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I’m a poet – and a cat person. So in honor of National Poetry Month, here is a small pawful of my favorite poem quotes and cat pix. Enjoy! – L.W.
“A poet is… a person who is passionately in love with language.”
– W.H. Auden
“Poetry is life distilled.”
– Gwendolyn Brooks
“A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else is just a footnote.”
– Yevgeny Yevtushenko
“Poetry and I fit together. I can’t imagine being without it… It is food and drink, it is all seasons, it is the stuff of all existence.”
– Lee Bennett Hopkins
“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”
– Robert Frost
“Never let the mud puddle get lost in the poetry because, in many ways, the mud puddle is the poetry.”
– Valerie Worth
“Poetry is a language in which man explores his own amazement.”
– Christopher Fry
“I am a revolutionary so my son can be a farmer so his son can be a poet.”
– John Adams
“Poetry is like fish: if it’s fresh, it’s good; if it’s stale, it’s bad; and if you’re not certain, try it on the cat.”
– Osbert Sitwell
“A poet dares be just so clear and no clearer…. He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it. A poet utterly clear is a trifle glaring.”
– E.B. White
“If you can’t be a poet, be the poem.”
– David Carradine
“Poems are the ‘daredevil’ of writing because a poem will say what nobody else wants to say.”
– Ralph Fletcher
“A good poem leaves me with further questions about what came before and what came after, just like a photograph. Of course, I could make up my mind that poetry is like pond algae, too. Or even ice cream.”
– Thalia Chaltas
“Writing a poem is making music with words and space.”
– Arnold Adoff
“Prose is words in their best order; Poetry is the best words in their best order.”
– Samuel Coleridge
“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”
– G.K. Chesterton
“Poetry is the tunnel at the end of the light.”
– J. Patrick Lewis
“The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse… the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence, poetry is something more philosophical and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars.”
“We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry.”
– Maria Montessori
“As poets we are archaeologists of the interior and external worlds. Our work builds bridges between the two.”
– Ellen Kelley
“I have no doubts that the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I spatter.
Ye gods, forgive my ‘literary’ sins –
The other kind don’t matter.”
– Robert W. Service
“I once found a pretty good poem in the ear of my cat.”
– Alice Schertle
Lee Wardlaw swears that her first spoken word was ‘kitty’. Since then, she’s shared her life with 30 cats (not all at the same time!) and published 30 books for young readers, including WON TON – A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU (illustrated by Eugene Yelchin), recipient of the 2012 Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award, the 2012 Myra Cohn Livingston Poetry Award, and the Beehive (Utah) Poetry Book Award. WON TON AND CHOPSTICK, a companion title also illustrated by Yelchin, will be released by Holt in 2015.
I'm really not into having the whole Which One Is Better debate, because I don't have a strong aversion to any genre: if it's a good book, it's a good book, yay books. YAY BOOKS.
Anyway! Despite the title, ultimately, the essay is more about the differences between the two genres, and more especially about the strengths of SF/F:
You absolutely cannot obscure underlying weakness with waffle. Otherwise the emails will arrive, picking up on discrepancies. Not just for the sake of point-scoring or nitpicking but because fans become so engaged with imaginary worlds and so passionate about their characters.
That passion, so easily mocked by laughing at Trekkies and Whovians, is another thing that distinguishes SF and fantasy from literary fiction. Mocking that passion is missing a key aspect of speculative fiction. By drawing readers in large numbers, contemporary fantasy becomes a platform to debate key, current social and political challenges, while science fiction continues to explore the impact of technological developments, for good and ill, before we have to tackle these things in reality.
Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire.
I have to admit, I really hate reading villain POVs. There are so few villains that have any redeemable qualities, and especially starting a book out with the villain’s point of view when they’re murdering and/or plundering just makes me go, “Why do I want to read this book, again?”
