Describe your latest project.
My Most Excellent Year is about three high school freshmen: T.C. Keller, a Red Sox addict who hasn't completely gotten over the loss of his mother eight years ago; Augie Hwong, his gay American-born Chinese "brother" (whom everybody knows is gay except Augie); and Alejandra Perez, whose role model is Jacqueline Kennedy, who tries to balance being a diplomat's daughter while secretly sharing a love for the stage with Augie, and who not-so-secretly makes it plain to T.C. that hitting on her isn't going to get him anywhere (yet). At the same time, T.C.'s dad is romancing his son's school adviser Lori (whose idea of a felony is sneaking down from the grandstand to a pair of empty box seats during the fifth inning of a Red Sox game), and T.C. encounters Hucky Harper a six-year-old deaf orphan with a stuffed dog named Shut-the-Door and an unshakable conviction that Mary Poppins is going to come live with him.
It's not as out-there as it sounds. I promise.
What fictional character would you like to be your friend, and why?
"The many characters are well-drawn and believable, and readers will care about them. The innovative format works well in relating the multiple love stories, and the story ought to appeal to a wide range of readers." Kirkus Reviews
Mickey McGuire in Iron Duke. Everybody needs a buddy like that: someone who'll stand up for you no matter what (even when he thinks you're acting a little flaky), who'll buck you up when you're down, and who'll kick you in the butt when you deserve it.
Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
The three books that have pointed me in the right direction since I was a teenager are A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle), Up the Down Staircase (Bel Kaufman), and especially Iron Duke (John R. Tunis). They each gave me a sense of values I've always tried to live up to, and I re-read all of them at least once a year.
Describe your most memorable teacher.
When I was in fifth grade in Baltimore, William Koutrelakos was the teacher who changed my life (and who was also the very first person who encouraged me to write). He was a Greek American, born and raised in Dover, New Hampshire, so he had a pure Kennedy accent at a time when JFK was every kid's hero. ("Cuba" was pronounced "Cuber"; "banana" was "bananer," and "there" was "they-a.") Just like President Kennedy, he made every one of the 36 kids in that class believe that we were capable of anything we set our minds to. Many times as an adult, I'd often wish for one more chance to be sitting in my seat in that same classroom with the same kids, being taught the same lessons, and being led in the same songs we learned when we were eleven. As it happened, I'd gotten back in touch with Mr. K when I was 28 and during a New Year's trip he made to California in 1990, I idly asked him how he'd feel about a 27th anniversary fifth grade reunion, back in Baltimore. Given that most of us kids hadn't seen each other since 1963, he quite rightly thought I was nuts. However, within a month, the other 35 scattered all over the globe had been tracked down, had eagerly gotten on board for an early summer reunion, and eventually found themselves sitting in our old seats in our old classroom, being taught the same lessons and being led in the same songs we'd learned when we were eleven. We were now 38. The odds that we'd all even still be alive were remote let alone that 36 diverse adults would be in such harmonious synchronicity. That's when I first realized that magic happens every day, as long as you let your heart do the planning. (P.S. The last time I spoke to Mr. Koutrelakos was at the beginning of this paragraph, when I called him to confirm that he was born in Dover.)
What is your favorite literary first line?
David Copperfield: "Chapter 1 I am born." I fell so in love with that line that I never bothered to read the rest of the book.
What do you do for relaxation?
I like to cause trouble. Right now I'm in the middle of a grass roots crusade to force the Department of the Interior to rebuild the baseball diamond at the Manzanar National Historic Site, where 10,000 American citizens of Japanese descent were imprisoned during World War II for no reason other than their race. Baseball was what got them through the ordeal, and not to include the diamond is like leaving the lights off a Christmas tree. I lost the first skirmish to have the field restored but now I've gotten high school kids involved, and our ranks are growing. I figure we ought to be playing on our diamond by 2010, even though we're probably going to give the Department of the Interior lots of stomach cramps along the way.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A musical comedy star. That lasted until I was 21, got myself into an off-Broadway repertory company that specialized in Gilbert and Sullivan, and accidentally discovered that my singing voice sounds like a buzz saw working its way through steel-reinforced concrete.
Why do you write books for kids?
I don't. I write books for everyone. But somehow kids understand me better than adults do. Especially my 7-year-old nephew Noah, who recently advised me, "Um actually, you're not a grownup."
Who are your favorite characters in history?
Benjamin Franklin and Lucille Ball. Runners-up: Eleanor Roosevelt, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Tom Sawyer (I know he's not real, but he ought to be), and the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.
If you could be someone else, who would that be, and why?
By the time I figured out at the age of 12 that I couldn't be Ethel Merman, I decided that I didn't want to be anybody else but me. It's just so handy, that's all.
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Steve Kluger is a novelist and playwright who grew up during the Sixties with only two heroes: Tom Seaver and Ethel Merman. Few were able to grasp the concept. A veteran of Casablanca and a graduate of The Graduate, he has written extensively on subjects as far-ranging as World War II, rock 'n roll, and the Titanic, and as close to the heart as baseball and the Boston Red Sox (which frequently have nothing to do with one another). Since 1995, he has been a Jewish Big Brother to his all-time favorite 14-year-old, Avi. He lives in Santa Monica, California.