Tag Archive for Preller Fan Mail

FAN MAIL #313: Feeling Great About These Sweet Messages from a Teacher in Terra Haute, Indiana

It’s a hard career, I’ve got to admit. Ups and downs and times when I’ve wanted to give up. But I received the sweetest email the other day from a special education teacher in Terre Haute, Indiana. There’s a bit of background about this particular group of readers that I won’t disclose here, other than to say that as a group they struggle with reading. Many of us do. According to the email, “None of them are very excited about reading as it is extremely difficult for them.”

Anyway, here’s an except of the first of two emails I received . . .

Dear Mr. Preller,

 

< snip >
I recently began reading some of your Jigsaw Jones books to them, and they LOVE them!  They have so enjoyed using the clues to make predictions and inferences.  We have used the stories to practice finding the main idea and details, problem and solution, and visualization. They are so engaged with these books they have begun checking them out of the library to read on their own. We recently finished The Case of the Mummy Mystery and they were so disappointed.  They said, “That can’t be the end, what about the mummy that walked through town on Halloween?  Who was the mummy?”  They were still talking about it the next day, so I took advantage of their engagement with a writing assignment.  They have written you a letter asking if you would consider writing another version of the book and they even included some ideas.
I want to thank you so much for giving my students the joy of reading.  I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see them so excited and engaged with a book. I will send you an email of their letter, but wanted to explain things first.  I also noticed that you do Zoom meetings with classes and was wondering if you could give me some more information on that? Thank you again for writing such engaging stories.
Sincerely,
Mrs. J
I immediately wrote a response to the class (below) and we’re already planning for a little Zoom get-together just for the fun of it. I also wanted to share this email I received after my reply. Maybe other authors will be cheered to read it. Maybe teachers will see the value in making these connections.

Hello Mr. Preller,

I read your reply to the students today and they were beyond thrilled!!! They couldn’t believe that you actually took the time to respond to their letter.  As I read your explanation of the mummy, it was like little light bulbs went on above their heads.  One student said, “Oh…I get it. The

mummy wasn’t real, it was just a story.  So there weren’t any clues for Jigsaw to follow.” They were all very excited when you talked about them writing their own book. They couldn’t stop talking about their ideas – from the title to the plot! What struck me the most though, was when I read “Your friend, James Preller”.  One student asked, wonderingly, “He’s our FRIEND now?”  and another said, “Wow!  I always wanted to have a famous writer for a friend!”  You will never know how much that email meant to them…or to me.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making my students feel special, loved, and IMPORTANT.  Thank you for encouraging them to keep reading (and recommending books!)  I can’t wait for our Zoom meeting when they will have a chance to talk to you “in person”.  Until then, please know that you have made 6 children and 2 teachers very, VERY happy!!!

Mrs. J
And while we’re here, this is the long, rambling reply I sent:

Wow, you guys are tough!

But before I get into answering your comments and questions, a few things. I received the nicest letter from your teacher, Mrs. Johnson. You are so lucky to have a teacher like her —- someone who reads full books out loud, someone who really cares about you, someone who believes in you. 

Please, please, take a moment in your hearts and be grateful for that. We all need someone who believes in us.

I will get to your FANTASTIC IDEAS about future mummy stories. But first, a word in my own defense:

I’d give you a SPOILER ALERT, but since you already read the book, I guess I can’t exactly ruin the ending.

I appreciate that you are careful readers. If you go back to the story, you’ll see that all of the talk about the mummy was just that . . . talk. Stories, legends, and possibly exaggerations. Not necessarily the truth. It begins with Jigsaw’s older brothers, in Chapter 3, “The Legend of the Mummy,” telling Jigsaw a scary story. Is it true? Or are they just having fun scaring the pants off their little baby brother? Did they make it all up?

Fun fact: I am the youngest of 7 children, with 4 older brothers. Do you think they ever tried to scare me with made-up stories? 

I’m the little guy, surrounded by giants.

Oh yeah, they did!

Later, Ralphie Jordan repeats another mummy story that he heard. Is it true? Is it a fact? Maybe. But there’s no reliable witness we can trust. It’s just a story. Like, oh, all those legends we hear about Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Is it really real? Personally, I have my doubts. No one knows for sure. 

Meanwhile, for Halloween, we see that Joey is dressed as a mummy. Is he the “real” mummy from the stories? No, it’s just Joey. So when Geetha see “the mummy,” it’s just good old Joey Pignattano. 

Was there a real, actual MUMMY walking in graveyards, pushing poor Earl Bartholemew?

