Tag Archive for R.W. Alley

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #291: From New Zealand, Via GoodReads

This one came to me in a roundabout way, via GoodReads, where I’m not a member. In fact, I tremble in fear at the very thought of GoodReads, imagining only cruel reviews. I’m not cut out for that. But somebody there did me a solid by going to the trouble of forwarding this message to me, and I’m grateful for that kindness. Thank you, Maria Fernanda. Here’s Graham (my reply is below):

 

Just like to let you lot at GoodReads that James Preller is a very good book writer. I have started to collect his Jigsaw Jones book here in New Zealand. I have rated 2 books in your website. So I hope that it’ll become helpful.

Please let James Preller know that his books are being read in New Zealand and by a person of his current age.

All the best to you lot at GoodReads. Thank You.

Graham.

 

I replied:

 

Graham, 

Thank you for the kind words about my Jigsaw Jones books. That’s awfully nice of you.
The Irish have an expression, “Flowers for the living.”
The idea is that you don’t have to wait for someone to die before you say something good about him. Funny, right? And maybe sad in some ways. In the rush of our days, we don’t often stop to say “thank you” to the people we love, or even “I see you” to the good, decent people in our lives. Parents, friends, teachers, neighbors. Even writers.
You read my book and went to the trouble of saying something positive. You put that out into the world. I really appreciate it.

Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE OF THE HAT BURGLAR.

True story: I despair a lot about my career, especially lately, the many disappointments and shortcomings. It can be awfully hard sometimes. The rejection and, far worse, the indifference. I sometimes wonder if any of it really matters, if maybe I’m in the wrong business. Too late now!

So a note like yours, out of the blue, from New Zealand, well, that’s something to lift the spirits.
Peace to you — and keep reading, it’s good for the soul!
My best,
James Preller

My Favorite Illustration from “Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Hat Burglar”

 

I’ve written a lot of Jigsaw Jones books over the years. Some are, of course, better than others, though I hope there’s a good baseline of quality to all of them. The books that please me most tend to have heart, emotion, a moment that tugs at your sleeves. I don’t always pull that off, and can’t force it, but I do incline in that direction as a writer.

Maybe that’s why this is my favorite illustration in the new Jigsaw Jones book (which has been picked up by Scholastic Book Clubs). For here is the terrible moment when Jigsaw Jones figures out the mystery, and a trust is broken, and his heart splinters a little bit. Beautifully illustrated by R.W. Alley in the newest book in the series, The Case of the Cat Burglar.

You can order it now. Visit your independent bookstore. Or whatever!

In other news, there are now 14 titles — new or newly revised — available from Macmillan where fine books are sold. I just received word that the audio rights have been sold for all 14 books. No idea what they are going to do or when they are going to do it, but it’s exciting to think of these books in that format.

Back to that illustration. Check out Rags. It’s a little trick illustrators often use, the reaction shot from a pet or a mouse or some other animal. Often that’s how they inject humor into the illustration, or just liven up the dynamic. In this one, I think Rags just underscores the sadness of his sweet boy.

One Question, Five Authors #12: “Do You Have Any Heroes in Children’s Publishing?”

 

If I were English, I might say that I was dead chuffed by this edition of “One Question,” the internet’s laziest interview series. Thankfully, that expression won’t be expressed here. Not on my watch! Let’s just say I really like how this turned out. I was glad to see the various directions our contributors took in response to my open-ended question. Speaking of contributors: Lois Lowry’s in the house! I have enormous respect for Everything Lois and it is a true honor to have her visit my little blog, pull up a milk crate (note to self: buy chairs!), and hang out with the rest of us. Speaking of heroes, the answers here are provided by Heather Alexander, Lois Lowry, Elaine Magliano, R.W. Alley, and Kurtis Scaletta. Thanks, one and all! You did good.

