Tuesday, March 17, 2015

“Something About the Author,” volume 278 (!)

In the fall of 2014, I was notified that I had been selected to appear in the next volume (#278!) of Something About the Author, a reference book published by Gale (Cengage Learning). 

Note: not actual volume.

I knew nearly nothing about this series but a quick search showed that it seemed kosher (in fact an honor) to proceed.

The book sells for $222 so I will be storing my copy at the library.



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

“Co-Creator”: the SECOND play about Bill Finger

In 2014, Roberto Williams mounted an ambitious play called Fathers of the Dark Knight, which prominently featured Bill Finger.

Less than a year later, a second production involving Bill is coming to a Rhode Island near you—and this time, Bill alone is front and center (if backwards). 


design by Arlen Schumer

Co-Creator premieres on April 2 and I will be there, of course, a few days later. Check back for interviews with the director, the actor playing Bill and, incredulously, the actor playing (a nod to) me.

Let’s give the show a great reception. Order tickets here and now.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Wordplay with Bill, Finger, and bat

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman has fun with turns of a phrase involving the words “bat,” “bill,” and “finger.”


BAT:

blind about this Bat
when Bill was at Bat
went to bat for

BILL:

this Bill was past due

FINGER:

a Finger had a hand in it
put his Finger on it (a variation also on the Bill Finger T-shirt I designed)
had Fingerprints all over him
at his Fingertips
Fingers crossed
pointed the Finger (author's note)

did not use:

bat an eye at
Finger painting (Fingerpainting)
wrapped around his Finger
slip of the Finger
Finger on the pulse
Finger puppet

The last one came from this tweet:


Friday, March 6, 2015

Haverford School, Pennsylvania

On 2/20/15, I drove three hours to Pennsylvania for a one-day ski trip. On 2/22, I drove home. First thing on 2/23, I drove three hours back to (a different part of) PA for an author visit at Haverford School, and first thing on 2/24 I drove home…only to turn around and fly to California that night.

Haverford is a lovely all-boys school, and my superstar host was Carolyn Harkins (a friend).

I got to share a sign with donuts, a first. I did not, however, get to share the actual donuts, which followed me by a day.



The school ordered a generous amount of my books to sell during their book fair, and I’m told they sold most of them.


The only kink was that the projector conked out for one of my three talks—the one for the youngest students (pre-kindergarten through second grade). I thought it would be a challenge to hold their attention without any visuals for 30 minutes, but it wasn’t—which speaks highly of these kids.

Thank you again to Carolyn, your fellow PTAers, and the boys themselves for making this a wonderful visit.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

“If you take a bag of leaves to Kinko’s…” (Charlotte S. Huck Festival)

On 2/27-28/15, I had the honor of being one of the author speakers at the 19th annual Charlotte S. Huck Children’s Literature Festival in Redlands, CA.

This was a triple win for me: I love the chance to speak, see publishing friends, and come to California.

In this case, I got to spend time with two of my best author buds in the biz—Peter Brown (met 2008) and Jenni Holm (met 2010). Got to meet some I’d previously only corresponded with—Avi and editor Allyn Johnston. Got to meet a picture book legend (and a regular in my house when my kids were younger)—Lois Ehlert. 


Lois, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Peter, Jenni, me, Avi

And got to mingle with many other lovely authors, attendees, and volunteers. Special shout-out to Andy, who escorted me to my talks, and Pam, who introduced one of those talks.

Lois (age 80) was a crowd-pleaser. She stood for an entire hourlong keynote and,
alongside her editor/co-presenter Allyn, served up one zinger after another while explaining her process in creating children’s books, many of which focus on nature.

A one-liner the authors at my table particularly liked involved Kinko’s. First she charmingly explained what it is in case anyone in the audience had not heard of the national copy chain. Then she said she keeps them in business. Then she said “If you take a bag of leaves to Kinko’s, you have to go early.” (Translation: fewer stares to avoid.)


 Avi, Peter, musician Emily Arrow (see below)

Allyn and Lois

Earlier that week, I spoke at two impressive schools, Kimberly Elementary in Redlands and Cajon High School in San Bernadino. The staff at both were so committed to doing as much as possible for their students, and the students were thoughtful and funny.

world cultures on display at Kimberly Elementary, Redlands, CA

At the festival, singer/songwriter Emily Arrow performed songs she wrote about Peter’s The Curious Garden and Lois’s Snowballs and got the crowd involved. She gives off an Ingrid Michaelson/Joni Mitchell vibe (which I hope she will take as a compliment) and I have a feeling she’ll soon be a fixture at kids’ book conferences.


