Tag Archive for Preller Fan Mail

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

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #262: A Remarkable Letter from Istanbul

postalletter-150x150

 

Such an impressive letter from a young reader in Istanbul . . . 

 

Dear Mr. James Preller,

Hello, my name is Damla. I am a 9 years old 5th grade student from İstanbul Hisar School. I read your book named “ The case from outer space”. Your book was very fun and interesting and I want to share my thoughts with you in this letter.

istanbul_600x225

First of all the Jigsaw Jones character was my favorite because he has good friends, he is smart and fun. Also he likes adventures and that’s why he is curious.

I chose to first read this book from the series because I am interested in getting to know more about space!

I was very curious about what would happen and what all those codes meant. So I kept reading and reading.

Finally finding out that it wasn’t an alien but a lady astrounot coming to school was a great surprise to me.

If I could be one of the kids I wish I was Jigsaw because you created this character with great curiosity, courage and power to finish whatever he starts.

Thank you for creating such a story and writing it so nicely so that I could read.

Best Regards,
Damla

I replied . . .

Dear Damla,

That was a gorgeous letter, Damla, so kind and thoughtfully crafted. Thank you very much for that.

And all the way from Istanbul, too!

You are right about Jigsaw. It’s not that he’s the smartest guy in the room. But he’s got spirit and integrity and he never gives up. Fortunately, as you noted, Jigsaw has good friends, especially Mila. She helps him a lot.

OUTER SPACE_70 (1)

Yes, I really like outer space too. It’s something that fascinates me. The great unknown. One of the ideas the book asks is if there’s life in outer space. Okay, perhaps not little green men from Mars. Or, um, definitely not men from Mars. But why not from some other distant planet? Perhaps a planet we don’t even know about yet!

When I researched for the book, I read about scientists who have made it their life’s work to listen for messages from deep space. They keep sending out signals, working to improve their equipment, hoping that someday, somehow, we people of earth will receive an answer. That’s why I ended the book the way I did, with the notion that maybe our current phones just aren’t good enough yet.

Like those cell phone commercials: “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?”

I particularly like that final chapter when Jigsaw, Grams, and his father walk out into an open field to stare up at the night sky. Haven’t we all done this?

OUTER SPACE_84 (1)

“Oh hush, you two,” Grams said. “Just look at the stars.”

And so we did.

We stood in an open field.

In the dark of night.

And gazed at the stars.

In perfect silence.

“That’s the real mystery, Jigsaw,” my father said. “Are we alone in the universe? We don’t know yet. It’s a mystery that can’t be solved –- even by the best detectives.”

“Not yet,” I said, gazing at the night sky. “Not yet.”

Not terrible, right? Don’t you love that illustration by R.W. Alley? His real name is Bob. I love those brief, quiet, family moments in these books. I try to tug at the reader’s heart a little bit if I can. 

Thank you for that truly exceptional letter, Damla. Here in the United States, a 5th grade student is usually 11 years old. Our 9-year-olds tend to be in our version of 3rd grade. It’s just one of the little cultural differences between us.

You know what? Boy, I’d love to see photo of you and your school. Your teacher. Your friends. Your dog. Whatever you want. You don’t have to send me anything — no pressure — I’m just happy to have a reader so far away. I’d love to see your face.

When you get a tiny bit older, and a more accomplished reader, you might like my new books The Courage Test and my brand-new one, Better Off Undead. I’d love to think of you with one of those books in your hands (and my words in your head).

Until then, I’d like to imagine that you and I will both step outside on the same warm night, to look up in silence at the same twinkling stars and distant planets, full of wonder and happiness.

Your friend, truly, 

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #261: Aloha, Cody!

20171130_171052

Oh, that face!

This is Cody, a precocious 5-year-old from Hawaii who just read his first chapter book all by himself. He’s also a contest winner. I actually have a hard time giving away free books on my blog. I try, and sometimes succeed, but generally don’t get a big response. People don’t read blogs that often — and I totally understand that — and, I suspect, if they are like me, they likely figure, “Oh, I never win anything anyway.”

Cody’s mother wrote:

My 5 year old Kindergarten son just picked “Good Night, Zombie” out at the library on November 2nd. This was his first chapter book EVER! He just finished it this morning before school. When I was googling the book to see what reading level it was, I came across the contest…that just ended. However. He was excited to do it and I was excited to share with you that my little guy loved the book. He told me after reading it that he had to get number one and three books (since the one he chose is number three). I wanted to thank you for your book!! My son enjoyed it…and got a little scared too! Which made me happy because I knew he was comprehending what he read. 

