Saturday, January 30, 2010

Reactions to "Boys of Steel" -- post-presentation

If writing a book on any particular subject is a test of passion, the final exam requires you to be able to give a presentation about that subject for at least an hour...many, many times.

I've now been spreading the gospel about Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman for about a year and a half. I can easily see myself continuing to do it until, well, people stop wanting to hear about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. That is, hopefully, a point that will not come in my lifetime.

Once you speak on a subject a certain number of times, you start to hear certain comments and questions repeat. Here are some of the ones I find most compelling:
  • People in their seventies or older telling me that they remember having a copy of Action Comics #1, but their moms (always the moms) threw it out. Had they kept that debut appearance of Superman, it would have been worth at least half a million dollars today, and several of the 100 copies known to still exist have sold for more than a million. Don't fault the moms. Moms know a lot, but how could they have predicted this?
  • People who haven't read a comic book in decades, if ever, telling me that they find the story of Superman's creators fascinating. (I don't mean my telling of it—just the story in factual terms.) This makes sense. I'm not a "fan" of, say, spelling bees, but upon hearing rave reviews for a documentary called Spellbound, I saw it—and loved it. The point is we should not be drawn only to subjects but also to stories.
  • People seeing the story through different lenses. To some Jewish people, it's about overcoming prejudice. To some businesspeople, it's about moral obligations of companies. To some children, it's about the love of storytelling. To Clevelandites, it's about hometown pride. To all kinds of people, it's about the importance of persistence.
If a mere forty pages generates this diversity of reaction, no wonder I look forward to each new speaking engagement.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Reactions to "Vanished" -- from people in it

Excerpts (quoted with permission) from a nephew, a friend, a former wife, and a father:

Brian Ruess ("I Leave No Trace: Nature Lover Everett Ruess"):

“It is excellent. Frankly, it is one of the best tellings of the Everett story I have read, and my 12 and 14 year old children enjoyed it as well.”
Marshall Marrotte ("Play That Song Again: Musician Henry Grimes"):
“I loved the book and all of the stories were interesting. The Henry Grimes info was spot-on and well written.”
Margaret Hadwin ("The Golden Tree Killer: Woodsman Grant Hadwin"):
“What a great book for kids…”
Mike Klamecki ("Very Harder Than I Thought: Kindergartner Hannah Klamecki"):
“Hannah read it first. She said reading her story made her feel 'wiggly' but she thought that it was very accurate. I found her story in your book to be very well researched. As one who has shared this story numerous times in private and in public I liked the way you laid it out. I liked the intro to the characters that went right into the situation. From there on there is a good balance of staying with the developments of the story and going back to talk about my dad and Hannah's relationship. I want to thank you for mentioning my church and the prayer vigil they had which was of huge importance to us. I also want to thank you for mentioning the fire chief and the deputy by name.”
I must publicly thank all of the above for being so generous about this project. Interestingly, I don't mean with respect to research as I first connected with each of them only after the book was finished. But they have all taken the time to read it and respond, and surely for some, revisiting the experience was difficult on some level.

Never stop looking for whatever it is you want.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ocean's Four

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman
was nominated for a
Rhode Island Children's Book Award.

Whether or not it wins, this has already been good fortune for me. The nomination led to Hanaford Elementary in East Greenwich, Rhode Island inviting me to speak for two days (six student sessions, one teacher session).

They sold a lot of books:

They also held a contest related to my background:

The winner received a signed copy of one of my books. This was especially sweet because she happened to be one of the students who had not already bought a book.

I was then further honored to be invited to three other schools in the Ocean State (Wheeler in Providence; Elmhurst and Hathaway in Portsmouth). Each visit was wonderful in its own way. Elmhurst even had balloons:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Six degrees of super-ation

My public posting of some of my research on the stories behind Superman (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) and Batman (Bill Finger) has resulted in a fun variety of people contacting me.