During author Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s moving talk, I caught a glimpse of a book whose title inspired the title of my upcoming WWII picture book. Can you spot it? 


Probably not—the photo is blurry. The blue-spined book with yellow type is called Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

I received humbling feedback on my talk, including this:


And a young man named Gino was so moved by Bill Finger’s story that he whipped up this drawing, leaving a blank at the bottom and asking me to fill in a name:


While still at the 19th, I was invited back to the 21st festival. Of course I said yes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Turning the Page 2014

On 11/18/14, I had the privilege of taking part in another Community Night event for the Washington DC organization Turning the Page. My talk, held at Kramer Middle School, was open to students and their parents.


TTP posted a most kind blog recap of the event. Excerpts:

Mr. Nobleman led his talk as if he was telling a detective story.



Attendees were amazed to learn that Mr. Nobleman’s painstaking investigative journalism actually led him to discover an unknown heir of Bill Finger, one of the creators of Batman, who is now receiving money from DC Comics for her grandfather’s work. Kramer families were so curious and excited about Mr. Nobleman’s tale that they could hardly contain their questions until the end. It was an inspiring presentation that touched on creativity, ownership of ideas, copyright, and the importance of perseverance and storytelling to shape and correct history.



Mr. Nobleman’s author visit was an important step in reaching a new and wider sector of the Kramer community, from teachers to students and parents to other partner organizations. For many Kramer families and teachers, this was their first-ever Community Night. “When’s the next one?” they asked me on their way out. “I’m gonna write a book like that about the Green Lantern.”

Naturally, I adore that last line.

Thank you, as always, TTP, for your many good works in the DC region. Many benefit from your efforts.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Best of the blog 2014

This blog launched on 2/19/08.

Every February 19, I share what I feel have been the best posts of the previous twelve months.

This years blue ribboners:

interviews

the co-author of Bob Kane’s 1989 autobiography
women who appeared in iconic 1980s music videos...round 2
Ally Sheedy, who wrote a novel that was published when she was 13 
voice actors of Peanuts TV holiday specials
the creators, singers, and songwriters of Schoolhouse Rock
singer of the 1981 hit song “Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)”
the actors who played Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah as kids in the opening scene of Splash
granddaughter of the creator of Wonder Woman
another granddaughter of the creator of Wonder Woman 
the man who sang the theme to the Wonder Woman show of the 1970s
the creator of the best-selling Anti-Coloring Book series
the family of the author of the 1979 YA novel The Kryptonite Kid, praised by Pauline Kael 

speaking

“Batman at 75” panel with Kevin Smith, Kevin Conroy, Michael Uslan, and Chip Kidd
Comic-Con 2014: Bill Finger rises
two weeks of speaking engagements (plus dune bashing and ascending the world’s tallest building) in the United Arab Emirates 
two weeks at the American School of Bombay, India

research 

the first “new” Bill Finger photo discovered since 2007
the second “new” Bill Finger photo discovered since 2007
tracking down the only mainstream media mention of Bill Finger in his lifetime (the 8/21/65 New Yorker)
petitioning the Screen Actors Guild to grant me access to their contact info database
a 1938 ad for the company that inspired Bill Finger when naming Gotham City
the significance of Bill Finger’s name appearing on comic book cover for the first time...and speculation about the infamous Bob Kane contract with DC
more contract speculation: what is the implication that Bill Finger was doing work Bob Kane was contracted/credited for?
Athena Finger: Year One  
who wrote the heartbreaking (and groundbreaking) origin of Batman? 
why now is the best time to conduct interviews with pop culture figures of the 1970s and '80s

publishing

kidlit mashups (merged children’s book sequels) 
I wrote a book about a child feeling out of place at a new school for being the only one of his kind...but another author published it
how I updated a 1960s book of vocabulary cartoons that included guns and cigarettes 
how Bill the Boy Wonder does not follow a typical narrative arc for a nonfiction picture book
the picture book my mom wrote and illustrated in 1968 

