© 2020 by James Ponti; illustrations by Yaoyao Ma Van As, Paul Hoppe, and Nigel Quarless

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

So you're reading a book about a girl who hunts zombies in the abandoned sewers and subway tunnels beneath New York City and you begin to wonder, "What kind of person writes this stuff?" "Is he a zombie freak?" "Did he once get lost in a subway tunnel and survive by drinking rainwater out of an old tin can?" "Did he ever work on a television show with Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears?" Surprisingly, the answer to one of these questions is yes. But you'll have to read below to figure out which one. Also, if you want answers to questions that aren't here, send them to me in an email and I just might add them. 

 

BIOGRAPHICAL QUESTIONS

 

WHERE WERE YOU BORN?

I was born in Pisa, Italy famous for its leaning tower and for being the birthplace of Galileo. Between the two of us Galileo and I have been called "The Father of Astronomy," "The Father of Physics," "The Father of Modern Science," and "The Father of Alex and Grayson."

 

WHO ARE ALEX AND GRAYSON?

My two sons. (Galileo was the one who was the father of all the science stuff.)

 

WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?

When I was little we moved from Italy to Atlantic Beach, Florida. It's a small town Just outside of Jacksonville. Walking along the beach there is my absolute favorite thing to do. This is a picture I took on a recent visit. I live in Orlando now, but I go back as often as I can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE BOOK GROWING UP?

I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. I thought it was an amazing adventure and it inspired my love of New York, which made its way into Dead City. In fact, the first time I went to New York, I went to the Metropolitan Museum (where the story takes place) and bought a copy in the gift shop so that I'd have an artifact of the book. What I didn't know until I was an adult, however, was that E. L. Konigsburg lived just a few miles away from where I grew up.

 

WHERE DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL?

I went to Atlantic Beach Elementary, Mayport Jr. High School and Fletcher Sr. High School. All along I had great teachers like Mr. Prothro, Mr. Tyree, and Ms. White who encouraged me to write. I still remember specific things they told me when I was in their classes. (And that was a long time ago.)

 

 

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WHERE DID YOU GO TO COLLEGE?

I went to the University of Southern California and majored in screenwriting. It was an incredible culture shock moving from a small beach town in Florida to South Central Los Angeles but I loved every minute of it.

 

WHAT'S WITH THE FLAG IN THE PICTURE?

This was taken on graduation day and I was selected to carry the film school's flag in the ceremony. The black symbol on the flag is supposed to be a camera lens. The expression on my face is supposed to be "confident young artist." I don't think either quite did the job.

 

DID YOU EVER WORK AS A SCRIPTWRITER?

Yes, but I'll answer questions about that below. First I want to answer one last question about growing up.

 

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WHEN YOU WERE STILL A TODDLER LIVING IN ITALY DID YOU EVER GO TO A TENT CIRCUS AND HOLD A LION CUB BECAUSE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU GROW UP BRAVE AND STRONG?

YES. (Alright, I'll admit that's not a frequently asked question. But it let's me show the picture below which is kind of cool.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DID IT WORK? DID YOU GROW UP BRAVE AND STRONG?

Not at all. I'm a total coward and am especially scared of roller coasters, horror movies and people who are very well organized. Oh, and lions.

 

 

CAREER QUESTIONS

 

WHY DID YOU MAJOR IN SCREENWRITING AND NOT ENGLISH?

I was not a great reader growing up. I was very slow and it frustrated me. I loved to write but I was into movies and television much more than books. (By the way, now I LOVE books and I'm trying to catch up on all the ones I missed out on when I was a kid.) I figured screenwriting was a mix of things that I liked and was good at. In truth it was a great fit. It also shaped the way I now write books. I think of them like little movies in my head.

 

DID YOU WORK IN TELEVISION OR MOVIES?

I worked a little bit in movies (nothing big or cool) but a lot in television. In fact I've worked as a writer and producer in television for over twenty years.

 

WHAT TYPE OF SHOWS HAVE YOU WORKED ON?

I started in kids TV. I've written for Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and PBS. When I was with Disney Channel I was a writer on the Mickey Mouse Club and at PBS I wrote for Clifford's Puppy Days. 

 

WAS MICKEY MOUSE CLUB THE SHOW WITH ALL THE FAMOUS KIDS?

YES. We had an incredibly talented cast. Many of them, like Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Christina Aquilera and Keri Russell, went on to become famous actors and singers. (Or in Justin's case both.) But all of the cast was pretty amazing and many others have had great careers even though their names are not as well known. 

 

WHAT WERE THEY LIKE AS KIDS?

In one way they were not like any kids I had ever known because they had amazing skills. I think Christina was only 11 the first time we heard her sing and it was unbelievable. In most ways, however, they were pretty normal. And ALL of them were nice.

 

IF YOU WERE WRITING TELEVISION SHOWS, HOW DID YOU END UP WRITING BOOKS?

After writing TV for years, I started working as a producer. I produced shows for the History Channel, Spike TV and Golf Channel. I even spent two years producing Roller Derby. I really like producing and it's very creative. I especially like how you get to work with other people. But the more I did it, the more I missed the pure act of writing. So I started writing books on the side.

 

HOW IS WRITING A BOOK DIFFERENT THAN WRITING A TELEVISION SHOW?

Normally when you write a television show you collaborate with other writers. For example on Mickey Mouse Club we would write sketches on our own, but then we'd act them out with the other writers and everyone would try to help make it better. And when I wrote on the Mystery Files of Shelby Woo for Nickelodeon, the writing staff would work on the scripts together. I love being on a writing staff because the other people are usually smart and funny and great to work with. With books, however, you're on your own. I have an editor and an agent who both help me tremendously. And my wife and friends are great about reading and giving suggestions. But the actual writing is done alone at a computer.