An Interview With Marc Kornblatt

Posted October 02, 2017  | Written by PJ Our Way Team

Today we're talking to Marc Kornblatt, author of the new PJ Our Way book, Understanding Buddy. The author tells us all about the real-life inspiration behind the story and the characters and gives us some insight into his life as a film-maker.

How did you come up with Buddy and Sam, the main characters of your book?

Understanding Buddy is based on a real series of events that happened in my life. The facts are these:

  • My wife and I hired a woman to clean our house twice a month.
  • The cleaning woman was a Jehovah's witness, and my family is Jewish.
  • I was a volunteer for a Saturday morning Bar/Bat Mitzvah class at my synagogue.
  • My son Jacob was too young for the synagogue class, but I still brought him with me on occasion.
  • Our cleaning woman passed away suddenly under very sad circumstances.
  • We received a call from a neighbor asking if Jacob would walk with her son the first day of school.
  • Jacob walked the boy to school.

 

All of the above gave me the idea for Understanding Buddy. Sam was based on my son, and Buddy was based on our house cleaner's son. Jacob never became friends with the house cleaner's son. So I made up everything else about their relationship.

You didn't ask about Sam's sister Motor Mouth Martha, who is based on my daughter. I love my children equally, so I can't leave out Louisa, who is four years younger than Jacob and liked Barbie when she was little. Early on Loui was a big talker, earning her the nickname Loud Mouth Loui. See the connection? (For the record, the Halloween story about Martha and Sam dressing up as Barbie and Ken was a figment of my imagination.)

How do you decide what to write about?

The truth is, I don't really choose stories to write about, they tend to choose me. Okay, okay. That probably sounded too mystical, even though it's basically true, so let me try again. I'm a naturally curious person who can get enthusiastic about almost anything and then turn it into a story, so by keeping myself open to new possibilities, and talking with people in a meaningful way, I find stories to share.

What books inspired you when you were young?

Believe it or not, I have fond memories of reading Dick and Jane books when I was in first grade. Those books are so old your parents probably never read them, unless they were passed down to them by their parents. People today think the books are corny and old-fashioned, but I liked reading about a sister and brother who got along well, as I did with my twin sister Maddy. Plus, as a dog-lover having Spot the dog in the story was also fun and familiar. The books were easy to read, too. There was a series of books about Tom Swift, a young inventor, that was passed down to me from my uncle. The adventures he had traveling around the world made a strong impression on me, as traveling to foreign places has been a big part of my life. I also remember reading condensed versions of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Both were classics that you may have read already, or will read some day, so I needn't say anything more about them except they taught me about excellence. Finally, there was one book that I must have read over dozens of times. It was called Jews at a Glance. It contained short biographies of famous Jews from Biblical times to the 1950s when the book was published. These included scholars, scientists, musicians, actors, athletes, soldiers and political leaders. The book made me proud to be a Jew.

What do you like better, writing books or making films?

I love doing both, though they are very different activities. Writing books tends to be a solitary endeavor, whereas making films is highly collaborative. In recent years, I've made many more films. That work grew out of making music videos and short documentaries with my students when I was an elementary school teacher. I'm a social person who enjoyed working in a classroom, so films were a natural fit. Since I retired from teaching two years ago, I've devoted myself almost entirely to filmmaking, but I'm starting to return to books.

What are you working on now?

Having spent the past year living in Israel, I'm busy finishing up three short documentaries about life there. Two of them have to do with people I met in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The third features two laughing doves that built a nest outside our bathroom window in Tel Aviv. I'm also working on a new children's novel and volunteering in a fifth grade classroom to sing and talk about books.

Born in Edison, NJ, Marc Kornblatt started out as an actor in New York after college (Brandeis Univ.). He turned to playwriting, earned an MA in journalism (NYU), wrote for magazines and newspapers, published children’s books, married, became a father and then returned to college in his mid 40’s to earn an education degree. Teaching at an elementary school with a large underprivileged population, he began making music videos with students. That led to short narratives, documentaries and the founding of Refuge Films. He has since produced more than 100 short films and four feature-length documentaries — Street Pulse, What I Did In Fifth Grade, In Search of America and the award-winning Dostoevsky Behind Bars.

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