miscellaneous

helping a teacher in Pakistan get a tablet PC to help his students
Bill Finger had a hand in 12 of the first 14 Batman milestones on DC 75th anniversary poster
touring the Slumdog Millionaire slum in Mumbai, India
which covers of The New Yorker featured DC Comics superheroes
Kickstarter possibility for commemorating Bill Finger in New York City
voice actors of Super Friends Samurai and Black Vulcan holding action figures of their characters
what was original about Superman and Batman
our Survivor-themed 10th birthday party, complete with eating crickets
DC Comics writer Mike W. Barr lost his job for standing up for Bill Finger (who was already dead)
Bob Kane gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame  
Bill Finger in the New York Times for the third time in a little over a year
10 funniest music videos of the 1980s
The Flash (1990 TV show): an appreciation
when superheroes vote
the original Everything Store...my dad’s 1980s pharmacy

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Athena Finger: Year One

In 2006, when I started researching Bill Finger for what would become Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, I quickly learned that there might be no family left. As relayed in the author’s note of the book, I was told that Bill had only one child, Fred, who was gay and who died in 1992. It seemed to mark the end of the Finger bloodline.

But eight years ago today, late on Saturday 2/17/07, I learned that what I was told was wrong.

Fred had been bisexual for a while…and had a daughter. Meaning Bill had a grandchild…an heir.

Learning of Athena Finger was the biggest moment of my research.

Going on memory, I would have said that I found Athena the following Tuesday (2/20/07), but upon referring to my notes, it was actually a week after that. I can’t believe it took me 10 days.

The family members who told me about Athena did not know how to reach her. On Ancestry.com, I found her marriage record, thereby learning the name of her husband. I searched and found his name on the site of a drummer who turned out to be a friend. He suggested I contact Athena via her MySpace page. (This was in the quaint era before I would’ve immediately checked MySpace…now Facebook (AKA Findbook).

Upon checking MySpace, I saw that her dog’s name was Bruce Wayne. And I saw a photo of her as a child with Fred.



With the subject line “Hi Athena - your grandfather,” I sent this message:
Hi Athena,

My name is Marc Nobleman. I’m a writer who lives in Connecticut. Most of the books I’ve published are for children; you can see a full list on www.bn.com. (I’m also a cartoonist at www.mtncartoons.com.)

Now I’m working on a picture book about a subject that has been a passion of mine since I was seven: Batman. My focus is the uncredited co-creator of Batman—Bill Finger. I’ve been researching for almost a year and finally found a piece of the puzzle that was very elusive—Portia’s family. (I did not know the name of her twin sister so it was a lot of trial and even more error.) Through [Athena’s aunt] Judy, I learned of you!

I know you were born after Bill died but you are his closest living relative so it would be my honor to talk with you. In particular, I am hoping you inherited photos of Bill? Judy loaned me the few she had (including some of your dad and you, which I’d be happy to email you) but I am hoping to find more. The photos are not for reproduction in the book—the book will be illustrated so they are for visual reference for the illustrator.

Also, the book is not an expose or an intimate family portrait—it’s a tribute to Bill and his role in Batman.

If you’re game, I can call at your convenience. My number is xxx-xxx-xxxx and email is xxx@xxx.com.

I love the name of your dog!

Hope to hear back from you soon,
Marc

That night, at 6:30 p.m., Athena called.

I noted that she sounded “grounded, calm, nice.” Among the things she said...


  • only other person who had contacted her about Bill did so in about 2002; she didn’t remember his name or the reason, but nothing came of it
  • most of what she knew about Bill was the same as what Fred said in his 1986 interview
  • she had not heard of Bill’s sister Emily, whom I had also recently discovered and contacted
  • she was not included in the process of giving away Fred’s things after he died (she was 15)
  • she did not know that Fred’s companion Charles Shaheen had also died, in 2002
  • she did school projects on Bill
  • when she married, she kept the last name “Finger” as a tribute (she’s the last—her son’s surname is different)
  • she was excited to show my book to her son
  • she was happy—sometimes emotional—that I had gotten in touch

By that point, I’d been researching for more than half a year and thought I knew my arc. But this changed everything. This meant the story was not yet over.

And by chance, I had a trip to Florida scheduled for the following month, so we did not have to wait long to meet in person.

