This spring I was lucky enough to hear Donn Fendler, Lynn Plourde, and Ben Bishop speak about their graphic novel, Lost Trail. Most Mainers are familiar with Donn Fendler’s story as told in Lost on a Mountain in Maine. Lost Trail brings this amazing tale to a new generation of readers.
Here’s my interview with Lynn Plourde:
How is writing a graphic novel different from writing a picture book?
There are several differences. One is length. A typed picture book manuscript is usually 3-6 pages, but the Lost Trail manuscript was about 50 pages. My picture books are fiction (other than a biography I did of Margaret Chase Smith) so I get to make up those stories. Lost Trail is a true story and it’s Donn Fendler’s story—so that meant working closely with him to make sure the story was accurate as well as researching the rescue efforts to add that information to the book. Finally, writing a graphic novel is more like writing a movie script. Instead of paragraphs, there’s line after line of dialogue, thought bubble words, along with brief text in narration boxes. The words have to add to but stay out of the way of all the illustrations in a graphic novel. Also, when I write, I always read the words aloud over and over to hear if there are places where I need to make changes. But reading just the words aloud for Lost Trail didn’t really work—graphic novels aren’t read-aloud stories. They need the illustrations to complete the story.
What did you think when you first read Lost on a Mountain in Maine?
I read Lost on a Mountain in Maine as a grown-up, not a kid. But I remember thinking that was one lucky 12-year-old to survive all those days alone in the Maine wilderness. Actually, I considered it a Maine miracle that Donn Fendler survived. I still get goosebumps when I think about the moment he came out of the woods to see the McMoarn’s cabin—because I know that if one little thing had happened differently he wouldn’t have made it. But he did!
In your opinion, why is Donn Fendler’s story perfect for the graphic novel format?
Donn Fendler’s story is perfect for the graphic novel format because it is so visual—a mighty mountain versus a small boy, a sleet storm in July, the Pamola creature, deer and bears. With the illustrations in a graphic novel, readers can feel like they are looking over Donn’s shoulder as the story unfolds. It’s like a movie on paper. Also, Stephen King put it well when he said this is a graphic novel “about a real American superhero.” Donn is the hero in his own story—you can’t help but root for him.
What was the most challenging part and most rewarding part of collaborating on this project with Donn Fendler and Ben Bishop?
The biggest challenge was trying to match Donn’s memory in the words and illustrations. We did eight drafts of the story as we went back-and-forth working to get the story to say what Donn still remembers in his mind. Then Donn and I didn’t meet the Illustrator Ben Bishop until the book was almost finished. In hindsight, we wished we’d worked with him from the beginning. Ben had done graphic novels before and we had not so he was the expert on that format. He could have told us to put in more illustration notes to make things clearer for him when he illustrated. He could have pointed out places where less words were needed and the illustrations would move the story along without words. Working with Ben from the beginning would have made the process easier. I understand the process of creating a graphic novel much better AFTER finishing Lost Trail.
The most rewarding part of doing Lost Trail was becoming better friends with Donn Fendler and making friends with Ben Bishop. It’s been fun to travel and do events with both of them. Donn is a living legend, and it’s so much fun to see people swarm him and hear their stories of how their grandfather was one of the searchers or of the times Donn talked in their classroom. Ben mesmerizes kids when he shows them how he creates a graphic novel and then draws an imaginary creature right before their eyes as they shout out the names of random animals. It’s so much fun to be on the trail with these two men!
What is your favorite graphic novel? (besides Lost Trail, of course!)
Well, my favorite I-thought-it-was-a-graphic-novel-but-have-since-learned-it’s-a-variation-on-a-graphic-novel (shows how much more I still need to learn about graphic novels!) is Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck. I loved how he wove together two stories seamlessly and that he celebrates deafness. I was a speech-language therapist for many years and worked with many kids who were deaf. Selznick visually paces the story perfectly with his illustrations. I hope Wonderstruck will be made into a movie just as his book The Invention of Hugo Cabret was.
I agree. Wonderstruck is one of my favorite books and it would be incredible on the big screen. Thank you, Lynn!
If you would like to hear Donn Fendler and Lynn Plourde speak about the true story Lost Trail, come to the Ellsworth Public Library on Thursday, August 9th at 6:00 p.m. A book signing will take place after the presentation. For more information, please call the Ellsworth Public Library (667-6363). Hope to see you there!
- Meeting Donn Fendler (bangordailynews.com)