Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Superman II" interview: Robin Pappas

In Superman II (1980), actress Robin Pappas played Alice, a Daily Planet employee.


She had only one line.


But even a small role in an iconic film is big enough to yield fascinating behind-the-scenes nuggets, especially with someone who has a big personality. Ergo, an interview with Robin:

What were you doing professionally prior to Superman II

Before, during, and after Superman II, I was a young jobbing actor, working in repertory theaters around Great Britain, generally enjoying the hi-diddly-dee lifestyle. The only bit of film work I'd done previously was in my first term at RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] in early '72—we students were used as extras in O Lucky Man! We got paid something like three guineas for the day and it was simultaneously thrilling and boring, mostly kinda wonderful to be part of the "magic of movie-making." [I also had] a small role in The Shining, but that's another story. Just to be in a movie, in any capacity, was a major kick.


Okay, you can't just casually toss out "I was in The Shining" as an aside without consequence. Tell me about it!

I played a nurse in an end scene, which was there for the LA and NY previews, then Stanley Kubrick deleted it, supposedly on advice from Warner's. I understand he destroyed the footage. That seems a bit extreme—I've always felt it would've been a better film with me in it. Ha ha, no really, I preferred the original ending. Jack Nicholson was not around [when I shot], but I got the impression he's a lot of fun on set; no Scatman Crothers, either—my scene was in hospital after the labyrinth scene. Shelley Duvall was super friendly, a very pleasant and down-to-earth person, Barry Nelson polite and easygoing, and young Danny just a normal kid who happened to be a really good actor. There were many takes, and Kubrick struck me as quiet, thoughtful, almost monk-like in his precision.

Back to Superman II…how did you get the role?

As I remember, first an interview with Mary Selway, the casting director, then a brief meeting with Richard Lester, the director, which looking back seems a lot of bother for them for a bit part player.

Were you a fan of Superman or superheroes?

As a child, comics-wise, I loved them all, but particularly the females. In film terms, I'd gone to the first Superman with my sister's five young sons and was tickled to see a couple of acting pals in small parts. The theater was packed and we had to sit in the front row. It was great, so immediate; at certain moments we were cheering and jumping out of our seats with mindless feel-good patriotic fervor, John Williams's music whipping us into a rah-rah frenzy. 

Any funny anecdotes about your Superman experience? 

I don't know that it's that funny, but we'd been burgled the night before. A bunch of us RADA actors were living down the street from the academy in a huge Victorian. The gypsies would occasionally come knocking and want money to tell your fortune. If you refused, you were liable to get a curse, so I always gave them something, and usually got an intriguing verbal bit in return—fascinating how clever at reading people fortune-tellers are. What I didn't realize was this routine was often also a gambit to size up a potential hit, which is what I think happened that night. We were all home and they managed to work around us, very deft they were. Cleaned me out and left a nail file and pair of scissors, which I'm told is a kind of symbolic intimidation tactic. Upshot I didn't sleep much that night, which left me dozing off the next day, sitting upright in a chair between takes.

Is there one story about your Superman experience that you tell more than any other?

Oh yeah. My one and only line was "Catch ya later, Clark." [On] the first take I guess I was thinking "Clark Kent" and the line came out "Catch ya later, Clunt." Very embarrassing.

What was your impression of Christopher Reeve? 

He seemed thoroughly engrossed, seriously committed to getting his character right, from throwing that hat onto the peg to working out his motivation, to such a degree that while he was talking to Dick Lester, I jumped in with some idiot remark like "I think he just feels left out and wants to be liked," which was not appreciated. He shut me down with a quick "Do you mind? I'm having a private conversation with the director." Also, he had a little battery whirly fan he took out of his pocket between takes to cool down. I backed off, sat down, and went back to sleep.

Margot Kidder? 

She did poke her head around her dressing room door at one point, as we little people were walking down the hall to our dressing rooms, and, after clocking us, ducked back in. 

Gene Hackman? 

As far as I know, he wasn't there that day.

Memories of any other actors on set?

Leueen Willoughby I knew from our time together with Cambridge Theatre Company. I shared a car to studio with the actor playing Jimmy Olsen, Marc McClure. He was very sweet. I was sorry there wasn't more of him in the final film. Sarah Douglas was a doll and invited us into her dressing room, offered us her phone if we wanted to call America, etc.; very generous. 