Here’s a list off the side of my head, which is a spot reserved for information that may be of interest only to me:

  • various people (often college students) interested in writing a book, play, or screenplay on these subjects
  • a lawyer who represented the Siegel family (I didn't get in trouble)
  • a producer for Warner Home Video (seeking info on Finger for a short documentary to be included on the DVD of a Batman animated film)
  • the son of a longtime editor of Superman comics
  • a producer for the PBS show History Detectives (regarding a claim that a man other than Finger or Bob Kane created Batman)
  • a talent I can mention by name—fellow Shusterite Craig Yoe, author of Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator Joe Shuster (just to introduce himself, good chap)
  • an executive producer for a late night talk show
  • a co-producer of a PBS documentary series on superheroes
Speaking of information of interest only to me, I’ve already used the title of this post on this blog, but within an earlier post. It has since called out to me for marquee treatment.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How you found me: part 5

This is the fifth totally true installment of some of the wackier search terms that have led people to this blog and I’m grateful to (if not sometimes perplexed by) every one of them:
  • Marc's blog look what my son did
  • peppy things to say during a text
  • what is called if a person is born with 5 and half finger
  • nonfiction book for young readers with a subject of shoes
  • writing a non boring autobiography
  • writing a fun semi biography book
  • picture books for old people
  • permission to keep rabbits in apartments New York City
  • what would a 17 year old son of a nobleman wear
  • why did Nickelodeon Magazine get so small
  • Bigfoot activities for primary grades
  • Aquaman graphics for a Honda 150F
  • cartoon of a metal boy
  • things you don't wanna hear
If I taught creative writing, and I was twisted a different way, I might challenge students to use all these phrases in a single story, organically.

Monday, January 25, 2010

How do you gift wrap an author visit?

A friend from college who works in administration at a school recently hired me to speak there.

He also suggested that we do something no other school in my six years of author visits has: donate one of my presentations to a nearby underfunded school.

In other words, my friend’s school would pay for a certain number of presentations but give one to another school, where I would present the same day.

Especially right now in this period of extreme crisis for Haiti (among too many other areas in the world), we can thankfully say it’s not hard to find examples of generosity. But it’s always nice to encounter a new form of it.

I’ll surely mention this again in the post I’ll inevitably do after the visits, but that’s repetition I don’t mind. This idea deserves all the exposure it can get.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Manners (or not) of speaking

Fairly often, I go hunting. Not for quail or the remote but rather for people connected to a subject I’m writing about—and sometimes the person himself.

At times, this requires cold calling. That can be unpleasant—no matter which end of it you’re on. Otherwise it would be called warm calling.

But it really shouldn’t be unpleasant for the one answering, especially if the caller is not selling something.

It seems obvious to me but experience shows that it bears repeating: if you don’t want to be interrupted during whatever it is that you’re doing, simply don’t answer. The phone is for your convenience, not mine. I’d rather try again (and again) than be spoken to as if I’m annoying you over a matter of 20 seconds.

Either way, I’m just asking if you are the person I’m looking for, or if you know that person. And before that I’m asking if it’s a bad time and I’m identifying myself quickly and clearly. I’m easily verifiable, courtesy of Google. I am not the IRS or your ex’s lawyer.

So why are you often gruff, evasive, or downright rude? What has made you instantly suspicious of anyone you don’t know who calls? You’re an adult. By now you should have learned that even strangers can have good intentions.

I realize it may not matter to you if I find a certain person. But you should know that the person I’m looking for will almost certainly be perfectly fine being found. In fact, some even benefit from it. If you can help with that, why wouldn’t you?

The comments that I find the most antagonistic:

“Who’s this?” – Making this more frustrating, it’s usually asked after I introduce myself by first and last name and profession.

“What do you want?” – I am getting to that. It is, of course, why I’m calling. But please either wait till my second sentence or at least ask this in a more polite way (“Sorry to be quick, but I have only a moment. May I ask what this is regarding?”).

“I’m not going to tell you anything” – The Internet has forced us all to be more vigilant in protecting our privacy. But don’t pull up the drawbridge until you know who is approaching. You and I are just talking. I’m not sucking intimate details out of your head through the phone. I’m also not asking for social security numbers or locations of tattoos.

Me, when I’m answering a call from a number I don’t recognize, I’m (mostly) patient and polite. Even with the weekly calls I get for an office at Pace University, whose number is one digit different from my cell. And even with the few telemarketers who apparently disregard that I’m a charter member of the “do not call” list.

I imagine most people never get a call from a writer doing research. And those that do, unless you’re trying to keep the lid on a scandal, remember your manners. If you’ve ever read a nonfiction book, you should appreciate what it takes to get the story as accurate as possible.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bill Finger's yahrzeit

Thirty-six years ago today, Bill Finger, the uncredited co-creator of Batman, died at age 59.

