Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thank you again, librarians

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman was named a Notable Children's Book 2009 (middle readers category) by the Association for Library Service to Children.

According to the announcement on Booklist, "
[l]ibrarians throughout the U.S. helped to select the titles from the several thousand children’s books published during 2008."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lousy at sports

Google “boys of steel” (come on now, don’t let me be the only one) and you’ll find that the majority of results have to do with a book called Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

According to that book, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster were “lousy at sports.”

So I find it funny (come on now, don’t let me be the only one) that buried among those results are two related to athletics.

The first non-book “Boys of Steel” is a charity golf tournament. It’s sponsored by SME Steel (whose short web site intro, one of the few ever that I haven’t immediately skipped, strikes me as a cross between a cyborg movie trailer and an electronica rap video). It benefits a Utah school called West Ridge Academy. The logo says it’s the sixth annual but the text says it’s the seventh. Either way, it’s going strong, as steel tends to do.

In 2008, I contacted the school to see if we could partner in some way, thinking the synergy was too good to pass up. (On a secondary level, I wondered if this could also be my overdue motivation to learn to play golf.) I emphasized that I felt the book would tie in nicely with a youth competition because its central theme is the importance of persistence. That is a universal message but one with heightened relevance for athletes (and artists). The school declined this year, but perhaps for the seventh (or eighth)?

The second non-book “Boys of Steel” is a boys-only gymnastics class. It’s offered by Energyplex, a Canadian family recreation center that opened in 2009. I contacted them, too, because when you say “gymnastics,” the first thing most people think of next is “picture books.”

Joking aside, there is always possibility. I pitched them ideas including a special offer—sign up for the class by a certain date and the cost includes a copy of the book. The class is good for the body, the book is good for the mind! The owner kindly suggested that I check back in the fall, when enrollment is likely to pick up.

It’s not just the book that is about persistence.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Spot the difference

The last time I was in the Barnes & Noble in Union Square in New York City, I was pleasantly surprised to see Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman face out. This is typically a small rush for most authors, and some manufacture this rush on their own if a bookstore has not done it for them. (I don't think this is illegal.)

Can you spot the difference between these two photographs?

as first seen:

before I left:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Boys of Steel" turns one, kiddos

A year ago today, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman was released.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the book by purchasing it, borrowing it from the library, spreading the word about it, attending one of my speaking engagements, and all other ways super and small.

Most comics fans didn't need Boys of Steel to learn who created Superman—the names if not the details. One of the most rewarding aspects of promoting this book has been watching kids (with teachers, librarians, and parents alongside them) discover the story for the first time. At numerous events over the past year, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster have gone from unfamiliar to household names.

A discovery I made recently: Boys of Steel is one of the select group of titles recommended by James Patterson's Read Kiddo Read (the ages 6 and up category). Here's the site's description of the program:
James Patterson has been the number-one selling author in America for the past three years, with more than 16 million books sold in North America during 2007 alone. He is the first author to have #1 new titles simultaneously on The New York Times adult and children's lists.

Patterson is a champion of reading and for several years sponsored the James Patterson Pageturner awards, which rewarded people and organizations that spread the excitement and joy of books and reading. Through this and other efforts he has given millions of dollars to people and causes that are working to spread the joy and excitement of reading. READKIDDOREAD—which helps parents and educators connect their children with the books that will turn them into lifelong readers—is his latest innovation in this area.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Basketball and boy bands

Twenty-three (and possibly counting) people from Washington state and northern California visited my blog within the last hour. A pattern like that is usually the result of a regional link, such as an article in a local newspaper.

However, this time, it was because they had all searched the same question:

"What do Shaq, Jon Bon Jovi, and Joey Fatone have in common?"

That led them here not because I've written about basketball, hair bands, or boy bands but rather because I've mentioned that all three have Superman tattoos. (And this was not the first time this question for the ages has sent unsuspecting innocents to a blog about book publishing.)

Hope one of you won the radio station giveaway.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The “Bad” Beginning, part 2 of 2

Mike’s insistence and my persistence call to mind the age-old question, what wins in a fight between an irresistible force and an immovable object?

Whichever of the two Mike was that day (November 21, 1987), he won. I signed up to sing (“sing”) my version of “Bad” in the talent show.

I was so nervous that I sat the whole time.

Note two things about the next photo:

1. the album cover next to the DJ
2. the gender of everyone visible in the front row

The crowd, to my relief, did indeed love it. I’d never been cheered for before. And the effect on me was immediate and profound. At the dance that followed the talent show, I went up to a cute girl I had recently met and, in front of her friends, asked her to dance. She (in front of her friends) said no, but Rachel and I did become friends, and still are today.

The next day we left. Our pre-departure ritual sounds so quaint today: we wrote our friends little notes and chaperones distributed them on our respective bus rides home. The reviews were in:

Opinions expressed at age 15 are not necessarily still in effect 20 years later.

“Bad” did more good than boosting my confidence around girls. It was a giddy reminder of how much I liked writing—and an early sign of how much I would like being before an audience.

I wrote talent show sketches or song parodies for every subsequent convention throughout high school. I won chapter and then regional BBYO board positions. I took a public speaking course and felt in my element.

And at nearly every Sweet 16 party I attended that had a DJ, I was asked to do “Bad” for the video. (Those videos may still be out there somewhere. I know my sister's bat mitzvah one is.) As will be no surprise to people who know me, I kept track of the performances—twelve total, though I did note at the time that the list was “possibly not complete.”

