Tag Archive for ArtsPower

Fan Mail Wednesday #94

Dear Mr. Preller,

I’m sorry to trouble you with this, but how come I can’t find boxed sets of Jigsaw Jones? They seem to be unavailable — has Scholastic stopped making them?

My son and I are fans of your series and I am recommending it to all of our neighbors as the best-written series for kids in this age group I have found. (Since I’m an editor of grown-up books, they even think I know what I’m talking about.)

Please ask your agent to get after Scholastic to make those sets available. I’d love to get the complete set for my son. Would love some small sets too, at a reasonable price — say a set of four for $14.95 — to give as birthday presents.

There’s a marketing idea — Jigsaw Jones birthday parties, complete with sleuthing activities and a webpage where guests could sign up to give a book each. That would be a gift to parents, too, who would like to cut down on all the crap their kids get for birthdays.

Are any of your books under various pen names written for adults? Please let me know if ever you write something you’d want W.W. Norton to consider . . .

All best wishes,


I replied:

Dear A_______:

Thank you for your kind letter.

Sadly, the folks at Scholastic do not share your enthusiasm for the Jigsaw Jones series. It believe they’ve stopped making the boxed sets completely, and I’m sure they haven’t promoted the series in trade for several years. Little fish in a big pond, I guess. The marketing decision seems to be to allow the series to die on the vine. Even today, I still can’t think about it without feeling disheartened, discouraged, disappointed.

All the dis- words.

Photo taken from the touring Jigsaw Jones Musical, produced by ArtsPower.

I do suggest that you contact Scholastic Book Clubs at a toll-free number, 1-800-724-6527. They are often receptive to customer requests, and will try to do everything possible to be helpful. Some of those boxed sets must be lying around somewhere.

I have not yet attempted a book for adults. Perhaps one day.

I very much appreciate your kind words. And I agree: the books are well-written! Perhaps I needed to include more farts.

Cheers, and thanks again,


Jigsaw Jones, The Musical: Both Thumbs, Way Up

I want to share a few photos and give my belated reaction to seeing the musical, Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Class Clown. From left to right in the above photo: Benjamin K. Glaser (Jigsaw Jones), Jill Kurzner (Helen/Athena), Johnny Deem (Ralphie), Claire Duncan (Mila), James Preller, and my two special guests, Elizabeth and Maggie (in fake nose). The stage manager, Trey Johnson, snapped the photo.

First of all, I’m not built for this kind of thing. And lately I’ve come to see myself in this way: I was one of those kids who hated the idea of embarrassing himself in public, caused by a sorry combination of fear, shyness, and overall uptightness. My answer, of course, was to NOT do things — especially if they involved trying anything new. Don’t go off the high dive in the town pool, don’t try out for a school play, don’t dance in public, and on and on. That is partly why, I tell kids, I became a writer. There are no witnesses. You work alone. And you only share what you choose to share (you try to edit out the belly flops and pratfalls).

So I went to this show, put on by ArtsPower, was a degree of dread. What if I hated it? What if no one shows up? It was out of my hands.

I arrived early at the Egg performing arts center in Albany . . .

. . . bringing along a small but crucial sampling of the target audience, my daughter Maggie and her friend Elizabeth. I had arranged to meet the cast before the show, catch a sound check, and settle into our seats.

I immediately liked the cast of four young thespians. They were enthusiastic and energetic, and acted genuinely pleased to meet me. Wait. Come to think of it, they were actors. Highly skilled actors. Maybe they weren’t pleased to meet me after all!

I sat through the show . . . and loved it. From the adaptation, to the stage set, to the songs, to the performances, it was extremely well done. Special appreciation goes to Greg Gunning, who adapted the book and penned the lyrics. Greg and I spoke on the phone, he listened patiently to my comments and (very few) suggestions. Richard DeRosa wrote the music, which was lively and upbeat (I want the soundtrack!). I watched in that theater feeling just so thankful, and happy, and proud of what I’d done, and what they had done to make my little six-thousand word story come to life in a totally different way. There it was up on stage — breathing. Greg streamlined and improved upon the story, expertly trimming down the cast of characters while bringing the book’s main themes into sharper focus, and each actor gave an appealing, fresh-faced, thoroughly professional performance.