This is actually one of the things I hated most about the famous adult fantasy series Wheel of Time, though I love the series in general: I hated the amount of time spent on this Forsaken’s love of naked mindless servants, and that Forsaken’s love of skinning people, or whatever. Yeah, yeah, I get it, they’re irredeemably evil. Get back to someone I’m actually ROOTING FOR, which is why I’m reading the book!
Vodnik, the villain from Bryce Moore’s novel Vodnik
Sometimes it’s important to briefly show the villain’s point of view to convey to the reader some information that our hero doesn’t have, but I find more and more that my tolerance for even these kinds of scenes is thinning fast. Too often it’s a substitute for more subtle forms of suspense, laying clues that the reader could pick up if they were astute, the kind of clues that the main character should be putting together one by one to the point where when he or she finally figures it out. Then the reader slaps their own forehead and says, “I should have seen that coming!”
It’s a completely different matter, of course, when the whole point is for the “villain” to simply be someone on another side of an ideological or political divide where there are no true “bad guys.” Usually this happens in a book in which your narrators are unreliable, which can be very interesting. Often the villain is the hero in their own story, which is far more interesting than a “pure evil” villain—in Lord of the Rings, Sauron is much less interesting than Saruman. Sauron is the source of pure evil, but Saruman made a choice—he thinks, well, evil will win anyway, I might as well be on top in the new world order. There are complications to his motivations.
Honestly, if writers spent as much time developing the origin and conflicted ethos of the villains of these movies, I think they’d all be doing us a favor. As it is, it’s like they have a bunch of slips of paper with different elements on them, then they draw them at random from a hat and run with it. Ambitious scientist. Misunderstood childhood. Picked on in school.
That’s not how evil works, folks. You don’t become evil because you get hit in the head and go crazy. You become evil by making decisions that seemed good at the time. Justified. Just like you become a hero by doing the same thing. A hero or a villain aren’t born. They’re made. That’s one of the things I really liked about Captain America. He’s heroic, no matter how buff or weak he is.
This is, perhaps, the best description of why villain POVs bug me so much: because they’re oversimplified, villainized. And for some stories, I think villainization works, but I don’t want to see that point of view, because it’s oversimplified and uninteresting. When it’s actually complicated and interesting, then it becomes less “the villain” and more nuanced—sometimes resulting in real evil (after all, I doubt Hitler was an evil baby; he made choices to become the monster he became) and sometimes resulting in a Democrat instead of a Republican or vice versa—ideological, political differences between (usually) relatively good people.
But there’s a line for me, generally the pillaging/raping/murdering/all manner of human rights abuses line, at which I’m sorry, I just don’t care about this guy’s point of view. The equivalent of this in middle grade books—where pillages/murders/rapes are (hopefully) fewer—or young adult books is the pure evil villain who’s just out to get the main character because the villain is black-hearted, mean, vile, what-have-you. Evil through and through, with no threads of humanity. (Though honestly if he’s killing people “for their own good” to protect a certain more nuanced human viewpoint, I generally still don’t want to see that from his POV.)
What’s the line for you? Do you like villain points of view? Do you feel they add depth to a story? At what point do you think a villain POV goes from adding nuance or advancing the plot to annoying?
I had the pleasure of painting one of the giant Gromits seen around Bristol last summer as part of Gromit Unleashed. Mine is called 'Bunty' and was covered in scenes of Bristol and plenty of bunting! It was inspired by the colourful, summery, street party culture of the city:
My sponsor, Unum, commissioned me to paint a 'portrait' of Bunty to remember him by. They now have the original A2 sized painting in their office, but there are A3 digital prints available to buy through the Gromit Unleashed website and in their Bristol shop:
This was going to be a blog post to advertise the prints for sale, but they went on sale yesterday afternoon, and this morning they have sold out! But no doubt we will arrange another print run soon, so keep an eye out or sign up to the Gromit Unleashed newsletter for up to the minute info!
I am seeking representation for my 80,000 word YA paranormal romance, “Stronger than the Night.”
