Tag Archive for R.W. Alley

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #297: Includes a Free Pro Tip on Becoming a Writer!

 

Fan Mail Wednesday actually falls on a Wednesday this time around, because eventually that’s bound to happen. The law of averages! This letter comes from Max, a Jigsaw Jones fan in Kentucky, which I understand is a state somewhere near Ohio. Never been there, though my rescue dog, Echo, hails from those parts. I’d love to do school visits in Kentucky someday.

Don’t make me beg, people. Zing me a text at Jamespreller@aol.com and we’ll work it out. Of course, we can wait for this virus to settle down. Weird, right?

BTW, I love it when a FREE BONUS DRAWING is included. Thanks for that, Max. Anyway, the letter: 

I replied:

Dear Max,

Thank you for your kind letter. I’m so happy you read The Case from Outer Space. It is one of my favorites. Were you surprised by the ending?

Illustration by R.W. Alley.

One of the first inspirations for that book came from my love for “Little Free Libraries.” I’d seen them popping up all over the place and they appealed to me enormously. I’ve even seen schools that have them. Leave a book, take a book. I love that!

So I began to ask myself a writer’s two most important words: WHAT IF? Those are the magic words that get the imagination wandering. I thought, What if someone finds a mysterious note tucked inside a book in a Little Free Library?

Could such a thing be possible? I talked to librarians. They told me they find items inside books all the time. Photos, grocery lists, baseball cards -– even a banana peel.

Another part of the book came from a long interest in NASA and space exploration. I’ve often gazed at the stars and wondered if anyone else might be out there, somewhere in the twinkling beyond, far past our solar system of eight planets and into the outer reaches of the expanding universe. Wow. I smile just thinking about it.

If you truly wish to become a good author, there’s good news. You are already on the right path! Keep reading, keep feeding your brain with words and ideas. Just about every writer I know started out by being a reader. But you don’t have to sit around reading all day. Live! Do things! Play sports, run around, make friends, build stuff, look at clouds and trees, cook yummy desserts, enjoy yourself and everything there is in this amazing world of ours –- and, okay, also read.

And, you know, Max, maybe one day you’ll pick up a pencil and draw a picture. You’ll write down some words. Maybe start a story of your own.

Keep thinking, keep reading, keep being good old Max.

Thank you, my new friend in Kentucky, I’m so glad to receive your letter.

James Preller

 

 

The Case of the Hat Burglar: A Visit to the Lab of Reginald Pinkerton Armitage III

Here’s the setup for this short excerpt: somebody has been taking items from the school’s “Lost & Found,” but no worries, Jigsaw Jones and Mila are on the case. However, they can’t possibly keep a watchful eye on the crime scene all day long. So they pay a little visit to Jigsaw’s old pal, Reginald Pinkerton Armitage III, a dapper lad who dabbles in gadgets and gizmos.

Now I’m a writer who loves process, especially the particular alchemy performed by illustrators when they turn rough sketches into final art. Here’s R.W. Alley’s sketch of the scene in Reggie’s lab:

If you are getting a James Bond-visits-Q vibe, you are on the right track. I’m paying tribute to that character and those old movies that I liked as a kid. 

From the book:

A while back, Reginald had started his own “secret agent” business. It didn’t work out so well. He thought being a detective would be fun, a chance to play with fancy gadgets and gizmos. But Reginald learned that solving mysteries could be a rough business. It took hard work and brainpower. Reggie was a nice kid, but he was as tough as a silk pillow. He promised I could borrow his gadgets anytime.

Today, I needed him to keep that promise. 

Reginald pushed open a door, then said over his shoulder to Mila, “Please come into my research room.”

I’d been here once before. The room looked like a laboratory. Various objects had been placed on marble countertops. “This is all your spy equipment?” Mila asked.

She picked up an old boot.

It was a mistake I’d once made myself. “Be careful, Mila,” I warned.

Sploinnng! A suction cup attached to a spring popped out of the shoe.

“Whoa,” Mila said, jumping back in surprise.

“Suction-cup boots,” Reginald explained. “For walking on ceilings.”

“It really works?” Mila asked.

Reginald shrugged and admitted, “I’m afraid to find out.”

Mila picked up two plastic goldfish. “What are these?”

“Underwater walkie-talkies,” Reginald explained.

“Glub, glub,” I commented — for no reason at all.

“And this?” Mila pointed to a tray of cucumber sandwiches. “Let me guess. Is it some kind of secret listening device?”

“No, it’s a tray of cucumber sandwiches,” Reginald said. “For snack time.”

“Cucumber sandwiches, yum,” I groaned. It was the last thing in the world I’d want to eat. I was a peanut-butter-and-jelly kind of guy. “Sadly, Reggie, we don’t have time for snack. We’re here on business.”

 

And here’s how it all looks in the book across two pages . . . and yes, I’m blessed to have R.W. Alley illustrating these books. 

