Tag Archive for The Case of the Secret Skeleton

Fan Mail Wednesday #39 & #40

Okay, it’s time for my lovely, sleek, sequin-bedazzled assistant, Bert, to crank that handle on the big wheel and we’ll see what letters rise to the top this week.

I am writing you an email with my student, Ryan, whom you met when you visited Jefferson Elementary School.  (Ryan was the one who told you about the missing ‘r’ in Along Came Spider blog).  In working with Ryan, he was very excited by your visit and talking to you in the office while you were signing books.  He wanted to think of and pass along some ideas he thought you might like for future books or stories, and he asked me if we could email you.  So here they are:

1.  A family vacation – kids in the back of the car; having to share a DS or DVD player…hitting…stealing each other’s things, candy,…etc.  Could be a good setting or premise.

2.  This one is for Jigsaw Jones:  The Case of the Missing Remote Control…(boy wouldn’t that make people mad!)

3.  Also for JJ:  Case of Missing Play Station 3.

4.  A story involving “Killzone 2” (this is a PS3 game that involves aliens; but you could make it funny for kids…Ryan says)

Hope you like the ideas.  Ryan loves reading your books.  He likes how “He does his books”.  He is currently reading Six Innings with one of his teachers.

Thank you for taking time to read our email.  Also, we are glad to see you fixed the “r” on your website.

Ryan and Karen

My reply:

Dear Ryan:

I remember meeting you, and I’m grateful that you pointed out my typo on the blog. I was surprised: That was the only misstaak I ever made!

Thanks for passing along your ideas. In exchange, I’ll do your homework for a week.

Um, not really.

About your ideas:

#1) Your instincts are very good. Since Jigsaw has three brothers and a sister, I’m sure there are many times when sharing becomes difficult. I could see that as being a good way to explore some family relationships before getting into the mystery proper — or maybe it could tie into the mystery in some way.

#2) A missing remote control? I bet you Dad is sitting on it! Or maybe Mom took it,  tired of all the bickering over video games? Or perhaps it fits into your first idea — a little brotherly revenge. Interesting.

#3) This would be tougher to pull off — such a large, expensive item — and not quite in keeping with the types of mysteries I like to write about. Not that it wouldn’t work for a story, but probably not a Jigsaw Jones mystery.

#4) Honestly, I hear this kind of idea a lot. A boy gets sucked into a video game, or whatever. And while aliens are always a good time, the Jigsaw books are Realistic Fiction, where I strive to keep things, er, realistic. Not that it’s a bad idea, just that I’m probably not the right guy to make it work.

Thanks again, Ryan, for all your ideas. Feel free to keep some of them for yourself — and maybe one day I’ll be writing a fan letter to you!


Letter #40

Hi I’m Jason and I’m doing a report on you. I could not find any answers to some questions so I am emailing you.

Will you make any new mystery series?

Will you make new Jigsaw Jones books?

What do you like to write the most?

What kinds of books or authors did you like as a child? Why?

When and how did you discover you wanted to be an author?

Thanks for your time and answering my questions.


My reply:


A report? On me? Wow. What happened, was Lyme Disease already taken? To answer your questions:

Right now, I can’t foresee undertaking another mystery series. But I am thinking about something more along the lines of a Thriller, which is sort of a sub-genre of Mystery. It’s an idea that’s looming on the horizon, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. And one thing I’ve learned as a writer: Don’t talk about it, write it.

The Jigsaw Jones series is in a strange place right now. My publisher, Scholastic, wants to put new ones on book clubs only, not in stores. That sort of bums me out. But I do have a new one coming out this September, called The Case of the Secret Skeleton. I’m very happy with it. If Scholastic wants more, they know my phone number.

As a writer, I enjoy trying many different things. Each genre, from humor to mystery, presents its own challenges. Right now, I’m trying to write a funny book, and some days I just don’t feel all that funny. A rabbi walks into a deli and orders a ham on rye . . .

As a boy, I didn’t read many books. But I did enjoy sports stories. I vividly remember reading a biography called, Seeing It Through: The Story of a Comeback, about Tony Conigliaro, a Red Sox ballplayer who was badly beaned in a game. Wow, what a story!

The first writers I loved were the sports writers in the newspapers who covered my beloved New York Mets. In that sense, columnist Dick Young of the New York Daily News was possibly the most influential writer in my life. I loved his style: fast, punchy, sharp, lively, opinionated, and he knew his stuff — even if he did turn into a crabby old man at the end, writing a mean-spirited series of articles that helped drive Mets pitcher, Tom Seaver, out of New York.

