Friday, December 27, 2019

"Rise from a noisy nuisance"

On 12/26/19, a 30-year-old Hungarian sent me a heartfelt message about my Bill Finger efforts. He said English is not his mother tongue and apologized for expressing himself in what he called a "sterile" way.

This passage made me smile for more than one reason:

"To face injustice for so many years and RISE. Rise from a noisy nuisance and achieve something that is everlasting."

As you can see, and as I told him: anything but sterile.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Friday, December 6, 2019

NCTE 2019

Though the panel (on empathy) I pitched for the 2019 National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention was not accepted, I got to go anyway.

Because Thirty Minutes Over Oregon was named a 2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Book at NCTE 2018, its publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, kindly invited me to partake in the celebratory festivities of 11/23/19. 

This included, in rapid succession:

  • 11 am-12 pm book signing 
  • 12-2:30 pm luncheon for the Orbis Pictus (nonfiction) and Charlotte Huck (fiction) winners and honorees
  • 2:45-5 pm panel of Orbis Pictus Honor Book authors/illustrators
  • 7-10 pm dinner for all honorees, representatives from their publishers, and Orbis Pictus committee members

At 9:10 am, Melissa Iwai, the book's illustrator, emailed to ask me if I was already at the convention. NCTE was held in Baltimore, 45 minutes from where I live. I said I'd arrive in time for the luncheon (meaning I'd leave around 10:45 am), and she said "What about the signing at 11?"

On my schedule, my signing was at 4 pm. As you see above, my panel would also be in medias res at 4 HMH moved my signing to 11 am. 

But I did not get that update.

And so it was that I fast-forwarded my morning, arriving at the convention center around the time I originally planned to leave. HMH was covering my travel expenses, so I reasoned that would include any possible moving violation. Kidding. Children's authors never exceed the speed limit.

The award luncheon was lovely. Honorees simply walked across the stage and received our certificate, like a graduation. It was a privilege to listen to the speeches of the three winners, Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrator Bryan Collier for Between the Lines (Orbis Pictus) and Jonathan Auxier for Sweep (Charlotte Huck). 

I like panels under almost any circumstance, so though ours was sparsely attended, I had fun. 

Dinner was aptly held at a restaurant called Pen & Quill. Despite that name and the occupation of most of our party, no writing occurred during the meal. 

I had to duck out earlier than most to drive back in heavy rain to pick up my teenager from a post-musical-performance party.

Congrats again to the winners and other nominees and thanks again to the Orbis Pictus committee (Mary Ann Cappiello, Denise Davila, Seemi Aziz, Amina Chaudhri, Daryl Grabarek, Jennifer Graff, Julie Waugh, Suzanne Costner, and Sanjuana Rodriguez. Special thanks to my TMOO editor Jennifer Greene, who was at the luncheon and dinner. It was only the second time I'd spent time with her in person (first time was February 2016!). If you'd told us then the circumstance of our next meeting...

me, Jennifer Greene, Melissa Iwai;
first photo of Team TMOO!

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Pointing the Finger at "Batman: The Definitive History"

Batman: The Definitive History of the Dark Knight in Comics, Film, and Beyond is a beautiful beast of a book written by Andrew Farago and Gina McIntyre and released this year to align with Batman’s 80th anniversary.

Clearly a staggering amount of work went into it, a publishing equivalent of the regimen Bruce Wayne imposed on himself to become the character the book celebrates. 

Andrew is a longtime respected colleague. When researching the book, he interviewed me on my little corner of Batman-related knowledge, namely Bill Finger. When the book came out, he kindly had a copy sent to me.

I shared one disappointment with Andrew, friend to friend, writer to writer, comics advocate to comics advocate: the book is the first DC-authorized Batman history since Bill Finger received official credit...yet the book does not indicate that Bill got credit. 

It’s hard to say for sure (because I haven’t yet had chance to read it in full and because it doesn’t have an index), and I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t believe Bill is mentioned after the first few pages. On page 16, it’s explained that Bill began as an uncredited writer, but the book doesn’t take it full circle and later indicate that he finally got official credit in 2015. 

I consider it a significant oversight for a book with “definitive” in the subtitle to omit this correction, which is not only a victory for creators rights but also an unprecedented turn of events in comics history. The hard-earned credit change has made timelines like this and other upcoming books I’ve been consulted on.