Ella Van Helsing has always slept with a light on. As a child, she sobbed at every sunset. Ella suffers from nyctophobia, an abnormal fear of the night. But Ella isn’t a child any longer -- she’s sixteen, and she wants to ask hunky Taylor Smith to the end-of-term school dance. Ella must overcome her self-imposed ‘home-before-dark’ curfew, or kiss any chance of romance with Taylor good-bye. Adding to the pressure, Ella’s dad is famous vampire-hunter Abraham Van Helsing IV, and he’s deeply ashamed of his daughter.
Ella’s first planned foray into the night, a quick trip to the grocery store, becomes a life-or-death chase through the streets of modern London when she witnesses a trio of vampires kidnap her little brother. In Hyde Park she loses sight of the vampires, but stumbles into a werewolf pack meeting — Taylor’s pack. Her school crush turns out to be the son of the pack’s alpha female, who takes pity on Ella and commands a resentful Taylor to help her.
Ella’s desperate race pushes her to the breaking point, but aided by her wits, Taylor’s supernatural senses, and the garlic marinara sauce in her shopping bag, Ella prevails. She not only rescues her brother and vanquishes her fears, she wins her father’s respect – and Taylor’s adoration.
I love carnival food. Who doesn’t? My favorite is the fries; they have that inexplicable something* that is somehow conjured up by every unique traveling show, yet can be found nowhere else on Earth.
Maybe it’s magic.
Now don’t tell me don’t believe; real magic is in fact the heart (if not the stomach) of this story. Magic that hides in plain sight by masquerading as trickery.
There is Celia, billed by the night circus as an illusionist, but who actually can alter reality; her show might involve tossing a coat into the air only to have the silk fold in on itself to form the shape of a raven and then fly away.
Marco’s similar, if arguably lesser, ability enables him to manipulate perception – closer to what we think of as stage magic, yet he needs no diversionary tactics since he can truly manipulate what one sees.
Unfortunately, their magical prowess doesn’t equate to psychic ability and the two don’t know that they’re actually being pitted against each other in a contest to the death – the arena for which being the circus that they travel within.
So there’s magic andmystery and romance, yet I can’t help but circle back to my favorite question: What are they serving at this magically real venue? More magic hidden in plain sight, of course! There are fantastically delicious cinnamon things – layers of pastry and cinnamon and sugar all rolled into a twist and covered in icing, as well as spiced cocoa with clouds of extra whipped cream on top. Completely expected carnival foods made exceptional with magic, but still believably real. The only hints at the unusual are the chocolate mice (not at all like the Harry Potter frogs) and the edible paper featuring detailed illustrations that match their respective flavors, which frankly doesn’t sound at all appetizing to me.
And therein lies perhaps the truth of it all: we think we want the bizarre, but we really just want the best-ever version of the usual. We have to be able to relate to it in order to accept it; we need to believe that we are seeing and tasting the exceptional but normal, because admitting that it’s supernatural, might make it suddenly untrue. As in, It can’t be magic, because then it wouldn’t be really happening. Since nobody wants that, we have to deny the magic in order to enjoy it. See? I need them to serve me magical food out of a real-looking fake kitchen cart so that I can savor the flavors without letting doubt and disbelief sour the taste. ;)
*Probably oil that’s been sitting in a fryer for 50 years and would be labeled toxic by a health inspector if one could ever catch up with the show. But I wouldn’t have it any other way; some secrets are better left unexamined. ;)
A Year Down Yonder. Richard Peck. 2000. Penguin. 144 pages. [Source: Library]
I loved A Year Down Yonder so much more than Richard Peck's A Long Way From Chicago. And I definitely enjoyed A Long Way From Chicago! While A Long Way From Chicago was told from Joey's point of view, A Year Down Yonder is told from Mary Alice's point of view. Because of the Depression, Mary Alice has been sent by her parents to live with Grandma Dowdel. Mary Alice has spent more than a few summers with her Grandma, alongside her brother, but this time she'll be there all year long, and without her brother.
