Wednesday, September 26, 2018

"Moving" – "Booklist" on "Thirty Minutes Over Oregon"


"Clearly written...moving... This quiet story is less about war than the toll it takes on those who fight, the possibility of reconciliation, and the value of understanding other cultures. A war story with a heartening conclusion"

Monday, September 24, 2018

Picture books taking flight

By chance, all five of my picture books to date feature a central figure who flies:

  • Boys of Steel: The Creators of SupermanSuperman (duh)
  • Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of BatmanBatman (not self-sustained; via Batplane, Batcopter, Batwing, being ejected out of a giant toaster, etc.)
  • Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Realfairies (duh)
  • Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II StoryNobuo Fujita, the pilot of the subtitle
  • The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra—the chupacabra (not traditionally described as being winged but our cute little version is)

Superman by Ross MacDonald

Batman by Ty Templeton

fairy photographed by Elsie Wright

Nobuo Fujita by Melissa Iwai

chupacabra by Ana Aranda

Related, I went skydiving in 1996:

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Number of named characters in my illustrated nonfiction

At some point during the revision stage of Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real, I realized it was longer than my other picture book nonfiction. (I probably did compare word counts, though I don't remember the results.) 

Then I realized it was longer partly because that story required more named characters—meaning characters important enough to my telling that I should refer them to by name rather than connection (i.e. "Jerry's father," in Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman) or title. Generally speaking, if a character appears only once, s/he need not be identified by name.

Not including fictional characters like Batman or historical figures mentioned but not an active character in the story, like Edgar Allan Poe in Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman and President Kennedy in Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story, this is how many named characters my illustrated nonfiction books include:

  • Boys of Steeltwo (Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster)
  • Bill the Boy Wondereight (Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Vin Sullivan, Jerry Robinson, Portia Finger, Fred Finger, Julius Schwartz, Jerry Bails)
  • Thirty Minutes Over Oregonfour (Nobuo, Ayako, Yoshi, and Yoriko Fujita)
  • Fairy Spelleight (Frances Griffiths, Elsie Wright, Polly Wright, Arthur Wright, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edward Gardner, Harold Snelling, Fred Gettings)

So at eight, Fairy Spell has the same number as Bill the Boy Wonder, but at one point it had eleven. During rewrites, three disappeared—much like fairies themselves are prone to do. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

"An important and breathtaking book"

"An important and breathtaking book"
—Colby Sharp book talk video (also on his "Awesome 2018 Books" list)

Thank you again, Colby!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

My old school visit feedback form

In my early days (2004-2009) of speaking at schools about the life of a writer and (at the time) cartoonist, I required too much paperwork.

There were the essentials—well, essential: the contract. 

But then there were the extras.

I would bring feedback forms (yes, on paper) to leave with the school to copy and distribute to all teachers and students who heard my presentation. I further asked them to mail me the completed forms (at their expense!). Of course, I could not require them to do so, but I asked nicely, and a good number obliged. Sometimes I would get thick mailings with hundreds of responses.

Looking back, I am a bit embarrassed that I put schools in that position. I was asking a lot of people with more important things to do to take time to help me improve. Yes, asking young writers to "review" something is a valuable exercise, but still—curriculum is extensive and time is limited. I deeply appreciated the input and told them so, but no worries—I will not be resurrecting the practice.

My filing cabinet did not allow me to keep all of the forms, but I do have some favorites, including this one:

I am also no fan of my hair.

(And fourth grader Besart, wherever he is, would now be 24 years old...)

Monday, September 17, 2018

The third teacher

On 9/13/18, under a sky grayed by not-so-far-off Hurricane Florence, I spoke at the beautiful (and beautifully led) Frederick County Middle School in Winchester, VA (where, by chance, the final scene of Batman & Bill was filmed).

Walking in, I noticed a sign referring to "the third teacher." I was pretty sure the school had more than three so I was immediately curious why this one was being singled out.

I learned that the first teacher is the teachers. Second is the students. Third is the building itself. It's fairly new and it's green and it's dotted with QR codes; when scanned, they reveal information on the way some aspect of the building (such as stormwater management) functions. Making a cool idea even cooler, that info was researched and written by the kids.

One aspect of the building I did not need a QR code to understand: no mirrors in the bathrooms. Where they would usually hang are instead colorful, breezily written signs about issues that matter to emerging adolescents but that they may not ask about, such as personal hygiene.

Principal Jerry Putt is a gift to the profession—he's got a "Care Halo." You can tell inside of 30 seconds how much he loves students. Maggie Schrock made my visit possible and was on the team that created the third teacher concept. Thanks to you both for inviting me to see the wonderful goings-on at FCMS. Thank you also to WDVM-TV and The Winchester Star for covering my visit.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The query that sold “Thirty Minutes Over Oregon”

On 11/27/12, I emailed the following query to Jennifer Greene at Clarion.

On 1/10/14, she made an offer.

(This ran a bit longer than the query that sold Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman. Sorry, Jennifer!)

