Monday, September 5, 2022

Stacy Nockowitz Interview - The Prince of Steel Pier

Photo Content from Stacy Nockowitz

Stacy Nockowitz is a middle school librarian and former language arts teacher with more than 25 years of experience in middle school education. Stacy received her BA from Brandeis University and holds Master's Degrees from Columbia University Teachers College and Kent State University. She is also an MFA candidate in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Stacy received a PJ Library Writer’s Incentive Award in 2020 for her debut novel THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER, coming in September 2022 from Kar-Ben Publishing. An unrepentant Jersey Girl, Stacy still teases her hair and uses plenty of spray. When she’s not writing or matching great kids with great books, Stacy can most likely be found reading or rooting on her beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Her kids have flown the coop, so Stacy lives in central Ohio with her husband and their cat, Queen Esther.


Greatest thing you learned in school.
The greatest thing I learned in school was something I learned when I was done with school! And that is: Many things that seem so important when you’re younger– all the drama with friends and grades and who takes whom to the prom– aren’t actually all that important. All of it will pass. Of course, there may be some things that happen that will have a lasting impact on you, but the vast majority of what you go through as a kid is temporary. And you really can learn something from almost every experience you have. You can learn something about yourself and how you can develop as a person. You can learn about the people you value and who values you. Lots of important lessons, if you’re observant!

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Well, I won’t actually be published until September, but the most rewarding experience I’ve had so far was creating the educator guide for The Prince of Steel Pier with my friend and colleague, Bryan Miller. He’s an amazing English teacher, and we went through my book page-by-page, picking out themes, motifs, allusions, etc. We talked for weeks about activities and questions that we could include in the guide. And because Bryan plans on using The Prince of Steel Pier in his curriculum at our school, the work we did was especially important to me.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t remember a time when I wanted to be anything other than a writer. I started writing when I was so young. I do remember writing my first “book” when I was in 4th grade. It was about a gnome named Herbert who gets lost in New Jersey and solves a series of robberies. My father had someone from his architectural firm illustrate a cover for it and bind it like a real book. I was incredibly proud of that book. That year, I was chosen by my 4th grade teacher to go to a young writers’ conference, and I had the best day. So, there wasn’t one defining moment, but my 4th grade year was an important one for me.

What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Don’t let anyone tell you which path your stories should take. Be very skeptical if someone says to you, “What if your main character does this?” or “What if you have this happen?” Own your stories. Get to know your characters so well that you know what they would say or do in any situation. Visualize your scenes as you write them. People make gestures, use their hands, modify their voices as they interact with the world. So, visualize what your characters are doing at every moment and write that! Then you’ll be tapping into your most authentic style.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
The book that I’m revising right now is another middle grade historical novel. It takes place in the 1950s and is about how anticommunist fervor in our country at that time threatened our freedoms and hurt a lot of people, including kids. That seems pretty heavy, but there’s also a crazy scheme that the main characters carry out that will make kids giggle. Like THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER, the book takes place in the past but its themes are very relevant to today’s world. I’m also just beginning a novel-in-verse about a shooting and its aftermath. That one takes place in the late 1980s and is also a middle grade book.

In your newest book; THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER tells the story of a 13-year-old boy named Joey Goodman who goes to work as a waiter-in-training at his grandparents’ kosher hotel on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in August of 1975. Joey feels like he doesn’t have much of a voice in his family, that he doesn’t have a real place with them. Then, one day, he meets a group of gangsters on the Boardwalk, and their leader offers Joey a job. Joey loves feeling like “one of the guys” but he has to tell his family a bunch of lies to keep up appearances. Joey has to figure out where he really belongs and where his strength really comes from before it’s too late for him and his family!

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope readers will think about what it means to be strong and to believe in yourself. Joey starts out thinking that he’s pretty pathetic. He thinks his family sees him that way, too. But over the course of the novel, he recognizes that he has a lot of people who love him and he’s stronger than he ever believed.

