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September 16, 2015

Guest Post by Charles Curtis - STRANGE COUNTRY DAY

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When Charles Curtis was a kid, he spent hours in front of the TV, watching sports games. It might sound like a waste of time to you, but Charles would beg to differ --- his early obsession with athletics helped him become a sports writer and, now, the author of the football-themed middle grade novel STRANGE COUNTRY DAY.

Read about his love of sports, and how his career as a sports writer helped him write STRANGE COUNTRY DAY, below. It might also make you feel better about how you spend your time --- those hours reading comic books or doing nail art just might lead to an awesome career (or two!).


I have one of the greatest jobs anyone could ask for: I’m a sportswriter, spending the past 10 years interviewing athletes, covering live games and poring over stats and stories every day.

But how would that help me write my first middle grade novel, STRANGE COUNTRY DAY?

There’s a good answer: I’ve spent my life watching “away from the ball.”

In high school, I spent many hours following my favorite teams. My father, with whom I watched many of those contests, noticed something about my viewing habits, long before I began my professional career.

“You watch away from the ball,” he observed. He meant that I didn’t just follow the puck or basketball or football as the action happened. Instead, I looked everywhere else and saw scoring plays developing, coaches screaming in frustration on the sidelines or an outfielder in baseball moving a few steps to his right when a certain batter stepped up to the plate.

That eye for detail eventually helped me to get where I am today, working as a sportswriter for NJ.com who has also written about sports for ESPN The Magazine and other publications. My favorite stories focus on what was going on off the field, whether it was the technology that made athletes perform better or players’ off-the-field passions not related to their sport. And that ability, to look away, also helped hone my skills as a reporter, when you’re required to describe moments and scenes meticulously under the strain of a tight deadline.

When I sat down to write STRANGE COUNTRY DAY, I knew right away I wanted to tell the tale in the first person, which transformed my hero into a reporter, so I tried to describe what he saw and experienced with 360-degree perspective --- what’s going on behind him, to his left and right? What are the sounds he hears, the expressions on his friends’ faces or the movement in the distance?

The other more obvious influence my sportswriting toolbox had on STRANGE COUNTRY DAY was the subject. The adage “write what you know” couldn’t have been more applicable: It’s a middle grade novel about Alex Ptuiac, a 7th grader at a private school who loves football and suddenly discovers he has the power to throw like an NFL quarterback. Then he finds out his friend Dex can leap 10 feet in the air to catch Alex’s passes … and neither of them can explain why. I drew inspiration from my childhood love of comic books, but I needed my vast knowledge of football to give the novel authenticity for readers who love the game, too.

Who knew all those nights spent in front of the television would turn out to aid me in getting a dream career and a middle grade series? Or that “keep your eye on the ball” isn’t always right?


Charles Curtis is a writer and journalist based in New York City. He has reported and written for publications including NJ.com (where he is currently the site’s sports buzz reporter), I, ESPN.com, ESPN the Magazine, Bleacher Report, TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. Charles has covered the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, golf, tennis and NASCAR. He has also written about television, film and pop culture.

In addition, Curtis has also written, produced and was featured in videos for ESPN.com and The Daily. He has made radio appearances on stations including 92.9 The Ticket in Bangor, Maine, WLIE 540 AM in Long Island and on morning shows across Canada via the CBC. He can be reached on Twitter: @charlescurtis82.