Nobody knows. That’s for you to decide. The job that Jigsaw got hired to do was the make sure that Joey didn’t get cheated in the bet, and I think he earned that money.

Thanks for all your wild, smart, creative ideas. I’m impressed. I wish my brain worked that well! Forget me, you are the ones who should be writers! I had to laugh at your recurring comment, “you take it from here.” Ha, ha, ha. Everybody has work for me! 

Well, here’s an idea: YOU WRITE IT!

You have my official permission to write your own mystery. If you wish to include Jigsaw Jones, yes, please, go for it. Or invent your own character. If you are not an illustrator, maybe you could act out the mystery and take photos, telling the story that way.

(Note: If you do write a story —- together or individually —- please send it along. I’d love to STEAL YOUR IDEAS!)

Mostly, I just want to say how happy I am that you enjoyed my books. I have been a reader all my life. It’s not something that happens overnight. Slowly but surely, book after book, I became a more skilled and enthusiastic reader. It took time. And yes, reading will make you smarter and it will help you in school. It will help you in work, too. But most of all, reading has given me a lifetime of pleasure. It’s given me happiness. I couldn’t imagine life without good books to read, to enjoy, to learn from.

You are all doing great. Thank you for reading Jigsaw Jones. By the way, you might enjoy my “Scary Tales” books. I recommend Swamp Monster or I Scream, You Scream or Goodnight, Zombie or Nightmareland or One-Eyed Doll. Any of them, really, though I think Home Sweet Horror is the scariest and maybe not the best place to start. The books are not too hard to read and grades 3-5 love ‘em! No one gets hurt in those stories. But I do want readers to lean in on the edge of their seats, heart pounding. I love suspense. The doorknob slowly, slowly turns . . . 

Happy Halloween and please keep reading —- my books or any books at all!

Your friend & fellow reader, 

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.

Fan Mail Wednesday #300: Shyan Loves Scary Stories

Wow, this is the 300th fan mail response I’ve shared on Fan Mail Wednesday across more than ten years of blogging. I don’t know if that’s a world’s blog record, but it’s certainly the most on my street. Here’s Shyan’s letter and my reply . . .

 

Shyan writes . . . 

I replied . . .

=

Dear Shyan,

It’s so nice to get mail, don’t you think? A real letter. Thanks, also, for including a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Much appreciated. In my work, I still receive snail mail fairly regularly, though not an overwhelming amount. But I wonder about someone your age. How many old-school letters have you received in your young life?

I’m glad you enjoyed the books in my “Scary Tales” series. I loved writing each one, particularly since I hadn’t written anything quite like it before. I love the shivery aspect, the dread and suspense. I especially loved breaking away from the demands of the realistic fiction genre, which is what I usually write. Suddenly, in the “Horror” genre, my imagination felt free, unchained. It’s hard to describe, but it was like I was exercising muscles I hadn’t used before. For each story, the impossible suddenly felt . . . possible. The trick was selecting that one impossible thing and then playing it out in a realistic context.

I believe that everything I write contributes to my future projects. The skills accumulate. I learned lessons and honed skills from those six “Scary Tales” titles that I was able to bring to future books. For example, my most recent novel, Blood Mountain, is a book a reader like you might enjoy. This story is realistic fiction — no zombies or evil dolls — where two siblings are lost in the wilderness. I wanted to generate much of the page-turning excitement and suspense that I achieved with “Scary Tales.” So, Shyan, if you feel like you’ve graduated beyond those books, but still want something similar-but-different, please give Blood Mountain a try.

I was glad to read that you wrote your own scary story. It’s interesting to ponder what scares us. Oh, there are obvious things –- ghosts and roller coasters and dark caves filled with bats – but it’s cool when you can think of some specific detail that feels fresh and new. A faucet that drip, drip, drips. A ghostly flicker on a television screen that makes you think, “Wait, what was that?” The feeling we get at the dentist’s office, when maybe something isn’t quite right.

Hmmmm. That gives me an idea . . .

Thanks for writing, Shyan.

(I love your name!)

All good things,

James Preller

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #295: When Joseph Basically Asks Me to Do His Homework

 

It happens often enough that just about every middle grade and YA author has experienced it. The ever-so-brief fan mail from a student that turns out to be an indirect request to do their homework. On one level: Resourceful! On another: Hey, you’re not fooling me, I see what you are doing, think for yourself

Over the years I’ve responded differently, depending on my mood. For this one, I felt chatty and gave an honest answer. Yes, I wanted a good grade! When I received Joseph’s response, I realized I probably let him down. Oh well! You’ll see.  

