The Whole Megillah (TWM): When did you know you wanted to write?
Jordan Sonnenblick (JS): Oh, I’ve known forever. Everyone on my mom’s side of the family was a writer, and I wanted in! My maternal grandfather, Solomon Feldman was an especially huge influence. He was a high school biology teacher by day, and wrote biology textbooks by night. I grew up and became an English teacher who wrote novels after the kids went to bed.
TWM: What writers have inspired you?
JS: My two biggest influences were Frank McCourt (who was actually my high school creative writing teacher before he became famous) and Kurt Vonnegut. Both wrote very funny books about bitingly sad topics, and I have tried to emulate that aspect of their work.
TWM: What goes through your head when you write? You’re known for achieving emotional depth – do you consciously think about how you want your readers to feel?
JS: Not really. I try to hear my character’s voice in my head and tell the story that comes.
TWM: How did you come up with the idea for Curveball?
JS: I have a son who is now in high school. When he was in middle school, his two biggest worries were A. whether he would fit in in high school, and B. that he would get an athletic injury and be unable to play high school sports. Essentially, Curveball is my attempt to allay my son’s worst fears by showing him that even if part “B” came true, he would still be okay.
TWM: Are you a photographer? How did Pete’s alternative “career” come about?
JS: When I came up with the basic idea for Curveball, I was not a photographer. However, my Grampa Sol, who had been very much a photographer, had just passed away. I spent several months learning everything I could about photography. I even went out, spent thousands of dollars on a great camera and fancy lenses, and shot my son’s basketball, baseball, and soccer seasons as research for the book. That became part of my mourning process, and of course my grandfather made his way into the book via the character of Pete’s grandfather.
TWM: Tell us about your research for the book. How did you work with the staff at Phillipsburg High School?
JS: I spent a day there, which was a ton of fun. I sat in on a journalism class and a yearbook work session, and followed the yearbook photographer around the building as he shot a bunch of posed and candid photos. I also asked some followup questions afterward, via email. The kids and teachers were great.
TWM: Did you experience any special challenges in writing this book?
JS: Not really. Of all my books, this may have been the most enjoyable. The photography part, especially, was lovely, because I felt I was retroactively growing to understand my grandfather by learning a skill he had possessed.
TWM: The day Pete had to dissect the pig and he ate a pork sandwich – how did that part of the plot come about? What reaction were you hoping to get from your readers? From your Jewish readers?
JS: I hadn’t been consciously thinking as a Jew at all when I wrote those parts. I don’t keep kosher, and never have. Also, Peter Friedman is named after a (Jewish) childhood friend of mine who also ate pork culturally, so the Jewish angle of having the character of Peter Friedman eat pork or dissect a pig didn’t even cross my mind. And when I was a high-school freshman in bio class we dissected a pig. That part came up in the plot for the high-school realism, rather than for any Jewish culture-clash.
TWM: What was the inspiration for Grampa and his challenges with Alzheimer’s?
JS: Grampa Sol again. In real life, he died at 98, but suffered from vascular dementia, which in his case was much, much slower than Alzheimer’s. He began to forget things in his late 70s, and was essentially not there at all by 92 or 93. Many of the incidents in the book are only slightly changed from how they played out with my grandfather. Those parts were painful, yet cathartic, to write.
TWM: Did writing Curveball differ in any way from writing your previous novels?
JS: The biggest difference was in the amount of actual, physical research I did. Then there was also a stylistic challenge. I feel that the photographic aspects made me think more metaphorically about the freezing of time, snapshots, et cetera. Also, there are the three snapshot sections of the book, which are told in third person. I had never written in anything other than first person before, so there was a bit of a stylistic stretch for me.
All in all, I felt great about the growth experience of writing the book.
About Jordan Sonnenblick
Jordan Sonnenblick was a public school teacher for 14 years, but always wanted to be a writer, so one day in 2003 he sat down and started his first young adult novel, Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, which was published by Scholastic in 2005. Jordan was as surprised as anybody when the book took off. It received several starred reviews, was named to the American Library Association’s Teens’ Top Ten List, sold more than 450,000 copies, and has been translated into 12 foreign languages. Jordan followed Drums with five more acclaimed books for teens: Notes from the Midnight Driver, Zen and the Art of Faking It, After Ever After, Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, and Are You Experienced?
Jordan has also written the Dodger and Me trilogy of funny fantasy books for middle-grade readers, which includes Dodger and Me, Dodger for President, and Dodger for Sale, all published by Macmillan. His website is the cleverly-named www.jordansonnenblick.com.