While A Long Way From Chicago is fun, in many ways, it is a bit disjointed as well. Each chapter tells the story of a summer vacation. In A Year Down Yonder, the plot is more traditional. The book follows the course of an entire year. Readers get a better chance to KNOW the characters, to appreciate the characters and the small town setting. And Mary Alice is a great narrator!!! I loved her story. My favorite chapters were "Rich Chicago Girl," "Vittles and Vengeance," "Heart and Flour," and "A Dangerous Man." I loved the slight traces of romance. I would definitely recommend both A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. Both books do stand alone, but, they do go together well. I first reviewed A Year Down Yonder in May 2008.
Jane Yolen, who is a master author and poet, finds wonderful ways to teach young children about their world. For example she uses young dinosaur characters to explore how to have good manners and how to interact with others in a kind and compassionate way. In today's poetry book she uses verse, photos, and prose to look at numbers in an interesting and engaging way.
Count me a Rhyme: Animal Poems by the numbers Jane Yolen Photographs by Jason Stemple Poetry Picture Book For ages 8 and up Boyds Mills Press, 2006, 978-1590783450 We often see numbers in nature without realizing that we are doing so. In this book we will count from one to ten – and beyond a little – in the animal world, and we will learn a little about the animals we see as well. From “One Lone Elk” to “Five Geese, Five” we get to explore beautiful natural environments through photographs and poetry. The author has also chosen to add words and symbols on every page which children might find interesting. For example on the page for the number eight we see eight bighorn sheep going up a hill and we read a poem about them climbing “in a long long line." We also encounter the number eight, the words “octave,” “eighth,” and “octagon,” and we can look at the roman numerals “VIII.” Each poem is unique and the author cleverly ties her words to the photograph in the background and to the characteristics of the animal in question. Children will discover that poetry can come in all shapes and sizes and that there are many ways in which words can be used to have special effects. Who would have thought that the shape of a poem on the page can tell a story, and yet in this book readers will discover that this is indeed what can be done and to great effect as well.
Twitter is still moving forward with its cloning strategy and now has a “new and improved web profile” in the works for you. While it's still 'cloning,' this strategy in my opinion is a good idea. I think we all appreciate the ability to do more with our social media headers.
Like Facebook and GooglePlus, the new Twitter profile offers a bigger profile header area that you can customize.
Humphrey the Bug Eyed Alien: Adventures in Franceby Barry Buggles: ”Humphrey The Bug Eyed Alien, finds himself high above the French Alps mountain range. He goes on to discover many wonderful sights and facts about France in Europe.” (January 2013)
Title: Flight School By Lita Judge Published by Athenium Books for Young Readers, April 2014 Ages: 3-7 Themes: penguins, flight, courage, dreams Opening Lines: “I was hatched to fly’” said Penguin, … Continue reading →
What books are you planning on diving into this weekend? Any exciting plans? I am hopefully finishing up the Pulitzer Prize winning THE GOLDFINCH and then jumping into ASTONISH ME by Maggie Shipstead. We are also gearing up for the Boston Marathon that will be broadcast on Monday. Here are a few interesting literary links from around the web…
Books that grab from page one according to Kirkus.
Great interview with Judy Blume for American Libraries Magazine.
To more than one child the name Billy The Whizz was a joy and inspiration. Memories of the character in that unique colour scheme live on. But what the hell did Thomson do to him??? In case you know nothing about him (!) there is a Wikipedia entry and I paraphrase in part here:
Billy Whizz is a character featured in the Beanowhere he first appeared in issue 1139, dated 16th May 1964. Created by Malcolm Judge to replace The Country Cuzzins strip. Billy, is able to run at incredible speed -and his speed often causes chaos. Interestingly, he also has a younger brother called Alfie Whizz who was of similar appearance. Alfie is usually shown as a normal boy but occasionally he is shown to be just as fast as his brother.
In the strips up until the 1980s, Billy lives in Whizztown rather than Beanotown like most of the other regular characters, however this later changed and more recent strips place him in Beanotown.
There is more detail at the Wiki where the creator history (and who is to blame for what) is also cited:
Then Billy opted for a tracksuit with a red lightning streak...or yellow -I guess he must have had several suits because tracksuits get dirty quickly! In this suit Billy was once whisked off to take part in an interplanetary Olympic games!