 

I replied by sending Cody two books. While I think “scary” is highly individual in how readers respond to it, I wanted to give Cody a mellower option so tossed in a signed Jigsaw Jones, too. Five years old felt a little young to me. But again, as I half-apologetically tell kids (in grades 3-up) on school visits, “Nobody gets murdered in these books.”

They groan, good-naturedly, in disappointment.

Rats!

By the way, I loved Cody’s mom’s comment that she was happy he got a little scared because it showed he understood what he was reading.

I don’t think it’s the end of the world if a reader gets a little scared, either. The heart goes boom-boom-boom. I think it’s in those moments of disequilibrium, of “up-set-ment,” when learning takes place.

I believe I’m in the business of disturbing the universe. It’s my job.

 

 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #257: Kylie’s Happy-Sad Feeling

postalletter-150x150

It’s an incredible feeling to get receive a letter like this one that Kylie from Elsewhere sent to me . . .

Hey, I recently read your book called “Before You Go.” This book really touched me, and I just wanted to say how great of a book it is that you wrote. When I finished reading it, I had an emotion I rarely have. A bittersweet type emotion. Where I am happy and sad at the same time. I was sad because I loved the characters that you created. They were all fit perfectly together to create this amazing book. I wish that these characters were real, and I were able to hear more from them. I honestly wish there was a “Before You Go” book two as I really just am interested in knowing how their lives went on? Maybe you can tell me how you visioned Jude’s and Becka’s lives like during Senior Year, and college. I just really want to know what their future had in store. I was happy because Jude and Becka ended up together, and I’m not sure, the ending just put a smile on my face. Anyways, I’ve never contacted the author of a book before. So this just proves how much I LOVE your book. I may actually read again!
-Best Wishes, thanks for your time reading this, Kylie. 😊
I replied:
 
Kylie,
– 
Thank you for this extremely kind letter. I’m honored to have you as a reader. I mean that. You should see some of the creeps who pick up my books!
 
51VCNQbfPKLI’m kidding, Kylie. Everyone who reads my books is amazing. But you’re the amazing-est.
 –
Yes, I love that happy-sad moment, too. As a reader, and as a music and movie lover, I find that I am drawn to that experience of it hurts so good. A touch of melancholy. I’ve always written it off as a result of my Irish soul. Gray skies, staring out into the tumultuous sea. I like sad things. Or maybe it’s not exactly that — the sadness — but I want to feel stirred, my heart moved — by song, by books, by life.
– 
You’ve asked an impossible question, of course. What happens next? I think of movies where they’ve done that successfully, or humorously. “Animal House” has a classic ending, where we learn that John Blutarsky has became a U.S. Senator, etc. On the other hand, I thought it was a misstep with Harry Potter, that flash forward. To me it’s not how they end up that’s interesting, it’s the getting there. And to tell that story, you’d have to write an entire book.
 
What happened to Jude and Becka?
 
They both died in a nuclear attack from North Korea?
 –
Sad!
 
Let’s hope not. I know that I like both of them, that both are strong and independent with a world of possibilities before them. I think they will make a nice couple, able to bring out the best in each other. For a while, at least.
 
One motivation for writing this book was that I’d go into bookstores and look in dismay at the YA section. A lot of romance with pink covers, almost always told from the female point of view. And of course tons of fantasy and paranormal. So I wanted to write a realistic relationship book from the boy’s perspective, Jude’s gentle soul. A book that I’d want to read. Before You Go more or less bombed in the marketplace, predictably in retrospect. There are times when you have to write the book you have to write — you can’t worry about the consequences or sales figures. But I’ve always been proud of it, felt it accurately reflected me (as much as anything I’ve written), and trusted that certain types of readers would enjoy it. Not with mass appeal, but maybe a quiet story for a sensitive, thoughtful reader. Thank you for being that good soul. May every writer be so lucky.
 
I remember working very hard on those last sentences, trying to make each word perfect, trying to write simply and with clarity, direct from the heart:
 
>> He didn’t know what would happen with Becka. Maybe that’s why he needed to be alone on the beach, to watch the sunrise, to be okay with himself, despite everything. Sometimes life seemed impossibly hard, full of car wrecks and souls that shined like stars in yellow dresses. So much heartbreak and undertow. Jude bent down, picked up a smooth white stone, measured its heft in his hand. And he reached back to cast that rock as far as he could.
 
Just to see the splash. <<
 
Thank you, Kylie. I’ll treasure your letter.
 
My best,
 
James Preller