The Interview

Part II
Scroll Down to read Part I

How different is the process for getting a cartoon published, a short story published, and a children’s book published? (Do you work with an agent?)

I don’t currently work with an agent. Neither cartoons nor children’s writing requires one, or even a college degree. No one asks what my major was or if they can see my résumé. What counts is the quality of the work. (I am NOT advocating skipping college! College was indispensable in shaping me as not only an artist but also as a rounded adult.) So the process is simply do the most polished work I can and do the best legwork I can to find the best possible outlets for that work—and send it in. Naturally, it’s more complicated getting a piece of writing published than a cartoon. Sometimes I e-mail cartoons and get a response almost instantly. With writing, it happens that quickly much less frequently.
You do a lot of classroom visits, do you work with students on writing? Lecture on a specific book? What might a teacher expect from bringing you into their classroom or school?
I feel speaking is part of any writer’s portfolio. It not only helps you promote your work and your message (ideally you have both), but it keeps you connected to the real world. I offer various topics to various venues, but schools and conferences are the two biggest segments of my speaking schedule. I do give writing workshops to students (and often teachers, too); one is on hooks, another is on nonfiction. Even when I give a more general talk on the life of a creative professional, I smuggle in some writing tips. I have a cartooning workshop as well, plus talks focused on specific books, namely my superhero books, both of which required more research than my 70 other book combined. I take presentations very seriously—but have a lot of fun with them. Mine are diverse, helpful, and witty. Teachers can expect a talk that will excite and entertain all students on some level, and some students on a deep level. I’m told that after many of my presentations, students are eager to get back to the classroom to write. I couldn’t ask for more.
What are you working on now?
Batman! My nonfiction picture book on the secret behind the creation of Batman is out in July, and I’m more than excited about it. I’m also shopping around an unconventional nonfiction pic book on a little-known but flat-out riveting WWII story focusing on a Japanese pilot. Most if not all WWII picture books I have seen somehow involve the internment camps; this one doesn’t. And I’m also writing what might be considered my first “girl” book, also a true story.

Sidebar… a funny email from Marc this week….

After six years of work, multiple rumors debunked, 34 rejections, and more status updates than any friend should have to endure, my nonfiction picture book for older readers, Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, is now available. It tells the startling story of Bill Finger.
Bill who?
Bill who…
…designed Batman’s now-iconic costume in 1939.
…wrote the first Batman story, also in 1939.
…wrote many of the best Batman stories of his first 25 years, including his groundbreaking (and heartbreaking) origin.
…was the original writer of other characters who are now household names including Robin, the Joker, and Catwoman.
…named Gotham City, the Batmobile, and Batman’s secret identity, Bruce Wayne.
…nicknamed Batman “the Dark Knight.”
But Bill who…
…was barely credited as a Batman writerand never as co-creatorin his lifetime. He is not even in the credits of either film named for the nickname he coined.
Because cartoonist Bob Kane, Bill’s onetime partner, took all the credit. In 1974, Bill died alone and poor. No obit. No funeral. No gravestone.
No kidding.

Final Words of Wisdom:
If you want to write, start TODAY. Unlike many other creative pursuits, you don’t need much. Musicians need instruments, bands, studio time, late nights in dingy bars. Filmmakers needs cameras, crews, travel budgets. You get the idea. But we already have the tools (computer, brain) we need to be writers; all you need to do is summon the discipline. Remember, it’s hard work, but it’s supposed to be rewarding, too.

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.