3/18/07

A month later, Athena posted this

Three years to the day I found Athena, Charlesbridge made an offer on the book.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

10 things you (probably) don’t know about the Bronx

Crain’s 5boros, a magazine covering New York City, posted 10 things people don’t know about the Bronx


Except if you’re reading this, you probably do know #1. Appropriately, the list posted on February 8.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Coverage of a Kickstarter that hasn’t kickstarted yet

It speaks so highly of Bill Finger that a post about a potential Kickstarter campaign to commemorate him in New York City attracted media attention in Florida and on Comic Book Resources.



One response on Twitter that both amused and humbled me:


Stay tuned for my next step…which may not be what you would expect.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Dynamic Duo of the Himalayas


While speaking at the American School of Bombay, I had the pleasure of meeting an American-born teacher named Carol who had a charming story to tell about her son and daughter and a certain Boy Wonder:

In the late 1980s, my family was living in a little town north of New Delhi, a hill station named Mussoorie, where my kids attended Woodstock School, the oldest international boarding school in Asia. My son Jamie was always gathering up the neighborhood kids to play superheroes and would bully them shamelessly to be Spider-Man one day, Superman another, Batman another, etc., as they roared up and down and around the hill paths surrounding our house.

[At] about nine years old, he was dead keen to have a Robin outfit for Halloween. So several weeks before, I walked into the bazaar and sat with one of the local tailors, Abhinandan, who was completely mystified by this most unusual request. I patiently sat with him, explaining who Robin was, showing him comic books, giving him Jamie’s measurements, explaining how important this was to Jamie, and assuring him he could do this. And indeed he did:
Displaying image1.JPG

Since it was cold, Jamie ended up wearing a pair of nylons under his outfit—and I promised I would never tell his friends.

The Batman outfit, by the way, we inherited in Bombay a few years earlier from an Australian preschool friend of Jamie’s. I’m sure Batman never carried a red pistol…but, hey, all’s fair in love and war—and this was clearly war.

Jamie now lives in Delhi, where he writes about superheroes of a different sort as a cricket journalist.

My daughter Afshaan was a cheerful sidekick to all of Jamie’s adventurous and imaginative games. She’s probably three years old in this photo. She would like someday to be a writer, for which I take all the blame. She was a child interested in everything—every rock, every ladybug, every plant, every cow we passed on the way down the hill to preschool. It was torturous to ensure both kids got to school on time every day. 


So I told stories. I started with the usual ones—the Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, Rapunzel, etc., then Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, etc., then got desperate and resorted to “Batman Meets Cinderella” and “Spider-Man Courts Rapunzel,” etc. Thus, step-by-step, talking non-stop the entire 20 minutes downhill, I cajoled my sweet little girl to school. The crunch came when I’d pick her up at noon and she’d say, “Okay, Mama, tell me the story you told me this morning,” and I would have no idea…

This is the power of superheroes…and brave tailors in little towns in the Himalayas…

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Kickstarter to commemorate Bill Finger in New York City

The summer of 2013, I prepared a Kickstarter proposal to raise money to honor Bill Finger by installing a bench in Poe Park in the Bronx.

Because running a Kickstarter campaign seems to become a full-time job for the duration, I have not yet followed through.

But below is the (slightly modified) proposal. If it generates enough enthusiasm here, it might embolden me to launch it immediately!

A Commemorative Bench in New York City for Batman Co-Creator Bill Finger

Goal:

$6,000

Purpose:

Install a bench and plaque dedicated to Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator of Batman, in Poe Park in the Bronx, New York. This would be done through the NYC Parks Adopt-a-Bench program.



An installation about Bill would serve a triple purpose:

  • help right a wrong
  • contribute to Bronx/NYC tourism
  • make pop culture history

It would be the first memorial honoring a superhero creator in NYC, the Superhero Capital of the World.

(Unofficial fourth purpose: provide another place to sit.)

Who I am?

I’m an author and pop culture archeologist. I tweet at @MarcTNobleman.

I wrote Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, the first-ever book on Bill Finger. It has been covered by NPR’s All Things Considered, The Today Show/NBC News online, New York Times, Forbes, WIRED, and more. It made best-of-the-year lists at USA Today, Washington Post, MTV, and more. It has raised the public’s awareness of the tragic story behind one of the world’s most popular characters, as did my campaign to honor Bill with the Google Doodle for his 100th birthday (2014)...but I want to do more.

