Archive for Fan Mail

Fan Mail Wednesday #306: A Reader “OBSESSED”

There’s something about readers who enjoy scary stories. They bring a unique level of enthusiasm — of passion — to their reading. They don’t just like a book, they almost seem to take up residence, they dwell inside it. While I’ve written many types of books over the years, across various genre, there’s nothing that works better in front of a large audience than reading a carefully-selected passage (not too scary!) from one of my “Scary Tales” books. 

Which is to say, here’s a card from Gracyn in Texas . . . 

I replied . . .

Dear Gracyn,

Thank you so much for your wonderful card. My wife had saved it but mistakenly tossed the envelope. So, yeah, I had to do the deep dive into the garbage bin to retrieve your return address.

(Old coffee grounds are gross, btw.)

Texas, hey. I’ve been fortunate to visit your state several times for book conventions, author visits, and even to play in a men’s baseball tournament. Always a good time.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from “I Scream, You Scream!” AKA, “Dr. Z’s Adventure Park.”

You aren’t too shabby a writer, yourself. “I could not stop telling my friends all about it in grave detail.” Wow, that’s a great choice of words. It’s an ordinary sentence until the end there, when you added in grave detail. Perfect! Keep that up and I’ll be reading your books someday.

Be sure to thank your teacher for having my book in your classroom library. I appreciate that. There are six “Scary Tales” books in the series. I find that everything I write helps me become a better writer. My most recent novel, Blood Mountain, is a realistic story about two siblings who are lost in the wilderness. It’s a scary, suspenseful, survival thriller. The lessons I learned writing “Scary Tales” helped me write that book. In this case, the frightening things were “real” compared to the ghosts and zombies and swamp monsters in the series. But the writing is very similar. Still building suspense, setting up situations, trying to make the reader lean in.

And if a girl named Gracyn can become OBSESSED, well, that’s the best I can possibly hope for.

Thanks for that.

Um, and now . . . I better go wash my hands.

My best,

 

James Preller

 


P.S. This is the cover of Blood Mountain. Because one good book leads to another!

 

 

Fan Mail Wednesday #304 and #305: Two Letters from Alaska

 

Here’s two for the price of none! The third book in my “Big Idea Gang” series, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin, seems to be getting some positive attention. Perhaps the environmental, activist message strikes a chord. Here two students in Anchorage wrote to me about it, so I thought I’d do a combo post here.

Here’s Hailey . . .

 

I replied:

 

Dear Hailey,

Thank you for reading my book, Bee the Change, from my “The Big Idea Gang” series.

You noticed an interesting detail in that story – how Kym, in that situation, was brave; but Lizzy, who was usually bolder and more confident, felt nervous.

It kind of flipped, right?

I think life is like that. No one can be great at everything. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. There are people who are nervous around big dogs, while other people just want to give ‘em a big hug. For the purpose of this story, it gave Kym an opportunity to shine (after Lizzy was mostly the “star” of the first book, Worst Mascot Ever).

Writing these books (there are three so far), I wanted to show how when we are faced with big problems, that it is often best to think small and make a difference in your community. There used to be a popular expression: “Think globally, act locally.” We can all become overwhelmed by the Big Problems in the world –- asking ourselves, “What difference can I possibly make?”

Hopefully in these stories I help shine a light on the small but important ways that children like you can help make the world a better, kinder, safer place in your own communities. You are our best hope for the future.

My favorite character in Bee the Change was absolutely Otis Smick. He makes me smile, and I love the way Stephen Gilpin, the illustrator, drew him.

Thanks for your sweet letter,

James Preller

And here’s Mia . . . 

I replied: 

Dear Mia,

I wonder if you go to the same school as Hailey? I’d bet a dollar that you do. Anchorage, Alaska. Wow. I’ve never been there, but it sure sounds like an adventurous place to live.

Are bears just like always eating people?

“Where’s Penelope?”

“Oh, she got eaten by bear.”

“Darn, I hate when that happens!”

 

Okay, probably not. But still, the Alaskan wilderness strikes me as vast and formidable and a little bit scary. What a cool place to live.

Anyway, thanks for reading Bee the Change. As you might have guessed, I am very interested in our natural environment –- I love the great outdoors, hiking and camping and exploring — and our connection to all the living creatures that share this planet with us. To quote the poet Gary Snyder: “We must try to live without causing unnecessary harm, not just to fellow humans but to all beings.”

Recently I’ve read fascinating nonfiction books about beavers, and coyotes, and buffalo. It’s just something I enjoy and care about. Some time ago I read about “colony collapse disorder” and became worried about honeybees. Later, when doing research for a different book (Better Off Undead), I met a middle school science teacher who kept a hive box in the school garden! My visit with her was similar to when Kym and Lizzy visited Ozzie’s farm. Like Ozzie, Ms. Ford enjoyed sitting quietly in a chair, a book on her lap, and watching the bees come and go. That’s where most ideas come from for me –- from real life, the things I see, the people I meet, and, yes, the books I read.

I am excited to learn that you and your friends are involved in a cleanup project. That’s so awesome. You are making a difference in our world! Imagine if everyone did just a little bit? What a difference we could make!

My best,

James Preller

 

ALSO IN THE SERIES . . .

       

Fan Mail Wednesday #303: “How Did You Get Started Writing Books?”