It’s unfortunate that a book that some will consider the authoritative work on Batman’s cultural impact does not include a fact so fundamental to the character in the real world...and to what he represents in fiction: the pursuit of justice and the preservation of legacy.

If the book had not addressed the talent at all, I might not have volunteered my unsolicited opinion. But the beginning of the book does introduce Bill and Bob Kane and covers Batman’s genesis (and other creators are mentioned throughout), which is why I feel including the credit change would be consistent and fair, not to mention of special interest to the righteous multitude that are Batfans. (On that subject, listen to Kevin Smith’s eloquent comments in Batman & Bill and skim this sizable number of tweets from the public.)

Andrew thanked me for the input and said that he has the utmost respect for Bill Finger, which I did not and do not doubt. I am thrilled and not surprised that Andrew is looking into the possibility of an update for future editions. He allowed me to quote him: “bit by bit, Bill by Bill, we’ll get this perfect.”

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Students design characters, teacher surprises students with plushes

In September 2019, I had the pleasure of appearing at the York Children’s Literature Festival in Indiana, where I further had the pleasure of meeting author/teacher Shannon Anderson

Something she shared in her talk so grabbed me that I asked if she’d write a guest post about it for my blog. Busy as she is, she agreed:

As an elementary teacher, the holidays are a wonderful time of year for making memories with your students. But in my classroom, something magical also happens once we return from winter break.

You see, I’m not just a teacher, I also write books. I’m fortunate to be able to share my passion for writing with my students. I have them write their own stories and go through the entire publication process.

We start with brainstorming, write our first draft, edit, revise, and even have critiques from students in upper grades. Then they illustrate all of the pages and send them off (to Studentreasures Publishing) to be made into hardcover picture books.

The students also draw their main characters to send to Budsies, a company that turns each picture into a plush character!

If you want your heart to melt, watch the stuffed animal reveal video (featured on The Today Show). 

You will see the excitement of each student as they see their character in plush form for the first time. They are in awe seeing that something they imagined has been turned into something tangible.

From there, we create book commercials using iMovie trailers. Lastly, the students illustrate a white dress for me to wear to our publication celebration.

We invite the parents to come see all of the books and characters and then relax and enjoy watching the book trailers each student created. We end with some cookies and punch.

As a teacher and author, I love the time I get to spend writing with my students. That’s why I wrote the book Be an Amazing Writing Teacher. I wanted to share my passion for inspiring young writers with other teachers. This publication project along with many others are described in the book.

I’m always striving to find ways to get kids excited to be at school, so I also wrote Go the Extra Smile. If you want ideas for the non-academic side of teaching, this book is full of motivational activities and lessons.

Both of these books are available at Pieces of Learning and my website.

Friday, November 22, 2019

AuthorFest in Newton, MA

On 11/6/19, I had the privilege of being one of about 25 authors to participate in the first AuthorFest of Newton, MA, organized by Creative Arts & Sciences. 

This gave me the opportunity to do the following:

  • return to the state where I attended and adored college (Brandeis University)
  • speak at Day Middle School, where the students were great and where I got the chance to see a college friend who teaches there for the first time since college; she appeared in a play I wrote (based on various tellings of Frankenstein) and directed
  • meet students from other schools at a collective book signing held that afternoon for several hours

  • meet in person authors/illustrators I’d previously known only through email; this included Scott Magoon and Matt Tavares
  • catch up with author friends I all-too-rarely see in person; this included Josh Funk
  • make new author friends 
  • get honked at a lot more than usual (a Massachusetts tradition)

They sent one cool thank you card:

Thank you again to Stacey Moriarty and your team for including me in what I feel was a smashing success!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Other Bill Finger-esque stories to be told

Since Batman & Bill premiered in 2017, people who learned of my efforts to get credit for Batman co-creator and original writer Bill Finger have contacted me with stories of other unsung creators, inventors, and pioneers (some of whom, like Bill, were cut off from their legacy). 

Some of these folks reached out to me just as an FYI. But most are asking for one of two things: advice on seeking a resolution for their cause or an author to write a book on the secret(s) they know.

The list of people/concepts I want to write about is already too long for me to finish in one lifetime, so while plenty of these proposed subjects seem worthy, I don’t plan to pursue any at the moment. 