I’m the author of more than 70 books for young people including the nonfiction picture books Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. Boys of Steel is an American Library Association Notable Book; was named to multiple “best of the year” lists; and was featured in a USA Today cover story.

Bill the Boy Wonder (new this year) has been covered by NPR’s All Things Considered, Forbes, Washington Post, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, WIRED, and even MTV; it also led to an invitation to give a TED talk. Reviews below. The book trailer features whimsy...and tights.

I’d like to query you on another nonfiction picture book for older readers. Thirty Minutes Over Oregon tells the jaw-dropping tale of a WWII pilot—on the Japanese side—who did something historic and, some would say, heroic. He is not a household name but his story was significant enough to earn a half-page obit in the New York Times. It’s a famous first that is not yet famous. I’m far from a war buff but I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of the most riveting true stories I’ve heard. (Plus it manages to be a war story without death.)

The book inspired a mock cover experiment that got a lot of buzz in the kidlitosphere (you can see the NYT obit there, too). The response to that (from librarians, teachers, booksellers, parents, kids, agents, fellow authors, and even editors) has been overwhelming and 100% positive; read the comments below the post, especially the most recent one.

Educators of all kinds have come forward to express hope that this book is published; they do this via blog comments, tweets, post-keynote comments. Among their most common requests:

  • books that will appeal to boys (i.e. books they don’t have to force boys to read)
  • middle grade nonfiction picture books
  • previously untold stories
  • World War II stories (boys clamor for them)

Mine is all four.

Plus as we all hear, Common Core Standards are placing increasingly greater emphasis on nonfiction.

I promote my books as often as I brush my teeth. I speak at schools, conferences, and other venues 30-50 times a year, and I sell stacks of books at most venues. Within the past year, I have been invited to places as far-off as Guam and Chile.

A few more compelling selling points:

1 - Excerpt of blog post by attendee of the Shenandoah Children’s Literature Conference:

>> I have met many authors that are new to me. Today’s authors (I’m sure) will become two of my favorites. Marc Tyler Nobleman inspired me with his dedication and passion. His attention to detail and his desire to right the wrongs of the world (at least the world of Superman and Batman) are honorable and inspiring. I didn’t know there were people out there like him. Boys of Steel, a story about the creators of Superman, will grab my boys! He gives me a great entry into interesting nonfiction. The story about World War II Oregon, Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, has to be published. I am amazed that the story exists and we don’t know about it. That’s what I mean, his passion is contagious.

2 - Editor at major house:

>> So, so cool, and SO moving. (In a way, it reminds me of the mega-bestseller Unbroken—but for picture-book readers!)

3 - Comment from a fellow writer I don’t know that I received via a fellow writer I do know:

>> I am blown sideways, gobsmacked, dumbfounded. What an extraordinarily moving story. It simply MUST be told. I can’t believe it hasn’t been picked up -- that is a travesty! And I love how Marc promotes/pitches it on his blog; why, it’s ... it’s ... heroic! His passion for the story is palpable -- contagious even. He is a gifted storyteller. This tale zigs, it zags and then ... WHOOSH, it dives and hits!

4 - Tweet to me from a 5th grade teacher:

>> The more middle grade nonfiction picture books, the better.

5 - Attendee comments after I mentioned the book in my Nevada Reading Week keynote (it was an hourlong talk and this book was only about 5 minutes of it, yet a sizable number of people singled it out):

  • “Very interesting—this is great history no one knows about. I hope it will be published soon.”
  • “I am interested in Thirty Minutes Over Oregon. Hopefully it will be published.”
  • “Want to read Thirty Minutes Over Oregon.”
  • “Especially poignant was the publishing process story of the Japanese [pilot] who bombed Oregon.”
  • “The Japanese bomber story was amazing.”
  • “Hope the Oregon book goes public.”
  • “Loved his story about Thirty Minutes Over Oregon and hope it gets published.”
  • “Interesting Oregon bombing story!”

Sorry for so much info, but I feel it’s all relevant in making an informed decision! As you can see, I have a lot of passion for this project and that will motivate me to work even harder to promote it. After all, look how much I have done even before it is a book...

May I email you the manuscript?

During the summer of 2013, I sent Jennifer copies of Boys of Steel and Bill the Boy Wonder, adorning the envelope with three symbols:

Thank you again to Candy Fleming and Audrey Vernick for pointing me toward Jennifer. And thank you again to Jennifer for taking flight with Nobuo and me.

By the way, Nobuo's first flight over the United States took place 76 years ago today.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

"Superman II" interview: Leueen Willoughby

In Superman II (1980), actress Leueen Willoughby played Leueen (yes, same name), a Daily Planet employee.

A small role, one of her few lines is one of the most fun to quote: "The big one's just as strong as Superman!" It's made even more memorable because it's followed by Lois shoving her which, alas, is not in the only clip I found online:

What were you doing professionally prior to Superman II?

I was working in theatre: repertory at the Bristol Old Vic and Farnham Repertory theatre.

around the time of Superman II

How did you get the role? 

Through the casting director.

Were you a fan of Superman or superheroes?

Not really. I was familiar with Superman but not exactly a fan.

