Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Author Interview with Howard Shapiro, author of The Stereotypical Freaks

Happy Tuesday! Here's just one more thing for you to be thankful for this week (It's Thanksgiving week here in the States). The Stereotypical Freaks by Howard Shapiro.

In case you missed it, you can find my review HERE.

Today, Howard was so kind to drop by and have a little Q&A with us. I'm super excited that this comic is now available for purchase, and I know so many of you are going to absolutely love it! 

Author Interview
Howard Shapiro
The Stereotypical Freaks

GL: Welcome, Howard! Please introduce yourself to everyone.

Howard: Thanks!  My name is Howard Shapiro. I am from Pittsburgh, PA.  I am married with two thirteen-year-old sons and my regular job is being the Controller for a Visual Effects Studio.  I also own a business named Supersonic Storybook Productions… Through that business I have authored four children’s book and also my debut graphic novel, The Stereotypical Freaks.  My Hockey Player for Life e-book has been the #1 kids hockey book, off and on, in terms of downloads on the Kindle sales chart the last 26 weeks.

GL: Now, tell us a little about The Stereotypical Freaks.

HS: Sure!  The Stereotypical Freaks is a 140-page graphic novel about four disparate high school seniors…  Tom, Dan, Mark and Jacoby, who share a love of rock and roll.  They come together to form a band to play in their high school’s battle of the bands.  When a life-altering secret is revealed, the guys initially wonder if they should go on.  Their decision sets up the last part of the story.

GL: What was the inspiration for this story?

HS: In the spring and summer of 2008, there were a lot of stories written about a local Pittsburgh area kid named John Challis who was dying from liver cancer.  There was a sports angle to the stories as he was a big baseball fan, but his personal story was very inspiring and he was wise beyond his years.  After reading the stories, I thought I wanted to write a character like him, with his story of courage and determination, and so John was the catalyst and inspiration for the story.  To learn more about him and see the work that his foundation is doing, please check out their website: http://www.courageforlifefoundation.org/

GL: Why a comic/graphic novel?

HS: Well, I’ve always loved comic books and at one of my school visits the librarian told me that the kids would take each and every graphic novel, regardless of the subject, out.  So, the little light went off above my head that maybe I could make my next story a graphic novel.  So, I went to our local public library and took a bunch of them out and fell in love with the genre.  Now, 95% of the books I buy or borrow are graphic novels!

GL: My son absolutely LOVES graphic novels. I think, especially for a child with ADHD, they are so much easier to follow and you can get through them as quickly or as slowly as you’d like without really getting “lost.” Probably three out of ever four books he checks out from the school library are comics :-).

GL: How is the publication process for a comic different from a traditional novel?

HS: That is an excellent question because the process, at least to me, is completely different.  I got into the mode of being a film director in that I thought everything through in a visual sense first and constructed the dialogue around the settings rather than vice versa.  So, everything revolved around the visual elements and I wrote it as a quasi-script instead of just writing it out in a more “normal” fashion.  Plus, I did it by panels, so I’d write the panel number, the character and then put in parentheses the characters actions, facial or body motions to give my illustrator the visual cues.  After that, I’d write their dialogue and even that had to be clipped or edited down because you only have so much space in each bubble.  It was a very different process but an extremely fun one and one that I would recommend to any writer to try! 

GL: Who did the artwork for the book?

HS: I was very lucky to have the great Joe Pekar (http://www.joepekar.com) do the artwork.  He is a very talented illustrator and does a lot of work for card and video game companies.  He also does covers for one graphic novel publisher.  The other member of my team, on lettering, was Ed Brisson (http://edbrisson.com), who is a very talented artist and writer in his own right.  He’ll have a five-issue comic book coming out this fall.

GL: Is there any particular character that you relate to the most?

HS: I’d have to say that Tom is me and I am Tom!  This is my fifth book using this same character and in many ways he has been my doppelganger!  I relate things that have happened to me through him and sometimes I will write him the way I wished I would have acted in that circumstance or say what I should have said.  But more often than not, his actions were my actions.

GL: Are any or all of the characters based on someone in real life?

HS: Yes, as I mentioned, Tom is based on me, the Mark (the lead guitarist) character is based on my best friend in elementary school who moved on to other friends once he became a star athlete.  In the book, Tom and Mark’s reconciliation is pretty much how the real life Tom (me) and my friend reconciled.  Dan (the bass player) is based on a kid I was friends with in seventh grade and his real name was Daniel Roberts and that is the character’s name and one kid in our class called him Dan Bob and for some reason that stuck with me all of these years.  So, the name is the same, but after that, Dan is sort of amalgamation of every kind of overweight bass player in rock music… and there are many!  And, of course, Jacoby was inspired and done as a tribute to John Challis.

GL: Are you a musician? What do you play?

HS: I used to play the drums… never in a band or anything, just for fun.  I never took lessons or anything like that. I used to just bang away in my parents’ basement throughout my high school and college years.  If I was to pick a dream job, it would be to be a drummer in a great rock band.

GL: That sounds more interesting than piano or clarinet ;-)…

GL: I loved the suggested playlist that accompanied each chapter! Why did you decide to do this, and how did you pick the songs?

HS: Thanks!  I appreciate that as music is very central to this story as well as in my life.  The songs were chosen for several reasons.  In some chapters, lines in the dialogue were straight from a song.  In one chapter, when Tom is describing his relationship with Mark, he says how hurt he was that Mark dropped him as a friend.  He goes on to say that even though that happened a long time ago, “the past was close behind.”  This is a line from “Tangled up in Blue” by Bob Dylan.  So, there were parts or phrases from songs in each chapter and in some cases the songs listed were songs that I listened to while I was writing.  So, as a way to tip my cap to the bands that helped me, I wanted to list the songs out.  And one day, hopefully, when The Stereotypical Freaks gets made into a motion picture, the director will have a readymade soundtrack!

GL: Sounds like a plan! I’m sure they will be grateful :-).

GL: What other books do you have published and where can we find them?

HS: My other kids picture books (Hanukkah Counts Too!, Destructo and Spillerella, and Hockey Days and my middle grade novel, Hockey Player for Life) are available on Amazon or via my website: www.howardshapiro.net

GL: You have an entire day to yourself to spend however you wish. What do you do?

HS: Wow!  That would be great… I think I’d go to our art and history museum and then to our public library… all three are in the same area.   That would be a very fun day!

GL: What is the last movie you watched and what did you think?

HS: At the theater I saw Men in Black 3 which actually turned out to be better than I thought it would be.  But, everything else will pale to The Dark Knight Rises, which I plan on seeing twice (once in IMAX and then in a regular theatre) in the same afternoon.

GL: Okay, obviously we did this interview a while back :-). I hope The Dark Knight Rises did not disappoint! I liked it. And Men in Black 3 surprised me too. It made me cry…

GL: What would you have for your last meal?

HS: I went to Chicago once, by myself, to see the band Urge Overkill and I had heard about Giordano’s Chicago-style pizza and how great it was.  So, I stopped at one of their locations, which was near my hotel.  They take your order first and then seat you about an hour later or whatever the wait is that day.  Then the pizza arrived and I ate almost the whole thing and there was sauce everywhere.  I think I used about a dozen napkins, but it was worth it.  It was the greatest pizza I have ever had and I look forward to going to Chicago one day soon to relive the Giordano’s experience!

GL: Best piece of advice ever received or given?

HS: Work as hard as you can… and then work even harder!

Thanks so much, Howard! Congratulations on the release, and I wish you the very best!

For more about Howard and The Stereotypical Freaks, including where to buy and other reviews and interviews, please visit http://www.howardshapiro.net.