Book Nerd Interview
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
The value of hard work. This came about in college as I pretty much skated by in high school but I learned really quick that I would have to really, really work hard and make sacrifices if I was going to succeed at college.
Is there such a thing as a formula for storytelling?
Yes, but I try to avoid it as much as possible! You see so much formulaic storytelling in TV, movies and books… my idea is to go as far away from that but still keep the focus on the interaction and dialogue between the characters.
What are “Character Rules” and give us some examples.
To me it all comes down to one rule… keep them as realistic as possible. Growing up when I’d read a book, watch a TV show or see a movie I always wanted to identify with the characters and more often then not, that did not happen. It would drive me crazy who in the last three minutes of a TV show how the character or characters would snap their fingers and they problem or problems were solved. Same with movies and books with their implausible or unrealistic endings. Starting with my children’s books my aim has always been to tell real stories with real people involved. It’s the only way I know how to tell or write a story.
What are some of the common challenges that new and experienced authors face and what advice do you have for over-coming them?
The good news is for new authors that the barriers to publication are, or have already, come down. With the explosion of self publishing and print on demand… and some huge success stories coming from self publishers, the old guard is hanging on by a thread. So, experienced authors face the challenge of increased competition as well as having to really promote and market themselves and their books. Coming from the self publishing world I learned a long time ago that you have to be your best salesperson, marketing rep and even distributor. You can’t really on anyone but yourself and thee quicker you realize and then accept that, the faster you’ll reach your goals.
The common ground between both camps is that in the end, the number one, absolutely most important thing for the writer ti do is write a great story with compelling and believable characters. That supersedes everything else. Once you’ve done that, then the whole sales and marketing thing kicks in and you have to switch hats.
In your new book; The Stereotypical Freaks, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about the novel?
“The Stereotypical Freaks” is about four disparate high school seniors who come together via a shared love of rock and roll music to form a band to compete in their school’s Battle of the Bands. That is the MacGuffin in that the main themes of the book revolve around friendship, how music can bring people together and dealing with loss. It was illustrated beautifully by Joe Pekar. This is his and my first foray into the graphic novel genre as my first four books were children’s books. We had a great time working on this and I hope that shows in the narrative. The main thing I’d like to express to your Book Nerd community is that if they acquire “The Stereotypical Freaks” they will fall in love with and identify with the four main characters and even the handful of supporting characters. If you are looking for a story you can multiple times and still get an emotional jolt, then “The Stereotypical Freaks” is the book for you! And, I can almost guarantee that you will be crying at some point during the book. If not, then you can be assured that you have ice water in your veins!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your characters?
This is a very good question because I had things really mapped out in the pre-production phase but once Joe signed on to do the illustrations then things wenta little haywire… but in a good way. I was able to trim a lot of dialogue because Joe was able to deftly and masterfully imbue the characters with such wonderfully drawn facial and body motions… they were able to tell the story sometimes more so than the actual dialogue. The thing I learned and which I cam to love was keeping the characters off kilter… in other words making them non-one note. For example, Tom Leonard’s father, Stuart, when he is introduced into the story I wrote him as a bit of a buffoonish, ass clown-type sitcom dad. Flip on any sitcom and you’ll see what I mean, the kind of anti-Mike Brady who doesn’t have any answers except that he would like to have his wife and kids get off his back so that he can watch reality TV and sports. So, I wanted to introduce him that way cognizant in the fact that later in the story he has several very emotional scenes with Tom and that deep down he is a good dad with a lot of depth and empathy. That sort of goes along with the whole idea of being a Stereotypical Freak. People may box you into a corner with how they perceive you or think of you because that is easy and simple. “Oh, he’s the quiet guy, or she’s wound too tight…”One of the ideas/themes that I hope the readers will take away is that we all have depth and are not one note or one trick ponies. So, each chapter turned out to be a learning experience by keeping the characters constantly growing and not staying stagnant or one note.
Do you have a favorite quote that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire you?
Not really, no. Usually for inspiration I will listen to music which somehow puts me into writing mode!