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #291: From New Zealand, Via GoodReads

This one came to me in a roundabout way, via GoodReads, where I’m not a member. In fact, I tremble in fear at the very thought of GoodReads, imagining only cruel reviews. I’m not cut out for that. But somebody there did me a solid by going to the trouble of forwarding this message to me, and I’m grateful for that kindness. Thank you, Maria Fernanda. Here’s Graham (my reply is below):

 

Just like to let you lot at GoodReads that James Preller is a very good book writer. I have started to collect his Jigsaw Jones book here in New Zealand. I have rated 2 books in your website. So I hope that it’ll become helpful.

Please let James Preller know that his books are being read in New Zealand and by a person of his current age.

All the best to you lot at GoodReads. Thank You.

Graham.

 

I replied:

 

Graham, 

Thank you for the kind words about my Jigsaw Jones books. That’s awfully nice of you.
The Irish have an expression, “Flowers for the living.”
The idea is that you don’t have to wait for someone to die before you say something good about him. Funny, right? And maybe sad in some ways. In the rush of our days, we don’t often stop to say “thank you” to the people we love, or even “I see you” to the good, decent people in our lives. Parents, friends, teachers, neighbors. Even writers.
You read my book and went to the trouble of saying something positive. You put that out into the world. I really appreciate it.

Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE OF THE HAT BURGLAR.

True story: I despair a lot about my career, especially lately, the many disappointments and shortcomings. It can be awfully hard sometimes. The rejection and, far worse, the indifference. I sometimes wonder if any of it really matters, if maybe I’m in the wrong business. Too late now!

So a note like yours, out of the blue, from New Zealand, well, that’s something to lift the spirits.
Peace to you — and keep reading, it’s good for the soul!
My best,
James Preller

My Favorite Illustration from “Jigsaw Jones: The Case of the Hat Burglar”

 

I’ve written a lot of Jigsaw Jones books over the years. Some are, of course, better than others, though I hope there’s a good baseline of quality to all of them. The books that please me most tend to have heart, emotion, a moment that tugs at your sleeves. I don’t always pull that off, and can’t force it, but I do incline in that direction as a writer.

Maybe that’s why this is my favorite illustration in the new Jigsaw Jones book (which has been picked up by Scholastic Book Clubs). For here is the terrible moment when Jigsaw Jones figures out the mystery, and a trust is broken, and his heart splinters a little bit. Beautifully illustrated by R.W. Alley in the newest book in the series, The Case of the Cat Burglar.

You can order it now. Visit your independent bookstore. Or whatever!

In other news, there are now 14 titles — new or newly revised — available from Macmillan where fine books are sold. I just received word that the audio rights have been sold for all 14 books. No idea what they are going to do or when they are going to do it, but it’s exciting to think of these books in that format.

Back to that illustration. Check out Rags. It’s a little trick illustrators often use, the reaction shot from a pet or a mouse or some other animal. Often that’s how they inject humor into the illustration, or just liven up the dynamic. In this one, I think Rags just underscores the sadness of his sweet boy.

One Question, Five Authors #12: “Do You Have Any Heroes in Children’s Publishing?”

 

If I were English, I might say that I was dead chuffed by this edition of “One Question,” the internet’s laziest interview series. Thankfully, that expression won’t be expressed here. Not on my watch! Let’s just say I really like how this turned out. I was glad to see the various directions our contributors took in response to my open-ended question. Speaking of contributors: Lois Lowry’s in the house! I have enormous respect for Everything Lois and it is a true honor to have her visit my little blog, pull up a milk crate (note to self: buy chairs!), and hang out with the rest of us. Speaking of heroes, the answers here are provided by Heather Alexander, Lois Lowry, Elaine Magliano, R.W. Alley, and Kurtis Scaletta. Thanks, one and all! You did good.

 

Heather Alexander

My mother asks the same question about each book I’ve edited since I started in children’s publishing: “But where is your name?” The message came across loud and clear — all my hours of work didn’t count because my name wasn’t printed on the cover (or, really, anywhere). Throughout my reading-under-the-covers childhood, I’d naively believed that words flowed from an author’s imagination directly onto the page and then were bound seamlessly into the book in my hands. The important person’s name was displayed prominently on the cover, and those authors became my heroes. It wasn’t until I got behind-the-scenes did I realize how many talented people toil to make a book — and elevate a so-so author to a great author and a great author to an amazing author. Editors, copyeditors, fact checkers, designers, production managers — the list goes on. I was lucky to have been taught by some of the best editors in the business — true magicians able to conjure greatness from the clumsiest of sentences. I’ve also been fortunate, as an author, to have awesome editors and fact checkers carefully watching my back. So as far as children’s publishing heroes go, I’m giving my shout out to all the uncelebrated people behind each and every book. (And, now, if every author reading this writes the name of his or her trusted editor or designer in the comments section, I suspect you’ll make their moms so, so happy!)