 

Heather Alexander

My mother asks the same question about each book I’ve edited since I started in children’s publishing: “But where is your name?” The message came across loud and clear — all my hours of work didn’t count because my name wasn’t printed on the cover (or, really, anywhere). Throughout my reading-under-the-covers childhood, I’d naively believed that words flowed from an author’s imagination directly onto the page and then were bound seamlessly into the book in my hands. The important person’s name was displayed prominently on the cover, and those authors became my heroes. It wasn’t until I got behind-the-scenes did I realize how many talented people toil to make a book — and elevate a so-so author to a great author and a great author to an amazing author. Editors, copyeditors, fact checkers, designers, production managers — the list goes on. I was lucky to have been taught by some of the best editors in the business — true magicians able to conjure greatness from the clumsiest of sentences. I’ve also been fortunate, as an author, to have awesome editors and fact checkers carefully watching my back. So as far as children’s publishing heroes go, I’m giving my shout out to all the uncelebrated people behind each and every book. (And, now, if every author reading this writes the name of his or her trusted editor or designer in the comments section, I suspect you’ll make their moms so, so happy!)

 

Lois Lowry

It won’t come as a surprise to hear me mention Walter Lorraine, who become my editor after the editor who had acquired my first book in 1977 moved on to another company. Walter was/is deservedly renowned as an editor of picture books — Chris Van Allsburg, David Macaulay, James Marshall, and Allen Say were among his superstars. I don’t think he felt that the editing of prose was his forté. But when I landed (figuratively) in his lap, it was a fine pairing because I had a background as a photographer and had brought, I think, a heightened visual sense to my own writing. Walter perceived that, appreciated it, nurtured it. He was also a purist, as I am, and hated — as I do still — the commercialization of children’s books. He loathed the spin-offs: the toys and games and money-making gee-gaws vaguely related to literature. As he moved (grumbling) toward retirement, after fifty-five years in the field, he saw himself as something of a dinosaur in a publishing world that was moving away from the patient and painstaking encouragement of ideas and true art. I was fortunate to have been his colleague during those magical years.

 

Elaine Magliaro

My hero is Grace Lin. Grace is a dear friend. We met nearly twenty years ago when she was just starting out in children’s publishing. At that time, she was illustrating other authors’ books and writing and illustrating her own picture books. Since then she has truly blossomed as a master in the field of children’s literature. In addition to picture books, she has written early readers, realistic fiction, fantasy, and poetry. She’s won a Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor, Josette Frank Award, a Theodor Geisel Honor — and been a National Book Award Finalist. Grace has definitely found success in her chosen profession.

I admire Grace for more than the awards that she has won, though. She is a hero to me because she has remained true to herself and to her heritage. Grace has provided young readers with a heart-warming look into her culture and her own personal experiences when she was growing up as a minority in upstate New York. She has been an advocate for the We Need Diverse Books movement and for gender equality in children’s publishing. She is a strong individual who has dealt with difficult situations in her life with great resolve and grace. I know her to be a true and loyal friend who NEVER forgets a kindness done for her. She is one of the finest human beings that I have ever known. The great success she has been met with has not changed the sweet young woman that I met years ago.

 

R.W. Alley

My hero in children’s publishing? I’m taking the question to mean, not authors and illustrators, but rather editors and publishers, which makes it more interesting. Editors and publishers shape the tone of an imprint.
 At the start of my career, there was a clear distinction between “trade” and “mass market” publishers. This played out in content (trade = literature, mass market = entertainment) as well as in production values (trade = dust-jackets over cloth covers, mass market = paperback and uncoated paper). Of course there was overlap, but generally that was the idea. Sendak was literature. Scarry was mass market.

I dropped into that world as a long-haired, clean-shaven, John Lennon glasses high school grad with a very heavy (by weight) portfolio and a NYC map marked up with publisher locales and switchboard phone numbers. Art directors had portfolio viewing days. Some met in person. 
My publishing hero was a meet-in-person art director, Grace Clarke. I came to know lots (but not enough) about Grace later. She was kind, but straight-forward. At our first meeting, she made it clear that my sketchbook was more interesting than my carefully curated (and matted) portfolio. She gave me a copy of the “new” series she was publishing (Tintin) from her then-desk at Western Publishing (Golden Books) and told me I should think about that format. (I did and I continue to.)
 But what elevated Grace to hero status in my small world was something I found out years later. My parents (respectable college professor and protective mother of an only child) wrote to Grace (my mom dictated the letter to my dad, as per usual) and asked her not to encourage my art. In fact, they asked that she please actively discourage it. Their son had college to attend and an academic path ahead. Art was at best a sideline. At its worst, a dead-end ending in a flophouse.