Backstory:

Batman’s biggest secret is not Bruce Wayne.

It’s Bill Finger.

Bill Who?

Bill who...
...wrote the first Batman story (1939).
...wrote many of the best Batman stories of his first 25 years, including his heartbreaking (and groundbreaking) origin.
...was the original writer of Robin, the Joker, and Catwoman.
...named Gotham City, the Batmobile, and Batman’s secret identity, Bruce Wayne.
...nicknamed Batman “the Dark Knight.”

...even designed Batman’s now-iconic costume.
 
But Bill who...

...was barely credited as a Batman writer—and never as co-creator—in his lifetime. He is not in the credits of either film (The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises) named for the nickname he coined.

Why?

Because cartoonist Bob Kane, Bill’s onetime partner, took all the credit. In a quarter century, Bob drew relatively few Batman stories and wrote none, yet his was the only name that appeared on Batman; over the same period, Bill wrote approximately 1,500 Batman stories, yet his name appeared on almost none. In 1974, Bill died alone and poor.

No obit. No funeral. No gravestone.

No kidding.

Bill was the main mind behind one of our greatest fictional champions of justice. It is time for justice—in the form of public recognition—for Bill himself.



Why Poe Park?

Bill and Bob used to brainstorm Batman stories there...sitting on a bench (ask me if you’d like documentation). In the early 1940s, Bill lived on the Grand Concourse just north of Poe Park. Also, appropriately, Poe was the father of the modern detective story and Batman is known as the World’s Greatest Detective. The Batman-Poe Park connection was covered in the New York Times (though the article mistakenly states that Batman was created in Poe Park).


from Bill the Boy Wonder

Why now?

True, this is not the best time. The best time would have been while Bill was alive. But since we can’t go back, this is the next-best time. There are untold thousands of Batman fans worldwide clamoring for DC Comics to add his name to the Batman credit line. DC may not be able to do that at this time, but we can pay tribute to Bill’s legacy in another meaningful way.

I propose the installation happen in 2014, for three reasons:


  • 100th anniversary of Bill’s birth (2/8/1914)
  • 75th anniversary of Batman’s debut
  • 40th anniversary of Bill’s death

[Missed this, obviously.]
 

Why not something more noticeable like a statue or even a symbolic gravestone?

I tried.

What will the plaque be like?

The plaque will be 5.5” wide and 1.875” tall, stainless steel with a light border engraved ¼” from the edge. It will remain on the bench for the life of the bench, which is usually 10 years or more. If, before that time, the bench or plaque is damaged or vandalized, Parks will replace the bench and/or plaque at no cost to the donor.



How will the money be used?

The cost of the bench and plaque ($2,500). The cost of producing the pledge rewards. The cost of my time to propose/oversee the bench, which will include travel to/from New York, and my time to promote the bench to the media and to Bronx tourism outlets. And the cost of my time to simultaneously develop two more commemorations to Bill—one of a different kind for the Bronx (riddle me this: what rhymes with achoo?) and one for Denver, the city of his birth. In short, all money raised will in some way go toward boosting Bill’s legacy.

So if this Kickstarter succeeds, you may see The Dark Knight Kickstarter Returns.

What’s up with the incentives? I don’t get a mini-bench or a Bill Finger action figure?

I wish.

This project is not to fund my own creativity but rather to honor someone else’s, though the incentives do relate to my creative project about that someone else.

Your generosity will nonetheless earn you cool and exclusive incentives, all featuring the handsome cover design of my book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, drawn by fan-favorite, Eisner-nominated illustrator Ty Templeton…but I suspect for a majority of however many donors I’m fortunate to get, the donating will be its own reward.



Why am I doing this?

Because of this:



In other words, because I grew up loving Batman (and Robin).

And because I grew up to be a writer myself.

And because creators deserve credit for their cultural contributions.

And because justice has no expiration date.



Any questions or suggestions?

At your service anytime: mtnobleman@gmail.com

PLEDGE LEVELS


Pledge $1 or more (Bill was involved with Batman from Day 1)

BOY (OR GIRL) WONDER

Your name smothered in gratitude in a heartfelt blog post announcing the bench, which I will promote to the media (particularly the pop culture and New York media)

Pledge $14 or more (Bill was born in 1914)

CAPED CONTRIBUTOR

Postcard signed by myself and Ty + previous award

Pledge $27 or more (Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27)

DYNAMIC DONOR

Postcard-sized (4.21" x 5.47") magnet + previous awards

Pledge $75 or more (Batman turned 75 in 2014)

PARK KNIGHT

Bill the Boy Wonder (hardcover) custom-signed to the person of your choice by me + previous awards

Pledge $100 or more (Bill would have turned 100 in 2014)

BATMANIAC

Car magnet (8.73" x 11.48"; also sticks to non-cars) + previous awards

Pledge $500 or more

BRUCE GAIN

iPhone case + previous awards



Pledge $1,000 or more

WORLD’S GREATEST DONATOR

Author presentation/Q&A at U.S. school of your choice about my adventure in uncovering Bill’s startling story + previous awards (delivered in person!)

$1,800 honorarium value; donor responsible for airfare from Washington DC and hotel expenses


Feedback on my presentations:


“To say that [your] presentation was outstanding is almost an understatement. I’ve been the Head of Lower School for 30 years. All of the adults agreed that [you are] the best presenter we have ever had.”
—Dana Hahn, Head of Lower School, Wheeler School, Providence, RI

“That was one of the best presentations we’ve had EVER! Not only did you inspire kids to love writing, which is great, but you promoted their development as human beings.”
—Laura McKone, 5th grade teacher, Mark Twain Elementary, Centennial, CO

“I’ve seen a lot of presentations over my 6½ years arranging book events. Marc’s ranks among the very top of the heap. His message...is delivered uniquely, with enthusiasm, humility, and rare perfect rapport with his listeners. During his talk, I witnessed my favorite thing: kids' hairs being blown back by the audacity of possibility.”
—Suzanne Perry, Events/Public Relations, Secret Garden Bookshop, Seattle, WA


“I couldn’t care less about superheroes, but this was riveting.” 
—attendee, Jewish Museum of Maryland, Baltimore

If you’re a Batman fan, you’re a Bill Finger fan. We can do this! Bill deserves it. Thank you!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

My India visa saga


None of the four previous posts about my time in India at the American School of Bombay would have been possible if I did not get an Indian visa. It was far harder than I anticipated.

On 11/3/14, at 2:06 p.m., I arrived at the company to which the Indian embassy outsources the process. I remember the date and time only because I was greeted by a sign on the door: “Effective 11/3/14, we will not accept visa applications after 2 p.m.” Off to an auspicious start.

Later that month, I dropped off the paperwork. I was told the process takes 3-5 days. My departure date: 1/16/15. Plenty of time.

Slight snag: they flagged that I indicated my occupation was “writer.” They said the embassy would therefore consider me a journalist. I explained that I was not and never have been. They said “Even if you published only one poem 20 years ago, they will consider you a journalist.” It’s like logic itself
tried to enter a country without a visa and was indefinitely detained.

On 12/19/14, after seeing no updates online and being unable to reach them by phone, I went back to the office. An employee said he’d personally check with the embassy and call me back.

No call came. So on 12/30/14, I did—back to the visa company. The employee who said he’d get back to me instead went to India.

A partial email trail of what happened next:

12/31/14

MTN:

Any luck with the embassy regarding case number x and my booked business trip to India, departing January 16?

Thank you again for your kind help.


1/2/15

visa company:

Thank you for your inquiry. I am expecting to receive word today regarding the issuance of your visa. I will contact you by 5:00 PM. Please note that you case is considered active by me.

MTN:

Good morning and thank you so, so much. I really appreciate your fast attention. If we know by 5 pm it will put my mind at ease!


visa company:

Unfortunately your visa has not been issued and is continuing to be processed at the embassy. I will be sure to inform the Unit Manager, who has been copied on this mail, of your case and we will continue to monitor closely due to your upcoming date. Thank you and have a wonderful weekend.  Please be assured that we will continue to work hard for a positive resolution.

MTN:

Thank you for the update.

Online travelers are instructed to apply for a visa no sooner than three months before departure date, and I did just that (starting the process in October). I also had no choice but to book my flight already; as a seasoned traveler, I never dreamed there would be any issue with obtaining a visa for India. As you can see from my application, I am NOT a journalist nor have I ever been. I write books for children and am invited to speak at schools around the world. In this case, I have been invited to work with the students at the American school in Mumbai for 10 days. We have been planning this for more than a year. The entire school is counting on me being there.