What part of Joey did you enjoy writing the most?
Joey is such a caring soul, and he’s got a wonderful vulnerability. But he’s also perceptive and thoughtful. It was such fun writing a character who embodies so many of the traits I love to see in kids. Being a middle grade educator for so many years, I’ve interacted with thousands of students. When creating the character of Joey, I drew from what I thought were some of the best qualities in middle school kids that I’ve met over the years. I also really enjoyed coming up with all of the metaphors and similes that Joey uses. He’s very clever!

What was your unforgettable moment while writing THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER?
I don’t know about the most unforgettable moment, but I definitely had the most fun writing the scene where Joey plays Skee-Ball while all the gangsters and their friends bet on him. That was a fun scene because all of the people around Joey have such distinct personalities. It made writing the dialogue easy as I thought about how each person would react to the situation. And it’s the scene where Joey begins to admire the mob boss, Artie Bishop. At the beginning of the book, Artie seems like the coolest, most sincere guy, and Joey really falls under his spell!

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
This is a great question! I’d love to introduce Joey to Margaret Simon from Judy Blume’s classic novel ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET. They’re both examining their Jewish faith, and they’re both pretty deep thinkers. Joey wants to connect to God, just as Margaret does, and they could discuss all of their questions about faith and growing up with one another. Joey would love to hear what it’s like to be an only child, and Margaret would probably want to hear all about having a bunch of siblings like Joey has. I think they’d be great friends.

What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
When I was about 20 years old, I worked as a counselor at a summer day camp. One night, I snuck into the camp with a few other counselors. We put a bunch of stuff from the camp director’s office, like her desk chair and a file cabinet, and put them in rowboats. Then we pushed the rowboats out into the middle of the camp’s lake. It was a dumb prank, but we laughed the entire time we were doing it. The camp director thought it was pretty funny, too. She never did find out who was behind the prank.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I think everyone should move to New York City and live there for at least a year. All of the neighborhoods have a different flavor, and you can walk everywhere! One minute you can be sitting in the audience of a Broadway show, and the next you’re going to a world-famous museum! The City is full of rich culture and interesting people and great food. I lived in New York for four years– one year in Manhattan and three years in the Bronx– and I think it’s such an exciting and wonderful place to experience.

Best date you've ever had?
Ha! I’ve been married for 31 years. I don’t remember dating!

What is your happiest childhood memory?
I have a lot of happy childhood memories, so there are a lot to choose from. One that stands out to me is the first trip my family took to Disney World in Florida. It was a long, long time ago, so there was no EPCOT or Animal Kingdom or anything like that. Just the Magic Kingdom. We stayed at the Contemporary Hotel, which seemed to me like THE coolest place on earth. The monorail went right through the hotel! My favorite “ride” was something called the Carousel of Progress. You sat in a cart that looked like something out of the Jetsons and you rode through a series of really detailed sets showing all of the tech advances of the 20th century. It was very mod! I loved everything about that trip, even the matching Mickey Mouse shirts my family bought!

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a kid?
I was a kid in the 70s and a teen in the 80s. I think those were the best decades. I wouldn’t change a thing. The 70s were a great time to discover yourself. I was young, but I was very aware of the Women’s Rights Movement and the National Organization for Women. My mother was a Democratic Committee Member, so I watched her involvement in local politics. And the 80s were just fun from beginning to end! Such awesome music and movies! I guess if I had to choose another decade, it would be the 50s because I love the aesthetic of that time. I would still like to live in a midcentury modern house!

What is your greatest adventure?
Having kids, raising kids. Definitely the greatest adventure possible.

