Look who I bumped into at a school visit today in Rochester!
Hey, hey, look here!
Macmillan has just come out with four more Jigsaw Jones titles. Each one is newly revised and updated. For more on that process, go here to the Nerdy Book Club. It’s kind of interesting, actually.
After struggling through a dark few years where no Jigsaw Jones titles were available, now we’re back in business. As of today, there are nine early chapter book available to a new generation of readers — and that makes me very happy.
Take a look at my dedication from The Case of the Million-Dollar Mystery:
I am truly grateful for every teacher and librarian who has helped kept Jigsaw on their classroom shelves and in their school libraries. These books simply don’t get into the hands of your readers without your help. I am grateful and indebted.
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:
THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE
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.
“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.”
There are a million ways to create a well-rounded character, and all of them crystallize with concrete details. Today I’d like to share one small example.
I was reading an interview with a young actress, Elisabeth Moss, and a couple of times she described things as “super-[fill in the blank]!”
You know: “I was super, super, super-happy” and “she’s still super-young.”
That appealed to me as a writer, for a number of reasons. It’s a youthful, energetic, and distinctive way of speaking. I immediately imagined a female character who uses that phrasing in her dialogue. Since I’m currently revising a book, I’ll look at giving that vocabulary to a character (and only one character). I may discover that it works, or find that it’s unnecessary or even excessive. We never wish to gild the lily. In which case I’ll file it away — read: hope to remember it — for another day.
The point is, I do seek out particular phrases or speech patterns for different characters. Charlie Brown says, “Good grief.” Jigsaw Jones says, “Oh brother,” “Go figure,” and “Yeesh.” Another character might say “like” a lot or utter something like, “Am I right or am I wrong?” As a writer, you try to find those singular ways of speaking, anything to help individualize a character. Then you look at clothes, or mannerisms — the way Mila Yeh pulls on her long black hair, or another character scratches behind his knees — and those specific details build character.
So thank you, Elisabeth Moss. You were super-helpful!