Yes, in 2003 Billy was still recognisable as Billy.
Even after a slight change Billy was still recognisable (below). No problem here.
And......W..T..F???????????????? After passing through a heavy trans-dimensional warp and cutting through interstitial time, Billy is the victim of.....okay. I'm sorry but this is not Billy The Whizz. It's some D. C. Thomson aborted attempt to turn their comics into a very poor Cartoon Network style mockery to increase sales and no doubt "make the character more relevant to modern readers" (or, as we call it, an editor with no ideas left in the head). How did that work out, fellas?
It is very sad to think that, after Nigel Dobbyn revitalised Billy The Cat and even the old General Jumbo character (THAT ended rather badly thanks to Thomson's) that this is the best they could do for Whizz! I think a lot of us oldies were hoping that one day Billy The Cat would answer an emergency call from Jumbo and a certain speedster would gate-crash.
Let's not undermine the character. His influence on readers who went on to work in comics is great. Remember 2000 ADs strip ZENITH? Well it had a Billy The Whizz inspired character.
Jimmy Quick was a young superhuman from Alternate 666 with the ability to run at super-speed. He was killed by the Lloigor infected Mr Why on February 14, 1988 taking a message to the Alternate 303.
During my brief stint as an editorial assistant, I received a ton of really random calls. My theory is that the company’s operators just went to the first editorial assistant listed alphabetically in the staff directory with general editorial queries. My absolute favorite call I ever received came from a girl, maybe twelve or thirteen at the most, who flat-out asked, “Do you need to know French to work at your job?”
“No. Why do you ask?” was the obvious response.
“My parents said that if I want to be an editor I have to learn French.” And then she asked me to repeat the answer, this time on speaker so her parents could hear me.
First of all, I love that she called an actual publishing house to prove her folks wrong. That is a girl after my own heart! It’s a nice way to launch into something that seems to be a lot of soon-to-be grads’s minds: What do you need to major in to work in publishing?
I double majored in English and History in college, but the truth is… I could have majored in just about anything and still found a job in publishing. English is the most popular major/minor for publishing employees, but short survey of coworkers and friends turned up majors in marketing, communications, biology, psychology, history, education, and, yes, even French!
The one thing I can’t stress enough is that there’s no one route into publishing–no major is the key to finding a job. I’ve mentioned this here before, but the industry is what you’d call an apprenticeship industry. While having a degree in communications might help in trying to snag a publicity gig, the hiring manager is likely to be far more focused on what work experience you’re bringing with you–that is, what skill set you have to offer your potential team and the company as a whole. This can be anything from general office/administrative experience (let’s be honest, this comprises 75% of most assistant jobs in the industry) to working in your college’s public relations department to spending a summer interning at a major corporation. While it certainly helps to have some background knowledge of the industry, no one will expect that you, fresh out of school, will know what “point of sales” means or what GLB stands for–these things will, in time, be taught to you as part of your training.
More than anything, hiring managers want to see that you can read critically and write well (hence why you often have to submit a sample press release or editorial letter after interviewing), that you have some experience working in a corporate environment or as part of a team, and that you’re enthusiastic about publishing and the books the company publishes. And who knows? An “oddball” major like Folklore and Mythology, or even Neuroscience could make you stand out and provide fodder for an interesting interview conversation!
Alex lives in New York City, where she works in children’s publishing, writes like a fiend, and lives in a charming apartment overflowing with books. She is the New York Times bestselling author of The Darkest Minds and Never Fade. You can visit her online at her website or Twitter.
(My review of The Cat with Seven Names, as it appeared in the April, 2014, edition of School Library Journal.)
Johnson, Tony. The Cat with Seven Names. 1 CD. 15 min. Recorded Books. 2014. $15.75. ISBN 9781490602479. digital download.
