Tag Archive for The Case of the Secret Valentine

Fan Mail Wednesday #211: Twenty Questions, More or Less


There’s something undeniably direct about first graders. This girl liked my book and everything . . . she just would have changed a few things. Like, you know, the plot. And maybe some characters. I also like how Gracie worked so hard to fit everything on one page.


Scan 4

I replied:

Dear Gracie,

Thank you for your lovely letter.

Do you know what? I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. That’s right, my nose mashed into the wall. Grumble, grumble, grumble. For some reason, I was mad at the world this morning. 

The alarm clock was too loud, my cereal was too soggy, my dog threw up on my shoes, and it was raining out. Grrrr.

Then I read your letter . . . and a big smile crossed my face. I thought to myself, “Wow, I am a lucky guy.”

So thank you, Gracie. Your letter turned my day around and my frown upside down. You asked a lot of questions and I’ll try to answer them. Okay, whew, here we go . . .

799861When I wrote The Case of the Secret Valentine, I wanted to keep the readers guessing. I figured that everybody, including Jigsaw, would assume that the note was sent by a girl. In the mystery-writing business, that’s called a “gender assumption.” I got everybody thinking in the wrong direction. I wanted readers to be surprised when they discovered the true identity of the sneaky letter writer.

It could also be because I am not as clever as you. I love your idea of a girl detective who wants to team up with Jigsaw. That would certainly  make Mila jealous. Maybe that’s a story you could write this summer?

I have three children and three pets: Nick (22), Gavin (16), Maggie (14), Daisy (dog), Midnight (cat) and Frozone (another cat). Frozone was named after the character in the movie “The Incredibles,” a movie that we all love in this house. If you haven’t seen it, well, trust me, it’s incredible.

I began to write books when I was your age. I started by drawing pictures. Then with the help of my older brothers and sisters, I added a few words. I stapled the pages together to make books, put a price on the cover, and sold them to my friends and neighbors on the block. I made a lot of books when I was a little kid. I guess you could say that I never stopped.

About Theodore: Well, I wanted Jigsaw to have a name that he didn’t really like — so Theodore popped into my coconut. Boing! If I was named Theodore, I think I’d want to be called Ted or Teddy or “Hey You” — anything other than THEODORE!

Thanks for writing to me, Gracie. You really made my day. Enjoy your summer. May it be filled with books!

Your friend,

James Preller

Overheard: “Mom, I Can’t Say THAT!” Subtitle: Gavin and Valentine’s Day

Ah, Valentine’s Day. What torture.

And when did it become almost exclusively about candy?

I’m reminded of one of my favorite comments made by Jigsaw Jones eleven years ago in The Case of the Secret Valentine. Jigsaw has just made an unnerving discovery: someone sent him a secret Valentine. He complains to Mila:

“You know what the worst part is,” I complained. “This girl is ruining a perfectly good holiday. I mean, I like Valentine’s Day. You get to eat cupcakes. Why does she have to drag love into it?”

Anyway, our family’s participation in the holiday has devolved over the years from our kids’  highly artistic, creative efforts at card-making to pure commercialism. Lisa now buys the cards at CVS, the kids fill ’em out, and we’re through it with a minimum of hassle.

Tip to parents: Things go so much easier when you eliminate tiresome concepts such as art, creativity, effort, and care!

Anyway, Lisa brought home some generic cards for Gavin. They contained benign messages like, I don’t know, “You’re a blast!” (cue rocket ship art), “You’re awesome!” and so on. You know the type.

Gavin looked at the cards and nearly died right there from mortification. He began twitching, scratching himself, blinking uncontrollably, clearly agitated.  “Mom, I can’t say that . . . to a girl!”


Gavin could barely form the words. He finally sputtered,  “I can’t say that a girl is awesome.”

They talked about it, and Gavin made it clear that any expression of affection, admiration, or even grudging respect would be unacceptable. So Lisa, no dummy, surrendered to our fifth-grade boy’s abject terror. She instead bought  a holiday bag of mini Kit-Kat bars with the words “TO” and “FROM” printed on each individual bar. Gavin had only to fill out the names — which was about as much emotion as he was willing to expend.

At CVS, Lisa ran into another mother of a fifth-grade boy. She was on the same errand, dealing with a similar revolt. Looks like a lot of kids will be getting Kit Kat bars in school today. The next few years should be interesting.