Monday, March 21, 2016

Memory of an invisible man

In 1987, I read a science fiction adventure novel by a debut author H.F. Saint.

 hardcover

 paperback edition I read

It has stayed with me through the years, and the book retains a cult following, so I set out to interview Saint.

Though the "H" stands for "Harry," the "H.F." might as well stand for "hard to find."

The book became a best-seller and inspired a 1992 movie of the same name starring Chevy Chase as the titular character. But Saint did not publish another novel and granted almost no interviews; here is the only one I found, from 1987 (click "MP3 file"). It does not appear that there is even a single photo of him online.

It's almost as if the title refers not to fictional character Nicholas Halloway but to Saint himself. This reminds me of another instance:


First panel of the first Batman story (1939), 
written by Bill Finger, who recently and finally became

What little of Saint's vital stats I could glean from the Internet:

  • born Syracuse, 2/13/41
  • attended Haverford College
  • businessman for 20 years prior to publishing the book
  • four children from ages 5 to 19 (in 1987), meaning born between 1968 and 1982

To try to track down Saint, I got a copy of a first edition of the book from the library to comb the acknowledgments, if any. Between the copyright page and flap copy, it yielded only two names: Harry Ford, the designer (who died in 2000) and James Steinberg, the jacket designer.




I reached out to James who kindly responded but never met Saint and knew nothing about him.

I found and contacted Saint's agency, who forwarded my message (Saint apparently lives in France). It'd been so long since they'd been in touch with him that they didn't even know if the contact info they had for him was current. When I followed up, so did they, and then reported that they finally heard back from Saint.


"He is not interested in doing any interviews at this time."

I will cling to that "at this time" and hold out hope that he may reconsider doing a reflective interview for posterity.


Either way, if anyone knows his children, I'd love to connect with them. Please send them my way.

Saint can stay mostly invisible but hopefully we can catch some glimpse of his life before it's too late.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Visiting "The Breakfast Club" school

On 3/24/84, in Illinois, a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal (or, as the poster calls them, a brain, a jock, a recluse, a beauty, and a rebel) spent the Saturday in high school detention.


On 3/17/16, I visited their former school, now a state police station, to try to talk my way in to take a photo. So it's sorta social. Demented and sad, but social. Right?

(Oh, on 2/13/14, in a related but unrelated incident, I had the privilege of having cider with the basket case.)


The Breakfast Club asked something of us: "Don't you forget about me." No one my age has...


Then and now:









Inside:



Now a state police station:


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Charlotte S. Huck Children's Literature Festival turns 20

In 2015, I had the honor of speaking at the Charlotte S. Huck Children's Literature Festival in California. It has been one of the most rewarding I've been to.

This year, the festival celebrated its 20th anniversary, and I was again honored by being quoted multiple times in its 20th anniversary celebration pamphlet:



Next year, I will yet again be honored by returning to speak at Huck.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bill Lutz, original writer of Scooby-Doo (1969-70)

Scooby-Doo and I go way back.

drawing I made in 1980

But it wasn't till several years after I ran this series of interviews with voice actors and musicians involved with the first seasons of the character that I realized I had never looked into my counterpart—the writer of the first season.


His name was Bill Lutz, and to quote his granddaughter, "Bill is Scooby-Doo's biggest mystery."

He is credited with writing all of season 1 of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? On 7/17/15, after asking around about Bill for a few months, I found out via the Writers Guild of America that he died on 9/8/73. Scooby was four years old. I was only one.

The WGA kindly forwarded a request from me to the name on file for Bill. Soon after I heard from a young woman named Amanda Lapsansky, Bill's only known grandchild. (Sound familiar? Right down to the first name…)

She told me the following:


  • Bill was an only child, the father of Amanda's father Jan (who often went by Jon) and Amanda's uncle Gary
  • Jan died in 2010
  • Gary had no children and died in the '90s
  • Amanda didn't know her dad; he left when she was two and battled alcohol, same as Bill; it's why Bill died early
  • Amanda met her dad only when he was dying
  • Bill's wife (Amanda's grandma) had a new partner in late '80s; she died in early '90s
  • Amanda inherited everything her grandma had…but, as you will see, that included sadly nothing of Bill

Interview with Amanda:


photo by Katelyn Folmar

What is your relationship to Bill Lutz?

Bill Lutz was my grandfather on my father's side. My father was his eldest son, Jan (Jon).

You were born after he died. What do you know about his life (childhood, marriage, career)?

I sadly know nothing of his childhood or provenance. I know he was a young writer in Brooklyn when he met my grandmother, Jane, a Polish immigrant working as a seamstress at a department store. They married and he became a writer on the game show Queen for a Day.