In my view, people don’t start out wanting to be “authors.” Or, I guess, I don’t think they should, exactly. We begin as writers. And for that, you don’t need permission from anyone else; you don’t the approval of publishers or even the eyeballs of readers. In my early teens, I started writing in journals, scribbling my thoughts and feelings, poems and ideas, and at the same time I became an avid, careful, studious reader. I mean, I really started to pay attention to writers, trying to notice what they did and how they shaped their sentences, built plots, made characters vivid and alive. I learned how to write by reading — slowly and carefully. I’m still a very slow reader. What’s the big hurry, anyway?

Thanks, Jason. Good luck on the report.


Jigsaw Jones Cover: Part 7, DONE!

Our journey from concept to completion is done. Time for a Gatorade and a box of jelly donuts. (No, not really.) Below, please find the FINAL cover for Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Secret Skeleton (Scholastic, Fall, 2009).

Some links to the previous posts: One, Two, Three, FourFive, and Six. Read them all and experience the awe and wonder of the creative, collaborative process!

How’s that for bloggy investigative journalism? How could a traditional media outlet possibly compete with that level of detail? My thanks to Matt Ringler and Jen Rinaldi at Scholastic for their extraordinary openness, and to the great, gifted R. W. Alley for pulling back the curtain.

Fan Mail Wednesday #34

Can you believe we’re up to #34 already? And still, nothing from my Mom. What’s up with that? Meanwhile: Boo-ya, David’s in da house!

Hello James,

My name is David. I am 10 years old and I LOVE LOVE LOVE Jigsaw Jones books. You should write more because I would love to read them.

Sincerely, David

I replied:


Well, I LOVE LOVE LOVE getting letters like yours — thanks so much.

I have a new book that’s just about finished, called The Case of the Secret Skeleton. My part is done, but the book still needs final art, then it has to be printed, glued together, and shipped to the warehouse. I understand that it will be offered on Scholastic Book Clubs in September. And let me tell you: It is going to rock your world and shatter the very foundations of your existence! (Okay, maybe not — but it is pretty entertaining, hopefully.)

Above: Rough cover sketches by R.W. Alley (click to enlarge).

Hopefully you can wait that long without, like, exploding. Which, let’s face it, would be gross. There are now 40 different Jigsaw Jones titles, so there’s probably still a few you haven’t read.

Click on this link — right here — to learn more about the next Jigsaw Jones book!



Jigsaw Jones Cover: Part 3, An Interview with R.W. Alley

This entry is the third in a series of posts following the creation of a single book cover. Here’s Part One and Part Two. Right now, let’s check in with artist R.W. Alley.

First things first: R.W. or Bob?

Bob is fine.

Do you ever receive a cover concept from the publisher and think, “Oh man, this won’t work,” or, “Gee, this is a really boring idea?”

The Jigsaw covers are very different from my other projects. Because of deadlines and the magic ways of publishing, I’m not given a chance to read the books before doing the covers. Now, there could be two reasons for this. One, is the above mentioned deadlines; the promo material for each title usually includes the cover art and this material is usually due while the book is still being written. Two, is that none of that is true and the editors simply don’t trust me to pick out the proper highlight to paint. I prefer answer one.

Of course this doesn’t answer your questions. Those answers would be “yes and yes.” My favorite editor silliness is when the spec reads in part, “Jigsaw in his tree house office, hears a noise, puts down his book, looks out the window, sees a shadowy figure which may or may not be a yeti making off with a glowing globe of uranium, and he, Jigsaw, runs after him, the yeti.” The problem is neither yeti nor uranium. Rather it’s the impossibility of showing our hero doing five things in one drawing.

Okay, I think I’ve got it. You have an irrational hatred of yetis.

Luckily, I think we’re OK for this cover.

How do you begin? Just coffee up and grab a sketchpad?

I put on my slippers, make some coffee, stare at the words on the paper, read the words on the paper, turn on the radio, become annoyed at the radio, put on a CD or even a record, tape some copy paper to my drawing table, notice there’s nothing on the paper, look at the old covers, try to think how to make this one different, pick up a pencil and start drawing. After a while, I notice a foul smell coming from the kitchen and realize I never poured the coffee I’d started two hours ago.

