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Monday, April 27, 2009

Author q&a: Martin Powell

Martin Powell is the author of a number of our graphic novels and chapter books, such as Hound of the Baskervilles, Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Swiss Family Robinson, Adventures of Hercules, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, SUPERMAN: The Stolen Super-Powers, and BATMAN: The Fog of Fear. Here, he answers questions from the Stone Arch Books staff. Thanks, Martin!

Stone Arch Books: How did you become a writer?
Martin Powell: It was a very deliberate decision. I've wanted to tell stories since I was six or seven years old, and started writing and drawing my own books from around that time, in crayon. I've had other interesting jobs from time to time, from an educator in the paleontology gallery of a museum, to acting on stage and as an extra in film. Writing fiction has always been the most driving creative force in my life, and I always kept coming back to it. I'm very fortunate to have been a professional writer for 22 years. I love my job.

SAB: What’s your writing process?
MP: Depends upon the project. I'm a firm believer in research, and writing "what you know". For example, if you're composing a story about, say, a scientist or a detective, then you really need to take the trouble to learn something about them and how they work in real life. If you don't believe in your characters, your readers won't either. I do this full-time, eight to ten hours a day, five or six days a week.

SAB: What were you like as a kid?
MP: Oh my. Well, I have two older brothers who introduced me to comic books, and Batman, which helped me learn to read. My mom took me to the library a lot, too, so I was always bringing home these great books about dinosaurs, ghosts, and outer space. When my friends were out playing ball in the street, I'd rather be inside reading, writing, or drawing, like building a plastic model kit, or watching an old monster movie on our old grainy black-and-white TV. On weekends I spent a lot of time with my cousins on their farms in Kentucky. Being in the wide, open fields and deep, dark woods was very magical and mysterious, and certainly stirred my imagination. I had a wonderful childhood.

SAB: When you were a kid (the age of your readers) what did you want to be when you grew up?
MP: A writer! Guess I'm one of those very lucky individuals who always knew what he wanted to be pretty much from the start. My mom bought herself a portable typewriter when I was about nine years old.. Sometimes she let me use it to do my homework, and almost immediately I was hooked on that little machine. I used it a lot more than she ever did. Eventually she gave the typewriter to me, and hardly a day went by when I wasn't pounding away on it, mostly just to entertain myself.

SAB: What’s your favorite book?
MP: That's a tough question. There are so many. I love books. I guess it would probably be something in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan series, or L. Frank Baum's Oz books. The stories of Ray Bradbury are special favorites of mine, too.

SAB: What do you eat or drink as you’re writing?
MP: Diet Coke. Plenty of it. Too much of it. I really, really should cut down.

SAB: If you could have written any book, what book would it be and why?
MP: It would be extremely thrilling to write a graphic novel adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes. The jungle hero has always been a big influence to me. Also, someday, I'd love the chance to write a long-running series of mystery-adventure books with my own characters, for a younger audience. That would really be a dream come true!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Make your own Green Team

Regular readers of this blog will remember posts about Kids Against Hunger, one of our We Are Heroes set. Another book in that set was The Green Team, focusing on a boy who chose to plant trees at his school. We have our own Green Team here at Capstone Publishers—the Green@Work committee. We don’t plant trees (yet!), but we are helping to keep our offices greener.

One of the Green@Work committee’s new initiatives in the Twin Cities office of Capstone Publishers is Organics Recycling. Organics recycling drastically reduces the trash—things that end up in landfills—coming out of this office. We’ve blogged before about the green initiatives here—we only print on recycled paper, for example (and the ink in our color printers is made from kelp!). Organics recycling will take that one step further. Anything fibrous can now be recycled in the Twin Cities office. That includes food scraps (even meat!), paper (including paper towels and napkins), coffee grounds, the boxes from microwavable meals, tea bags—the list goes on and on. By committing to organics recycling, we’ll reduce waste in this office by 70%. That’s pretty amazing.

We’ve been piloting the program for a few months, and it’s been very successful—we’ll kick off the full implementation this Wednesday, Earth Day. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than to actively take a step toward keeping it green. This Earth Day, form your own Green Team!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hug your librarian

Every children’s book editor must have a story about how they realized they loved books when they sat in their school library in kindergarten, listening to a story read by their favorite librarian. That’s how my story goes too. My school librarian, Mary Jackson (who’s now retired) was a great ally in my reading life. I was a voracious reader when I started kindergarten, and Mrs. Jackson let me check out whatever book I wanted. I still remember exactly where some of my favorites were: the Ellen Raskins on a bottom shelf, a specific collection of Christmas stories in the nonfiction stacks.