 

Lois Lowry

It won’t come as a surprise to hear me mention Walter Lorraine, who become my editor after the editor who had acquired my first book in 1977 moved on to another company. Walter was/is deservedly renowned as an editor of picture books — Chris Van Allsburg, David Macaulay, James Marshall, and Allen Say were among his superstars. I don’t think he felt that the editing of prose was his forté. But when I landed (figuratively) in his lap, it was a fine pairing because I had a background as a photographer and had brought, I think, a heightened visual sense to my own writing. Walter perceived that, appreciated it, nurtured it. He was also a purist, as I am, and hated — as I do still — the commercialization of children’s books. He loathed the spin-offs: the toys and games and money-making gee-gaws vaguely related to literature. As he moved (grumbling) toward retirement, after fifty-five years in the field, he saw himself as something of a dinosaur in a publishing world that was moving away from the patient and painstaking encouragement of ideas and true art. I was fortunate to have been his colleague during those magical years.

 

Elaine Magliaro

My hero is Grace Lin. Grace is a dear friend. We met nearly twenty years ago when she was just starting out in children’s publishing. At that time, she was illustrating other authors’ books and writing and illustrating her own picture books. Since then she has truly blossomed as a master in the field of children’s literature. In addition to picture books, she has written early readers, realistic fiction, fantasy, and poetry. She’s won a Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor, Josette Frank Award, a Theodor Geisel Honor — and been a National Book Award Finalist. Grace has definitely found success in her chosen profession.

I admire Grace for more than the awards that she has won, though. She is a hero to me because she has remained true to herself and to her heritage. Grace has provided young readers with a heart-warming look into her culture and her own personal experiences when she was growing up as a minority in upstate New York. She has been an advocate for the We Need Diverse Books movement and for gender equality in children’s publishing. She is a strong individual who has dealt with difficult situations in her life with great resolve and grace. I know her to be a true and loyal friend who NEVER forgets a kindness done for her. She is one of the finest human beings that I have ever known. The great success she has been met with has not changed the sweet young woman that I met years ago.

 

R.W. Alley

My hero in children’s publishing? I’m taking the question to mean, not authors and illustrators, but rather editors and publishers, which makes it more interesting. Editors and publishers shape the tone of an imprint.
 At the start of my career, there was a clear distinction between “trade” and “mass market” publishers. This played out in content (trade = literature, mass market = entertainment) as well as in production values (trade = dust-jackets over cloth covers, mass market = paperback and uncoated paper). Of course there was overlap, but generally that was the idea. Sendak was literature. Scarry was mass market.

I dropped into that world as a long-haired, clean-shaven, John Lennon glasses high school grad with a very heavy (by weight) portfolio and a NYC map marked up with publisher locales and switchboard phone numbers. Art directors had portfolio viewing days. Some met in person. 
My publishing hero was a meet-in-person art director, Grace Clarke. I came to know lots (but not enough) about Grace later. She was kind, but straight-forward. At our first meeting, she made it clear that my sketchbook was more interesting than my carefully curated (and matted) portfolio. She gave me a copy of the “new” series she was publishing (Tintin) from her then-desk at Western Publishing (Golden Books) and told me I should think about that format. (I did and I continue to.)
 But what elevated Grace to hero status in my small world was something I found out years later. My parents (respectable college professor and protective mother of an only child) wrote to Grace (my mom dictated the letter to my dad, as per usual) and asked her not to encourage my art. In fact, they asked that she please actively discourage it. Their son had college to attend and an academic path ahead. Art was at best a sideline. At its worst, a dead-end ending in a flophouse.

Instead, this is what Grace did. She filed away the letter, kept in touch and, right after I graduated from college, offered me my first book. It took her over fifteen years, but she finally revealed my parents letter. She said she’d waited to make sure she’d made the right call. In the meantime, I’d gotten more books, gotten married and gotten my parents kinda on board with the artist thing. For that waiting, for the care she exercised in tending the psyche of a young man in his relationship with his art and his parents, Grace Clarke is my publishing hero.
 Thanks for asking, Jimmy.

 

Kurtis Scaletta

My heroes are the school librarians, booksellers, preschool teachers, and so forth who create and cultivate readers, find the money to book authors, and make those authors feel appreciated. Yeah, they’re paid to do it, but not much. OK, I actually work at a literary organization so maybe this is a little self-serving! But seriously, I really do love all the people who help us do what we do.

Another of my heroes is a local author. Her writing is lovely and has won major awards but I admire her because of her kindness. She’s supportive of everyone who writes. She rallies behind anyone who needs it. She remembers everyone’s kids’ names and asks about them. She doesn’t just ask to be polite, she really cares.
The Greek origin of the word “hero” is a person who is both god and human. I’ve had enough of the heroes who are all about the god half, and appreciate more the ones who live up to the human half.