Specifically with this new cover — we’ll call it, “the skeleton in the closet gambit” — how did the concept strike you? I thought the flashlight angle was okay, in that it would give you something to work with, the whole light and dark thing. But I am concerned about the expression on Jigsaw’s face. I don’t want to see him terrified, you know; he’s Jigsaw, he’s got pluck! At this point, does that level of concern even enter the picture (literally) for you?

The first thing will be to get the general composition right. There’s a lot going on for a small image. School, closet, skeleton in general, skeleton hand with clue in particular. The flashlight will help to give a spotlight effect that will add interest and focus. As for Jigsaw’s expression, I completely agree with the pluck concept. However, this will be pinned down a little later.

You’ve done about 40 covers for the series. It must be difficult to keep things fresh — for “it” and for you. I mean, you can’t draw another picture of him writing in his journal, with yet another puzzled expression on his face. Can you?

The thing is that each drawing is a puzzle to be solved. Not too crazy different. Not too much like others. For this one, there are a couple of looking through door setups on other covers (not exactly the same, but there are doors), so I need to make sure this is somehow different.

What else are you working on these days? Are you excited about anything in particular?

The newest book is There’s a Wolf At the Door by the lovely Zoë B. Alley (October, 2008, Roaring Press). It’s a big picture book (11×14, 40 pages) in a comic panel format that retells five wolf-centric tales in a connected way. I am very, very happy to be working in this format.

Lightning round: Favorite illustrators?

Illustrator favorites, in no particular order, but always the same people: Garth Williams, Edward Ardizzone, Raymond Briggs, Tomi Ungerer, Ernest Shepard, J.J. Sempe and Tibor Gergely.

Those are some great choices. All-time favorite children’s book?

Two favorite children’s books at different ages: The Sailor Dog by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and illustrated by Ernest Shepard.

Thanks so much, Bob. I’ll have to seek out The Sailor Dog. In over ten years, we’ve talked exactly once. It’s been interesting to learn about your creative process. Hopefully we won’t wait another decade until the next time.

PLEASE NOTE: In Part 4 of this series, coming this Friday, Bob has generously shared some of his sketches for the upcoming Jigsaw Jones book cover. You won’t believe how cool these are; even as the author, I’ve rarely felt this INSIDE the process. What a treat.

ALSO NOTE: Fan Mail Wednesday has been moved to Thursday. And, um, Thursday is now on Mondays, Tuesdays will appear on alternate weekends, casual Fridays now require dinner jackets, and Latin Nights have been moved to Bolivia. Just to clarify.


LASTLY: Here’s some links to the all the posts in this seven-part series: One, Two, Three, FourFive, and Six, and Seven. Read them all and experience the awe and wonder of the creative, collaborative process!

Jigsaw Jones Cover: Part 2, Over to the Artist

I recently received an email from R.W. Alley (that’s him, up there), the artist who does the covers for the Jigsaw Jones series. R.W. — or Bob, as his friends seem to know him — has been an enormously productive illustrator for many years. Just take a gander at his website! I’ve especially enjoyed his Mrs. Toggle books, written by Robin Pulver. Here’s another sweet piece, from Because Your Daddy Loves You by Andrew Clements:

Hmmm. There’s a little bit of Marc Simont in R.W.’s style, don’t you think?

As discussed previously, sheriff Matt Ringler and his Scholastic posse have already sent Bob a “cover concept” memo regarding an upcoming book. It is my hope to follow this process to completion, so I wrote to R.W. Alley — first time we’ve had contact in at least six years — and asked for a peek behind the scenes.

He wrote back:

“I would be happy to share my sketches with your readers. The Scholastics have asked for a cover finish by Feb ’09, so I should have a first sketch ready by Thanksgiving. I can send not only the color sketch, but also all the first doodles, if you like — and it sounds as if you will like. I’ll keep you posted.”

First, I love how he calls them “the Scholastics.” That’s just funny. Second, yes, doodles! Third, documenting this process should be illuminating. Hopefully, there will be some ugly cat fights along the way. It would be such a letdown if this turns out to be a mature, professional, collaborative process of give and take, where creative talents work together in a spirit of mutual respect to blah, blah . . . boring, boring, boring.

I don’t know, though. Old R.W. doesn’t strike me as the diva type. But one can hope.


NOTE: Here’s some links to the all the posts in this seven-part series: One, Two, Three, FourFive, and Six, and Seven. Read them all and experience the awe and wonder of the creative, collaborative process!