A tough time of year for fan mail, since I’m trying to respond before the school year ends. Oh well, I can only do my best. Here’s one that came from Canada — and included original art.
Thank you for your kind letter. I’m glad that you enjoyed the first book in the “Jigsaw Jones” series. I wrote 40 of them. (Crazy, I know.) But don’t worry, you don’t have to read them in order. Or any of them, for that matter.
When I searched “marshmallow monster” on my computer, I found this. Yipes! It has nothing to do with my book. I don’t think I’ll ever eat a marshmallow again.
The books are getting hard to find these days –- they like to hide in dark places, like hamsters -– but it sounds to me like your teacher has several in your classroom. Be sure to thank her for me.
Also, libraries are great places, don’t you think? I recommend that you go to the library often this summer. All those beautiful books and fabulous air conditioning!
I love that you included an illustration with your letter. What a nice bonus!
Have a terrific, fun-filled, book-filled summer.
P.S. If you like scary stories, you might want to check out my “Scary Tales” series. There are four books out so far. You might want to wait a year or two, it depends on how you feel about spooky things. Maybe you should only read them during the day?
An eight-year-old named Jake sent me a nice, long letter about my book, Jigsaw Jones #11: The Case of the Marshmallow Monster. He included this fantastic drawing:
As for the letter . . .
I replied, in part:
In real life, there was once a famous movie director named Alfred Hitchcock. His movies were sooo scary. Everybody loved them — because for some strange reason, people LIKE to be scared. That’s why the kids in my story are eager to hear more, more, more.
So when I needed a man to tell a scary story, I modeled him after a real person, Alfred Hitchcock. In the story, you’ll see that he’s known as “Mr. Hitchcock,” and later on Mr. Jordan calls him “Alfred.”
Thanks for your kind letter. It was very well-written. I’m glad that you love to read books.
It sounds like you’ve been tearing through my Jigsaw Jones series. That’s great to hear. I spent about ten years writing those books – there are 40 of them – and they remain some of my favorite work.
To answer your questions: Coming up with mysteries is the hardest part, and I find that I can’t get started until I have the mystery clear in my mind. I start with some kind of mischief –- a missing piece of jewelry, a vanished painting –- or some other mysterious event.
For the Marshmallow Monster, I knew I wanted to write about a camping trip. It’s something I like to do with my family. I found that, after thinking about that setting, story ideas naturally grew out of my personal experiences.
The idea for this one can be traced to Rockville Centre, New York, home of my third-favorite brother, Al. (Just kidding, bro.) He mentioned that the neighborhood men enjoyed an annual father-son camping trip. I immediately recognized the story potential, a convenient device to get Jigsaw out of his school environment. Remember, writing a series presents its own set of difficulties, boredom (the “been there/done that” syndrome) being one of them. I’d found that to keep the work fresh and self sane it was best to break out of the perceived formula whenever possible. I modified the idea by including girls on the trip. After all, where would a camping trip be without Mila Yeh? It would be like forgetting the s’mores.
* In the folklore tradition, no matter how outrageous the tale, there’s usually a pedestrian message behind each story. The story might involve, say, banshees and ghosts, but the message amounts to: don’t go to bed without first doing the dishes. For the campfire story in this book, the adult intention was to encourage the campers to stay inside their tents at night. However, it spurred a much different result. I needed one of the fathers to tell a scary story, thought of this guy . . .
. . . and invented Shirley Hitchcock’s dad. You may notice the resemblance, as illustrated by Jamie Smith, below.
Mr. Hitchcock stirred the fire with a long stick. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. We sat gathered around the warm flames, waiting. “I shouldn’t have said anything,” he muttered, scolding himself. “I don’t want to scare you kids.”
A chorus of voices rose up.
“We won’t be scared.”
“Besides, we like getting scared.”
Later on, Mr. Jordan calls the storyteller by his first name, and the winking tribute was complete: “I’d say that’s enough for tonight, Alfred. It’s time these kids were ready for bed.” Do any young readers get this reference? Doubtful. I do it for my own amusement, and for any parents and teachers who might be reading the books aloud.
* I borrowed the handclap rhyme from some neighborhood kids, David and Emily. When I heard it, I knew I could use it in a book someday — and with their permission, did.
I can do karate!
I can move my body!
I won’t tell my mommy!
Oops, I’m sorry!
* Due to the benign culture of the stories — it’s a safe world where everybody’s nice, basically — I struggled to invent scenes where Jigsaw could encounter real danger. Only infrequently was I able to give the young reader an edge-of-the-seat, trembly feeling. I think I managed it in this one, however. I get a kick out of writing in that tradition, where the doorknob slowly, slowly turns.
* I still like the opening to Chapter Two — reminds me of my father — though I wonder if it’s already dated in these days of the GPS:
We got to the campground right on time. That is, if your idea of “right on time” includes a flat tire and getting lost in the middle of nowhere. That’s the place right after my dad says, “I know a little shortcut.”
It’s a few mile past, “I don’t need a map.”
* Lastly, the book features another sly tribute — this time to Bogart and Bacall and the classic film, “To Have and Have Not,” based on the Hemingway novel, screenplay by Jules Furthman and William Falkner (who could write a little bit).
I shook my head. “Too dangerous. It’s something I have to do alone.”
Danika took off her necklace. She handed it to me. I saw that it was a leather string with a whistle attached. “You might need this,” she said. “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and . . . blow.”
Below, a nice note from a young marshmallow enthusiast! But first, take a gander:
Illustration by Jamie Smith.
Dear Mr. Preller,
I like you and your books! Jigsaw Jones is cool! They are my favorite books to look for at the library. My favorite book is The Case of the Marshmellow Monster because it has marshmellows in it! I love marshmellows! Thank you for these fun books.
Thomas, 1st grader
Thank you very much for your kind email. I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, but baseball season started and I’ve been DISTRACTED.
You know what that means?
When I should be working, I keep daydreaming about line drives and high fly balls and stolen bases.
I love marshmallows, too. In fact, just last night I had the most amazing dream. I was eating the world’s largest marshmallow. It was huge, and it took me forever to swallow it.