Any funny anecdotes about your Superman experience?

There was a day when the set (the E stage at Pinewood Studios) was getting very hot and the Director of Photography kept saying they needed to turn light off to reduce heat. No one listened to him and the fire sprinklers went off, pouring water everywhere. That got all of us an extended break from shooting. I think we all just went home that day.

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

Yes! I tell the story about how Christopher Reeve decided he was going to do a bit of funny business with his Clark Kent hat—taking it off and fumbling it onto a coat rack. During a break in shooting, he worked and worked on getting it just perfect. When it came time to shoot the scene, he had it down perfectly and made it look like a clumsy Clark Kent move.  

What was your impression of Christopher Reeve?

I thought he was a very nice man. He seemed to be polite, pleasant, and, despite being exceptionally handsome, not the least bit egotistical. [The] accident later in his life was tragic. When he said he would walk again, I thought that if anyone could succeed, it would be him. I based that on his discipline and work ethic as an actor. But sadly, it was not to be. 

Margot Kidder?

I think Margot Kidder was having a difficult time in her personal life while we were shooting. 

Gene Hackman?

He had an end date for the time he was available to work on Superman. On his last day, some special effects things got bogged down, as often happened. He was sitting on top of a row of filing cabinets, a relaxed Lex Luthor, reclining, feet up. Every once in a while, he would say in quite a loud voice "5:20 [pm] and it's adios for me." I had to smile at that. However, it did not speed up anything. 

Memories of any other actors on set?

One day we were all waiting while some special effects were being set up. The "bad guys" were sitting opposite me. Terence Stamp said to no one in particular "I haven't worked for four years and now I'm here making an idiot of myself." He said this, I think, because he was having a lot of trouble with the flying. The harness was fitted around the actors' midsection and they had to balance themselves when flying. He was having trouble crashing through the windows of the Daily Planet and landing on his feet. I think that was why he felt he was making an idiot of himself. I wanted to tell him he was not and that one of the stunt guys could probably give him some help, but he was a famous actor and I was a bit part player so I said nothing. I regretted that later. 

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

I did not attend the premiere. 

Did your opinion of the movie change after it opened?

Not really. I [last saw it] maybe ten years ago and it does look a bit dated because computer generated special effects were not available when the film was made. 

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically?

I have been asked a few questions about Superman as part of a longer interview, but not a specific Superman interview.

What was your favorite acting gig?

That is a tough one! I loved playing Mrs. Molloy in The Matchmaker in the West End in London. I also did nine months in The Rocky Horror Show in London and that was a hoot. Later in my career, I played Lady Macbeth, and that was memorable as well. 

What are you doing these days?

I gave up acting over 30 years ago. I then worked in the financial markets as an equities trader. I retired when I was 50. I now ride and compete in dressage with my horse Biasini. I ride with him at the FEI level, an international level. But I am just an amateur rider! I also have a blog, Horse Addict, [which consists of posts] about my own riding, interviews with international riders, reviews of horse books, reviews of horse products, and posts on horse history and photography. Next week I will be going to the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, NC. This is a huge championship with 70 countries taking part and about 1,000 horses. There are eight disciplines: jumping, eventing, dressage, endurance, vaulting, driving, reining, and para-dressage. I have media accreditation for the games and will be there to cover the dressage and to take photos of the dressage competitors for my blog.

Leueen and Biasini competing at the Global Dressage Festival, 
Wellington, FL, March 2018; photo credit Susan Stickle

Where do you live?

I live in Southern Ontario, Canada, just north of Toronto. 

Tell me about your children/family.

My husband used to work for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and is now retired. We met when I was still acting and came to Toronto to take a leading role in a CBC drama about a woman with breast cancer. We have two children who are now adults. Our son is 32 and lives in London. Our daughter is 30 and lives about two hours from us. She is married with a four-year-old son and two stepdaughters. Both of our children have full-time careers involving marketing and social media. 

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?

I have not. I once went to a Star Trek convention in Toronto as our kids were Trekkies. I thought it was a lot of fun. 

Are you still in touch with anyone from the cast?

No, I'm not. I have lost touch with most of my acting friends.

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

I honestly cannot remember. 

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

[NOTE: Leueen's "big one's just as strong" scene is not in this version of the film.]

The Richard Donner cut? I did not know such a thing existed. Richard Lester directed Superman II and I did not know that Dick Donner [who directed Superman: The Movie] had a cut. However, I do remember that Richard Donner was "Dick" Donner and Richard Lester was always "Richard, never Dick." That's what they used to say.

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

No. I wish I did. 

What did you think when you first heard from me?

I googled you to see who you were. I get a lot of requests for autographs on small collectors' cards for Superman; some are from okay people but others are from people on the fringe. I wanted to make sure you were not "on the fringe."

How do you look back on your Superman experience?

It was a very interesting experience. It was a chance to be on the set of a big film and see the workings of it. I learned a lot about the process of filmmaking that stood me in good stead for later film and TV work.

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

It was an interesting education about film and film actors but not exactly "life-changing."