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PSU English Professor Joe Monninger Publishes New Novel

By Lindsey DeRoche; A&E Editor
On September 29, 2017

PSU English Professor Joe Monninger Publishes New Novel 

Lindsey DeRoche

A&E Editor 


                                        Courtesy Photo

Coming-of-age stories always find new and creative ways to strike a chord with audiences.

Whether a reader is immersed in the nihilistic musings of Holden Caulfield while curled up with Catcher in the Rye, or is gasping at the bumpy road to womanhood that Janie Crawford walks in Their Eyes Were Watching God, stories in this vein fail to become obsolete, as young people never stop growing up.

Coming-of-age stories encompass struggles and growth, but the components surrounding the situations vary. In the new young adult novel Game Change by Joe Monninger, the PSU English professor and New Hampshire native paints the picture of a young man facing the adversity induced by his family’s rural poverty and pressure from his from his position on the school football team.

Game Change was published by HMH Books on September 12. He has published a slew of books in a variety of genres since the 1980s, and has even been featured in renowned publications such as Sports Illustrated, Glamour and The Boston Globe.

Game Change centers around Zeb, a seventeen-year-old boy who lives in the woods of northern New Hampshire. On the surface, things look pretty good for Zeb; he is the second-string quarterback for his high school football team (which is fictitiously set in the town of Rumney, NH), he hunts in the New England backwoods on weekends, and he even has a job at his uncle’s car repair shop.

Unfortunately, below his rather pleasantly-average-appearing life surface, Zeb’s existence at home is stricken by rural poverty, which he and his mother both endure. His father is no longer a part of the family picture, and Zeb and his mother reside in a trailer that is plugged into the side of his uncle’s home. “Zeb is a good kid, and loves his mother, but is embarrassed by his circumstances,” Monninger said.

Just going to school and playing on the football team is hard for Zeb, because he could be using that time to work and help with money at home, Monninger said. When the star quarterback is injured a week before the championship game, it is Zeb’s obligation to step up and take his place, while the hopes of his team, family and hometown rest, uneasily, on his shoulders.

Joe Monninger already had a background in football, as he played the sport in high school, and was even a member of a championship team. His inspiration for writing about the rural poverty component of his newest young adult novel also came from firsthand experience.

Monninger lives in the compact and rustic town of Warren, NH. He has seen the effects of rural poverty with his own eyes. “Some of these kids are coming to school with real disadvantages. They don’t have a home life,” Monninger said.

He said, for some kids facing the issue, it is hard for teachers to assign certain homework, because it assumes that the student’s home has a computer, or even electricity.

“For a kid like Zeb, at least in my mind, he’s a kid who doesn’t have those things [luxuries]. He has electricity, he has some things, he has a mother who cares for him. But, he doesn’t have an easy life.” Monninger said, “He’s got to go out there, in front of a lot of people, and try to do something that he might not be prepared to do. That’s a courageous act.”

Whether he is writing a story like Zeb’s or not, Monninger is always writing. He said, “I do write almost every day, but I’m always on the lookout for stories.”

Monninger looks to the famous quote by horror author Stephen King, which said, “It’s not our job, necessarily, to come up with stories, but to recognize them when they float by.” “And you can become better at identifying stories when they float by,” Monninger said.

Regarding his writing process, Monninger said, “What I’m always looking for is a moment of friction, or frisson.”

Monninger’s writing process, in his words, is even akin to his other hobby of fly fishing. “Where the slower water meets the faster water, that’s where fish tend to hang out, and that’s where good stories tend to hang out. It [the story] needs a certain amount of momentum, but it also needs some quiet,” Monninger said.

Young adult fiction is one of Monninger’s favorite literary genres. He is teaching a special topic English course on writing for the genre this semester. One of his reminders that he tends to share with the class is, “Sometimes, we start stories and we don’t know what they’re about.” Monninger said, sometimes, he can be as far as 20 to 30 pages into a book that he is writing, and wonder, “What am I writing about?”

Since characters play such a vital role in a story, Monninger said that they can come to his aid (as they did in Game Change), when deciding what to truly write about. “Sometimes, the characters can kind of poke through the curtain, and go, ‘This is what you’re writing about, dummy!’”  Monninger said.

Another tip Monninger likes to give is about ending a piece with dramatic action, as opposed to trying to reiterate a point, or spell out the moral/meaning of the story. He thinks endings should be “something simple.” The story should have done its job before the ending, in his opinion.

Another common occurrence that Monninger finds with writing young adult fiction is the frankness with which young people will tell him that they liked his book or not. Unfortunately, even helpful criticism has to be saved until another writing venture, because it is given after a book is already published.

“The difficulty about criticism is that the time it would be helpful is when you’re writing a book. But, then, you’re only getting criticism from one person; that’s generally the editor,” Monninger said.

For Monninger, the accolade that has meant the most to him, as of late, was when he spoke in Moultonborough, NH. After speaking, fans came up to him, and conversed about what his books did for them. He found the sentiment quite meaningful.

Monninger holds many professional titles, including professor and author. As of recently, he acquired a new title: that of “international best seller.” A previous novel, The Map That Leads to You, has been a bestseller in both Italy and Germany. A fan even wrote him a letter in German, expressing how much they enjoyed his book.

Regardless of the country, or even continent, Monninger has gained fans that deeply appreciate how he seizes the stories that he sees “floating by.”

To order Game Change online, go to Change-Joseph-Monninger-ebook/ dp/B01N2TPK8R/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1 ?ie=UTF8&qid=1506305609&sr=8-1- fkmr0&keywords=joe+monninger+g ame+change. 

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