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 part of being a journalist on a regular beat is the relationships you form with people. This feature on bicycle commuting featured a local business owner (Russ Padgett, Cycle Funattic in Phillipsburg, N.J.) and if I remember correctly, because it was a decade ago, the idea came from him.
To put this story together, we followed Russ on his commuting route, a good 15 miles, and our staff photographer literally hung out of my car like we were on The Dukes of Hazzard.
I like the way the story turned out, and I feel like it was a very timely piece for its day. Gas prices then were escalating, but not nearly to the extent we would see a few years later.
This ran in the Phillipsburg Chronicle, August 1, 2003 as a “Community Life” feature. For more information on Cycle Funattic, see their web site: http://www.cyclefunattic.com/.
Feature on bicycle commuting, section 1 of 3
Bicycle commuting, section 2 of 3
Russ Padgett, bicycle commuting 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.