Therefore, though I’m not a licensed matchmaker, I’m posting a list. If any journalist, lawyer, or fellow writer would like to look into any of these stories, email me and I’ll see about making an introduction. 


  • I’ve researched none of this so make no claims to the authenticity of any of this.
  • I included the name of a creator/innovator in question only when that name is already publicly connected to the IP/incident in question.
  • This is only a partial list of subjects I’ve been pitched. (I did not include ones that seem more like conspiracy theory than viable claim.)
  • As more subjects come in, I will add to this list.


  • G.I. Joe doll
  • Kimba the White Lion (as unacknowledged inspiration for The Lion King)
  • Spawn
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Power Rangers/Gene Pelc
  • The Walking Dead/Kingdom Hearts (allegedly from the same creator)
  • Gladiator (2000 Academy Award for Best Picture)
  • Finding Nemo (2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature)


  • George A. Wyman, first person to cross the U.S. by motor vehicle (motorbike, 1903)
  • Lotte Reiniger, director of one of the earliest animated feature films (released in 1926, 11 years before Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
  • a person whose photographs of writer Robert Graves and poet Laura Riding are being used without permission in a film
  • Rear Admiral Husband Edward Kimmel, commander-in-chief of the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor on 12/7/41
  • J. Warren Bowman, pioneer of the baseball card industry 
  • Leo F. Ferris, NBA co-founder and 24-second shot clock co-creator 
  • Larry Shinoda, designer of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray
  • Gene L. Coon, Star Trek writer
  • Otis Davis, first person to wear a Nike tennis shoe
  • Big Wheel (debuted in 1969)
  • solid-handled balisong knives (butterfly knives)
  • Boston (the band)
  • singer of many pop songs including “Girl You Know It’s True,” released by Milli Vanilli (a group that, as you probably know, hid its own secret)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Passing the Bat-on: advocating for Bill Finger from the 1960s to today

When people thank me for my efforts to get Bill Finger credited on Batman, I thank them right back, and also make clear that it was not a solo effort, nor was I the one who got the ball rolling.

I often say “Without Jerry Bails, there’d be no me.” He did not formally pass the baton after he introduced Bill to fandom in 1965, but others in scattershot formation picked it up where it lay.

Below are those whom I consider the VIPs in the decades-long push to officially acknowledge Bill Finger. (So many more have championed Bill; the people on this list took on the challenge in a particularly concrete way, i.e. writing about Bill.) They are in loose chronological order and rather than describe each again here, I’ve linked to a previous post about him or her. (If deceased, the year of passing is in parentheses.)

Monday, November 4, 2019

Visiting Beatles sites in Liverpool, England

In 12/18, I cobbled together my own Beatles tour of Hamburg, Germany, where they first played outside of the UK.

But I failed to mention that 25 years earlier, on 4/20/93 to be precise, while in college and traveling Europe for the first time, I had already done an ad hoc Beatles tour...of Liverpool, England, where it all started.

 251 Menlove Avenue ("Mendips"), 
where John Lennon lived 1945-1963

 The Cavern Club, 10 Mathew Street; 
the Quarrymen (first band Lennon and McCartney appeared in together)
first performed here in 1957; as the Beatles, they first played here
in 1961 (where future manager Brian Epstein first heard them) 
and last in 1963...with 273 times in between; 
the original closed and was torn down in 1973; 
it was rebuilt (in part from bricks of the original) 
and re-opened in 1985 
(but would go through more closures/reopenings)

 Eleanor Rigby, lonely no more.

 One end of Penny Lane.

 The barbershop mentioned in "Penny Lane."
(Squint to make out the photo I'm looking at.)

Strawberry Field, the children's home on whose grounds 
a young John sometimes played. 
It closed in 2005; in 2019, the grounds opened 
to the public for the first time.

9/28/21 addendum: visiting Beatles sites in London.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Speaking on the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship

It’s been claimed that the “three most written-about subjects of all time are Jesus, the Civil War, and the Titanic.”

From October 11-18, my three most talked-about subjects were Batman, fairies, and the Queen Mary 2, which (probably in large part because it was my first cruise) reminded me of the Titanic.

Cruise ships like to provide nonstop stimulation for their passengers, especially on days at sea when no excursion options exist. I believe this is why cruises began to invite all kinds of experts and enthusiasts to speak on board. I am now one of those enthusiasts. 