My absolute favorite memory of the day was meeting Jackie Cooper, a legend from the golden days—how they threatened to kill his dog to get him to cry for [the 1931 film] The Champ, as a teenager being seduced by Joan Crawford, Our Gang for chrissake! This man was so real in the midst of such artifice, so genuine and interested and polite, gritty as a truck driver—complaining about coming over on the Concorde and how the food was shitty ("We can put a man on the moon and we still can't get a decent meal on an airplane"). Very friendly, gave us a ride over to the commissary in his car. I'm not sure if I watch his performance admiringly because he was so nice to me or [because he was] such a delightful actor—probably both. 

Did you attend the premiere, and if so, what was that like? 

Lord no, wasn't invited!

Did your opinion of the movie change after it opened? 

Strangely, I was less excited about Superman II— didn't think it worked as well as the first, for whatever reason, and there wasn't enough of me in it.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically? 

No I have not. Thank you for asking.

What was your favorite acting gig? 

Mother Courage [in the play Mother Courage and Her Children] because it's impossibly hard and Madame Ernestine Von Liebedich (Little Mary Sunshine) because it was such fun. The best gigs are in my mind.

What are you doing these days?

Feels like I'm working harder, but maybe that's just the nature of getting older…too much responsibility! By nature I'm a bum.


Where do you live?

In the picturesque Pocono Mountains, PA. Wish the winters were milder, otherwise it's lovely.

Tell me about your children/family.

Hey, everybody's healthy. I'm the luckiest woman in the world.

Have you participated in any Superman-related event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to meeting fans and signing autographs at an event like San Diego Comic-Con?

Would love to. If only I could charge $50 a photo like Carrie Fisher.

Are you still in touch with anyone from the cast?

No, and it's depressing how many people have died already.

When was the last time you saw a member of the cast, and was it on purpose or by chance?

I don't believe I've seen anyone from the Superman II shoot since that day.

When was the last time you watched Superman II? How did you think it held up? 

It's a fun movie. I think it works on its own terms, but I do sense a certain disjointedness—even the Thin Man films suffer from sequel syndrome. 

Do you have an opinion on Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut?

I've never seen it, so can't say. Of course I have loyalty to Dick Lester—this man directed A Hard Day's Night! But again, when I met Lester to get approval for the gig, he was (like Jackie Cooper) so unpretentious and self-deprecating. I told him I admired his work and he came back with "There are so many people involved in making a film it's ridiculous to give any one person the credit." I couldn't help but be impressed by his humility and intelligence.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set?

That's painful. I had the scripts from The ShiningSuperman II, Chariots of Fire (didn't have one for Reds)…but, along with play scripts, the pile became huge and heavy and I think I threw them out even before I left England—dumb move.

What did you think when you first heard from me? 

"Oh god, not more homework."

How do you look back on your Superman experience? 

I've embarrassed myself so many times I'd like to think I learned something…what can you do? Try to get smarter. Working on a film is always sort of thrilling because it's pretty glamorous as work goes, and ultimately it's about creating magic, but it is tedious and fragmented and you can feel like you're in a really nice prison, which is why it's wonderful when you happily connect with the people you're confined with. That's entertainment!

If the experience changed your life in any way, how? 

Well, yeah, for most actors, one is unemployed more often than not, so if you're lucky, it's kind of like having an affair for the duration of the job…then it's over. But you always remember that special relationship, day, tension, scene, moment—and the beauty of film is it's in the can forever. That is, if you don't get completely cut out of the movie, sob sob. Thus, like Cinderella, it changes your life, and then you change back.

Anything you'd like to add?

If you get offered a film role, do it.

See also: my interviews with cast members of Superman: The Movie.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

"Thirty Minutes Over Oregon" on Alternative Anticipated Children's Books of Fall 2018 List

This blog could have its own section/label called "Thank you Betsy Bird," this post being the latest entry.

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story (out 10/9/18) has made her Alternative Anticipated Children's Books of Fall 2018 List (and even if it hadn't, I heartily applaud Betsy's reason for making such a list).


Betsy: "Such a cool story and practically no one knows about it! ... It's this remarkable story about forgiving yourself, forgiving others, and reaching a hand out to someone you're supposed to think of as an enemy. We sort of need this book right now."

So, as spoiled in the first line above, thank you, Betsy Bird.

Friday, August 17, 2018

"FairyTale: A True Story" interview: Florence Hoath (Elsie)

Both my 2018 book Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real and the 1997 film FairyTale: A True Story are based on the Cottingley fairies incident of 1917 England.