PreS-Gr 2— A plump, seemingly stray cat wanders occasionally into the home of an older librarian. She names her visitor Stuart Little. At an elderly neighbor's home, he receives the moniker Kitty-boy, while a lonely Mexican man names him Placido for his "singing" voice. A homeless vet calls him Dove, for the peace he brings. Only the cat is lacking his own voice in this heartwarming story of a busy neighborhood, full of unconnected adults. Each character has his or her own first-person narrator, each distinctly different. The Hispanic man peppers his speech with Spanish words, as he first meets "Placido" on a day when it rains gatos y perros. Humorous wordplay abounds throughout, in which the cat is the common fixture in the lives of seven adults and a young girl. When the cat has a near accident, the full cast calls out seven different names, as each rushes to save the feline that has befriended them all; and through the cat, they befriend each other. The Cat with Seven Names will be sold with and without its corresponding picture book. Consider purchasing the set. Absent illustrations, the steady stream of elderly and adult voices may not be enough to hold a child's attention.
Hip hop has influenced a generation of poets coming to prominence, poets I call “The Inheritors of Hip Hop.” Signaling how the music serves as a shared experience and inspiration, they mention performers and songs as well as anecdotes from the genre’s development and the artists’ lives, while epigraphs and titles quote songs. The influence of hip hop can be heard in the work of many poets including (but certainly not limited to): Kevin Coval, Erica Dawson, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Matthew Dickman, Major Jackson, Terrance Hayes, Dorothea Lasky, John Murillo, Eugene Ostashevsky, D.A. Powell, Roger Reeves, and Michael Robbins.
In no particular order, here are my five favorite hip hop references in poetry:
(1) Kevin Young, “Expecting”
To capture the experience of first hearing his child’s heartbeat during a sonogram exam, Young develops a wildly inventive simile followed by metaphors borrowed from hip hop:
it is: faint, an echo, faster and further
away than mother’s, all beat box
and fuzzy feedback. You are like hearing
hip-hop for the first time–power
hijacked from the lamppost–all promise.
You couldn’t sound better, break-
dancer, my favorite song bumping
from a passing car. You’ve snuck
into the club underage and stayed!
(2) Rowan Ricardo Phillips, “Mappa Mundi”
Describing his hometown of the Bronx, Phillips combines Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon’s verse in “Triumph,” “Aiyyo, that’s amazing gun-in-your-mouth talk,” and Samuel Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight,” “the redbreast sit and sing”:
Whether red birds sit and sing from rooftops
Or rappers cypher deep into the night,
The gun-in-your-mouth talk of a ransomed
God, nature is a lapse in city life.
(3) Harryette Mullen, “Dim Lady”
Hip hop is nearly everywhere in Mullen’s earlier collection, Muse and Drudge, but my single favorite reference in her work to hip hop appears in “Dim Lady,” collected in Sleeping with the Dictionary. The prose poem rewrites and updates Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. In the place of Shakespeare’s lines,
“I love to hear her speak, yet well I know / That music hath a far more pleasing sound,”
“I love to hear her rap, yet I’m aware that Muzak has a hipper beat.”
(The poem’s ending always makes me laugh, “And yet, by gosh, my scrumptious Twinkie has as much sex appeal for me as any lanky model or platinum movie idol who’s hyped beyond belief.”
(4) A. Van Jordan, “R&B”
A subgenre of poems about hip hop criticizes the music. A rare exception to the ignorance such work typically show (see, for instance, Tony Hoagland’s “Rap Music”), “R & B” offers a well-informed, thoughtful critique. “Listen long enough to the radio, and you’ll think / maybe C. Dolores Tucker was right,” the poem opens and an endnote reminds readers of Tucker’s significant contributions to the black civil rights movement.
(5) Michael Cirelli, “Dead Ass”
“I am not afraid of dope lyrics,” Michael Cirelli writes in “Dead Ass.” Several poems in Lobster with Ol’ Dirty Bastard retell moments from hip hop history. To describe teens grooving to the music, “Dead Ass” borrows from Oakland slang, “hyphy,” meaning “crazy” in a good sense, “hyphy / music makes their bodies dip up and down / like oil drills.” (My favorite line in the book, though, describes eighties pop, not hip hop, “We danced incestuously to Michael and Janet that night.”)
