Tag Archive for The Case of the Perfect Prank

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #234: Featuring Secret Codes from Vivien!



First of all, wow, this is letter number 234 that I’ve shared on this blog. I started this feature late in 2008, I think. I don’t put every letter on the blog. These represent only a small sample. Here at James Preller Dot Com, we share only the freshest, the funniest, the best. This one is from Vivien. She qualifies!


Dear James Preller,                                                                            
I really like your Jigsaw Jones books.  They are really fun!  I think it is cool how Jigsaw and Mila send secret codes to each other.  Jigsaw is really smart.  I don’t think I would have been able to solve The Mystery of the Perfect Prank.  I would like to ask you some questions.  (I am going to write in a code!)  Why you writing Jigsaw books, did start the Jones?  What your color, is favorite?  Which your are favorite, of books your?  Are going write books, you to more?  Please answer these questions (if you can!) and please write back soon. 
Sincerely, Vivien
I replied:


Thank you for this lovely note. And may I also say how much I love your name: Vivien. It’s even fun to say. It also reminds me of a favorite word: convivial.
Vivien is convincingly convivial!
You are the first person on the planet clever enough to ask me questions in code. I did manage to figure it out. Confession: My first thought was that you were lousy at typing. But then I recognized that you had some kind of alternate word thing going on. I like it! Does it have a name? A Word Skip Code?
On to the questions!
I began writing these mysteries back in 1997. At the start, I was just messing around with words on paper. I had a character, named Otis, who had an extremely active imagination. He’d pretend to be a space explorer, a mad scientist, and a hard-boiled detective (like in the old movies). An editor at Scholastic, Jean Feiwel, read what I had written and said, “I like the part where he’s a detective. Do you think you could write a mystery?”
My favorite color? Well, the older I get, I have to admit — it’s gray.
Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE -- coming in the summer of 2017!

Illustration by R.W. Alley from THE CASE FROM OUTER SPACE — coming in the summer of 2017!

There are different scenes in each Jigsaw Jones book that I enjoy. A line that’s funny, a clue that might be particularly ingenious, or a moment of real heart. And I suppose there’s a few books with which I’ll never feel satisfied. 

I’m super excited about my new Jigsaw Jones book, The Case from Outer Space, which is coming out this summer, published by Macmillan. I hadn’t written one in several years, and I was so happy to re-enter that familiar world. It really might be the best Jigsaw Jones book I’ve ever done — and that’s saying something, because it’s the 41st book overall.
Thank you for reading my books, Viv!
Oh, by the way, I think I figured out a new code the other day. I made a note and stuck it in a folder. Maybe for the next book. Do you mind if I try it out on you?
Wait, before you leave the house — get dressed!
Most animals are fabulous dancers.
At first, the hippo appeared bored and soporific, but then he perked up.
The single best thing anyone can ever do is pour soup in their shoes.
I believe Vivien is actually a frog.
Stumped you, didn’t I?
Here’s a hint: I think I’ll call it a Third Word Code. And it’s harder to write than it looks! Whew. I’m gonna take a nap!
Your pal,
James Preller

Fan Mail Wednesday #156: “Why Is Jigsaw Always In Grade 2?”

Ethan asks a great question . . .

Dear Mr.Preller,
I really like your Jigsaw Jones mystery novels, but I have a few questions:
1. In Jigsaw Jones #23 The Case of the Perfect Prank it says: “Mila had been my partner for years.” Why years? Have they solved mysteries together since grade Kindergarten?
2. Why is Jigsaw always in grade 2?
I replied:


Thanks for your email.
Yes, Mila and Jigsaw have been friends for a long time, and they did crack their first case back in kindergarten. I haven’t written that story yet, but maybe someday I will.
Illustration by Jamie Smith.
When I started the series, the stories kind of cycled through the school year. After a few books, when it looked like the series was a success and my publisher wanted more titles, I asked my editor: What now? Does he go into 3rd grade?
She said, No, he stays in 2nd grade.
Forever? I asked.
Forever, she told me.
I said, Well, what about Thanksgiving? It’s already happened in this series.
She told me that I could and should write about that time of year again, but each time would be like the first time. Just basically pretend the other books hadn’t been written.
Pretty confusing, because with each book the series accumulates new information on all these characters. Mila has a stepmother named Alice, for example, Bigs Maloney’s father works as a florist, and so on, so I’ve had to recognize that the books happened, certain facts have been established, while simultaneously pretending that the stories never occurred. Weird stuff.
It’s been strange, I’ll admit it, but that’s the way my publisher wanted the series to go.
Great question, thanks for writing, and have a terrific, book-filled summer!

An April Fools Classic: Writing the Memory

I’m not a prankster, merry or otherwise, so April Fools Day isn’t a big day here at Chez Preller. But as a kid, we had one surefire trick that worked every time. It was fast, easy, and painless (illustrations by Jamie Smith).

I wrote about it in the “currently unavailable” Jigsaw Jones #22: The Case of the Perfect Prank. (Yes, it kills me to type that.)

To set the scene, Jigsaw wakes up to screams. He finds his mother at the kitchen sink, soaking wet. We’ll let Jigsaw take it from here:

The trick was an oldie but a goodie. At our house, we have one of those sinks with a spray nozzle. You squeeze it, and water comes out of the nozzle instead of the faucet. The trick is to tie a rubber band around the nozzle. Then you aim the nozzle outward. Daniel and Nick must have done it last night, when they were giggling in the kitchen. Come morning, my mom went into the kitchen to make her “necessary” pot of coffee. She turned on the water and . . . splash, the spray hit her!

It works every time.

Kids ask me all the time, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Sometimes it’s as easy as recording a memory . . . and giving it to someone else, a shift from memoir to fiction that makes all the difference. And of course, Jigsaw’s perspective was my life perspective as the youngest in a family of seven children. Sometimes you’re in the middle of the action. Other times, you’re the forgotten observer, witness to all the goings-on. They didn’t realize I’d write about it 30 years later. Neither did I.

I think the trick for teachers — and this is so hard — is to get kids to value the everyday life that surrounds them. All that “slice of life” stuff. Ideas aren’t some magical golden drops from the gods. And if writing has given me anything (and it has), it’s been reflection, looking back, holding on to something valuable amidst the blur and whoosh and accelerated push of life. Maybe I’m just old. But those memories mean more and more as each year passes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find a rubber band.