Florence Hoath, the actress who played Elsie in the film, kindly agreed to an interview. As of this writing, Lizzie Earl, who played Frances, Elsie's younger cousin and partner-in-gnome, declined my request, but if she changes her mind, I will add in her answers here.

Florence and Lizzie

How old were you when you appeared in FairyTale?

Gosh, it was quite a long time ago now but I must have been about twelve years old. I had appeared in a few films and TV shows before FairyTale but none quite as high profile. 

Where were you living at the time? 

I lived at home with my family in Chiswick, which is in West London. (I do not have a Yorkshire accent so I had to have some voice coaching for the film.)

How were you cast?

I remember the casting process being quite long. I had to go through several rounds of auditions before getting the part. I'm afraid that I don't remember the early stages but I do remember one particular casting further down the line. I think it must have been the final audition as there were about twelve young girls and we all spent the day together chatting, asking questions, and playing around. The director and the casting agents were there, too, and were watching how we behaved, presumably to see what type of characters we all were. In spite of having quite a bit of previous acting experience, I was actually quite a shy child and I tended not to stand out when put in a group, so I remember thinking that I probably wouldn't get through to the next stage. Looking back on it now, I can see that the character I played was quite a shy girl, too, and that may have been one of the reasons that they picked me. 

Do you remember what your reaction was when you were cast?

Thrilled! It really is the best feeling in the world when you get an acting job—some things never change. It is such a difficult industry to succeed in and there is so much competition. I don't think I realized at the time just how lucky I was, but I was certainly very happy and excited about the whole thing. 

Do you remember if you'd heard of the Cottingley fairies before being cast?

It is not a story that I had heard before, but my parents had and the director took the time to explain it to us before filming. We saw the original photographs and were told how much of a big deal it was at the time—how two young girls literally fooled the world into believing in fairies. Throughout filming I got more of a sense of what that must have been like for two young girls—to be thrust into the limelight like that must have been very overwhelming.

How long was the shoot?

I believe that I was filming for around 16 weeks. However, most of the filming took place after Lizzie and I had finished because of all the special effects. I think they were filming with the fairies for another few months after we had wrapped. 

How did you feel being a part of the movie?

It was all just so exciting. It really is the best job in the world. When you are working, you get to dress up and pretend to be someone else for a while. I got to take time off school, which I thought was brilliant, and I got to hang around with fun adults all day. 

What was the hardest part of the shoot?

I don't think any of it was particularly hard. I had to learn a lot of lines which was sometimes a bit tricky and I had to wear a wig which itched a bit…but really, it was just a brilliant experience. 

Any funny stories from the shoot?

I'm so sorry, I don't really remember.

I do have a little fact that might be of interest—when we were first cast, the film was called One Golden Afternoon. I remember having a chat with the director, Charles Sturridge. He asked Lizzie and me what we thought it should be called. We gave a few ideas but surprisingly FairyTale wasn't one of ours…

Also, during filming, they were casting for Spice World—I was a huge Spice Girls fan and didn't get to go to the casting. I remember being very upset about that. Looking back, I definitely got the better film, but there was certainly lots of tears at not being able to meet my idols. 

Anything go wrong on the shoot?

Again, it was such a while ago now that I can't really recall. I do remember that the fairies' house was very, very fragile and took weeks to make. Lizzie and I had to carry it around at one point and I'm sure the props department were watching us like hawks. 

What did you think of the movie?

I don't really like watching myself but I thought the movie was great! There were some really brilliant actors and actresses in it and the story really was very interesting. 

What did your parents think of it?

They loved it. They were probably a little biased but they really did think it was great. I think it is a film that appeals to both adults and children. They knew the story already and I think they were interested to see a film about it also. 

What did your friends think of it?

My friends thought it was cool. I got teased a little about making a film about fairies, but it was all in good humor and I never took it seriously. It was not intended to be unkind. 

Did you attend the premiere, and if so, what do you remember about it?

I did. I remember there being a few screenings of the film along with a premiere. We went to Bradford in Yorkshire and met the mayor, travelling around in an open-top bus and standing for photos at the town hall. We also went to LA and New York for premieres and press junkets/interviews. It was all so exciting and we were made to feel like superstars.



Were you ever in touch with the families of Frances or Elsie?

I think that they were involved in the telling of the story and we may have met one of them at the beginning. I seem to remember being shown some photographs.