For me, it was a quietly stirring, emotional experience. I can’t really explain it except to say that I felt it: Wow, I put this story out into the world; it came from me. And I thought, You know, this is actually good work. It has heart and wit and kindness . . . and I can hum to it!

I recommend this show without reservation.

(Yipes! What is happening with my hair in this photo? Do I really walk around like that?)

I should add that it’s an absolute honor to have my book selected for theatrical interpretation by the folks at ArtsPower. Out of all the books available, they picked mine, the twelth in a series of forty titles. Amazing. Thank you very much, Gary Blackman, executive producer.

If anyone is interested in booking a show, please know that it will be touring through 2011. Here’s the info you need to get started.

Fan Mail Wednesday #63-64

Big day, lot to do — have to write, write, write! — and listen to this over and over again. So let’s pull a couple of letters out of the hopper to see what’s what.

Here’s one from Chesterfield, MO:

Dear James Preller,

I like your books a lot. It is very fun to read. My favorite book from you is The Case of the Class Clown. It is my favorite because it has a lot of  cool stuff. I am writing to you because you have fantastic books. How do you get your ideas? How do you make a book? Is it fun to be an author? Do you have to show someone your books to get it published and for you to be famous? I really want all your books because they are good. I would love for you to write back.

From, Ritik

My reply:

Dear Ritik:

Thank you for your wonderful letter. It came on the perfect day, right when I needed it. I’m glad that you think there’s “cool stuff” in my book. I try to jam in as much cool stuff as possible, actually. Hey, I have exciting news about the Class Clown — it’s been turned into a musical by the ArtsPower Touring Company! Can you imagine that? Jigsaw Jones and Mila, singing on stage, and solving mysteries, too!

You asked a lot of great questions, so let’s get to ’em.

1) Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, but mostly from things I’ve experienced (seen, heard, done, or felt) in ordinary life. But as a writer, I try to remind myself of this: “It’s not that hard. Just make something up!

2) When it comes to creating a book, the author is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s a team effort, including editors, artists, art directors, printers, truck drivers, and more. In terms of the writing, it all starts in a quiet room, when a writer sits down determined to DO IT.

3) Is it fun? Sometimes, not always. But on days when I get letters like yours, Ritik, it is definitely rewarding.

4) Most books are produced by a publisher, a company that makes books. Writers from all over will usually send them manuscripts — typed versions of the story on plain white paper — and the publishers will read them all to select their favorites. Only a very few manuscripts get made into books. So I’ve been very, very lucky.

Thanks for reading my books, and for writing to me!


Letter #64:

Dear Mr. Preller,

You are one of my favorite authors! I am nine years old and in fourth grade. I have one brother and one sister. I have always wanted your autograph! I was wondering if it was fine with you if I sent you a piece of paper in the mail for you to sign. It’s OK if you don’t want to.

Your Friend,

My answer:


Sure, happy to sign whatever you send me. Here’s an idea: You could break a leg and show up at my house wearing  a cast — I could sign that!

On second thought, probably not a great idea. You could include a book, maybe? A napkin? Whatever!

Warning: I have the worst handwriting, a lefty scribble. I should have practiced as a kid, but I had no idea that anybody would ever want my autograph. It still shocks me when people ask for it. My autograph? Really? Is this some kind of mistake? Do you think I’m Lois Lowry?

I would very much appreciate it if you included an SASE. Do you know what that is? It’s an acronym for “Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope.” It’s an old courtesy that seems to have been largely forgotten these days (grumble, grumble). That way, it doesn’t cost me extra money to answer your letter. Unfortunately, the expense of stamps and envelopes adds up. I wish I say that the money was nothing to me, that I had a spare room full of cash, but, alas, it’s not so. That would be the other author: Rowling, J.K.

My address: 12 Brookside Drive, Delmar, NY, 12054.

Many thanks for reading my books.


Jigsaw Jones: The Musical, and That Thing Called “Writer’s Block”

First off, apologies to my Nation of Readers — I’m looking at you, Liz — for the sporadic posts this summer. But it’s not like I didn’t warn you.

