Tag Archive for New York Mets

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #229: About Those Crazy Names

 

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Here’s one from the Sunshine State!

Dear Mr. Preller,
 –
My name is Nicolas.  I am 8 years old and I am in 3rd grade at ____  Elementary School in Miramar, FL.  I am writing to tell you that I really liked The Case of The Sneaker Sneak.  This is the third Jigsaw Jones book I have read because I really like Jigsaw Jones.
 

51Xxdj8lrdL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_Jigsaw is a lot like me.  He and I both like mysteries.  We like to solve puzzles.  I also like that Jigsaw plays sports.  I play sports too.  I play soccer, although I like to watch football like Jigsaw plays with his friends in the book. My family likes to watch and play football on Thanksgiving every year just like they do in the book.  I could really picture myself playing with those kids.  I think it is great how Mila and Jigsaw are always able to find clues to solve mysteries and help others.

One question I have for you is where do you come up with all the unique names of the characters in the book?  Do you know people named Solofsky, Pignattano, or Copabianco?  Do you have friends with nicknames like Bigs or Stringbean?

I really enjoy the Jigsaw Jones books and can’t wait to read the next one in my collection.

Sincerely,

Nicolas

I replied:

Dear Nicholas,

Thanks for your terrific letter. I am so glad that you are enjoying the series. I just wrote a new one, The Case from Outer Space, and it will be out in the Spring of 2017 — less than a year away! (You can click here to read a sample chapter. Or not! It’s a free world here at Jamespreller.com.)
 
I’ve never really thought about it before, but I guess you are right. I do put some unique names in the books. Joey Pignattano came directly from my love of the NY Mets. When I was your age, the Mets won a World Series in 1969, and one of their coaches was named Joe Pignatano. I changed his name slightly by adding an extra “t,” and that was that. Copabianco came from a girl I knew in college. It was just one of those long Italian names that musically rolls off the tongue. I did not know anyone named “Bigs” or “Stringbean,” but I did have a friend that we called “Wingnut” because of his large ears. 
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The books in the Jigsaw Jones series have been a little hard to find lately, because they are in the process of moving from one publisher (Scholastic) to another (Macmillan). Hopefully there will be more available next Spring, with all new covers. Look for them where fine books are sold.
 
Keep reading, Nicholas, and I’ll keep writing! And if you ever feel up to it, you might enjoy checking out my “Scary Tales” series. They are not much harder to read than Jigsaw, but you do have to be the sort of kid who likes creepy, suspenseful stories. 
 
My best,
 
James Preller
P.S. For a lot more background on The Case of the Sneaker Sneak, click here — you won’t regret it!

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #’s 222 & 223: Two for the Price of Nothing!

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Okay, let’s roll. This one is from Kieran in Jersey, and in the interest of time I’ll only show an excerpt:

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I replied:

Dear Kieran,

Thanks for your letter. Like you, I prefer The Case of the Snowboarding Superstar over The Case of the Groaning Ghost. There are 40 Jigsaw Jones books. I wanted them all to be brilliant and funny and entertaining, but of course no one can hit home runs every time they get up to the plate. Like the great slugger Ted Williams said, “I just try to put a good swing on the ball.”

As for your questions:

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he's making a big comeback in 2017. I'm so happy about this.

Jigsaw Jones has been out of print for a few years, but he’s making a big comeback in 2017. I’m so happy about this.

1) Yes, I am currently writing my first Jigsaw Jones story in seven years. I don’t have a title yet, still fooling around with it. I believe we are hoping that it will come out in 2017.

2) I have gone skiing in some of the same places as you. These days, I prefer cross-country. No lines, no crowds! I’ve never gone snowboarding because I’m pretty sure I’d die.

3) Sorry, I don’t have any photos to send out. That’s just not something that fits my personality. Just the thought of a stack of glossy photos on my desk kind of grosses me out. I think I’m happier in the shadows. You’ll find the autograph below.