Frances's daughter Christine Lynch with 
Florence (left) and Lizzie (far right)

premiere notes by Christine Lynch

Did the movie ever affect your dating life in any way (i.e. when you first told boy/girlfriends you were in it)?

Whenever someone asks what I do and we end up talking about acting, FairyTale tends to get the biggest response. I get lots of "Oh my God, I loved that film!" It does tend to be girls more than boys and usually people of my age or above, but it does seem to be a really well-loved film. I don't think it has ever affected my dating life apart from it being something interesting to talk about when you are first getting to know someone. 

Did you receive fan mail? If so, do you still have any of it?

I do still receive fan mail but not that much from fans of FairyTale. I did a couple of episodes of Doctor Who and the fans of that show are brilliant! It is always lovely to get letters from people who like your work and I do keep it all. 

Were you ever recognized in public? How often and when last? Any stories about that?

I do get recognized in public occasionally but not as much as I used to. Funnily enough, the thing that I used to get recognized for the most for was a commercial campaign that I did when I was about 16. People sometimes used to shout at me in the street, which was a little embarrassing. To be honest, nowadays I get more "Do I know you from somewhere?" or "You've got a really familiar face." I wore a wig in FairyTale and had a different accent, so perhaps that was why I didn't get recognized as much. 

Funny story; I got recognized by two Chinese ladies when I was at Disney World in Florida. They came up to me and I wasn't quite sure what they were saying. It sounded like "maple." It turns out they recognized me from an episode of Miss Marple called "The Body in the Library"—I was the body, so for the most part I was playing a dead person. I was very impressed that they recognized me from that!

Did you appear in other movies after that?

I did, yes. I appeared in several other films, commercials, period dramas, TV shows, and a soap. 

Did you keep in touch with Lizzie Earl (Frances), and if so, when were you last in touch?

Unfortunately, we did not keep in touch. Please do give her my regards if you speak to her! It would be lovely to chat to her sometime and compare stories. 

If you went to college, where and what did you study?

I didn't go to college. I was lucky enough to be offered enough work to keep me busy. 

What are you doing these days?

I am currently writing a book! Like many actors and actresses I have had numerous other jobs including bar work and office work. I sold property in London for a high-end company for a few years, but decided that I'd rather be doing something creative so have written my first-ever book. It's a novel for young adults and is about a girl who has a very unusual ability…

Florence in her garden with Fairy Spell...
and fairies?

Where do you live?

I live in South West London, near Richmond.

If you are/were married, what was your future spouse's reaction when s/he learned you were in this movie?

I am married to an actor. He has never seen the film but does remember it coming out. I think his family were more excited than he was!

Kids?

I do not have any kids…yet. 

When was the last time you saw the movie? How do you grade your performance?

I haven't seen it in quite a long time, certainly not from start to finish anyway. It pops on the TV from time to time and I'll get a few messages from friends and family letting me know that I'm on the telly. I'm happy with the way that it turned out but I can't help but be a little critical of myself. I do wonder, if I could go back and do things differently, would I? I don't know, I think at the time I did the best that I could do, but I was a kid. I turned up, learnt my lines, and tried to feel what Elsie would be feeling in that moment. As a child I think everything is much simpler. I didn't overanalyze anything or try my performance ten different ways to see what worked best. I just tried to be as natural as possible and hoped that the director liked it. 

Do you believe in anything that hasn't yet been proven by science (including fairies)?

I'd like to believe and I try to keep an open mind. If someone tells me that they have seen a ghost, or felt a presence that they are not able to explain, then who am I to say that it's not true? I believe that there are a lot of things that cannot be explained and I'd like to think that maybe there is something more out there. With regards to fairies…I think it's important for kids to believe in magic. As a child I created whole worlds in my back garden and my imagination allowed me to believe in all sorts of wonderful things—I wouldn't have had it any other way. 

What did you think when you first heard from me?

Maybe he could give me some tips on how to get published! No, honestly, I am pleased that there are people out there still interested in the story. That people still want to know about Elsie and Frances and what they did, and that it may now be told to another generation. I sometimes think about my time making FairyTale and what a wonderful experience it was, but I don't really get a chance to talk about it often. It is nice to relive some of the memories. 

Has anyone else ever interviewed about this? If so, when and for what publication?

