Interview with Mark Svartz, Author of The Unsuper Adventures of Norma
Get ready to chuckle--today, we're talking all things...unsuper with author Mark Svartz.
I always start with the short and sweet: give us the elevator pitch for The Unsuper Adventures of Norma.
The Unsuper Adventures of Norma is about Norma, a 10-yr-old girl who happens to be the only “normal” kid in a town full of superheroes. But when an alien named Lord Fartron invades her town and steals everyone’s powers, she soon discovers that it doesn’t take superpowers to truly be super.
I’m assuming there’s a personal reason you wrote this story. What was the inspiration?
I was actually inspired by my 7-yr-old son, Jackson. He LOVES superheroes, but felt a little discouraged that he himself didn't have any superpowers. So I wrote this book to show him that while he may not have the super speed of The Flash, or the super strength of The Hulk, no one in the universe could be a more super Jackson. Hopefully this book can inspire kids everywhere to realize that the best superpower is simply being the best at being you.
What was the writing process like? Are you a plotter? Pantser?
I’m definitely a plotter. Having spent my life writing TV commercials, I’m used to ensuring that there’s a solid story arc and structure. And once the bones of the story are in place, the fun is adding meat to those bones and filling out the narrative, developing characters, building compelling dialogue and rounding it out with playful illustrations.
Often, I find that MG is a genre (or age bracket) that lends itself to humorous writing. This book doesn’t just contain humor, it’s built on a humorous premise. Was that just a natural fit? Have you written humor before?
I definitely veer towards humor. Most of my ad career has been spent writing humorous commercials. My first book, I Hate You, Kelly Donahue, was a dark humor book aimed at adults. And now that I’m a dad, and I discovered that my kids have my same weird sense of humor, I thought it was time to apply the same comedic sensibilities to children’s books.
I really love the layout of this book, with the short lines. Was that by design or something of a happy accident? (I feel like it would really help any reluctant reader power forward!)
The shorter, snappier copy wasn’t necessarily intentional. It simply felt natural. After hours and hours of reading with my kids, I realized that long-winded dialogue drags on a bit. Honestly, I feel the same way about adult books. So hopefully reading Norma will feel more like a fun, effortless adventure instead of a chore.
This book is full of illustrations. What was the illustration process like?
Illustrating Norma was one of the funnest parts of this experience. I used an iPad Pro and the Procreate app to create all the artwork. I loved imagining the town of Superton and everything that exists there, from caped pigeons to secret lairs in donut shops. But the best part was drawing all the different characters. With over twenty primary characters, each with their own powers, (not to mention an evil alien shaped like a gigantic butt), I was able to get really playful in bringing them to life. And my kids were right there by my side (or on my lap) helping me choose which colors to make their iconic uniforms.
Each book has its own journey. What was your favorite part of the writing process? The biggest surprise?
The best part of the writing process truly was reading it to my sons along the way and seeing their reactions. If I got a laugh out of them, I knew I was on the right path. And while there was no singular big surprise, there were thousands of mini surprise moments whenever the storyline seemed to click together like a jigsaw puzzle. That’s always the best part of writing – seeing those disparate elements you have bouncing in your head magically fit into place.
At Smack Dab, we’ve talked to both traditionally published and indie (self) published authors. What was your path? Why did you choose that method of publishing?
My first book, an adult fiction novel, was traditionally published. And while it certainly had its perks, particularly when it came to PR, it was also a very, very lengthy process. This time around I decided to go the indie route because I simply wanted to get this book out on my own terms and my own timeline. And while there’s pros and cons to each path, I’m happy that I took a more hands-on approach with getting Norma out to the world.
What do you hope young readers will take from Norma’s story, more than anything else?
There’s definitely an inspirational, empowering message underlying Norma’s story, encouraging kids to believe in themselves and acknowledge that we’re all super in our own ways. But more than anything, I want them to enjoy the process of getting that message. The world needs more evil butt aliens, and booger shooters and hippo hypnotists. We need more weird.
What’s next for you?
Aside from continuing to be a husband, dad and adman, next up is continuing Norma’s unsuper adventures. Books #2 and #3 are in different stages of completion and I look forward to sharing more of her weird journey with the rest of the world.