This article stemmed from a cooking workshop/presentation at Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg, N.J. It occurred almost ten years ago. The host was the executive chef of the hospital, Mike DiCenso. At the time, gluten-free cooking, Celiac disease, gluten intolerance and the connection between gluten and autism/sensory disorders was not quite as mainstream a conversation as it is now.
I pulled this article out of deep storage. The information in it remains pertinent, if not more relevant than it was a decade ago.
In 2004, author Jordan Sonnenblick was still a middle school English teacher in the Phillipsburg School District. At the time I et him, he was anticipating the release of his first book, Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, from a small publisher, Daybue. I can’t believe that we’re approaching the ten year anniversary of that event. I forget how I heard about Jordan. I don’t know if someone sent me a press release or if I heard about his success at a school board meeting. I followed up because as a writer myself, his story intrigued me.
We met in a coffee shop across the street from my office. We talked about his past, his struggles as a writer and why he rejected an offer from a big New York publisher to go with a small independent publisher instead. I remember my own awe when he said his creative writing teacher in high school was Frank McCourt. Yes, as in Angela’s Ashes. I also enjoyed his sense of humor. Apparently, success found him when he stopped trying to write the next Great American Novel and instead used the voice of a 13-year-old boy.
Shortly after all this, Sonnenblick landed a contract for Drums from Scholastic. The book now has a sequel. I’m not sure how many books he has now. 9? 10? He has one available for pre-order and it could use some hubbub. Jordan is a great guy. I’ve read several of his books and I love them.
Author Jordan Sonnenblick
The Clyde Beatty/Cole Brothers Circus invited me backstage when they performed at the Phillipsburg Mall. I watched the clowns prep for the performance, talked with the lion tamer, interviewed a corps of Russian Aerial Ballet artists and even fed the elephants. I loved those elephants. The man who took care of them handed me a loaf of bread, plain old sliced white bread and directed me to slap it into their mouths.
I had three or four slices of bread on the palm of my hand. The elephant would lift his trunk and I would stick my hand in his mouth and press the bread to his tongue. And he ate the whole loaf.
This feature appeared in the (Phillipsburg) Free Press in June 2001. I took the photos. I also photographed the show. I may have to dig those out and scan them another day.
circus, part 2
Circus, part 3
My guest column in my last issue of The Free Press
I worked at The Free Press (Phillipsburg, N.J.) for about a year. I left when a publisher from another weekly called me out of the blue and offered me an editor position. I hated to leave Phillipsburg and my amazing publisher Enid, but I had long ago learned that regrets often stemmed from not knowing “What if?”
The Free Press was a weekly paper, paid subscription, mailed to those who subscribed. At the point I started working for Enid, I had already freelanced for a decade. This was my first full-time journalism position. I was sitting at my desk in our very tiny newsroom on September 11, 2001. The experience of being part of the media, even if only part of a small local weekly, gave a haunting layer to the tragedy.
After a year as editor of The Blue Valley Times, working with my former science teacher, Larry Cory, I joined the staff of the start-up weeklies from the Morning Call, known as The Chronicles. I returned to Phillipsburg, and in the three years that entity existed, I made some relationships that last until today. Phillipsburg still holds a special place in my heart.
And it’s not just because the gas in New Jersey is cheaper than Pennsylvania. And it’s not because the gas stations are full service.