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Author Showcase

Meet Jerome Tiller

RT: Hi Jerome! Welcome to the Reading Tub. I guess I should say welcome back! We first *met* when you asked us to review your first book Sammy's Day at the Fair. My daughter loved it! How did I miss that it was inspired by a school science project?

Jerome: Thanks, Terry. I’m very happy to be visiting with you. Be sure to let your daughter know we have more Sammy books in the works. I think she'll like those, too.

Yes, Sammy’s Day at the Fair: The Digestive System featuring Gut Feelings and Reactions is a byproduct of my son's fifth grade science project. His teacher suggested we create a book, so my son and I worked together to publish it. Paul added more illustrations and I added some content - like promoting healthy eating. Our publishing company ArtWrite Productions started with Sammy!

RT: Like Sammy's Day at the Fair, your Adapted Classics series is geared for upper elementary / middle school readers. How did you choose your inaugural adaptations?

Jerome: Our first adaptations came about pretty naturally. I was exposed to some amazing pen and ink illustrations by Marc Johnson-Pencook about the same time that I was reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales. When I got to "Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment," I wondered what an artist like Marc could do with a visually-rich story like "Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment."

That thought led to other thoughts and finally to the idea of creating an illustrated book series for classic stories. I didn't know Marc, so a friend arranged for our introduction. Marc liked the idea of illustrating classic stories, and we started working on "Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment." That was the beginning of the Adapted Classics series.

RT: As an English major - and a Baltimore native - I was really excited to dig into your adaptation of Poe’s "Thou Art the Man!" Can you give us a hint about the upcoming books in the Adapted Classics series? Will there be other Poe stories?

Jerome: Ah, Edgar Allan Poe! I’ve admired him almost forever, so he had to be next in line after Nathaniel Hawthorne. I mined his stories for ones that I thought would adapt well for young readers, found some stories that would, and decided “Thou Art the Man” would be the first one up. But we definitely will do others by Poe, I assure you.

Our next book in the series, which will be released for sale in January or February 2016, is “Mark Twain’s The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut.”

This one has given me a lot of heartburn because ... well, because it is Mark Twain at his edgy best. I finally decided to let the public decide whether it goes too far for the young audience we are seeking.

I dulled a slight bit of the edginess off the story, but there was only so much I could do without damaging it, and really, only so much I’d be willing to do in any case. I really love Twain and I really like this story. His humor drills deep and is always thought-provoking, and "Carnival of Crime" is a great of example of how very deep he could go with it.

RT: Although the authors are familiar to many of us, speaking for myself, the stories are not as well known. What was your favorite part of adapting the stories? What was the least favorite / hardest?

Jerome: I like searching for the stories that I think will adapt well for illustration and will ring with young readers. I reject almost all the stories I review, and I get frustrated with the search, but I like the process anyway, partly because it’s a real thrill when I find one that I think will work nicely. I also like choosing the scenes to illustrate and making the adjustments to accommodate the illustrations; but I don’t like changing the narrative content or prose of classic stories by great authors.

I agonize over whether I am going too far to modernize the text to make it more accessible for young readers. It doesn’t trouble me too much to break paragraphs to accommodate illustrations, but maybe it should. I often imagine the spirits of great authors telling me to quit messing with their stuff. I guess I’ll find out in eternity whether or not I went too far. I know I won’t get toasted for changing great prose, but I don’t want to get roasted either. I have the greatest respect for these authors. I’m fully aware I’m not in their class.

Hawthorne and Poe are authors that most young readers meet through their literature classes, not browsing the library. Once we have a more robust catalog of Adapted Classics we will add lesson plans. We would like to be taken seriously as a publisher, and that is hard to accomplish with just a few books to offer.

RT: Yet you're getting positive feedback from a R-E-A-L-L-Y tough audience. How did it feel when you saw the amazon.com review by a 13-year-old reader who encouraged his peers to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment.

Jerome: Nothing better than a review like that! Lucas belongs to the target audience for the series, so what could be better than to get an endorsement like that? He picked up the humor in the piece and saw the humor in the illustrations, which is just what we were going for. That was a great review!

RT: The genres and audiences for Sammy’s Day at the Fair, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allen Poe are Q-U-I-T-E distinct. Did you find it a similar or different writing and editing process??

Jerome: They are surprisingly similar! Sammy’s Day at the Fair is a science book that uses a fictional character and fictional events to describe the workings of the human digestive system. It’s an original piece based on a paper Paul submitted for a sixth grade science project. His teacher told him it was so innovative he should publish it as a book.

A few years later, just before Paul started high school, we decided to follow his teacher’s advice. To create the book, I built upon Paul's paper. I could be creative with organization and fictional aspects (like being at the fair), but the science had to be accurate at every point.

Even though it seems like I have a lot more flexibility in being creative, I am representing literary art. I consciously try my hardest to avoid doing damage to narratives, which is its own kind of fact checking.

RT: Can you tell us more about how the illustration process works? Did you mark specific “scenes” you wanted to illustrate as you prepared the adaptation, or did Mark select them?