(6) Adrien Matejka, “Wheels of Steel”
“I got me two songs instead of eyes,” the poem opens then swaggering quotes five songs in twenty-seven lines.
How you’ve lived saying nothing
save the same words each day
is a kind of freedom or beauty.
Please, tell me I’m not lying to us.
David Caplan is Charles M. Weis Chair in English and Associate Director of Creative Writing at Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the author of Rhyme’s Challenge: Hip Hop, Poetry, and Contemporary Rhyming Culture. His previous books include Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form and the poetry collection In the World He Created According to His Will.
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Image credit: turntable spinning. Photo by Tengilorg, 2005. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Beverley Birch is friend and mentor to many slushpilers and published authors alike. She was a senior commissioning editor for Hodder Children's Books and three times shortlisted for the Brandford Boase Award in recognition of the editor’s role in nurturing new talent. She is a writer of more than 40 books including novels, picture books, biographies and retellings of classic works and folk
I consider myself lucky that Ross MacDonald illustrated Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.
He was exceptional to work with and is now a friend.
But the book came out in 2008. Why interview him now?
Because I should have done it then. With respect to Bill Finger, I often say “Justice has no expiration date.” Same is true with good content.
Besides, the book is still a book...
What attracted you to illustrating Boys of Steel?
It’s a great story about the guys—boys, really—who [created] arguably the first, and certainly the most iconic, superhero.
I had grown up reading the Superman comics of the ‘60s. They were fun when I was young. The art in those was clean and accomplished, but a little bland. [But] the stories had devolved (degenerated?) into these convoluted yet simplistic plots involving time travel, Superman trying to keep Lois from finding out his secret identity, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and an ever-expanding rainbow of Kryptonites.
As an adult, I came to really appreciate the artwork and storylines of the early, dark comic books and Sunday comics of the ‘40s. Joe Shuster’s art and the dark gripping plots of the early Superman comics came as a huge revelation.
You used brown for Jerry Siegel’s clothes and green for Joe Shuster’s. Did you incorporate any other recurring visual motifs?
Jerry is kinda tubby and Joe was rail thin. But they almost looked like brothers in many ways. Both had similar glasses and hair, and like every single male American of the time, they wore suits. All the time. They even have the same initials, so keeping their names straight is difficult, too.
They looked similar enough that just making one heavy and one skinny wasn’t quite enough to tell them apart. So I gave them each their own color scheme. That was something you saw in the old comics—the characters often only had one suit (I guess that was probably true in real life at the time, too), and it helped make the comic panels a quicker read. Villains often had purple or orange suits, and Clark Kent’s was always true blue.
Another thing I tried to do was to make the illustrations that showed Joe and Jerry’s real life have a nice muted color scheme but the scenes they imagine are bright, pulpy, comic colors.
What is your favorite piece of art from Boys of Steel?
Much as I liked drawing Superman, my favorite piece is Joe sketching on the back of wallpaper scraps in the unheated kitchen of his mother’s apartment while she washes dishes in the background.
What piece of Boys of Steel art was the most challenging to create?
Another fave—Jerry sitting at his typewriter in front of his bedroom window while the neighborhood kids play outside.
What was the most annoying request I made?
All of them—just kidding. I don’t remember any requests, frankly. Maybe they were so annoying I blanked them out!
Do you have any unused art you can share, especially cover sketches?
Like most of the book, the cover was a one-sketch kinda deal. There are a couple of alternate versions of the title page, though.
Any particularly memorable feedback you’ve gotten for your work on the book?
Charlie Kochman, formerly an editor at DC Comics, now at Abrams Image, really loved the book. It felt good getting praise from someone who worked at the house that published Superman comics from the very beginning.
Anything else about the experience you’d like to add?
Great working with you on this, and it was fun helping to tell the interesting creation story of one of my childhood heroes.
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