 Bill is possibly in this photo.
 
As the entertainment industry continued its migration to Los Angeles, my grandparents followed, settling in Sherman Oaks. It was then that his career really began to surge, and he was asked to write for The Lucy Show, The Addams Family, and perhaps most iconically, Scooby-Doo. He wrote the entire first season (Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?).

He and my grandmother had a happy marriage for a long time, but in the sixties, they both fell prey to alcoholism. My grandmother was able to rehabilitate. Sadly, my grandfather was not. They divorced in the late sixties. He died of kidney failure caused by alcoholism in 1973 [9/8]. He left it largely unchecked and untreated and died suddenly while working out at a local gym. Sadly, his eldest son [Amanda's father] would die exactly as his father did, of liver and kidney failure, in 2009.

Though Bill had his demons, he was quite devoted to his family and was active in his church. It's hard to know if his faith was true and personal, or if church was simply something one did, but he did contribute his time and his writing talents to his church community. It's a shame that his talent and his love were damaged by addiction.

Who told you the stories you know about Bill?

My mother and my maternal grandmother have told me everything I know so far.

What other family does he have left?

As far as I know, I am the last surviving member of the Lutz family.

Before I contacted you, did you know he wrote the first season of Scooby-Doo?

I knew he wrote for the show, but did not realize until recently that he wrote the whole first season. That was a pretty exciting revelation.

Do you get royalties, and if so, how often and for what?

I do get royalties whenever shows that he wrote are aired. I normally get about thirty cents to ten dollars an episode, depending on the popularity of the show and the amount of writers. The checks come sporadically and range from thirty cents to fifteen hundred dollars. The larger checks tend to come from France and Italy, where apparently, Scooby-Doo and Addams Family reruns and marathons are quite popular.

What possessions of Bill's do you have?

I have his Queen for a Day business card, as well as some love letters he wrote to my grandmother. I have a short children's story he wrote and a recording of him reading it aloud on vinyl. There are a few more small things that have nothing to do with his career, and apparently a box in storage that will hopefully hold some treasures.

What do you think when you learned someone wanted to interview your family about Bill?

I was quite surprised because I never knew him and never really knew any part of that family. It's hard to measure the impact of someone who was behind the scenes and died while he still had so much to contribute to the entertainment industry. Yet I was also excited, because I knew that his work has become part of the cannon of American pop culture. It's good to see some recognition. It's nice to not be the only person who knows what he did.

Anything you'd like to add?

His life did end tragically. His addiction ruined so much of what was good in his life, and the specter of alcoholism from both he and my grandmother created a black hole in the family line. I was able to escape because I was raised by my mother and maternal family, and most everything about me comes from them. It is easy to focus on the sad or painful moments of his life, but it's important to remember, at least for myself, that his work helped bring joy to so many people. I have to believe that's worth something.

Interview with John Gustafson, a friend:

Please introduce yourself and your career.

After high school, I enlisted in the United States Air Force and was a B17 Navigator. After the service, I graduated from UCLA in 1948 as a mathematics major. I spent a few years in the motion picture industry in the era of major musicals. My work in musicals included solo work in Brigadoon and Kismet and choral work in Oklahoma! and My Fair Lady. From 1956 to 1975, I was Pastor of Worship at 1st Baptist Church of Van Nuys, Van Nuys, California.

What was your relationship to Bill Lutz?

I met Bill Lutz in the late 1950s. He attended 1st Baptist Church. In the '60s and early '70s, his son Jan was on the youth staff of the Church.  Bill wanted to use his talent to help in the music ministry, thus he wrote two Christmas scripts and helped direct the productions. Bill Lutz was very helpful to me in those years!

What kind of person was Bill?

He was a winsome person, unassuming, didn't seem to care about credit for what he did to help us.
 
Any funny/interesting anecdotes about Bill?

No.

Do you happen to remember anything related to Bill's work on Scooby-Doo? His inspirations? His thoughts on the finished product?

No.

Do you remember hearing that Bill died?

Yes, however I don't remember how I heard.

Do you have any photos of Bill?

No.

What did you think when you learned someone wanted to interview you about Bill?

I was surprised and possibly didn't realize what an important person he was.

What are you doing these days?

I retired from Grace Bible Church in Sun City, Arizona in December 2005, at the age of 82.

Anything you'd like to add?

I'm afraid I haven't been a lot of help to you in this project. I wish you much success in this noble venture!


