he has fine qualities I’ll never possess. I especially like his friendship with Mila Yeh. Those two are great together, true friends, and I like the way they are so good to each other.

Keep on reading, my friend! All books, any books, even mine.

JP