He's a Man of Many Words

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jerry Spinelli is the author of more than two dozen books, including "Maniac Magee," the story of a 12-year-old orphan, which won the coveted Newbery Medal in 1991. His latest book is "Smiles to Go" (see review at right).

Spinelli, 67, lives in Wayne, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. When he was in 11th grade, his love of sports led to his first published work: a poem about a football victory that appeared in his hometown newspaper. It was submitted without his knowledge by his father, who knew the paper's sports editor.

Around that time, Spinelli said, "it dawned on me that I probably was not going to be a major league baseball player." Instead he decided to become a writer, although "nobody told me how hard it was going to be."

Spinelli talked to The Post's Sandra G. Boodman about life as a writer, a profession he shares with his wife, Eileen Spinelli.

What were you doing before your first book was published?

"Mostly collecting rejection slips. I was an editor of a magazine for design engineers. I wanted a job that I could forget about at 5 p.m. I wrote 'Maniac Magee' and my first book, 'Space Station Seventh Grade,' on my lunch hour. My first book was published in 1982 when I was 40, and I left my job after four or five of my books were published to concentrate on writing. It was tough at first, but things changed after 'Maniac Magee' won the Newbery."

What is your writing day like?

"Around 10 a.m. I walk up the stairs to work in my office. The hours between 10 and noon are my hard-core writing time. Sometimes that's all the time I put in. I use a computer now, but I was one of the last to do that. I used to write longhand. Usually it takes me about nine to 12 months to write a book.

"The afternoons are when we live. My wife and I venture forth and go to the movies. There's no traffic, and sometimes we're the only two people in the theater."

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