Q&A With Howard Shapiro

by Vincent Salera 05 Jul 2015

Q: You decided to start writing children’s stories with a goal to create characters that adults and kids would care about and stand the test of time, what inspired you to write The Hockey Saint and do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

The idea or thought of standing the test of time was actually something since day one, when I wrote my first book, that I’ve made a conscious effort to do as well as not talk down to anyone, kids or adults. One thing that everyone will notice in all of my books is that I never peg the time frame down. You’ll never see anyone saying something about texting or Face Time or anything that signifies a specific era. The reason being is that I don’t want to pin down the stories as being from any particular time or era and then they could be classified that way. I always thought that the best music and musicians, their music is as relevant today as when the song came out. Seriously, think about a song like “The Times They Are A Changing” or “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Wild Horses” their timeless songs and one hundred years from now will still be timeless.

My interest in writing originated from when I was really young and would read the Encylopedia Brown books from cover to cover. I also enjoyed reading Batman and Spiderman comic books as well as devouring the daily sports section of our local newspaper. For a long time I wanted to be a sports writer but I got away from that in my teens.

“The Hockey Saint” came about from my desire to do another hockey-related story as well as talk about the over emphasis, over analysis and influence on sports in our society. I started writing it during as the Sandusky story was becoming national news and just the way that sport’s worship and the way some people idolize athletes or put them on a pedestal, writing a story about that was something that I really wanted to do.

Q: What story has influenced your life?

As far as on a personal level, I’d say it was “Catcher in the Rye” which I read in high school. It was unlike anything I had ever read before. As far as a stories that inluenced my writing, I’m a big Neil Gaiman fan and his “Death: The High Cost of Living” is the reason I decided to try and write a graphic novel. Same with Neil Kleidd who’s “The Big Khan” which was the first GN, I read and then I fell in love with the genre.

Q: What writer would you consider a mentor?

I’d consider two writers as mentors, the aforementioned Neil Gaiman along with the great Jeff Lemire. They are both amazing storytellers and the respect and admiration they garner is incredible.

Q: Do you have any advice to aspiring writers?

When I do school visits I get asked this question a lot. The truth is that it’s really difficult to get published “traditionally” but that is the beauty of self-publishing these days. With the platforms like Comixology and Createspace, if you want to get published you don’t have to sit around and wait for someone to buy into your vision. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try and find a publisher, there are a lot of great GN publishers but there is a ton of competition. So, the best thing you can do is believe in yourself and your story and try and find someone who will share that. It will take a lot of work and there is a ton of rejection along the way but you have to have the attitude that you won’t stop until you find someone who believes in you and if that doesn’t happen, you can show them all how wrong they were by self-publishing.

Q: What are the ingredients for a blockbuster story to you?

It’s a great question and I wish I could give you a great answer! I wish I knew because then I’d do it over and over. Really, I think it comes down to writing something that you believe in, subject matter that is relevant and important to you and then hope (and pray) that it can touch a chord in people and then find an audience. I was sitting down between meetings at the BEA (Book Expo America) a few years ago and these two people close by and they were talking about books and one said that if anyone pitched to her another dystopian fantasy story to her that she would scream at the top of her lungs. This was when “The Hunger Games” was in full force. So, I think you have to be original and have a great idea that no one has thought of… easy to do, right? In the end, I think it comes down to doing your absolute best work, being original and then working extremely hard to get the word out about your book/story. A little luck doesn’t hurt either!

Q: If you could become any author, who would it be and why?

Once again, I will say the name of Neil Gaiman. To have such a devoted and loyal audience is something really special but mainly having (and having earned) the respect of fans and critics is something he has attained throughout the years.

Q: What story do you enjoy reading over and over again?

At the moment I’m reading “Batman: The Killing Joke” for about the 5,782nd time.

Q: How would you increase literacy?

That’s a great question and something I speak about in my school visits. I tell the kids about how I used to volunteer for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council and how one of the guys I tutored was a late 50’s gentlmen who had about a fourth grade reading level. He was one of the first students I worked with and I would always think about how if the roles were reversed and I had not read growing up, how empty my life would have been. I couldn’t imagine missing out on those times when I would read the Encyclopedia Brown books or going into a newstand or grocery store and finding a new Spiderman comic and the joy I felt buying it and running home to read it. And so I try to impress on them how important reading is.

I really think that the way to increase literacy is to encourage kids to read books on subjects that mean something to them. Especially boys. This is where graphic novels can come into play and I wish more school districts would teach or use GN’s in the classroom. What turns kids off to reading is having it force feed to them on subjects that have no interest to them. I think that if there was a balance there somehow, that that would help the literacy rate go up. Each publishing conference I go to and hear about the great innovations, and great teachers who are introducing GN’s in the classrooms, that’s a great step in the right direction.

Q: If heaven exists, what is the first thing you would like to hear from God when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

That I can now go and see my Dad. I miss him so very much.

Q: If you could relive one of the happiest days of your life, what would it be?

It wouldn’t be one specific day, just any day in the past when my Dad was alive and I could call him and my mom (who is alive and well) and just talk to them. It’s just something I miss to this very day and that was the simple act of being with him and just talking about anything and everything.

You can pick up a copy of The Hockey Saint here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Hockey-Saint-Howard-Shapiro/dp/0991255011

Vincent Salera

Founder CEO/CCO @ World's Best Story™ amplifier of creativity & fun!