Bill Lutz, where are you? (said in Shaggy's voice, of course)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Highlights of four-week author trip to Asia

From 2/13/16 to 3/11/16, I hopped across Asia to speak at nine schools and a company. Meeting the students and staff at the schools was rewarding on its own, and getting to experience three countries new to me (Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong/China) was a bonus I don't take for granted.

I've blogged extensively about this trip. All nine schools and the company were highlights, and among are the highlights when I was not working:

Malaysia







Thailand (Phuket) 






Thailand (Chiang Mai) 



Thailand (Bangkok; previously unpublished!)

One night in Bangkok—literally. 
It was just a layover. I didn't even get off the plane.

Hong Kong



[NOTE: Most are selfies because I was mostly alone. I prefer travel photos with the traveler in them to show you that were there; otherwise the photos could just as well be from a book or site.]

For details on each photo and more in general on my time in Asia:


Saturday, March 12, 2016

"David and the Phoenix": The Sequel?

Recently I heard from Christopher LaForce, who, like me, is a fan of Edward Ormondroyd's 1957 middle-grade novel David and the Phoenix.


But there are a good number of fans of this book. So why did I immediately ask Chris if I could interview him?

Read for yourself:

Give a brief bio: who you are, where you live, what you do for a living?

First of all, I am thrilled to have you interview me, Marc! Thank you! My name is Chris LaForce. I was born in Massena, NY in 1961 and raised in a nearby hamlet called Chase Mills. After graduating from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (Dover, NJ) in 1987, I've lived in several locations, including Denver, CO and Asheville, NC. For the past 11 years, I've lived here in Taylors, SC with my wife, Amy and three children, Shannon, Ryan, and Jessica. Also for 11 years, I have been employed as a telecommunications Engineer at Windstream Communications, in nearby Greenville, SC.



What is your connection to David and the Phoenix?

I was introduced to
David and the Phoenix in December 2015 when my 10-year-old son, Ryan, told me he had just read his mom's copy. My wife had saved her 1958 Weekly Reader Children's Book Club edition all these years because it was one of her favorite books as a child.


Shortly after Ryan filled me in on the book, he and his eight-year-old sister, Jessica, showed me that they had written the first two paragraphs of a sequel. Ryan loved the book, but was disappointed by the ending. He wanted a story wherein the Phoenix would be reunited with David, and would come to remember him. My two youngest asked me for "help" with the manuscript—but soon lost interest in the writing of it. So, in the beginning, this was only a labor of love for my children. As I composed the manuscript, however, I found myself becoming emotionally involved in it.

What made you reach out to me?

I searched the internet for information on Edward Ormondroyd, much like you did, and also found a dearth of info. I located your heartwarming tribute to him, and the video taken in 2011 at the Trumansburg Elementary library. It moved me deeply, and I felt compelled to post my thoughts on your blog.



You told me you reached out to Edward, too. How was your conversation?

I had the privilege of chatting on the phone with Edward on 1/23/16. The first thing he said to me was, "Well, LaForce Awakens!" I thought it was a clever start to a conversation, which was a wonderful and rewarding one. During our 45-minute chat, Edward said he realized now that he had left an angry Scientist out there, still a threat. I mentioned that I had my own solution for this, and for reuniting the Phoenix with a now teenaged David. Mr. Ormondroyd also advised during our conversation, that, although he'd never mentioned David's exact age, he had envisioned the boy as around nine years old, that of a fourth grader. Edward's wife, Joan, a former teacher and librarian, always told him that fourth graders were her favorite age group to teach.

What does he think about you (or anyone) writing a sequel?

Edward had no major objections to someone writing a sequel, although I sensed that he felt normal concerns—that it would be done in a manner that would do justice to his (epic!) original. He asked if I intended to get a publisher, or if it was only the labor of love for my kids that I mentioned earlier. I said I wasn't sure, although I have since decided for certain to get my manuscript published.

Did he make any requests regarding the sequel—things to do or not do?

When I told Edward I intended to mail him my manuscript for his perusal, he said that would be fine. He didn't want to be my editor, though. He said that he would only inform me when it had arrived. Edward didn't really have any requests, but he did voice a couple of concerns. When I told him my sequel takes place about four years after the original, he astutely brought up that the dynamics of a young teen differs from a boy of about age nine and that the reborn, golden Phoenix would be only four years old so he wouldn't be terribly experienced. I explained that I am definitely dealing with the maturing personality of David, and that, in my view, a Phoenix matures comparatively soon, being that, as "hatchlings," they are already physically adults. This Phoenix has a somewhat different personality than the one David befriended, still has limited life experience, and, obviously, a less sophisticated vocabulary. After I had explained this, Edward seemed to agree with the plausibility of it.