My best,

JP

 

Letter #223 comes from Spokane, WA . . .

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I replied:

Dear Dakota,

Hey, thank for that most excellent, typed letter. As you might know, I also write books for younger readers, and it’s refreshing to receive a letter that isn’t stained with grape jelly.

Thanks for reading Bystander and Six Innings. If you aren’t completely sick of me, you might also like The Fall, which explores some of the same themes as Bystander, but from the perspective of the so-called “bully.” It’s written in a first-person journal format, which makes it relatively quick and easy to read.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn't lie: There's a bear.

Coming in October, 2016: A father and son travel along the Lewis & Clark Trail. And, yes, the cover doesn’t lie: There’s a bear.

Yes, I love baseball. I guess you are a Mariners fan? I grew up a Mets fan, watching the games with my mother, and let me tell you, we’ve endured some rough seasons. But things are looking up these days. Got to love those big arms. My dream was to be a pitcher, but no fastball. Didn’t have the arm. Stupid DNA.

Good luck with ball this season. From the evidence of your letter, you are well on your way to becoming a very accomplished writer. I hope you keep it up. Sometimes our talents surprise us, in that they don’t always come from the expected places. You might dream of becoming a great ballplayer, like I did, only to discover that you have an innate talent for architecture, or medicine, or writing.

You never know!

BTW, nice signature. It will come in handy when you’re famous. 

JP

My New York Mets Hat

As a diehard New York Mets fan, I’d first like to say this . . .

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Also: I sometimes wear baseball caps. Not always, but it happens.

I might throw it on because I haven’t washed my hair in a few days. Okay, in six days. Or because I’m a Mets fan, expressing my allegiance to the team.

But this week, I’m wearing my cap as a signal. I am saying to the world: “Be gentle with me. I’m fragile right now.”

My author photo for the book SIX INNINGS. I still own the same cap. Admittedly, both the cap and my face have experienced a little wear and tear over the years.

My author photo for the book SIX INNINGS. I still own the same cap. Admittedly, both the cap and my face have experienced a little wear and tear over the years, but we’re still hanging out together.

On Writing: “Are You Jigsaw Jones?”

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I love this illustration by Jamie Smith from one of the Jigsaw Jones books. I mean, the glove looks like it might have been drawn by an Englishman, which it was, but the spirit is right. I am very grateful that Jamie illustrated so many books in the series; he was, I think, exactly right.

And, yes, I’m glad to see my love of baseball creep into another book.

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On school visits, readers often as if I am a particular character.

Am I Eric in Bystander? Jude in Before You Go? Am I the great detective Jigsaw Jones? Or the mouse in Wake Me In Spring?

(Okay, no one has ever asked that last question. And the answer is: no, I am not the mouse in Wake Me In Spring! Yes, we both have beady little eyes and whiskers, but beyond that the similarities are purely accidental.)

Back to the Jigsaw question. No, I’m not Jigsaw Jones. It’s rare for any character to fully stand in for the author. But, of course, there are elements of my life and personality — most definitely exhibited in Jigsaw’s sense of humor — in that character. And there are trappings of my childhood in his world.

Like me, Jigsaw is the youngest in the family. Like me at that age, Jigsaw’s grandmother lives with him. And like me, the boy loves baseball.

It was easier to write that way, more natural; I intimately knew those feelings.

But as I’ve grown as a writer, especially from my early days in college, I’ve learned how to distance myself from my characters. The writing, in my case, has become less autobiographical and more fully its own creation. The characters seem to stand and move around on their own two feet, acting according to their own (fictional) inner compasses. I don’t ask what I would do; I ask what they might do. At the same time, parts of my life, my world, leak into everything. How can it be any other way?

Art by Jeffrey Scherer.

Art by Jeffrey Scherer.

