Tag Archive for Preller Fan Mail

Fan Mail Wednesday #289: About That “Happy/Sad” Thing

 

I enjoyed this letter from Sasha, who does things, like margins (for example) a little bit differently — which is a good thing, btw.

Why are some of us drawn to sadness?

Note: I mistakenly wrote on the back of Sasha’s letter, so some blue marker shows through. Go ahead, sue me.

 

 

I replied . . .

 

Dear Sasha,

Thank you for your spirited letter — so much of your personality came pouring out, like rain through a screen window. My favorite line: “I legit loved the book!” 

The happy/sad feeling? Oh yeah, I know that one very well. I’ve always been drawn to so-called “sad” things. In music, film, art, whatever. It might be my Irish ancestry, I don’t know. People will say, “Oh, I only want to see happy movies.” But to me, a lot of those “happy” movies just strike me as, yawn, really fake and superficial. I get bored. One thing about sadness: like laughter, it’s a true emotion –- and when we share a truth, any truth, it connects us as human beings. And that makes me happy. So, yeah, the happy/sad thing.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the idea of books as mirrors and/or windows. It’s an interesting way of looking at literature and how it functions in our lives, building self-perception and empathy. Some books reflect back upon us –- we see ourselves, perhaps in a new light -– while others help us see into new worlds. I like it.

The beautiful, haunting cover of the Japanese translation of my book, THE FALL.

Another happy/sad book of mine you might like is The Fall. It takes the issue of bullying to a darker place than Bystander, and ends up as a meditation, of sorts, on forgiveness. It’s told from the point of view of a boy, writing in his journal, after a girl’s death. The book won a YALSA award and, strangely, was nominated for some big award in Japan. I suspect they have a misfit/bully problem over there, too. I also have a new book coming out in October, Blood Mountain, a wilderness survival story with a brother, sister, and dog lost in the mountains. Super fast-paced adventure with some good writing, too.

I loved your letter, Sasha. All good things,

James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #287: Writing Advice from Turkey

Here’s one all the way from Turkey . . .

Dear Mr. Preller,
I am a 5th grade student in Turkey and I read “The Case of the Best Pet Ever” as my project homework. I think that your book was very entertaining for kids like me who like mystery books. Jigsaw and Mila worked hard to find evidences and questioned suspects to solve the mystery of the stolen prize. I liked the book because it has a surprise ending, I wasn’t expecting Rags to win the medal. Jigsaw thought that Rags was a hopeless and useless dog but when Rags found the prize Jigsaw understood that everyone has their own talents. Rags may not be a very talented dog to win a pet competition but he is talented in finding treasures. I also liked the friendship and teamwork between Mila and Jigsaw. There were a lot of nice sayings like “Try to be the person your dog thinks you are.” My favorite simile was “I was as frustrated as a dentist in a candy store”. If I were you I would write more about the things they do to solve the mystery to keep the curiosity level higher. I will definitely read more of your books and thank you for your time.
Best Regards,
Derin ______
I replied . . .
Dear Derin,
You wrote an excellent letter, filled with good observations and sharp understanding. Thanks for that. 
It’s funny, I get a fair amount of letters from Turkey. My guess is that there’s one teacher there — somewhere! — who has a bin of my books. I’m grateful to that mysterious superfan.

Featuring illustrations throughout by R.W. Alley!

I always have bittersweet feelings about this particular book. I’ve written many, as you know; the newest title, The Case of the Hat Burglar (Macmillan, August 2019) will be the 42nd in the series. So, yeah, that’s crazy. Some books are more successful than others. Or in kinder terms, each has different strengths and weaknesses. Some are funnier; some have sturdier mysteries, better detective work; some have more heart, emotion; and so on.

This particular title came at a time when my oldest son, Nicholas (now 25), had been diagnosed with cancer. Just a little boy, dangerously sick. It was a hard time for our family. I did my best to work through those times, but on Best Pet Ever I had some help from a co-writer. I did my best, I’m responsible for every word, but I might have been floating in outer space when it was all happening. Anyway, today Nick is healthy and strong and living in the Big Apple, i.e., New York City. 
Thanks for your letter. I do hear your advice about the detective work. I’ll keep trying!
All good things,
James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #284: Emergency Author Interview!

 

At a recent school visit, an eager student came up to me after a presentation hoping for an interview. Unfortunately, it was toward the end of the day, I still had books to sign, etc. There wasn’t time. I said I’d be happy to answer questions if she wrote to me. Usually it ends there.

And guess what? She persisted.

We admire that attribute in young women, don’t we?

Here’s the email, sent by Chloe’s librarian, and my response.