It took roughly a year of prep before stepping foot onto the gangway, and I’m not talking about my lectures (as they are called in the cruise biz). I mean learning best practices for being a cruise lecturer plus the logistics of scheduling travel of any kind.

In recent years, it seems, the role of cruise lecturers has expanded; they are now expected to be available to guests even when they are offstage. We’re there to share, then to interact at any point if guests would like to chat. (Of course, most speakers would be recognizable only to those passengers who have attended their lectures, and fewer than 100 of my ship’s 2,600 passengers did so. Always a lot of competition!)

My cruise (Quebec-Halifax-New York) lasted six days, two of which were at sea, so I was scheduled for two lectures: one on 10/15, the other on 10/17. First talk (Bill Finger) went well. Second one (fairies)…went. 

Well, I think it went well to the audience, but unbeknownst to them, in the two hours before I spoke, I got seasick…four times. I still wasn’t myself when I went onstage, but (by land or by sea) the show must go on. And I had taken steps to feel better, including something I don’t normally do (onstage or otherwise): I chewed gum. Specifically ginger gum, because ginger can reduce nausea. 

This was my last full day on the ship, and the only day when the sea was rough. Apparently, it was one of the choppiest days at sea the ship had experienced in a while. The stage was gently rocking the whole time I was on it, but I did my best to keep my mind on my material and somehow managed to get through it.

Then I slept most of the rest of the day.

Thank you to Cunard and cruise agent Tim Castle for inviting me on board. It was a privilege and a pleasure.


 My wife Daniela and I before boarding, with the ship behind us.

 The lifejacket fit.

 The ship’s library. The bookcases were illuminated.
Every night, every one of them had to be locked

 On our first night, I played the 10 pm movie trivia in the ship’s pub.
I won a bottle of wine.

 Batmoose. (It’s Canada.)

 Daniela on the top-deck helipad.

 Saguenay, Quebec. We took a boat tour on the fjord.

 The ship’s nightclub, G32. Most of the passengers were in their sixties
or older. G32 was not crowded.

 Every night, the program for the following day was slid under the door.
This one announces the first of my two lectures. One of the other speakers
was Roger McGuinn, frontman of the Byrds. He shared some great
anecdotes about the 1960s rock and folk scene.

 The entrance to the auditorium where lecturers spoke and
where movies were shown (none of which we went to).

 That guy in the front row sat there for both of my talks and
both times kept his hand on his head the whole time.

A few dozen of the hundreds of small placards identifying
food options at the buffet. 

 My favorite item at the buffet. 
(See my author bio for The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra.)

 Sunrise as we pulled into Halifax.
That white dot at top left is the moon.

 Just before 6 am. 

 Just after 6 am. (Daniela is behind the porthole.)
The yellow flag signals that the ship is free of disease.

 My sunrise shipboard shadow with the 
moon still visible.

 Peggy’s Cove, Halifax. Lighthouses and bagpipers
are both fun to observe, so here is a two-for-one.

 I thought it was funny to see a “Buses Only” barricade
haphazardly misplaced on the rocky terrain surrounding
the lighthouse. 

 A cool wave slide in Halifax.

 A funny yet sad sign at a pier craft market in Halifax that caters
to the cruise crowd. Come on, peoplebe considerate!

 One of many historical signs on board, this one
about how the ship kept children entertained.

 The running path on board was deck 7, the only deck that encircled
the ship. Three laps roughly equaled one mile. I ran it twice; a third day I had 
to run on a treadmill at the gym due to wet weather.

Time-lapse of one (walking) lap around deck 7.

 To photograph this long banner asking other ships to keep a safe distance,
I had to stretch my arm out over the water. 
If that seems reckless, it wont compared to this.

 During the second-to-last dinner, the 160+ chefs who worked in 
the biggest restaurant on the ship were invited out 
for a hearty round of applause.

 My second ship lecture (but first while seasick).

 Showing off Eliza Wheeler’s bewitching illustrator photo
for Fairy Spell.

 Hard to tell here, but I had a bigger turnout for the second 

 Ship lectures were filmed to be broadcast on a loop
on a channel on the stateroom TVs. 

 My wife took this postcard-ready photo on the day the sea
was roughest.

The ship going under the Verrazano Bridge (3-foot clearance)
in New York.

 Pulling into New York at sunrise.

 Posing with spare propellers.

Back in the USA.