When the film came out, we did quite a few interviews, both TV and editorial. I remember us having a big spread in Tatler magazine. We got to do a photo shoot, too. I felt very grown up. I remember seeing one of the photos when it came out and they'd printed one of me in black and white wearing John Lennon-type sunglasses—it was by far the coolest I'd ever been in my opinion. It probably still is…

How do you look back on the experience?

With a smile. I'm grateful that I got picked to play the part and got the opportunity to be involved in the film. It is an experience that I will never forget and a story that I can tell for the rest of my life.

how I inscribed Fairy Spell for Florence; 
illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Thursday, August 16, 2018

"Nowhere Boy" and "Boys of Steel"

The latest novel by my friend Katherine Marsh is Nowhere Boy. (Before we go further, if you have not read her book Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, please do. I'll hold.)


In late April, Kate emailed that she would like to send me an advanced reader's copy of Nowhere Boy because it contains a surprise…for me.


As I said, Kate and I are friends, but we don't go way back or know each other's favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry's. So I was indeed surprised, and touched even before I knew how special the surprise was. 

Page 106:


With a big smile, I wrote Kate "If I read it without knowing you, I wouldn't assume it was my Superman book! Can we really be sure? : )"

She replied "It is definitely your Superman book and you can claim it as such! In fact I know of no others but I'm less of an expert in that area than you. The other book I reference is Shaun Tan's The Arrival. They're hidden in there as toy surprises."


Of course, most readers are like Kate: they aren't able to rattle off a range of books about Superman (let alone books about the creators of Superman). Therefore they won't know exactly what the character is referring to, and this is not a key plot point, so I do not want to make a bigger deal out of it than it is, but the fact remains that I'm honored. My research has been cited in books but as far as I know, this is the first time that one of my books has been mentioned in fiction.

I highly recommend Nowhere Boy (rolling out in 15 languages!) for reasons far and plenty beyond the allusion to one of my books. It is a tender, thoughtful story for our times, centered on the Syrian refugee crisis (which is at times paralleled to the plight of European Jews during World War II). I had only an abstract understanding of the dangers facing a refugee in Europe and learned a lot from this well-researched novel. 

Kate's young characters are corkscrewed into complicated and sometimes unthinkable situations which they handle in ingenious ways. They evolve, they fight (in more ways than one), and, believably, they don't always win. What I would call the biggest twist is especially stealthy and delivers a satisfying emotional payoff.

And the story behind the story—starting with Kate's discovery of a tiny door in the basement of the Belgian townhouse her family was renting—is fascinating in its own right. Look into it.

Thank you again, Kate, for the nod and for the book.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" and "Thirty Minutes Over Oregon"

My 10-year-old was reading Nathan Hale's Raid of No Return (Hazardous Tales #7) and texted me this:


Yes, it is no coincidence...Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story, out 10/9/18, explains the connection.


By the way, take my son's lead and read Nathan Hale's Raid of No Return. It is so well done.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Missed two anniversaries by one year

My two nonfiction picture books out this year are one year late for notable anniversaries.

Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real is the story of two girls (you got that already) who, over three years, took five photographs of what they claimed were real fairies. The first photo (which became the most famous) was taken in 1917.


We just missed the 100th anniversary.

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story recounts the first (and still-only) time an enemy country successfully bombed the United States mainland. Actually, Japan did it twice in three weeks, both in September 1942. (It was the Japanese response to the Doolittle Raid of April 1942.) 


We just missed the 75th anniversary.

But considering neither of these events is well known, it's no great marketing sin.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Finding fairies at a birthday party

Some moons ago, my wife and I threw our daughter a fairy-themed fifth birthday party. 

The invite had eight clumsy lines of verse. The first four:

Our little girl is turning five
Or fünf as Germans say [my wife is German]
And creatures even littler
Will be coming out to play

Our little girl was not especially into fairies, but I was; the year before, I'd begun work on the book that would (a decade later) be Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real.



The birthday festivities took place at a park down the street from where we lived. One of the activities we ran (and the highlight for me): find fairies. 

Like Elsie in Fairy Spell (and in real life), I prepared paper fairies. In fact, I used hers. She drew them; I merely printed them out. Before the kids arrived, I hid the fairies in the lightly wooded area near the field where we'd serve cupcakes. They were numbered so I'd have a quick way to know if the kids found them all.




The last four lines from the invite:



The book is dedicated to her.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

"Powerful and poignant…a must-read" – "Kirkus" on "Thirty Minutes Over Oregon"



"Powerful and poignant. … Iwai illustrates the moving moments and events with grace and humanity. The story captures a side of World War II readers may not have seen before. A must-read story."

Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Bill the Boy Wonder" updated (post-credit change) edition

Six years ago this month, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman released. It ended on a tragic yet hopeful note, wondering if Bill Finger's name would ever be added to every Batman story.


Three years later, that happened.

At first I wanted the book to remain as is, a time capsule of pre-2015. But then I agreed to update it: we added only a blurb (teasing the credit change and mentioning the documentary Batman & Bill) to the cover and two sentences (explicitly stating the credit change) to the author's note.



This post-credit edition is available now.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Films where the climax involves the threat of falling

The climax of many an action/fantasy film involves height/the threat of falling. Easy way to amplify peril. A quick list which I encourage you to add to in the comments:

Back to the Future
The Empire Strikes Back
King Kong
The Incredibles
Batman (and many other superhero movies including The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Crow, X-Men, The Rocketeer)
Jurassic Park
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Beauty and the Beast
Die Hard
North by Northwest
The Poseidon Adventure
The Good Son
Up
Rear Window
Vertigo 
Saboteur
Blade Runner
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The Towering Inferno
The Lion King
Mulan
Cliffhanger (of course)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Nerd Camp 2018

I've considered every camp I've attended to be nerd camp, simply because I was there. Exhibit 1: me at camp in 1987, carrying around my Walkman...and journal.


Now I have finally experienced Nerd Camp In Caps. (Photos below. All Walkman-free.) 

The annual summer gathering, now in its sixth year, draws educators, authors, school administrators, and other book lovers/literary thought leaders to Parma, MI, for two high-energy days (this year, July 9 and 10) to learn from each other and celebrate the art, the craft, and the indispensable value of books. People come from far and wide. I even bumped into a teacher from an international school I spoke at in Malaysia!

For several years, author friends (hello Jenni Holm and Erica Perl) have urged me to go and I'm so glad this year brought me the chance to take that advice.

I speak at a lot of literacy/literary conferences, and the DNA of most overlaps: enthusiasm for reading, desire to gain new understanding from allies in the field, respect for and belief in children, long lines for mediocre food. But ask any Nerd Camp nerd (I otherwise avoid labels but Nerd Camp attendees embrace this one for this event) what makes Nerd Camp special and you'll likely get a response couching the event in near-sacred terms. The high school that hosts Nerd Camp is physically big enough to fit the 1,600 or so attendees, yet the love on site is bursting out through the cracks. 

The reasons for that love will vary from person to person, but one is universal: this is an event built from scratch by educators/child advocates, starting with Colby and Alaina Sharp (alas, I did not meet Alaina), and continuing right through the event itself because everyone has an equal chance to participate by pitching sessions on day 2. Many if not most attendees (educator and author alike) come on their own dime so they are vested. And I did not make it to any food trucks but hear good grub was to be gotten.

It's a camp of class acts. I came already knowing a good number of the attending speakers and teachers too numerous to list. It was an honor to meet—indeed present with—many more. The graphic novel panel that kicked off day 1 was a delight and the subsequent seven-minute Nerd Talks were capsule supernovas of inspiration. Everyone was so polished; many spoke truth to power in ways that felt new. (An important metric for me: if I'm getting a message I've already internalized, am I getting it in a different way?) After camp, the nerds scattered recharged and recommitted to being our best selves to help others do the same. An army of awareness. A sea of support. 

Naturally one does not get to hear or meet every presenter at an event of this scope, but experiencing even a fraction of it is enriching. Among the meaningful professional moments and realizations in my small corner of Nerd Camp:


  • having another opportunity to listen to Donalyn Miller synthesize best practices for promoting literacy with her trademark blend of knowledge, accessibility, and humor
  • becoming a fan of people I'd not met before including the dynamic Chad Everett and the compelling Sara Ahmed
  • bearing witness to the humble generosity of Dav Pilkey and John Schu 
  • sitting in on one of Jonathan Auxier's intriguing talks during Nerd Camp Jr. (when the audience was kids); his room was on the other side of the building from my room and I had only a half-hour window, but he made it totally worth the sprint 


I had lovely conversations (some for the first time in person, some for the first time ever, some for longer than two minutes!) with Travis Jonker, Elissa Brent Weissman, Jarrett Lerner, Jess Keating, Carter Higgins, Lindsey Anderson, Josh Funk, Don Miller, Tim Miller, Jim Bailey, Terry Thompson, Story Mamas Courtney and Kimberly, Debbie Freedman. Not enough time with others including Jen Vincent, Therese Hubbell, Courtney Doyle, Becky Calzada, Molly O'Neill, Pernille Ripp, Michelle Holstine, Andrea McEvoy, Hena Khan, Laura Shovan, Stephanie Stinemetz, Emma Ledbetter. 