 

Hi Jimmy,

I apologize for the rush, but a student of mine, Chloe, has some interview questions that she needs answering as soon as possible.
1. What was the first  book you ever wrote?
2. What was the favorite book that you’ve ever written?
3. If you were not an author, what would be your second career and why?
4. From where do you get your inspiration? Do your kids inspire you?
5. When you were young, were you good at reading?
6. What is your favorite book?
7. What “role” did you play when you were in school? Were you the teacher’s pet? The sports jock? The bully?  etc
8. Why don’t any of your characters get killed?
9. How does your childhood affect your career as a writer?
10. What made you decide to become a writer?
11. Are you working on a new book? And if so, what is it about?
12. Would you want to choose any of the covers for your books?
13. How long do you think you will keep writing?
Thank you so much!
Aliya
I replied:
Since this is a rush, let me answer without too much thinking . . .
1. Maxx Trax: Avalanche Rescue! It was a picture book about superpowered trucks.
2. Blood Mountain, coming in October.
3. Editor. Something with a creative element involving books.
4. Inspiration is all around me, including my children.
5. Good at reading? Hmmm, I think so; I don’t recall having any problems with it. But I was not an enthusiastic reader until high school, college.
6. Of all books? Oh my. Where the Wild Things Are is pretty darn good! I like Owl Moon a lot. My favorite novel from the past year is titled Overstory by Richard Powers.
7. I didn’t really fit into a category. Not a jock, not a clown. I flew under the radar with a small group of close friends. The misfits?
8. I have had characters die in The Fall and Before You Go, but those books are for older readers (grades 7-up). I’ve also had characters face serious illness in Six Innings and The Courage Test. So it’s not all been just rainbows, cupcakes and unicorns. And, technically, Adrian in Better Off Undead is a 7th-grade zombie — he died and reanimated — so I’ve got that covered, too.
9. My childhood, my roots, profoundly affect everything I write. Most clearly and obviously in the Jigsaw Jones series, where he is the youngest of a large family — like me.
10. I don’t think we “decide” to be writers, so much as we pick up a pen and make time to write. It can be a journal, a letter, a poem, a story, whatever. It’s just how I’ve processed my thoughts and feelings.
11. I am the “thinking” stage of a new book that features Mary, a minor (but crucial) character in the book Bystander. Haven’t written a word yet — but I’m getting there!
12. Would I like more of a voice in the creation of my book covers? Yes, yes, yes.
13. I will write until the day I die. There’s no reason to stop. Of course, I may not have any readers left. But the truth is, I’d do it anyway!
Thanks for asking.
 
My best,
James Preller



 

Fan Mail Wednesday Double Dip: #277 & #278!

 

Two quick ones, featuring Bystander and Jigsaw Jones.

William zinged over a quick email:

 

In my class, we are going to read Bystander as a group activity, and I have one question. How did you become such a good author?

I replied:
William,
Every February I spend two weeks meditating in a yurt in Mongolia.
Pro tip!
That’s pretty much it.
Oh, and: I mostly learn from reading. Slowly, thoughtfully — not blazing through to get it over with, but reading as a writer.
And then, of course, now that I’ve written so many things for so many years, I learn from writing, too.
My best,
James Preller
SPECIAL BONUS MAIL . . .

Rees writes:

 

Hi Mr. Preller,
My mom is letting me use her phone and write to you. I have a book report to do about my favorite character. Mine is Jigsaw. What color are his eyes? What color is his hair? What do you think is special about him?

Thank you for your help.
Rees
2nd grade
(My mom helped with punctuation and capitals.)

I replied:
Rees,
You have a nice mom. Don’t drop the phone in the toilet or she’ll be mad. My wife, Lisa, has done that — twice!
Jigsaw has brown hair and . . . I don’t know what color eyes. If you look at drawing, it’s just black dots. 
You can say hazel and no one will ever know the truth.
There are many things that make Jigsaw special.  In no particular order:
* His honesty.
* His sense of fairness.
* His kindness — he’s a good friend.
* His determination.
Jigsaw isn’t perfect. He makes mistakes. But he never, ever gives up. 
Now give that phone back to your mom before I hear a splash.
Thanks for writing. I just finished writing a new Jigsaw Jones book, The Case of the Hat Burglar. It’s about how items from the school “Lost and Found” begin to disappear. Someone has been stealing them!
Your friend,
James Preller



FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #269: Gerard in the Philippines!

postalletter-150x150

 

 