Though Batman is by reliable accounts the most lucrative superhero in history, not to mention one of the most iconic fictional characters of the 20th century, it seemed that almost no one in pop culture noticed the passing of his prime architect.

DC Comics did run two tributes, one in an oversized reprint and the other in something akin to a fan magazine, Amazing World of DC Comics #1:

But it is safe to infer that neither of these was widely seen.

And neither answers questions that still rage at comic conventions, online, and in the minds of Batmaniacs everywhere.

Where did Bill die? How did he die? Where is he buried?

Those questions and more (Bill's real name? Bill's family? Bill's handwriting?) will soon be answered.

On 12/10/09, I received an e-mail from a Canadian student. Here is part of it (posted with permission):
Bill Finger's story is one of the great untouched tragedies with strong narrative potential.

It's remarkable that Jerry Robinson, Sheldon Moldoff, Charles Sinclair and others who worked with Bill are still living well into their 80s. It's like all the stars are aligning to tell Bill Finger's story.
Like Batman, Bill Finger was a creature of the night, so that is a fitting (not to mention touching) way to look at it. Most stars are visible only at night.

Until soon, the same could be said about Bill Finger.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Superman was on the warm horizon

This following articlette is from the 12/7/33 issue of the Torch, the student newspaper of Glenville High, the high school of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, the world's first traditional superhero. How tingly is that second-to-last line? In hindsight, it should have been the last:

Glenville High School, sometime between 1933 and 1935; 
courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society

Glenville High stairwell and strangely abandoned bag, 1934 
(the year Siegel and Shuster graduated); 
courtesy Cleveland State University archives

the school's original sign, now on the floor in a room at its current location

Monday, January 11, 2010

"365 Things to Do Before You Grow Up"

Imagine a book for young people as different as you can from the one that's been the subject of several of my last few posts:

Did you come up with something like this?

ages: 7 to adult

gist: Go sled bowling. Race elevators. Plant pennies. And 362 other funconventional activities for families.
: $6.95 (some sandwiches cost more!)

good for: anyone who ever gets bored
not good for: people looking for instructions on how to build a terrarium

This is the first (and still only) book I wrote that I resold to another publisher after it went out of print. The timeline:

2000 wrote the original (titled 365 Adventures) for Dutton (Penguin) in conjunction with Discovery Kids
2004 resold it to Sterling
2010 book out (odd delay for a book that was already written; it's okay
I didn't push)

Here is the original cover. Which do you like better?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Gone but not exploited

One of my goals in writing Vanished: True Stories of the Missing was to include a diverse range of experiences.

Here are the capsule summaries of the seven tales in the book:
  • 2002: a resourceful second grader was kidnapped in her poor Philadelphia neighborhood
  • 1925: a British explorer vanished while searching for a fabled city in the Brazilian jungle
  • 1997: an outdoorsman in British Columbia never arrived at his trial for cutting done a rare golden spruce
  • 1969: an accomplished jazz musician went missing after selling his beloved, damaged double bass
  • 1934: a 20-year-old free spirit, seasoned hiker, and avid correspondent lost contact with his family and friends while exploring the Utah desert
  • 2007: a 5-year-old survived a river boat accident only to find herself stranded alone in the woods
  • 1944: an internationally renowned children's book author went down over the ocean in his self-piloted military plane
This group struck a good balance of gender, ages, races, settings, time periods, and circumstances.

And since it was to be a book for all ages, but marketed primarily to kids ages 8 and up, another of my goals was really more of a responsibility.

Any story about a person who vanishes is going to have a certain level of creepiness. But in this case, none could progress to the worst-case scenarios of sexual abuse, torture, or murder. And that was more than fine by me.

Here are some (often unpleasant) things I learned, confirmed, or inferred in trying to choose which stories to include:

