We interviewed Dean Pitchford, author of one of our favorite books “Captain Nobody,” while he was at the Borders in the Time Warner Building in Manhattan recently.
What gave you the idea to create “Captain Nobody”?
Well, the idea for creating “Captain Nobody” really came out of my first book which came out two years ago. It was called “Big One-Oh” and I spent a lot of time going around the country signing copies, doing readings and meeting people like yourselves. And I was always amazed when I would stop and talk to the kids that I was signing books to, I would find out that they had very interesting stories and sometimes things were not always great at home, but they were really upbeat and very positive about their lives. So I wanted to write about a character, who overcomes what could be a sad situation and turns it into a positive situation.
Were you interested in super heroes when you were a kid?
When I was a kid I was growing up in Honolulu, which is an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When I was about 8 years old, television came to the Hawaiian Islands. We got only one channel. And very shortly after that “Superman” came on and I had never thought I had seen anything as exciting as “Superman.” And we made a date every Monday to see “Superman.” So I guess you would have to say I was pretty obsessed with super heroes when I was a kid.
Were your parents as busy as Newt Newman’s parents?
Actually my parents — my parents separated when I was 11 years old. They weren’t quite as run around as Newt’s parents in the book, but when my father left it was only my mom raising four kids and so she was very busy. She worked a full time job, she had four kids at home, all in different schools and there was a lot of driving around. I had a baby sister. So having a baby at home and three boys she was very, very busy. So I think that’s part of my inspiration for Newt’s mom and dad.
As a kid did you choose to become an author?
As a kid I wrote all the time. But I came to New York really to be a performer. I started working on Broadway. I was singing and I was dancing and I was doing commercials. I was filming commercials. I was doing commercials for Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew and OdorEater’s Foot Pads and M&M’s. I did a 100 commercials. So all that time I was writing just for myself, I didn’t have any idea that it would eventually become my lifetime work.
We saw in the jacket of the book you are a songwriter and a screenwriter. How do you have time for all this?
I only do as a screenwriter, songwriter and novelist. I only do one thing at a time. But I do have to sometime juggle my schedule. Sometimes I’ll write all day long on a screenplay, then write a night on a novel. But I generally create a schedule for myself. I look at when my work has to be turned in and I work backwards from that. I try not to get anybody angry at me. I try to get my work done on time.
Would you like “Captain Nobody” to become a movie?
I love the way this guy thinks. Yes I would like it to become the first movie in a series of movies. Maybe like “Harry Potter.” Yes, I think that would be a very good idea. I hope somebody in Hollywood sees this interview and takes your suggestion.
How long does it take you to write a book?
There are two parts for me to writing a book. One is outlining the book and making sure the story is right. And that takes a long time. That could take me four months. And actually writing, I can do that in maybe 10 weeks. I could write 250 pages in 10 weeks. It’s the four months of actually getting the story absolutely right. That’s the hard part.
Did this story relate to your childhood?
This story did relate to my childhood and I didn’t realize until after I had written it. And I was almost finished with the book; in the book there’s this character Newt Newman, whose parents, his older brother who he adores, gets hurt in a football accident and his parents begin to hang out at the hospital and Newt is all alone and he sort of tries to do what he can to keep the family holding together and in the course he become a hero. But when my dad left when I was 11. My parents did not divorce; they didn’t divorce for many years afterwards. They just separated. He just moved 5,000 miles away. And so I did what I could to try and bring them back together and I didn’t realize that that was my inspiration for Newt. I would do things like I would take my allowance money and would buy flowers and I would give them to my mom and I would tell her my dad had sent me the money for the flowers for her. Or I would write to my father a month before my mother’s birthday and I’d say don’t forget her birthday this year. It’s Nov 10th. Remember to send her a card. And so over the years I discovered a lot of other people do that sort of thing when they were kids. They have done that. When something went wrong in the family, when there was some kind of a tragedy or something bad or somebody left the family. Young people suddenly get bigger, stronger than they are and that’s my inspiration for Newt.
What kind of books do you tend to read?
I read a lot of books that are about human stories, very, very emotional stories. And sometimes I like mysteries. I’ve read a lot of mysteries in my life. And then I like stories with a lot of history. Like a big sweeping epic that takes place in Old England or old Europe. Something like that. I enjoy those a lot too.
If you didn’t want to become an author, what would you be?
That’s funny. If I didn’t want to become an author and if I didn’t want to become a performer. You know what I always thought would be really, really cool. I wanted to be a wood worker. I wanted to make good furniture. I always was fascinated by the power saws, fitting joints together and then finishing like a wonderful chair off. It’s such a satisfying... like at the end of the day you got a chair, or a table, or a cabinet where you can put your books. Instead I ended up writing the books that I would put in the cabinet that someone else is making the cabinet.
What do you do when you’re not writing books?
Well, when I’m not writing books I have been doing a lot of other things in the course of my career. I don’t know if you knew I have been a songwriter for about 30 years. And so I’ve written about 400 songs and sold about 70 million records. And had a lot of songs recorded by a lot of famous people like Dolly Parton, Cher, Barbra Streisand, and Hilary Duff, and Martina McBride and on and on and on. So I’ve been writing songs. I write movies. I wrote a movie called "Footloose." And a bunch of other things. And now I’m in New York actually to do this reading at Borders and also I’m working on a new Broadway show based on a horror film called "Carrie." So that’s what I’m working on now.
When you finish writing your book who decides to do the illustrations?
You know that’s a very good question. That is a decision that my publishers make. And in the case of “Captain Nobody,” I’ll show you something that with “Captain Nobody,” the interesting thing is this character was created by a man in California and he does cartoons for the Nickelodeon Network and some for Disney. He created this character and then they took it at Putnam Penguin and they put the whole context around it. And you know what I did when the book came out, I contacted the author and I bought the original art. So I have it hanging on my wall at home now.