Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jerry Siegel in Word [sic] War II

For what will most likely be my last post of 2009, I'll take an approach common this time of year: looking backward and looking forward at once.

As for looking back, here is a scan of a photograph a friend recently forwarded, asking for any background I might know about it:

A Stars and Stripes photographer took it and it is his son, Tony Ebert, looking for information. The photo was labeled "Siegel and Green 'Super GI" and dated 12/1/44. Superman co-creator and original writer Jerry Siegel (the darker-haired one in the photo) was drafted in 1943 and didn't ship overseas. Though I do have a few more details about his military service in my research notes, I don't believe I have much if anything on his work for Stars and Stripes. (It wasn't an aspect I planned to include in Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.)

Unfortunately, my friend did not save Tony's e-mail address. I wanted to contact Tony before posting this, both simply to talk but more importantly to ask permission. I did contact everyone I found
online with his name, but as of yet have not heard back from the one in question. Hopefully I still will, and in the meantime, I decided to post the photo with this explanation. If I can't find the right Tony, perhaps this way he can find me.

Please do not repost or publish this photo without including some form of this explanation, and check back here for a possible update, if I get one.


As for looking forward...in my last post of 2008, I teased that 2009 would be the year of a Bill Finger announcement. I was close. I think it will instead come in January.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Searching for the “Vanished”

My book Vanished: True Stories of the Missing is newly available, and with a slightly different subtitle than shown here:

As of now, the book is available in one of two ways: by ordering via the Scholastic Book Club or by simply calling Scholastic directly. (If it does well, it may then become available in stores.)

I’m told that these are the three book clubs in which it will be offered to start:
  • The Arrow (grades 4-6), January 2010, which shipped to schools in early December
  • The “special offer” history-themed catalog, January 2010
  • The TAB (grades 6-9), March 2010
To order directly:
  • Call Scholastic at 800-724-6527, push prompt 3, then prompt 1.
  • Using a credit card, order item #514472; price $4.95.
  • Wait by your mailbox nibbling on your nails.
The 118-page book consists of seven true and often terrifying text-only stories. Here's how I found family members and other key figures mentioned in each (to send them a copy):

Erica Pratt, second grader—“Escape from the Basement”

The event occurred in 2002, so Erica is now roughly 14 years old, and still in Philadelphia. She lives with her grandmother, whose name is somewhat common. I couldn’t quickly find a phone number for her grandmother so I searched for other relatives with less common names. I found one—a cousin—on Facebook. He kindly gave me an address to send a copy. Erica’s grandmother has been contacted enough times about this that she chose not to speak with me directly, which I understand. However, through the cousin, the grandmother did thank me for the book. I also sent a copy to a kind woman I quoted; she said Erica would be an inspiration to others. I found her on Facebook.

Percy Fawcett, explorer—“The Real Indiana Jones”

Percy disappeared in 1925, the story in the book that dates back the furthest. Even though I’m sure there are descendants, I didn’t invest the time to try to find them.

Grant Hadwin, woodsman—“The Golden Tree Killer”

John Vaillant, author of the compelling The Golden Spruce, kindly told me the city where Grant’s ex-wife was living, last he heard. (She and Grant had divorced about six years before he disappeared.) A search of the Canadian white pages instantly confirmed she’s still there. I left a message, figuring I would not hear back. But she did return my call and was most kind. I also sent a copy to the Council of the Haida Nation, since the Haida people play a prominent role in the story.

Henry Grimes, musician—“Play That Song Again”

He was the easiest. He has a site and I’d already contacted him through it during my research. His manager kindly vetted my draft for accuracy. I also sent a copy of the book to Marshall Marrotte, the man whose impressive detective work led to him being the one who rediscovered Henry after more than 30 years.

Everett Ruess, nature lover—“I Leave No Trace”

Luckily for me, Everett’s story made the news this summer—75 years after he disappeared. Bones had been discovered which matched certain traits of Everett’s. However, after testing, the family learned that the bones are not his. I found the family spokesperson (whose name was in some of the articles) on Facebook.