Anyway, I didn’t expect to write this muddled post today. I mostly wanted to share my excitement about the coming baseball season. I am coaching again this year, a really nice group of 15-year-old boys. We’ll play a travel season and enter some tournaments. My 10th-grade son, Gavin, will be playing JV baseball. It’s an impressive accomplishment; not so easy to make those teams in our town. And last but not least, my heart is filled with hope about my beloved New York Mets.

Dare I say it? I think they might actually be good this year.

I often sign copies of Six Innings the same way. “Dream big, and swing for the fences!”

Is there any other way to play?

 

BEFORE YOU GO reviewed in The New York Times Sunday Book Review

I’m stepping out from under my self-imposed Cone of Silence . . .

. . . to share the happy news that my new Young Adult novel, Before You Go, will be reviewed in the upcoming New York Times Sunday Book Review. In fact, the way these things work, it’s already online.

For authors, the NYTBR is still the paper of record, and it’s a great feeling to be included in that conversation.

When you tell people that you write children’s books there’s a variety of reactions and non-reactions. Some folks are impressed, even jealous. Others are mute, mystified, and possibly suspicious. The conversation quickly shifts. But a review in the Times is the kind of thing that even Uncle Hank in Elmira can respect.

Money quote:

“Preller makes us care about these people.

We wonder about them when they’re gone.”

Here’s the link to the full piece, which includes a review of Two or Three Things I Forgot to Tell You by Joyce Carol Oates. Some nobody, I guess.

But seriously, Joyce Carol Oates and me. As if we were equals.

More relevant passages:

Preller has created the kind of male protagonist mothers will love for their daughters. Jude is gentle, thoughtful, nonsteroidal and blessedly free of strut. He’s got good friends who don’t tempt trouble, or, at least, don’t tempt all that much. In fact, they are not “geeks, not freaks, not burnouts. In that sense they were like the color black, actually an absence of color, defined by what it was not: not blue, red, orange, green, heliotrope or puce.”

Moreover, Jude is respectful of the girl he likes, and (bonus points) he’s chosen the right girl, the utterly likable Becka. Most of Jude’s friends know his little sister died seven years ago when Jude was only 9 years old. What they don’t know is just how responsible he feels.

The car accident will, of course, change everything; how could it not? It will test Jude’s faith in the world and his relationships. And if sometimes the exposition grows oversaturated with details about, say, beach-side concession stands or boy-quality zombie talk; if the language doesn’t quite lift off the page as much as it might; if, at times, the action slows just a bit too much, Preller makes us care about these people. We wonder about them when they’re gone.

I’m grateful to Beth Kebhart for this kind, thoughtful review. It shouldn’t, but it means a lot to me (I tell myself to be impervious to these things, the accolades as well as the slings and arrows). But still: the Times! Validation, recognition, whatever you want to call it, sign me up. Though I’ve been involved in children’s books for half my life, first publishing an 8″ x 8″ picture book, Maxx Trax: Avalanche Rescue! in 1986, and later writing the Jigsaw Jones mystery series — 40 titles, 10,000,000 sold — I did not get reviewed until 2008 with Six Innings, an ALA Notable Book. If you write paperbacks, as I did, you are something of an ugly step-sister.

So the review process is a relatively new experience for me. Beth’s quibbles with the book (oh, we’ll call them quibbles, whispered softer than complaints) strike me as accurate, and certainly fair. Maybe the narrative is a little slow in parts, maybe there’s too much Jones Beach nostalgia. Too guy? I’m not sure about that (but I’m a guy). It is what it is, and I’m okay with it. Overall, my first YA has been a learning experience. I tried to write the best book I could, I really did strive to make those words lift off the page — and sometimes, here and there, maybe they do. And maybe I stumble at times, stagger around. All these years, still an apprentice. Thanks, Beth Kebhart, for the helping hand, the nod and smile across the cluttered room. At the very least, I’m grateful to have something to show Uncle Hank next time I’m up in Elmira (though, to be honest, we’ll probably skip the literary concerns and complain, instead, about the sorry state of our New York Mets).