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Excellent question! I would have my favorite character from my books, which is Tom Leonard meet Death from Neil Gaiman’s “Death: The High Cost of Living.” I think Tom and Death would get along very well and have a great, albeit, short time together.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Well, I’m actively promoting “The Stereotypical Freaks” but I also have my other kids books which have received a boost of life via them becoming available as e-books over the last year or so. About a month ago I had my first book, “Hanukkah Counts Too!” re-done by a different artist and it is now available for the first time as an e-book. My two kids hockey books, “Hockey Days” and “Hockey Player For Life” via a corporate sponsorship deal I set up with Total Hockey company are given to several NHL teams for use in the educational and community initiatives. Both hockey books also continue to sell very well with “Hockey Player For Life” being the #1 downloaded kids hockey book on the Kindle chart since it’s been available as an e-book.
Lastly, I am in pre-production on the sequel graphic novel to “The Stereotypical Freaks” and it has the working title of “Bittersweet Rage.” Tom Leonard from “Freaks” continues on in “Bittersweet Rage” as it takes place two years after “Freaks” and there is a pretty big twist at the beginning which takes his story in a whole new direction. Stay tuned! I am hoping to get it out in late 2013 but that remains to be seen.
What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?
One of the ways I finance my book business (Supersonic Storybook Productions) was and is through sales on Ebay. When I’d pitch myself for interviews with magazine, newspapers etc I would list this a possible talking point and no one who has interviewed me has asked me about this. I thought that it was a very cool thing but apparently no one else does!
Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
I’ve actually had several where I am being chased by someone with a gun. I think this comes from when I was involved in an armed robbery back in 1989. It seems so real when the dreams happen and I breath a big sigh of relief when I wake up. That and also, real quick, I have another recurring one where I am in school and I am late for a class and that day there is also a pop quiz. I get that one regularly!
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
If my book business makes a profit.
If I came to your house and looked in your closet/attic/basement, what’s the one thing that would surprise me the most?
That I have so many pairs of shoes! I’m not an Imelda Marcos level but I have lots and lots of dress and tennis shoes…. And I’m always on the look out for more… especially old school Chuck Taylor hi tops!
When was the last time you cried?
Just a few hours ago when I recd in sample copies of “The Stereotypical Freaks” and held it in my hands for the first time. Doing that always reminds me of the time when “Hanukkah Counts Too!” came out and before my dad passed away I was able to show him a copy and he was able to hold it in his hands which is always a moment I remember vividly!
Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
My mom, she always has the right answers to any questions or problems I have.
Where can readers stalk you?
They can find me on my author’s page on Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Howard-Shapiro/296610707017204?ref=ts my name on Twitter is hockeyplayer and my website Is howarshapiro.net the site is getting an overhaul before “Freaks” is officially released on 11.14.12. I can be reached via email at email@example.com
THE STEREOTYPICAL FREAKS
Four disparate high school seniors come together to compete in their school's battle of the bands. Sharing a love for playing rock and roll, the members name the band "The Stereotypical Freaks" because they feel stereotyped by their classmates - smart kid, geek, star athlete and quiet weirdo… when in fact they know they are much more than those labels that have been placed on them.
When one member reveals life altering news, winning the competition takes on more of a meaning to each member. Scared and angry, upset and yet still with a lot of resolve they set out to win one for the good guys… will they?
What made the story more engaging is that it is a graphic novel. The art that grace each page provided a clear picture of the characters’ emotions and the general feeling of the book. The theme of not judging a person based on what you heard is strongly outlined and also showcased other important life and moral lessons such as facing your fears. They way Howard gave these characters their own unique voices was absolutely amazing. Besides touching on sensitive issues, it also had its funny moments that made me laugh out loud. There are stories within stories such as the forming of unlikely friends because of their love of music. It is about parents who have difficulty accepting their kids are growing up. It is about friendship and finding love. The Stereotypical Freaks has everything any reader is seeking: awesome characters, intriguing story line, and an ending that is quite shocking. Let’s not forget about the art! It will yield nothing but satisfaction.