Friday, January 29, 2010

Author Spotlight on: Jordan Sonnenblick

Remember when I posted about how much I loved Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie? Well I'm so excited to be interviewing the author, Jordan Sonnenblick, here on the blog today!

Jordan has released four more books since Drums came out in 2004. NOTES FROM THE MIDNIGHT DRIVER and ZEN AND THE ART OF FAKING IT are YA. DODGER AND ME and DODGER FOR PRESIDENT are MG. His sixth book, AFTER EVER AFTER, comes out next month. Filled with hilarious characters, real situations and authentic middle grade/young adult voices, these stories stay with you long after you've read the last page.

Oddly enough, Jordan Sonnenblick thought his career might be over the week after his first book came out. Keep reading to find out why!

First I have to say that I’m in awe of the fact that you had Frank McCourt as a high school English teacher. Talk about a fabulous luck of the draw! Did you ever send him any of your books?
Yes, I loved Mr. McCourt, and he absolutely did right by me in every way.  In fact, he blurbed my first book.  Mr. McCourt left a message on my home answering machine to tell me he was going to mail the blurb to my publisher, and I ran around the house yelling, "Frank McCourt wrote my blurb!  Frank McCourt wrote my blurb!"

My son, who was five years old at the time, got sick of hearing this after about an hour.  Just as I called Mr. McCourt back and his answering machine beeped, my son ran across the room shouting, "FRANK MCCOURT BLAH BLAH BLAH!" repeatedly.  I looked at the phone in horror, realizing I'd just pranked my all-time favorite author, and hung up without identifying myself.  I never told Mr. McCourt about it, either.

Too funny! Kids just have the best timing, don't they?

The small company that originally published Drums famously went belly up soon after releasing your book. That had to be weird! Did you see it coming?

I had no clue that my publisher, DayBue, was going to close up shop three days after Drums came out in June 2004 -- I spent that whole summer panicking.  The first printing was five thousand copies, and we agreed that DayBue would donate the four thousand unsold copies to a cancer-sibling support charity called Supersibs!

How did you make the connection with Scholastic?
By the end of the summer, I was just getting used to the idea that at least the book was going to get into the hands of four thousand kids who needed it.  Then, out of the blue, an editor at Scholastic emailed me.  As it turned out, her mom lives near me, and had bought her a copy of Drums at my local indie bookstore -- the only store in the world that still had copies in stock!  That's why I always tell people to support small local businesses.  Without that store, the Moravian Bookshop in Bethlehem, PA, you wouldn't be interviewing me right now.

That's pretty cool! I'll be sure to stop in if I ever visit Bethlehem :)

I know in one interview you said that you didn’t want to revisit Steven’s family because they’d already been through enough, but AFTER EVER AFTER is a sequel to Drums, right? What made you decide to write more about this family?
You're right that I never, ever wanted to write a sequel to Drums.  I'd written Drums when I was an 8th grade English teacher.  A student of mine named Emily had a little brother who was in treatment for cancer, and I thought there should be a book that kids in her situation could read.  It was an incredibly painful book for me to write, especially because Emily's brother actually passed away right before the original publication date.

But then a social worker in upstate New York emailed me to say I hadn't finished the story yet: she ran a therapy group for teen cancer survivors, and felt that someone needed to tell their part of the tale.  At first, I thought, "No way."  But gradually, over the course of two years, the idea for writing a sequel took hold.

I dedicated the sequel to Emily, the bravest kid I ever taught.

Besides your YA books with Scholastic, you also have the Dodger books with Macmillan. What made you decide to write for younger readers as well? Are there more Dodger books coming out?
There are two Dodger books in print, and the third and final one is coming out this spring.  I didn't make a marketing-based decision to write for younger readers; it was just kind of how things worked out.  I am not nearly disciplined or professional enough to come up with a book just because I see a niche for it in the market!

I started writing the first Dodger book because my son asked me to write a book about baseball, my editor wanted me to write a book about a kid with an invisible magical friend, and I wanted to write a book to teach my son (who was in third grade at the time) that it was OK to be nice to girls.  I was torn in three different directions, and then one night -- on Christmas Eve 2007 -- the entire plot of Dodger and Me popped into my head while I slept.

I guess I have Santa to thank for that one ...

...or the Sandman! I get a lot of ideas in my sleep, too.

I think I read that you wrote Drums in a very short period of time, like 12 weeks. Do you write all your books that fast? Do you outline or just jump in?