Here’s the first note from Joseph:

Hello, James. I am a fellow student who’s in high school in my sophomore year, I was curious to ask some questions about your book, THE FALL. I wanted to know what type of rhetoric device fits well in this story?

Thank you!

Joseph

 

I replied: 

Ha, Joseph, I am so glad I’m not in high school anymore. I would have failed this assignment!

There are a lot of different rhetorical devices in the world, most of them I’m not ever consciously employing. Asterismos and eutrepismus, hypophora and parallelism, procatalepsis and tmesis.

Oh boy, good times.

Can you tell I had to look all those up? I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ve used them at different points in my career, but not quite knowingly.

I think a lot of what we do as writers becomes instinctive, based on years and years of reading. You kind of eat it. Digest it. Absorb it and internalize all those storytelling strategies. So when you are telling your own story — trying to communicate — you just reach for whatever tool seems handy at the time.

The biggest conceit to The Fall, the Big Device, is that it’s presented as if it were Sam’s journal entries. He’s recounting the events to himself as a way to understand this really big and terrible thing that happened. He’s processing and, in turn, owning responsibility for his role in Morgan’s tragedy. As readers, we are looking over Sam’s shoulder, going through that experience with him.

Another device that comes to mind, which I used in one spot of the book, the “Not Me” chapter, is that Sam writes as if he’s on trial, addressing the jury. And you, the reader, of course, are on that jury. I didn’t carry that device throughout the book — I think it would have felt forced — but it seemed right at the time. And as readers, we are making those judgments of each character. Sam is acutely aware of being on trial.

Sam includes a few of his own poems, the way someone like Sam might. Maybe there’s a name for that, maybe it’s a rhetorical device, I don’t know. I just wanted to show Sam’s depth of feeling, how this stuff was pouring out of him, how he thought and felt, and the simple poems, again, seemed right for this journal format. It’s what I did as a kid in my journals, anyway.

Hey, Joseph: You forgot to tell me how much you loved the book! Don’t you know that’s how you are supposed to begin these letters? It’s a rhetorical device called “blowing smoke up someone’s butt.” Writers love that stuff. It gets our attention! And we immediately think, “What a smart young fellow!”

Next time: 1) Begin with a compliment; then 2) Ask me to do your homework!

(By the way, the above numbering technique is an example of eutrepismus, separating speech into numbered parts. We all do it, but 99% of us have never heard the name before. That’s writing, I think.)

All good things,

James Preller

Joseph politely replied the next day:

Thank you so much! So sorry, but this book was inspiring though haha! Its just I had include one Rhetorical Devices. those are 1. Repetition 2. Parallelism 3. Slogan and saws 4. Rhetorical questions

I had to choose one of them and explain why I chose it and how you used it in this book.

Oh well, I tried!

Fan Mail Wednesday #289: About That “Happy/Sad” Thing

 

I enjoyed this letter from Sasha, who does things, like margins (for example) a little bit differently — which is a good thing, btw.

Why are some of us drawn to sadness?

Note: I mistakenly wrote on the back of Sasha’s letter, so some blue marker shows through. Go ahead, sue me.

 

 

I replied . . .

 

Dear Sasha,

Thank you for your spirited letter — so much of your personality came pouring out, like rain through a screen window. My favorite line: “I legit loved the book!” 

The happy/sad feeling? Oh yeah, I know that one very well. I’ve always been drawn to so-called “sad” things. In music, film, art, whatever. It might be my Irish ancestry, I don’t know. People will say, “Oh, I only want to see happy movies.” But to me, a lot of those “happy” movies just strike me as, yawn, really fake and superficial. I get bored. One thing about sadness: like laughter, it’s a true emotion –- and when we share a truth, any truth, it connects us as human beings. And that makes me happy. So, yeah, the happy/sad thing.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the idea of books as mirrors and/or windows. It’s an interesting way of looking at literature and how it functions in our lives, building self-perception and empathy. Some books reflect back upon us –- we see ourselves, perhaps in a new light -– while others help us see into new worlds. I like it.

The beautiful, haunting cover of the Japanese translation of my book, THE FALL.

Another happy/sad book of mine you might like is The Fall. It takes the issue of bullying to a darker place than Bystander, and ends up as a meditation, of sorts, on forgiveness. It’s told from the point of view of a boy, writing in his journal, after a girl’s death. The book won a YALSA award and, strangely, was nominated for some big award in Japan. I suspect they have a misfit/bully problem over there, too. I also have a new book coming out in October, Blood Mountain, a wilderness survival story with a brother, sister, and dog lost in the mountains. Super fast-paced adventure with some good writing, too.

I loved your letter, Sasha. All good things,

James Preller