Jerome: I select the scenes and make text and spacing modifications so that illustrations will fall either next to or just following the scene that Marc illustrates. Then Marc and I meet. I identify the scenes to be illustrated, we discuss the story and the scenes, and then Marc gets to work. He’s the artist, so I allow him to render the characters and the scenes as he sees them without much if any direction from me.

He likes the artistic freedom of our arrangement, and I really like the results. A couple, maybe a few times, I had him modify an illustration before he applied ink to it, but that’s it. His interpretations are great.

RT: I love how you encourage readers to find the originals for these stories at www.gutenberg.org. Why is that important to you?

Jerome: The original stories stand up — and stand out — exactly as they were written, without any interference from us. We adapt entertaining classic stories because we want to introduce them to youth who might otherwise never read them. That’s our goal. We kind of think of ourselves as matchmakers that way - we think the stories have value and will be a memorable experience for young readers, so we pick stories that are just begging to be illustrated and dress them up with illustrations to attract young readers.

Also, since we're trying to reach modern, young readers, we change the narratives and prose ever-so-slightly knowing that language changes over time and that these stories were written for adults living in a different era. We do retain the original settings from the earlier era, but we make some vocabulary and syntactical changes. We tone the language down a little and also speed up of the narrative here and there to ensure a lively pace.

Getting back to why we encourage readers to find the original stories - the originals are authentic and they are great. This analogy about classic cars might help. Some owners customize older cars; others like to restore classic cars to the original. Personally, I (slightly) prefer restored classics over customized. That's how it is with these stories. I like our customized versions, but the originals are magnificent. I hope that at some point everyone reads the originals!

RT: The Adapted Classics are / will be available in e-Book form. Having discovered the original stories in print - and also producing them as paperbacks - do you think the feel of the book will be changed / lost in reading the book from a screen?

Jerome: As much as I do prefer a print book to hold and read, I know I’m out of date with the ways the audience I publish for chooses to read. We are only offering ePub fixed-layout for "Thou Art the Man" and future titles. We discovered that reflowable text altered the layout of the first book too drastically. We have adopted a very simple layout compared to many illustrated books, but as simple as our layout is, it still doesn’t work well with reflowable text. With fixed-layout, the electronic version looks like the print version on the reading devices we are familiar with. But there’s the rub. Will it look right on all devices? Only if we are lucky from what I understand. We will keep track of changes in ebook technology and make whatever adjustments seem wise going forward. For now we are going to issue all future books exclusively in ePub fixed-layout format. Right now the fixed-layout format feels pretty good to read on the screen, even for me. When the layout is displayed as intended, I think the screen version will feel right for the audience we are seeking.

RT: One of my favorite questions is to bring characters together across books. If you could introduce Dominicus Pike to another classic literature character, who would that be?

Jerome: Let’s see - it should be someone with a fantastic tale to tell, a tale that Dominicus Pike would be excited to re-tell - and maybe even embellish? How about Edmond Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo? He would certainly do, although his personal story, which is told in Alexandre Dumas’s classic adventure novel, needs no embellishment. Then again, if anyone could make Dantes’s tale larger and even more fantastic than it was, leave it to Dominicus Pike! He could probably find a way!

RT: What’s on your nightstand now?
: I am reading a great biography of one of my favorite writers, Joseph Mitchel. The biography is Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of the New Yorker by Thomas Kunkel. I am also reading two of Mr. Mitchell's collections: Up In The Old Hotel and My Ears Are Bent. I have read through both collections a few times and dip into them often. I can’t express how much I admire Joseph Mitchell; Kunkel's biography is top-notch.

RT: Do you and Paul share / trade books?
: Paul and I rarely share/trade books, but we often discuss the books we are reading. We have similar tastes, but Paul, being considerably younger, is far more modern than I am. In one way I resemble Joseph Mitchell - I am too stuck in the past.

Sometimes Paul and my daughter Claire push me up into the present, and I like it when I get there. But I almost always need a boost from one of them.

RT: What has inspired your passion for literacy and engaging kids with children’s books? Were you a reader as a young man? Jerome: I was a reader as a boy and have been throughout my life. I like fiction and non-fiction, and newspapers, too. I read magazines that feature in-depth articles and opinion pieces, too.

We live in an age that makes literacy important. Literacy is what helps us navigate successfully through our complicated lives. Reading is a very valuable skill that helps us to learn how to do that. Reading can be much more than that. Whenever I discover a book that hits my heart and head right it is pure pleasure.

I can’t claim I thought all this out very carefully when I first started publishing, but I have always supported the spread and growth of literacy. I have donated cases of the first two books in the series to three literacy organizations: Reading is Fundamental of Southern California, Kids Need to Read, and the International Book Bank. All three organizations also received a case of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Mr. Higginbotham’s Catastrophe direct from the printer in advance of its official publication.

Truth be told, I get some pleasure knowing that some under-served kids and libraries will be the first ones to see and own this new book. I intend to do more advance distribution of new releases to these and other literacy organizations as our catalog grows.

RT: Well, you know how we feel about books getting to at-risk readers. Thank you for joining us - and most especially for all you do to promote literacy!

Website: http://adaptedclassics.com/


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