Instead, this is what Grace did. She filed away the letter, kept in touch and, right after I graduated from college, offered me my first book. It took her over fifteen years, but she finally revealed my parents letter. She said she’d waited to make sure she’d made the right call. In the meantime, I’d gotten more books, gotten married and gotten my parents kinda on board with the artist thing. For that waiting, for the care she exercised in tending the psyche of a young man in his relationship with his art and his parents, Grace Clarke is my publishing hero.
 Thanks for asking, Jimmy.

 

Kurtis Scaletta

My heroes are the school librarians, booksellers, preschool teachers, and so forth who create and cultivate readers, find the money to book authors, and make those authors feel appreciated. Yeah, they’re paid to do it, but not much. OK, I actually work at a literary organization so maybe this is a little self-serving! But seriously, I really do love all the people who help us do what we do.

Another of my heroes is a local author. Her writing is lovely and has won major awards but I admire her because of her kindness. She’s supportive of everyone who writes. She rallies behind anyone who needs it. She remembers everyone’s kids’ names and asks about them. She doesn’t just ask to be polite, she really cares.
The Greek origin of the word “hero” is a person who is both god and human. I’ve had enough of the heroes who are all about the god half, and appreciate more the ones who live up to the human half.

Jigsaw Jones: The Grocery List Clue

I came across a meme the other day that made me smile, because it reminded of a clue I employed in Jigsaw Jones: The Case from Outer Space.

In my book, published last year, I wrote the clue slightly differently. Here’s the scene, when Mila discovers the note tucked into a book in a Little Free Library:

A few minutes later, Mila said, “Bingo!” She had found another piece of paper. It was the same size as the other clue.

Mila held it out for us to see.

Danika read the message aloud. “‘LET TOM PICK ON MAY.’ That’s weird. What does it mean?”

I looked at Mila. “It might be a secret code.”

“Perhaps,” Mila said. “Maybe it means exactly what it says. Some guy named Tom is picking on May.”

We didn’t know anyone by either name.

“I’m hungry,” Joey complained.

“Not now, Joey. We’re hunting for clues.”

And so on and so forth. I like how Joey, who is always thinking about food, on every page in every book, accidentally almost leads our detectives in the right direction. I’m hungry. But Jigsaw snaps back, “Not not, Joey.” This is no time to be thinking about food.

Or is it?

Alert readers might instantly recognize this as a grocery list, something you’d bring to the deli when ordering a sandwich for a friend. The trick for a mystery writer is to quickly distract attention, the magician’s misdirection. My characters instantly travel down the wrong train of thought. Hopefully young readers will take that ride with Jigsaw and Mila — or, hey, maybe it’s perfectly okay if the reader is a step ahead of our favorite gumshoes, rewarded by careful reading and critical thinking.

Another favorite moment comes when Jigsaw, zeroing in on his primary suspect, confronts Ms. Gleason. I love the way illustrator R.W. Alley (you can call him Bob) depicts Jigsaw in the drawing, leaning forward in absolute seriousness, while Ms. Gleason leans back, a little stunned by his intensity.

Mila, Joey, Danika and I stayed after class to have a little talk with our teacher. 

“Tell me, Ms. Gleason,” I said. “What do you think about . . . MAYONNAISE?”

“Excuse me?”

“Some people like eating it,” I said. “What about you?”

“I, um . . .” She blinked a few times. “It’s fine. I like it.”

“Aha!” I said. I made a note in my detective journal: LIKES MAYO.

“How about pickles? Do they tickle your fancy?” I asked.

“Jigsaw, what’s this all about?” she asked. 

FIVE MORE JIGSAW JONES BOOKS WILL BE AVAILABLE FROM MACMILLAN — REVISED AND UPDATED — THIS SUMMER. THAT INCLUDES THE ALL-NEW TITLE: The Case of the Hat Burglar

Jigsaw Jones & Winter

Just an image from the next Jigsaw Jones book, The Case of the Hat Burglar. Living in upstate New York, here in December, the weather described in this book did not require a great feat of imagination. My job is to make things up . . . most of the time.

 

Illustration by R.W. Alley.