Hannah Klamecki, kindergartner—“Very Harder Than I Thought”

Her father is a pastor and I reached him via his church. At the same time, I found her mother on Facebook. They have kindly reported that Hannah (now about seven) was thrilled to see her name in a book. I spoke with her father. He's the first person I've written about (in a work already published) whom I've then spoken to. (Most I've written about so far were gone before I started.)

Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, aviator/author—“Pilot, Poet, and Prince”

He’s the most famous name in the book so this is not his first time. For that reason, and because I believe most of his family is in France, I didn’t do more than e-mail the (French language) site dedicated to him. I haven’t heard back. But I didn’t write in French. C’est la vie.

my cousin—"About the Author” (last page)

Read this to learn the “Vanished” story from my family.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Book fair checklist: author – CHECK; Sharpie – CHECK; books – uh...

On 12/4/08, I had the honor of appearing at the annual holiday book fair of the Union League Club of New York. It was first described to me as the “mother of cool book fairs.” It's open only to club members and their guests. We’re told the money goes to its scholarship foundation.

It’s the first and still-only book fair for which I’ve had to wear a tie.

NOTE: Photos are from 2009 fair. However, sometimes accuracy is irrelevant.

Past members of the Union League Club include Ulysses S. Grant (post-presidency) and Theodore Roosevelt (pre-presidency), plus two lower wattage presidents. Non-president alum include cartoonist Thomas Nast and philanthropist J.D. Rockefeller. Neil Armstrong and Margaret Thatcher are honorary members.

None of them came to the book fair, but in fairness, everyone’s crazed during the holiday season, and some of them are dead.


Last year it was so easy to participate. The Union League asked me, I graciously accepted. Smooth signing.

This year proved to be a bit trickier.

They invited me on 11/16/09 for the 12/3/09 event. The relatively short notice wasn’t a problem in terms of my schedule. It was a problem because it became even shorter notice…without notice.

That was because my affirmative reply went unanswered, as did my two follow-up e-mails. Finally, on 11/30/09, the member who’d invited me checked in with me, and it turns out he had not received any of my replies.

The Union League was still willing to have me and I was still eager to be had. But I was the easier part of the formula. (I don’t charge for expedited shipping. I just take Metro-North.)

The harder part was the books.


Rule #3 for authors: when you promote, you must be flexible. (Rule #1: you must write good books. Rule #2: you must promote.)

Therefore, given the tight window, I volunteered to find a way to get my books there myself.

The sponsoring bookstore, my old reliable Just Books in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, could not get them in time. So I called my other best (bookstore) friend, Books of Wonder in New York, but they also could not. (Part of this depends simply on how many books are available from the distributor.)

Then I called a Barnes & Noble, somewhat arbitrarily the one at 555 Fifth in New York. I was relieved when the Events and Special Projects Coordinator said I called the right place—for some reason, that city location apparently can get books faster than any other. They were able to get both titles I wanted, Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman and What’s the Difference?, which happens to be published by Barnes & Noble. To comparison shop, I also called Random House and was indeed able to get the Union League a better deal on Boys of Steel.

The Union League even trusted me with the digits to order the books myself. Another first.

Then all I needed to do, according to the member who invited me, was “show up and have a drink.”

And hopefully sign enough books to justify their kindness.

Without speculating on that, I can objectively report that What’s the Difference? sold out and Boys of Steel sold at least as many, even though it was offered last year. I also displayed a “sneak preview” copy of Vanished: True Stories of the Missing (due 1/10), which multiple people asked to purchase.

When I was a kid, my League was Justice, not Little. It’s still Justice, but now also Union.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Superman for $130

As widely recounted, including in Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster transferred all rights to Superman to Detective Comics for $130.

Here is a copy of the agreement. It shows the signatures shot 'round the world.

The date is hard to read but according to Superman: The Complete History, it would have been sometime between December 1937 and February 1938.
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