Spring 2018 Publishers' Preview: Five Questions for J. S. Puller

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine
This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2018 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In Captain Superlative, the arrival of the eponymous “superhero” at Deerwood Park Middle School jolts seventh-grader Janey out of her passivity and into a daily habit of doing good for others.

Photo: Robert E. Potter III.

1. Your author’s note mentions that 
this story started life as a play. What 
was it like working on a novel rather than a script?

No matter how hard you work on a play or how detailed the dialogue in the script becomes, ultimately, any characters you create are half-baked. A play is by nature a collaboration. Actors are always going to bring their own unique, special something to the characters they play. When I transitioned from playwright to author, I had to take on the extra responsibilities of actor in order to create the internal lives of the characters. Once upon a time, I was an actor, so it was great stretching those muscles again, coming up with physical tics and tells for each person.

2. Were any of the characters inspired by your own middle-school classmates?

Absolutely! There isn’t a person-to-person correlation, but all of the characters are collages of bits and pieces of people that I knew — including myself. Actually, especially myself. There’s a little bit of me in each of them. And yes, that means both the bully and victim. No person is just one thing!

3. How do you imagine Janey and her classmates being “superlative” in their eighth-grade year (and beyond)?

While I have some ideas about what happens after the story ends, I was very intentional about not including an Animal House sequence revealing the fates of my characters. I want my readers to make up their own versions of events after the final curtain — I can’t wait to see fanfiction about the characters’ eighth-grade year.

4. What do you recommend as a first step to get into the habit of doing good?

It all starts with just noticing things. 
Pay attention to the world around you. You can’t help someone if you don’t know that person needs help. If you open your eyes, your heart will inevitably open as well.

5. What would your superhero 
name be?

My superhero name puts in an appearance at the end of the novel. Can’t say any more because I hate spoilers!

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