 

In this letter, I’m hearing from Joe, a friend of Vivaan, who had previously dressed as Jigsaw Jones for Halloween; together they enjoy my Jigsaw Jones books. It’s worth noting how helpful and supportive both parents have been in terms of encouraging reading and reaching out to an author. It began with a comment on my blog!

 

Dear James Preller,

A tough moment between Jigsaw and Mila tests their friendship.

My name is Joe and I am 6 years old. Vivaan, whose mother Shivika recently contacted you, is a good friend of mine.  I am writing because I just read your book, The Case of the Hat Burglar, with my dad, who is helping compose this message. It was terrific, because of the drama — what a great story of betrayal and redemption.  Very soon, I want to read more Jigsaw Jones books. Finally, I have a question — how did you get started writing books when you were growing up?

Thanks!
Joe

I replied . . .

Dear Joe,


        Thank you for your email. 

Any friend of Vivaan Shah’s is a friend of mine!
I’m so glad you enjoyed The Case of the Hat Burglar. It’s the most recent Jigsaw Jones book, and in many ways it is my favorite. It’s the first time that Jigsaw and Mila ever had a problem with their friendship. I’ve always wanted to write something about that — how two really good friends can get into a fight, experience hurt feelings, and sadness, and then get through it somehow.  
It seems like all of us go through it with our friends and family. What a relief when we come out the other side, happy and together once again. 
I wrote books when I was your age. In fact, I still have one and made a video about it. Here’s the link that will get you there. I even have a Youtube channel of other videos, too. You might like them!
And, who knows, maybe I’ll be reading one of your books soon. If you do write one, please send me a copy or a manuscript or, at least, a picture of the cover.
But what will you write about? 
Hmmmm.
Thanks for your kindness, and thanks to your super dad, too, who knows all the big words!
James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #302: Hard Beginnings, Saggy Middles, and Fizzled Endings

 

Here’s a short one from Helin — who thinks I am James Preller! — along with my saggy reply.

 

Hello! My name is Helin. I think you are James Preller. I read “The Case Of The Disappearing Dinosaur” book for my English project. I understood it very well and I liked it. I got the beginning, middle and end very well. I think it was fun and enjoyable. I am glad to read this book. 

 

My response . . .  

Helin!

Thank you for your kind note. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed The Case of the Disappearing Dinosaur
Beginnings are hard: that blank page staring back at me, waiting, as if to say, “Yeah, so what?”
Middles tend to sag. I work hard at middles, because nobody wants a saggy middle. I try to keep the plot/mystery zipping along, cutting away the lazy bits. 
And endings, well, a book has to have a satisfying ending. That’s the part everyone remembers, the last pages they read. If the ending fizzles, the whole thing is a fizzled book. 
Nobody wants to read a fizzled book.
I’ve written all types of books over my long career. I published my first book in 1986, at age 25: that makes me something like 136 years old! Go ahead, do the math. The trick with mysteries is that you pretty much have to know the ending before you can begin! Other books you can sort of meander there like a stream and gradually work your way to the ending, a discovery. For mysteries, I start with “the crime” and figure out what happened, who did what. Until I know that, I can’t begin.
That’s a pro tip right there, free of charge.
Thanks so much for writing to me.
I hope this letter wasn’t too very weird.
Did it sag in the middle?
James Preller




Fan Mail Wednesday #301: Vivaan’s Halloween Disguise

It’s been a while since I’ve shared any fan mail, but I suppose this qualifies. Our correspondence began with a comment on my blog:

My 5 year old son was Jigsaw Jones for this Halloween. He handed out his business cards all over the neighborhood “for a $1 a day, make problems go away(plus expenses).” Thank you for creating JJ.



In return, I wrote to the boy’s mother, expressing my wonder and appreciation. I also offered to send along a few books, by way of thanks.

She wrote back:

Hello James, 

I am so glad that you emailed me. This means a lot to my son. Vivaan is 5.5 years old and is always on a lookout for a mystery since I read the first Jigsaw Jones to him 2 months back. We got to know about the Jigsaw Jones series from a website recommendation. As we are a family on a small budget we have been borrowing books from the Boston Public Library for now and I hope to buy them all in future for him and his younger brother.
When we talked about Halloween this year, Vivaan was decided he wanted to be a detective. Vivaan’s pockets in this picture are full of — a journal, a magnifying glass, a flashlight, wig for disguise, a magazine with eye holes to spy and his quite famous (in our neighborhood) business cards. Vivaan and Joe now distribute the cards to strangers on morning walks and want to make it into a real business. They are waiting for their first mystery. Joe wants to save the money they make for college and Vivaan wants to invest in cool gadgets like night vision googles.
Vivaan’s favorite part in the books are the coded messages between Jigsaw and Mila. It is also amazing for me to see Vivaan use detective lingo and similar language as your books. 
Also we are a family from India and I was secretly pleased to see an Indian name, Geetha Nair, in one of your books.
Thank you creating for Jigsaw Jones, we are very grateful! I am completely fine for you to use any of the attached pictures for your blog. 


So, yeah, that’s how it goes in this creative life. Just when I want to despair over this world gone wrong, something like this comes along and it all seems hopeful again. A heart pierced. Just look at that beautiful child, five years old, a perfect stranger, pretending to be a character in a book on Halloween.