Special shoutout to my carpool Minh Lé, Lauren Castillo, and Alison Morris. We didn't get into as much road trip trouble as I was hoping, but it was a blast nonetheless and maybe sandwiches should not be that big. Great to meet you along the way, Natasha Smith and Seantele Foreman.

Another special shoutout to Sarah Albee for e-introducing me to Andrea Childes months ago. Bummed I did not see Sarah more than in passing.

An extra-sized shoutout to Pam Warren for being such a great helper...and under such hot conditions! However, you were warmer than the room.

Great fun to talk pop culture and more serious subjects with Jarrett Krosoczka. Pure bliss to meet the glowing soul Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Huge treat to see Raúl the Third again so soon after first hanging out with him in March.

It was an absolute pleasure to get to know the gentleman's gentleman James Ponti, who kindly came back from Nerd Camp to unstrand me from the hotel and whose compassion and strength equals his quick wit. Same with Judd Winick, a name I've known for years; so nice to finally shake your hand and talk a bit of (comics) shop.

Thank you to Laurie Keller and Andrea Childes for agreeing to panel with me. You were both such team players. It was a privilege to revisit and break down hilarious books for an hour with you. Plus it was a boost to our immune systems!

Another tip of the hat to the fellow storytellers of my research panel/improv troupe: James, Kat Zhang, Stuart Gibbs, Sarah Mlynowski, and surprise guest/old pal Nathan Hale. You're all well-spoken and funny and I'm both friend and fan. I've done tons of panels and the chemistry on this one—patchworked together a mere hour earlier—was stellar. What a lively audience, too.

If I have left out anyone with whom I shared a nerdy word, I apologize. But please know that while my brain/memory sometimes lapses, my heart doesn't. 

There were a handful of people I was hoping to meet—I even made a (partial) list—but didn't. Yet another reason to return.

Thank you again to Colby, Alaina, Donalyn, Jess, and all others who made it possible for me—for all of us—to be there.

Glimpses:

 My carpool crew Alison Morris, Lauren Castillo, and Minh Lé flew 
into a different terminal than I did. (This photo would've been funnier 
ten minutes earlier when I was among many drivers 
holding similar signs.)

We stopped in Ann Arbor en route to visit Literati bookstore and eat.
We laughed at the sun spotlight targeting just my head.

 On day 1, Molly O'Neill made our carpool into a fab five.

 I hid four fairies around Nerd Camp.
Find one, find me, win a book.


 My day 1 panel on the educational value of funny picture books 
drew a great crowd and here you see why: creator Laurie Keller 
and teacher Andrea Childes. As far as I can recall,
this was my first time sharing a panel with both an author
and an educator. The different perspectives in part
informed by different job titles made this all the more
interesting for me and, I think, the turnout.

 My day 2 research panel: Nathan Hale, Kat Zhang, 
Stuart Gibbs, James Ponti, me, Sarah Mlynowski.
We were even kind of color-coordinated (except for me).

 Reunion with Lindsey Anderson and Nathan Hale,
both of whom I met when we three and James Barry did
a progam at the 2013 Southern Festival of Books.

 Debbie Ridpath Ohi. I'm holding a book illustrated by
her good friend Eliza Wheeler.

 Middle school teacher Paul Bach, who reached out 
to me a few days earlier to tell me he's used both
my Bill Finger book and TED Talk to great effect 
in his classroom. He clearly has great taste in T-shirts.
(As you saw in the research panel photo above,
it inspired my outfit for day 2.)

 At first I thought this photo was a hallucination or Photoshop prank, 
but turns out that on Monday night, we did did indeed go to 
Denny's at 1:30 a.m. A Nerd Camp tradition, I learned.
(clockwise starting with the closest to the camera:
Don Miller, Terry Thompson, me, Laura Given,
Donalyn Miller, Molly O'Neill, John Schu, Travis Jonker,
Jarrett Lerner, Josh Funk, Minh )




The Nerd Camp equivalent of fairy dust is now everywhere...
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