Did you decide to try to write a sequel and then come up with a plot, or did an idea for a specific plot come first?

Actually, as such things often go, it was somewhere in the middle. After talking with my son and thinking I might go ahead with writing a sequel, I had a general idea of what I wanted to do with the basic plot. I developed the story as I went along, though, and had a blast doing it!

Will your story have any new characters?

Yes, nearly half of the characters are new, although there are certainly some key figures returning. Without giving too much away, I can't necessarily refute that a certain Witch and Banshee don't make an appearance…

Will you try to get it published via a traditional publisher or do you plan to self-publish?

Although there are certainly a number of options out there today for self-publishing, I would like to find a traditional publisher—one that can not only get an author on Amazon and Barnes & Noble but also in [brick-and-mortar] bookstores (which ones remain, that is). If that doesn't work out to my satisfaction, then I'll go the self-publishing route.

Do you have a working title for the book?

The title is David and the Phoenix II, a Second Chance. It's rather simple, as I wanted to immediately catch the eye of those familiar with the classic original.

Are you writing it in the same style as DATP or will it have a more modern tone?

I decided from the beginning to keep my book in the same charming and wonderful style as Edward Ormondroyd's (as much as possible, anyway). Even the format of chapter titles and such are mirrored.

Have you ever attempted to write and illustrate a book before? If not, have you considered it? If not, why do you think DATP was the inspiration to do so?

I was actually in the midst of writing and illustrating another children's book that I call Waking the Dead. I'm putting my family and pets as the protagonists. Like it probably sounds, it's about the reanimated dead, but in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. I put that project on hold to pursue the DATP II project.

I created a comic strip many years ago called The Bedside Manor. Although I received several fairly positive responses, I wasn't offered a contract.

Anything you'd like to add?

As luck would have it, I just completed the text for my DATP book (and will begin illustrations shortly). An idea I'm formulating is that I'd like to create the illustrations in a style similar to the originals by Joan Raysor, but also blending elements from Purple House Press's Time at the Top, another Ormondroyd epic. That book's artist, Barb Ericksen, has a marvelous style. And, I'll probably throw in some of the illustrative, fading-away-at-the-periphery style of Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame. Incongruous, I know, but I think it can be done!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Four schools in Hong Kong

After an exploratory first weekend in Hong Kong (my first time), I enjoyed visiting four schools over five days.

(Note: If you notice any shirt repeats, please be aware that my hotel had laundry service.)

Day 1: Bradbury School



Dozens of shrunken heads greeted me—sculptures by the students, cheekily placed on a wall next to the school entrance.


Before I began speaking, the students sang a song about the role of the author and the illustrator…and, to my pleasant surprise, the publisher, too! It's good when kids understand that writing is solitary but making a book is a team effort!

Scenes from Bradbury:






Even before I left the building, photos from my presentations turned up on a feed shown in the library:


I might not have made it to HK if not for former Bradbury librarian Debbie Alvarez, with whom I began corresponding in 2014. She was from Oregon and was planning to move back, so she kindly passed me to her colleague at another HK school, Rosheen Rodwell, who organized my sizable trip with skill and stamina.

I did not know that Debbie was suffering from cancer, which was an impetus for her to return to the States…nor did I know that on 12/21/15, a mere four days after she last emailed me, Debbie passed away. I learned this from a touching display at Bradbury:



Thank you, Debbie, and rest in peace.

Day 2: Kowloon Junior School

A colorful and spacious library, engaged students, and dedicated staff made this another standout school.



Student work done immediately after my talk:



Three favorite comments from kids:

  • "Your hair looks like Bill Finger's."
  • "Do you know my grandpa?" (when I said I'm from Connecticut, as is his grandpa)
  • "What can we do to help?" (in response to my challenge to help spread Bill's story)



Interlude: Two International Finance Centre

In the 2008 film The Dark Knight, Batman came to Hong Kong for some base jumping/thugnapping. To do so, he flew down from Two International Finance Centre (then the tallest building in HK) to One International Finance Centre. You can see both over my shoulders.




Day 3: Harrow International School

A breathtaking building where students both learn and live, with sweeping grounds.

 




Days 4-5: Peak School



So much Book Week bookiness going on here, it was hard to keep up with it all.

A contest to redesign book covers:



A contest to guess which teacher is reading which book:


A contest to photograph yourself "extreme reading":


This school is truly at the peak of motivating students to read using fun.

Special thanks yet again to Rosheen Rodwell at Peak, who tirelessly coordinated all the HK schools with me over the past year. I am grateful for your efforts.
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