This delay is making me extremely nervous. I am supposed to leave two weeks from today and next week the only day that I am able to come pick up my visa is Tuesday January 6. Then I must go out of state for four days. Then I am back but that is the week of my departure.

I must know before that if all will be okay or else the school (not to mention me) will be put in a bad position.

Is there anything I can do?


1/5/15

MTN:

Hope you had a pleasant weekend. Only briefly checking in to see if there’s any chance of picking up my visa tomorrow? Again, as the inviting letter in my application packet indicates, I have been invited to the school to teach writing to children.

visa company:

I regret to inform you that at this time the embassy has reconfirmed that they are currently processing your visa application. They have not provided any more additional information regards this case.

MTN:

Thank you. I am at a loss with this situation. If there is any issue that is holding up the application, I would appreciate the courtesy of being told immediately so I have time to correct it. I am scheduled to work with hundreds of students starting next week and cannot leave this to chance.

Also, as mentioned, I will be gone four days. Therefore, I need to pick up the visa tomorrow; considering I submitted the completed application packet in November, I don’t believe this is asking too much. Can you please ask your embassy contact if it will be possible to have it ready tomorrow, or at the least, ask for the courtesy of more information?


visa company:

I can understand your anxiety at this time. The embassy has not requested any information from you. Please know that upper management is involved and I would ask that you allow them to interface with the embassy in order to come to a resolve.

MTN:

Thank you for your understanding.


I realize this is not entirely in your hands, but if there is anything you can do to have the visa ready for pickup tomorrow, I will be extremely grateful to you.

visa company:

May I ask a question? If you are not traveling until 1/16/2015, why is a pick-up of 1/6/15 so relevant? I would like to understand your point.

MTN:

Thanks. I am happy to elaborate:

I do not live or work daily in the city. I am going to be downtown tomorrow but then not again before I am supposed to leave on 1/16.

Also, I am not being given a guarantee that I will be issued a visa in time. If you could guarantee that now, I would not be so worried and I would figure out a way to pick it up next week, though that would be a considerable inconvenience, especially since I submitted my application with plenty of time AND have come twice to try to pick up the visa after seeing no change on the site and having no luck reaching a human being by phone. Lastly, I’m also concerned that the embassy may suddenly ask for more info while I am out of town, meaning I cannot get it to them till the week of my trip.

I am just not used to cutting things so close, especially with international business travel—and I travel a lot.


visa company:

Thank you for the explanation. If your visa is approved, we do have courier service and it would arrive next day. I will stay in touch with you.

MTN:

“If” my visa is approved is alarming...what is the possibility that this visa will not be approved?


visa company:

I have a meeting tomorrow with the Embassy and will get back to you post-lunch. I will surely look into this personally.

Just to keep you posted, have already reminded about your case to them.

1/6/15

MTN:

Thank you so much. I really appreciate your urgent attention to this.


visa company:

I am writing to share that we will have a definitive answer regarding your case, today from the embassy by 4:30 PM. I will reach back out to you at that time.

MTN (after 4:30):

I was awaiting a response by 4:30 pm, as you’d indicated. I hope you have positive news?


visa company:

At this time your application for visa is still under process and there will not be another status update until the embassy has received the clearance from India. 

MTN:

Thank you for writing.

I turned in my application, as directed, in November. After weeks of no update, I came to your office on 12/19 and [name] said he would get back to me the following day; he did not. Since then, there has been no update and no explanation as to what is holding up the process.

I have followed your rules. I have been patient. I have appreciated your efforts. But it has gotten me nowhere. So now at this late stage, I hope you understand that I need a guarantee that I will get a visa in time. Is this something you can do?

My departure date is only 9 days away. This is not a casual trip; this is an involved schoolwide work engagement that the inviting party has been planning for more than a year. I need to be respectful of the school who is expecting me. Does the embassy understand that an entire school is counting on me being there? Do they understand that I cannot wait till the day before to know if I will or will not be issued a visa?