Dear Mr. James Preller,
Greetings!
I am Gerard _______, a Grade 11 student of Mapua University in the Philippines. I became fond of your book “Six Innings” because as a former student-athlete myself, I love sports and this book particularly caught my attention as one of my favorite sports is actually baseball. I got interested to playing baseball growing up as my father was once a baseball pitcher.
I would like to commend you for your amazing book and its success. Personally, every detail of the book was very well put together and I liked the fact that I can visualize every word of the book. You put a lot of thought into making this book, and that is a testament of how passionate you are about your career. I genuinely enjoyed reading every bit of your book.
paperback-cover-six-inningsApart from that, I know playing sports really does instill valuable lessons in life. As an author, where do you find the inspiration in writing “Six Innings?” I know every author has his or her inspiration. I would like to ask you this because I would try my luck in writing and telling my own stories, and garnering information from you would really help me.
You really did inspire me through your book. As I was reading your book, I keep getting flashbacks of my time as a former student-athlete, and looking back, I realized how much I have grown and I saw the things I was not able to before.
Keep inspiring your readers as we have, hopefully, inspired you as well. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude for inspiring me in all aspects of my life as a son, as a student, and as a person. I wish you all the best in your career. Thank you for taking the time reading my email. I will be looking forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,
Gerard _______
Manila, Philippines

 

Inspired by Gerard’s inquisitiveness, I replied at length . . .

Dear Gerard,

Thanks for your letter all the way from the Philippines (that’s one “l” and two “p’s” for the spelling-challenged, I tell myself). While I have previously enjoyed receiving letters from far-flung places, it never ceases to amaze me.
 
Some dude named Gerard in the Philippines read my book!
 
We connected across all the distance.
 
Aren’t books amazing? Such a solitary process — the writing of a book, as well as the reading of a book — and yet here we are, connected, a lit fuse.
 
You asked about my inspiration for Six Innings. 
 
Since you are obviously a thoughtful reader, a little older and — maybe? — a writer yourself, I thought I’d try to answer that with a little more detail than usual.
 
Inspirations are slippery things, very hard to pin down. Once you think you’ve got it — ah-ha! that’s why I wrote the book! — it squirts away like a bar of soap. There is rarely, for me, one single inspiration. It’s more of an accumulation of events, perceptions, feelings. At a certain point you commit to a path, start hacking away in the jungle, and there’s no turning back.
 
But let’s begin with my mother. She was a huge baseball fan when I was growing up. My mother loved the Brooklyn Dodgers when she was a girl in Queens, NY, and later transferred her allegiance to the NY Mets. At a certain point, I came along, her seventh (and best) child, and shared her love of the game. I now believe that my love of baseball is also an expression of my love for my mother, the two are deeply connected in my mind and heart.
 
I have vivid memories of playing Little League baseball when I was a small boy — I can tell you exactly what happened on baseball diamonds nearly 50 years ago, which is crazy. That stuff stayed with me. Forever, it seems. And that awareness informed me that it was also true for other kids. These games were important to them. It mattered. It was where they lived. Later as a father, I had the opportunity to coach and manage many teams and hundreds of games at every level (even adult). So I began to see the game from that perspective, too.
 
I also enjoy reading baseball books, and I’ve read quite a number over the years. In fact, I have a pretty good collection of baseball classics on my bookshelves. It felt inevitable that one day, I would give it a try. I wanted one of my books on that shelf.
 
Then I had my “magic ball” idea (which I ultimately abandoned, but nevermind!). I was watching a film by John Sayles, I can’t recall which one, and it featured a long tracking shot. It occurs to me that I might be making this all up, something I imagined, but hang with me, Gerard. The camera follows a man as he enters a crowded party, people coming and going. A woman walks by and — whoosh! — the camera shifts and follows her. She bumps into someone else and — whoosh! — the camera swerves and now follows that person. It was all fluid and organic, not accomplished with editing, but via one long shot with a camera on wheels. The camera simply followed the next person to come along.
 
And I thought, Could I do that with a baseball?
IMG_2440
 
The pitcher holds the ball. I tell his story. The ball is thrown, the batter hits it, the center fielder races it down in the outfield. I tell his story. And so on. It could be that a foul ball goes into the stands — I can now tell that person’s story, the mother, the uncle, the friend. Just keep following the ball. My idea was to use the game to explore all these characters on the field. Through the initial writing process, and the editorial back-and-forth, we decided to hone tighter to the game itself. I had to cut more than 10,000 words of character sketches, background info.
 
It struck me that books move in two directions. Forward, or down. Forward means action, the plot moving along. Down is when we develop character, go deeper into things, stop time. When you write a book, that’s the tension — between forward or down. It’s very hard to do both at the same time (but possible in brief moments of revelatory action, where the action serves as a revelation of character). However, when a writer spends too much time exploring character, too much time digging, the plot stalls. There’s no forward motion! At the same time, if a book is only forward motion, a giant chase with nonstop action, then readers won’t connect with the characters.
 
Which is to say: My notion for the book ultimately failed in the first draft, in part, because I lost track of the forward motion (which was, of course, the game). Once I revised and got tighter to the game, I found there was still room to explore character; I just had to strike the proper balance. Every reader, of course, has his or her own preferences. Some people like a lot of plot, the page-turner; others want the depth of character, the closely observed scenes.
 
Thanks for your letter, Gerard. Dream big & swing for the fences!
 
James Preller