Back about a year ago, I posted about a phone call I’d received from Gary Blackman, co-founder and artistic director of ArtsPower, a touring theater group that puts on musicals for young audiences — oftentimes, school groups — based on popular children’s books.

He told me that they intended to create a musical loosely based on Jigsaw Jones #12: The Case of the Class Clown. I said something pithy like, “Cool,” and that was about it. The sum total of our relationship.

A year passed and I haven’t heard another word about it.

But by coincidence, I came across this stunning announcement the other day.

In brief:

Brimming with music, charm, and humor, ArtsPower’s new production – based on the book by renowned author James Preller – will make audiences laugh and think as they learn the secret codes that Jigsaw must decipher to solve the mystery.

I gather that groups can book a show. And get a load of that word, “renowned,” that’s a first. Maybe now I’ll start getting some respect over at Duncan Donuts.

And weirder still, apparently the show is coming to a town near me, at the Kitty Carlisle Theatre at The Egg in Albany. Tickets for groups of 20 or more cost $7.00 each. Better yet, it’s starring Lisa Ling as Mila! (No, not really.) The truth is, I don’t know a blessed thing about this show. Nada, zilch. I assumed it wasn’t happening.

So what do I do? Buy a ticket, sit in the last row, put a bag over my head . . . and hope? The thought of it gives me heartburn. I know, I know; I’m an idiot. This is fun stuff. I should be giddy. Problem is, I’ve never been real good at giddy.

I’ll work on it.


I don’t believe in writer’s block. It’s just a squishy idea I can’t really get behind. When asked about writer’s block in a  Q & A, I made this comment:

I don’t believe in it, frankly. It’s one more of those “mystical” things that writers are supposed to endure. I have a lunch pail attitude to my job, since I don’t have the luxury – in time or money – to sit around waiting for the muse to descend. I’m trying to pay the bills, you know? So I make things up. What I have learned – and what I will concede – is that there are times when the energy fails. (Writing, to me, requires great enthusiasm and energy.) I realized a while back that it was usually a sign that I was boring myself: That the story I was writing, or the specific scene, was flawed somehow. I was on the wrong path – and boring myself to tears. When the writing is right, I am fully engaged. When bored by my own words, I need to walk away and rethink things. Usually it means honing in a little closer to the rumblings of my own heart.

However . . . things change. But what I’ve been experiencing is not the standard understanding of the term, where you are struggling with a plot, unable to solve the puzzle. I mean, that happens, but to call it “writer’s block” seems a little twee to me. Take a walk, get your butt back in the chair, do the work, you know.

But I do think that we — all of us — can become blocked by our own insecurities, angers, frustrations, fears. Stopped cold in our tracks, often by things we don’t fully understand. The problem isn’t the work so much as the person doing the work. The book isn’t the problem; the story is there, mostly, or close enough. The problem is I’m not there, not wholly present. It’s not the block, it’s the writer.

On that note, here’s “Sick of Myself” by Matthew Sweet. I advise you to play it loud.

Boy, I’m a drag today, aren’t I?

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Jigsaw Jones . . . the Musical?!

One of the amazing things about sending books out into the world is that unexpected things bounce back. For example, I got a call the other day from an affable fellow named Gary Blackman. He is the co-founder and artistic director of ArtsPower, a touring theater group that puts on musicals for young audiences — oftentimes, school groups — based on popular children’s books. They’ve done adaptations based on the works of Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, E.L. Konigsburg, Patricia Reilly Giff, and more.

And now they intend to create a musical loosely based on Jigsaw Jones #12: The Case of the Class Clown. Isn’t that cool? Yeah, I thought so, too. It won’t hit stages until 2010, but it is a strange little blip I can look forward to. I can’t imagine what that will feel like, sitting in the audience, watching a musical based on a book I wrote. Naturally, I shall endeavor to find a more posh class of friends asap, while I study up on all those fancy theatrical terms, such as “break a leg,” “downstage,” and “proscenium,” which I’m pretty sure means, “high forehead.”

Exit: Stage Left. To applause!