1/7/15

visa company:

Have you received the correspondence delivered by Embassy to you last evening? Many sincere apologies. I can share my sentiment of hoping that the needed clearances are obtained in time for your trip. I will work with our internal Upper Management moving forward on addressing some of the follow up issues which you have cited in your email involving the staff.

As for now please be reminded that we are a vendor for the Indian Embassy. The discretion is based on that of the government to issue visas. The first line of our disclaimer states the following:

“Please note that acceptance of an application is no evidence of approval of your application. Dispatch / return / collection of documents does not imply that your application is granted. The approval of your application is the sole prerogative of the Embassy / Consulate.”

Our team will be the first to notify you once an approval has been obtained. Again, many apologies that at this time we do not have a more fruitful reply.

MTN:

Thank you for your continued empathy.

I did receive a nonspecific message from the embassy last night. Is it possible for you to simply give me the courtesy of telling me what “further clearance” means so I can help resolve this process?

Marc

P.S. On the one hand, travelers are instructed to apply for the visa within three months of intended departure date. On the other, we are instructed not to book travel until the visa is granted. But here I am about a week from departure with no visa. If I had waited to book my flight, at this late date the cost would be prohibitively expensive, if there were even seats at all. Who can wait till the very last minute to book international travel?


Later that day, the company called and said my visa was ready.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Cultural observations in India


Mumbai is an explosion of sights and insights. And in two weeks of being in vans multiple times a day with multiple drivers, not one used GPS.

I did not learn till my ninth day in Mumbai that my hotel and the school I was in India to speak at were in the suburbs. Looked like city to me!

My ride from the airport:



An eye-opening walk on my first morning:




I went to an ATM where this sign greeted me:


Looks like I picked the wrong week to start carrying a cutlass.

I withdrew 3,000 rupees, which is $50, which might last me the whole trip with some to spare. For example, I bought four roses for my host who invited me to lunch…



…for 40 rupees, which is about 64 cents. (I tried to give her 200 but she refused to accept it.)

At a chain supermarket, big vats of grains:



I bought one item. Though the cashier was at a computer, for some reason she handwrote my receipt:


At the school, I was given this bag, whose pattern includes a swastika:


But the swastika had a (non-sinister) significance long before the Nazis appropriated it.

In a restaurant, I could not be sure which bathroom door to use. You probably can:



I learned of two types of marriages, arranged and “love” (meaning the couple chooses each other as is common in the Western world). Couples who want love marriages sometimes must go against their families.

I find it charming how many young men walk around with an arm draped around a buddy. This affection is not just for walking:



People—including colorfully dressed women—without shoes doing road work:



What some claim is the largest synagogue in Mumbai and one of the largest in all of Asia:









Some of the damage may be monsoon related.

This man is not holding a strange table tennis racquet. It’s an electric bugswatter that zaps mosquitoes midair—complete with sparks to mark the time of death:



A longtime friend who is Israeli and who lives in London happened to be in Mumbai for part of the same time as I was; one afternoon, we met at the Four Seasons.



What a stark contrast from the top of the hotel to the scene right across the street:


When stopped in traffic in certain parts of town, raggedly dressed, barefoot children approach cars and gesture for a handout by pantomiming eating. It is, as you’d expect, heartbreaking.

This sign announces rooms with or without AC. I was in India at the most mild time of the year (warm, not sweltering, and not humid), but from what it sounds like, I can’t imagine being here in the hottest months and opting for no AC. (Maybe it’s offered as a cheaper alternative.)



Here is a mutton shop with the mutton still walking around outside:


College banners hang on a wall at ASB, and I was happy to see Brandeis among them:


One sign we passed in a car too quickly to photograph: “No Parking: Tyers Will Be Punctured.” Can’t say they didn’t warn you.

One night two of the teachers took me to dinner at a Western-style restaurant whose design was transporting. I felt like I was in the video for a-ha’s “Take on Me.”



I accumulated more than the usual bulk of gifts so had to leave a few things there. One casualty was a pair of sneakers. I had had them for a while, and though they were still fine for walking, they were past the “suggested mileage limit” for running, which was their primary purpose.

Since they were in relatively good shape, I offered them to the young man who cleaned rooms in my hotel. He did not appear to speak much English and he called in a manager who did, and who explained that I had to write a note stating that I gifted the shoes to this employee...presumably so he could not be accused of stealing.

More scenes that caught me:

 















Namaste.
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