  • Few women and children who disappear (and are then found) escape unmolested. (Note: This and the next bullet are based only on the stories I came across; I didn't do any actual statistical analysis.) In Vanished, two of the seven stories focus on females and two focus on children. Curiously, they are the same two. (No other stories of vanished children that I came across were usable, most for reasons already stated—either they involved molestation or the children didn't survive.) The only case I found in which (a) a woman disappeared, (b) the woman was not victim of abuse, and (c) the story was otherwise appropriate for my audience was Amelia Earhart, and I didn't want to include her since she is already widely known.
  • Few children who are missing for more than a couple of days are found alive. Both of the children with stories in Vanished (the girl survivors mentioned in the previous bullet) were gone for under two days.
  • Few adults who are missing for more than a couple of days are found alive. However, this does not mean they are dead. It means only that they haven't been found. Unlike most children, adults sometimes disappear on purpose—they want to start new lives. Generally speaking, the longer someone is missing, the more captivating the story about his rediscovery. But in the time I had to research, I found almost no stories of people missing more than a week and then found alive. Only one story in Vanished fits this description. Most missing persons stories fall under one of the other categories: people who are missing for 1-3 days and are found alive, people who are missing for 1-3 days and are found dead, people who are missing for longer than 3 days and are eventually found dead.
  • Stories of people lost in the woods or going down in planes, while all deserving of individual respect, do start to seem the same. These seem to be two of the more common ways to vanish, but in terms of narrative, they often follow similar courses. If every story in Vanished involved one or the other, the book would likely become monotonous.
  • Stories of people disappearing in the wild seem more common than stories of people disappearing in cities or towns. Somehow, they also seem more nerve-racking. Perhaps this is because it seems as though it's harder to find someone in the wild. Only two stories in Vanished took place in urban areas, though I would've liked to have found more.
  • The topic allowed for drama more easily than I expected. Yes, "missing people" is a grabber—upon first hearing it. However, when trying to execute it, I anticipated that it would be hard to build suspense because the focus of the story is, well, missing. If that person was never found, I would not be able to set any scenes from his point of view once he vanished. And I anticipated that the grief patterns back home would start to read the same. Yet I realized that it was natural to create tension in the buildup to a disappearance and I was (from an authorial perspective) happy to find how many forms the grieving took.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Finding the "Vanished"

Vanished: True Stories of the Missing is newly out from Scholastic Book Club. That means it's available exclusively from Scholastic, in one of two ways: by ordering from those wispy catalogs they send home with elementary school students or by calling 800-724-6527, then prompt 3, then prompt 1.

In other words, unlike most of my other books and most new books in general, this book has virtually no ongoing exposure in the physical world or online.

Yet this week I began to get a notable number of blog hits from people who've searched "vanished marc tyler nobleman." Aside from me telling them, the only way they could know the book exists is if they saw it in that book club catalog. I'm sure it's already obvious to you, but it took me a moment to figure out what was going on.

The first catalogs featuring
Vanished shipped recently, so these hits must be parents and/or students looking for more info on the book than a single line of copy and a cover thumbnail (actually closer to a pinkienail).

And if not for this blog,
finding info on Vanished could've been like looking for some of the people profiled in it—a longshot. And such a lack of info could discourage a sale. But thanks to the searchiness of a blog, the book has been given a wider lease on shelf life.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The week in school visits and surprise vomiting

On 1/5/10, approximately 12 hours after returning from a trip overseas, I had my first author visit of the new decade, conveniently located in my current hometown.

photos © Elaine UbiƱa and courtesy Elaine and Greenwich Country Day School
too-baggy jeans courtesy Levi's

Two days later, I was the guest author at another nearby school's literacy event kickoff.

Both went well despite the mild pull of jet lag at the first—and the lack of a barf bag at the second.

Toward the end of that presentation, a boy in the front row stood up...and threw up. Multiple times. Though this was a first for me at a school visit, it was far from the first time I've been in the vicinity of elementary vomiting. We all remember the sawdust patches covering up the smell.

It was an evening talk so his grandfather and mom were there. Of course they took good care of him.

I hadn't considered the possibility of this circumstance before and it proved to be one where I couldn't say much of anything.

I was on a microphone before a room of people. If I called attention to this poor boy's predicament, it could embarrass him further. Yet if I ignored it and kept on going as if it wasn't happening, it would be insensitive. I clumsily strode the line between the two.

I suspect his classmates will remember what happened to him far longer than they'll remember anything I said or did. And even so, I suspect that he'll be fine. But perhaps, right now, he's wishing they made sawdust patches for memories, too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Vanished" in "Great Moments in History"

Vanished: True Stories of the Missing appeared in its first Scholastic Book Club catalog.

First page!

Top row!

Okay, listed second, but still:

First page! Top row!

(And for the accuracy-conscious: three of the seven people profiled in the book actually were found.)

Those of you not in elementary school can order the $4.95 book by calling Scholastic at 800-724-6527, pushing prompt 3, then prompt 1.