Here are photos from a few:




The sheet on the wall behind us covered the word "BAD" written in masking tape; I ripped it down at the start of the first chorus. I remember thinking this was feverishly exciting.

You can see a bit of the "BAD" in masking tape. My friend Seth was discreetly helping me unzip my jacket, which was on backwards in a primitive attempt to mimic one of Jackson's looks. I ripped it off at the start of the third chorus. This revealed a shirt to match that chorus, which is about someone wearing plaid. Again, high drama.


The last performance of "Bad," and most ill-fated, but not only because of that outfit. Separately, pink shorts and baby blue tank tops are misguided. Together, with brown shoes thrown in as a bonus offense, they are unforgivable.

In college, I joined a comedy troupe, reported for the campus TV news, and directed a play I wrote. Today, as an author, I speak often to students, teachers, and various other groups at schools, conferences, libraries, museums, and other venues nationwide. Throughout all of this, “Bad” has remained at the front of my mind.

When Michael Jackson was first publicly accused of child molestation, I was devastated because I believed those accusations. But I would have been devastated even if I hadn’t, because so serious a charge clings to you for life no matter what the truth is. Mike said he was going to stop listening to Jackson’s music.

After Jackson died, I read about the psychology of the man and the specifics of the allegations and was surprised that my opinion changed. I now believe Jackson, however perplexing he could be, did not harm children. He did things I would not do and do not condone, such as sleep in a bed with children who were not his own, but he openly admitted this, possibly because he was somehow too childlike himself to see it as inappropriate. Besides, a person of his means was likely never alone, and I want to believe that his staff would not stand by silently and let victimization happen in the next room. The rationalizations in either direction will continue to go on and on.

It may seem that I am being colored by the magnitude of his talent viewed through the permanent lens of death, but given what Jackson did to prove his innocence (and I’m not talking about the highly publicized payouts), combined with certain details of the case and trial that are beyond the scope of what I would like to get into here, his innocence is what now seems more plausible to me.

When Michael Jackson was “Bad” he was great, and if he was bad, it is beyond sad. Yet even if I am wrong about his innocence, it would not change that a defining shift in my evolution will forever be linked to him. And though I am conflicted about it, I still enjoy his music and marvel at the way he could move (which puts me in good company with, oh, most of the free world).

This troubled superstar whom I never met still occasionally influences little things in my little life. Most recently, my one-year-old son earned the nickname the “King of Poop.”

Inspiration is simple. Legacy is complex. Put another way, inspiration is a thriller and legacy is dangerous.

8/12/19 update: I watched Leaving Neverland. I now believe he did molest children.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The “Bad” Beginning, part 1 of 2

Since June 25, I have debated posting on this topic. Coming up on a month later, I won the debate. (That’s one nice thing about debating yourself—you always win.)

I owe my writing career to Michael Jackson.

In 1987, starting my sophomore year in high school, I was a bit adrift, more withdrawn than I’d ever been. People who had been my friends in middle school had gone in a different direction without me. But people I had been friends with back in grade school were coming back into my orbit—one in particular, Mike (still one of my best friends today).

Mike saw things quicker than most people. He and these other kids I was becoming reacquainted with were members of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, an international Jewish youth group. Since the spring of our freshman year, Mike had been trying to persuade me to join—not because he had anything to gain from it but simply because he thought I’d thrive in it. Ever the sly pitchman, he would work me, casually mentioning the aspects of BBYO he thought would most appeal specifically to me.

I resisted until the fall. The tipping point, which in retrospect should’ve been the most obvious ploy, was when Mike told me “Every weekend we have sleepovers. With girls.”

Even though this turned out to be only partially true—it was not every weekend—joining would be a step up for a guy who spent most Friday and Saturday nights home (doing what, I honestly don’t remember). So I went to my first meeting, and felt warmly welcomed by new-old friends and strangers alike.

At the same time, one of the most eagerly anticipated follow-up albums in rock history had just come out and was dominating the pop culture landscape: Bad by Michael Jackson.

I liked the title song so much that I wrote a parody of it. It was also called “Bad.” (I wrote it the nights of October 12 and 13, 1987. I just checked—those were not weekend nights. And for the record, this was a full four months before the most famous parody of the song—“Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Fat”—was released.)

I shared my parody with Mike, already my comedy-writing partner for articles for our BBYO chapter’s newspaper. He loved it.

A month later, some two hundred BBYOers from my region bused up to the frosty Catskills in New York for the annual Fall Conventiontwo nights in a hotel without parents. (Hence these conventions were anticipated even more eagerly than follow-ups to blockbuster albums.)

The programming highlight of these conventions was the Saturday night talent show. Perhaps I should write “talent” show. But still, there were always at least a couple of funny performances and watching bad ones could be just as fun.

I was still on the shy side when Mike directed me to the talent show sign-up sheet and encouraged me to sing “Bad.” Not breaking with tradition, I resisted. He assured me that the audience would love it. And to prove it, he was willing to put himself—and the other four guys in our little gang—on the line. He said they’d all come up there with me and “dance in the background.”

I thought all of this was a bad idea.

Really, really bad.

No singing ability.

No choreography.

No rehearsal.

No idea that this four-minute parody I wrote for myself was about to turn me back into the person I was and the person I was perhaps destined to be.

Part 2 (including photos) tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Capitol Choices

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman was named a 2009 Capitol Choices title (ages 7 to 10 category). Since 1996, this Washington DC-based group of librarians, teachers, booksellers, children’s literature specialists, reviewers, and magazine editors have annually highlighted "noteworthy books for children and teens."