That small library was housed in a very old building, and when I entered sixth grade our school moved into a new building. The library expanded into a beautiful, light-filled space with room for browsing and reading and researching. When I was a senior in high school, I had a free period that I used to help Mrs. Jackson in that library. (I used to pride myself on having the Dewey numbers memorized...a skill I no longer have, unfortunately.) When I graduated, Mrs. Jackson gave me a gorgeous leather-bound journal—a gift I cherished, used to note the big moments during college.

This week, National Library Week, and especially today, National Library Worker’s Day, I think about Mrs. Jackson and am thankful to have had such an awesome lady helping me get to the stories I wanted. (She's also famous for being the only person in my small hometown to drive a cherry red convertible.)

Beth Brezenoff
Senior Editor

Monday, April 13, 2009

Four Most Powerful Words

TLA was simply amazing! Those aren’t the four most powerful words. But they come close. The Texas Library Association is a great chance for those of us who spend most of our life at quiet desks, tinkering with nouns and verbs, to meet the people who give life to books by connecting them with kids and readers. Librarians and media specialists are the best conversationalists you’ll ever meet. And I had some great conversations.

I talked with a woman who said she was finally able to raise a young student’s test scores because the girl became an enthusiastic reader of our Library of Doom series. In fact, the girl brought four of her friends into the school library to turn them on to the books too.

One media specialist thanked me because the Stone Arch books were the only books that one of her problem boy readers would pick up . . . and finish!

Joan Berge, the president of Stone Arch Books, Heather Kindseth, the creative director, and I hosted a breakfast focus group with a dozen librarians.1 We discussed everything from scary books to comic superheroes to the popularity of the Twilight series. 2

One day on the exhibit floor, scores of high-school students were roving in nomadic bands, hunting for advance copies and posters and fun giveaways3. It was fun to talk about graphic novels as well as traditional novels with these young people. They were so passionate about their favorite books.

The welcoming and literate and diverse crowd at the conference reminded me of my first introduction to Texas hospitality, when I worked at the Renaissance Festival outside Magnolia, Texas a number of years ago. I was part of a wandering troupe of players that would improvise stories yelled out from the crowd – “Rapunzel! Jason and the Golden Fleece! Cinderella! Ben Hur!4

It seems every time I’m in Texas I’m either telling a story or hearing one. I heard some great stories and anecdotes from the media professionals about the stories that our authors tell in our books. It was like a powerful chain reaction of literacy, or a massive Southern oak sprouting from a seedling. Oh, and those four most powerful words – tell me a story. Thanks to all the people who told me their stories in Houston this year.

Michael Dahl
Editorial Director

1 Why don’t they serve biscuits and gravy up here in Minneapolis? Yum!

2 Several librarians said that their girl patrons loved the books not because of the romance between Bella and Edward, but because of the vampires. Vampires, it seems, never lose their cool quotient.

3 We literally had girls (and boys!) screaming with excitement over our lenticular Superman/Batman bookmarks. I have to admit, they do look cool.

4 Uh, yes, one afternoon we improvised a version of Ben Hur. Complete with a chariot race and a sea battle of Roman warships.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Busy busy!

We’ve been busy (hence the lack of posts lately): Michael, Heather, and Joan were manning the booth at TLA, where they met with a ton of awesome librarians. Back at the ranch, the editorial and design staffs have been in the throes of finishing up our Fall 2009 books. About half of our 100 or so books for that season have been sent to the printer, and we’re already starting to see proofs (the last stage during which we can make changes).

While we’re all either flying across the country or spending lots of time at our desks, finishing up the season, we’ve all been thrilled to take some time out to enjoy the buzz about our Super Hero contest. (Check out our list of links, to the left.) I hear from the art department that the sketches for the book THE KID WHO SAVED SUPERMAN have just come in, and Bob, our art director, said he’s sure contest winner Hakeem is going to love seeing his likeness in the book.

We will be back soon with pics and a recap from TLA. In the meantime, check out the links and enjoy...and rest assured we’re busy making awesome books that’ll be available in less than four months!

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