Jerry Spinelli: je-ree (rhymes with ferry) spi-NEL-ee
An Interview with Jerry Spinelli about Loser
Where did you go to school? Was it anything like John W. Satterfield
Elementary School or Monroe Middle School?
I attended Hartranft Elementary in Norristown, PA. It resembled Satterfield Elementary only in the broadest sense. I do remember one or two classmates who seemed to incite the others' disapproval. As I wrote the graduation chapter, I pictured the so-called "all-purpose room" where mine took place, but the resemblance ends there. The teachers in the story do not resemble my own, nor did we have a field day.
Are there any of your own school experiences that you used in the book? If so, could you tell us about one or two?
There probably are, but I can't remember any offhand. When I went looking for Zinkoff's experiences, I think I found them on the other side of my own coin. For example, Zinkoff is slow, I was fast (50 yard dash champion of Norristown grade schools); Zinkoff is awkward, I was athletic; Zinkoff gets one A, I got lots. If Zinkoff had been in my class, I probably would have thought he was a loser too. Despite the A's, I had a lot to learn.
After a difficult day at school, how did you make yourself feel better, or how do you make your children feel better?
There was always a sport to play after school, so that distracted me from bad times. And I could always "escape" on my trusty green-and-cream Roadmaster bicycle.
What qualities do you most admire in people, and what is the quality you most admire in Donald Zinkoff?
I admire people with the courage to be themselves. I admire people who value other people. I admire people who don't give up. Zinkoff is all of these.
One day, when he is walking the streets of his town, Zinkoff "feels the picture he lives in has been tilted." Do you ever feel like that?
Oh sure, many times. I dare anyone to grow up and not feel tilted now and then.
Zinkoff loves to laugh. What things make you laugh the most?
Kids, especially when they don't even know they're being funny.
At the beginning of Loser you thank all the people who helped you write the book. How do other people help you write?
It's not that anyone else actually sits down at the computer with me and helps me write, but people do furnish me with ideas or information or their own inspiring lives.
Did you always want to be a writer or, when you were Zinkoff's age, did you want to be something else like a mailman?
Like Zinkoff, early on I wanted to be what my father was: a printer. Then I wanted to be a baseball player. I decided to become a writer halfway through high school.
What would you say to someone who felt nobodyness;' who feels that they are the leftover' kid when the teams are picked?
I say a funny thing happens if you just hang in there: time passes, perceptions change, and "nobodies" become somebodies.'
Do you miss your characters when you have finished writing about them? Do you miss Donald Zinkoff?
I usually love my characters, but writing a book can be hard work, so I'm happy when it's over. I'll never miss Zinkoff, because now that I've created him, he'll always be with me.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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