I do write each of my books incredibly fast, although I spend three-quarters of each year wracking my brain for my next book idea.  When an idea comes, I do a ton of research (my favorite part of the whole process), and then outline before I write the first word of the manuscript.  I think doing all of that homework ahead of time is what allows me to write so fast once I get going.

Only a teacher could refer to all that fun research as homework! Do you still teach? Have you found that some students are kind of surprised to find an author, of books they actually read, in front of the class?
I don't teach anymore, but my first three books came out while I was still in the classroom.  My 8th grade students definitely thought it was surreal, but they were generally too cool to mention anything to me at the time.

The opening of NOTES FROM THE MIDNIGHT DRIVER had me laughing out loud. And when he was reading Drums, my son kept quoting funny lines to me. 

How do you find that balance of humor in these stories that deal with some very sad and/or serious issues?
I don't know.  Humor has its own kind of alchemy; I try not to analyze the mojo too closely.

What’s in your TBR pile?
Well, right now my TBR pile is all adult nonfiction and books about photography, because A. I am doing research for my next YA novel and B. I find I can't read YA while I am actively engaged in writing.

Sounds like you've got quite a pile of homework there :) So what was your favorite book last year? 
My fave book of the past year, Libba Bray's Going Bovine, is YA.

What are you reading to your kids at bedtime?
Well, my kids are now eleven and eight years old, so they mostly do their own bedtime reading at this point.  But my son is rereading the Harry Potter books this week.  My daughter is reading a million middle-grade friendship books.  I'm pretty sure the ARC of the third Dodger book, DODGER FOR SALE, is inching its way up in her TBR pile right now.  I can't wait to hear what she thinks of it!

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Jordan! It was a pleasure!

You can read more about Jordan Sonnenblick on his website:


Kelly Polark said...

That was such an interesting interview! Amazing stories behind the stories!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I must admit, you had me hook, line, and sinker at, "First I have to say that I’m in awe of the fact that you had Frank McCourt as a high school English teacher." Wow!

Great interview - thank you both.

Charlotte said...

Thanks for the great interview! I just read Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie and enjoyed it lots, and now I'm very happy to have been reminded that I need to get a hold of the sequel!

Tasha said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing such fascinating stories.

PJ Hoover said...

Awesome interview, Sherrie! The books really look fantastic!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

That is an amazing writer's journey--from Frank McCourt to the publisher folding to being discovered in an indie bookstore. It's got it all! And I also enjoyed the nuts-and-bolts part of the saga. Thanks to Jordan and Sherrie for a really good interview.

Elana Johnson said...

Excellent Sherrie! Thanks so much for this insight.

Michelle Markel said...

What a lively interview, Sherrie. Great questions and candid answers. Gotta check out Jordan's books now.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

12 weeks? im going to go puke now :)

Hardygirl said...

Whoa! His teacher was Frank McCourt? Amazing.

His books sound wonderful--I love hearing about all these wonderful authors.


Jordan Sonnenblick said...

Oh, Shelli, don't puke -- it really took me _33 years_ and 12 weeks to write the book.

valerie hobbs said...

I enjoyed this so much, Sherrie. Can't wait to read his books now. Great job, as always.

Lori W. said...

Fabulous interview. You gave a great review of Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, too. Thanks to you and to Mr. Sonnenblick for sharing!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Awesome interview, Sherrie! You are so good at this! said...

I'm going to repeat what everyone else has said - this was a fabulous interview that not only gave great insights in Jordan's humor, intelligence and talent, but conveyed the struggles writers face as part of the process, and the resilience we need to keep on! Thanks for the good work.

Robin Mellom said...

Great interview!

Mary Hershey said...

Awesome interview, Sherrie! Jordan is one of my favorite authors! I love Zen and the Art of Faking It-- seriously brilliant.

Sigh... Frank McCourt?????

Wow-- and I loved his story of how his book got orphaned and yet, there was a major happily ever after here.


Jen Robinson said...

Great interview! I'm glad that you got to interview Jordan, especially after liking Drums, Girls so much.

Katie Anderson said...

So fun!!! Great interview!!!!

Vivian Mahoney said...

What a treat to read this wonderful interview. It made me laugh and tear up.

Dee White said...

Thanks Sherrie and Jordan for sharing this inspiring journey.

I love hearing about the story behind the story.


Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

great interview - I loved the bit about the path his career took - published, then the publisher shutters, and then picked up - because of one copy in one independent bookstore! Awesome!
thanks for this, both of you,

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