  • 1. I’m a cancer survivor. I had colon cancer when I was 43. All good now!
  • 2. I can’t see anything in 3D. I had to have some eye surgeries when I was very young, and I still don’t look out of both eyes at the same time. I can never be a pilot or watch a 3D movie!
  • 3. When I was a kid, I used to stay up long past everyone else in my house, reading and writing. I stuffed all my books and notebooks under my bed where I thought no one would ever look!
  • 4. I modeled for Sake Fifth Avenue on television when I was about eight years old. I was in the store with my mother one day, and someone came up to Mom and asked if I would model. It was very exciting!
  • 5. I went to overnight camp in the Poconos for 8 weeks every summer from the time I was 8 until I was 19. They gave me a four-foot tall “Best Camper” trophy when I was 18. Then, when I was 19, I became a counselor, and halfway through the summer, they fired me because I didn’t transition well from camper to counselor. That whole episode is kind of hilarious to me now.
  • 6. My grandparents owned a kosher hotel on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City when I was little, just like Joey’s grandparents. My brother and I had the run of the whole hotel, which was so much fun!
  • 7. I was diagnosed with scoliosis in middle school, and I had to wear a back brace for several years. That was traumatic, believe me, especially the times when I had to be fitted for a new brace. Thinking about those times still makes me shiver.
  • 8. I idolized Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner and Lily Tomlin when I was a kid. I wanted to perform on stage so badly. I used to memorize Monty Python skits and recite them to my family on car rides.
  • 9. I’m only five feet tall. And I absolutely hate being short.
  • 10. I love, love, love sour candy. Sour Patch Kids? Sour Gummy Bears? Sweet Tarts? I love them all! But I don’t like chocolate candy very much. It makes me thirsty.
Writing Behind the Scenes
I wish I could say that I’m a really disciplined writer and that I have my writing routine down to a science. But that’s just not true. Writing for me seems to come in spurts. I could write for six hours a day for a few days and then not write for a week. When I say “not write” I don’t mean that I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’m usually caught up in some writer-adjacent project like critiquing a friend’s manuscript or answering interview questions. I also work full-time as a school librarian, so my writing often has to take a back seat to my day job. When I do sit down to write, I’m very focused. The entire day could pass, and I will have spent it with my laptop and my cat out on my screened-in porch. When the weather is good, being out there is like being on vacation to me, but I get a lot of writing accomplished! Like so many writers, I’m an introvert, so I could spend a whole week writing out there on the porch and let the rest of the world fade away around me.

Doing historical research is fun for me. Weird, right? I love writing historical novels because once I decide on the time period that best fits the story, I throw myself into the research. My skills as a librarian are really helpful with this. Sometimes, I get so caught up in learning about a certain time and place that I think I overdo it. I don’t think that’s too unusual for writers, though. A writing teacher once told me that you should stop researching when you feel like you could comfortably time travel to that time and place. That makes sense. For the manuscript about blacklisting that I’m currently revising, I read a book called Jewish Organizations’ Response to Communism and Senator McCarthy. I know that book probably sounds pretty boring to most people, but I tore through it! It was fascinating to me! If that kind of research ever becomes tedi0us for me, I’ll have to stop writing, but I honestly don’t see that happening. As of now, my books are all set in the 20th century. I may go as far back as the 19th century, but I don’t think I want to write about anything further back than that. I think there’s enough fodder from the 20th century to keep me busy for the rest of my writing career.

I’ve always found inspiration for my writing in great, old movies. THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER combines my recollections of life at my grandparents’ hotel with a fantastic film called A BRONX TALE, which came out in 1993. That doesn’t sound so long ago to me, but it is almost 30 years ago. The book I’m revising now about blacklisting and the Red Scare was inspired by THE FRONT, a movie I adore that came out in 1976. I studied film in my free time as a teenager, and I have been heavily influenced by movies from the 70s and 80s. When I’m writing, I visualize scenes in my head as if they are movie scenes. There are some films I’ve seen so many times that I can practically recite every word of them, and I’m sure they’ll influence my stories in the future. Someday, I’ll write a book inspired by ANIMAL HOUSE or THE GODFATHER, but for middle grade kids!

A Young Teen Falls in with the Mob, and Learns a Lesson About What Kind of Person He Wants to Be

In The Prince of Steel Pier, Joey Goodman is spending the summer at his grandparents' struggling hotel in Atlantic City, a tourist destination on the decline. Nobody in Joey's big Jewish family takes him seriously, so when Joey's Skee-Ball skills land him an unusual job offer from a local mobster, he's thrilled to be treated like "one of the guys," and develops a major crush on an older girl in the process. Eventually disillusioned by the mob's bravado, and ashamed of his own dishonesty, he recalls words of wisdom from his grandfather that finally resonate. Joey realizes where he really belongs: with his family, who drive him crazy, but where no one fights a battle alone. All it takes to get by is one's wits...and a little help from one's brothers.

You can purchase The Prince of Steel Pier at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you STACY NOCKOWITZ for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz.