The York Observer Sunday, November 27 1988
'Making Memories' Writer Gives Young Readers A Wealth of Stories
By JOE POSNANSKI Staff Writer ROCK HILL

Author Matt Christopher's 71 years have been packed with things to remember. He remembers writing 78 books, all crowded on his shelves now, and more than 250 magazine articles and short stories. He remembers playing shortstop on a minor-league baseball team in Canada. But more than anything, Matt Christopher remembers the children. "My books are about children with problems," Christopher says. "The books show how they resolve those problems - usually with a sports background."

Of the 78 books written by Christopher, who now lived in Rock Hill, 75 are for children. All but seven of those are sports-related. And Christopher - if anything - is even more popular now. He already has a contract for two more books with Little, Brown and Co. "This has really been an incredible year for me," Christopher says. "I've had eight books published (four earlier books were released in paperback form). I'm busier than ever."

Christopher was the oldest of nine children. He was also a talented athlete - playing baseball, football and soccer in high school. He was granted a baseball scholarship to Cornell, but fell one class short of fulfilling Cornell scholarship requirements. Because his father couldn't afford to send him to college, Christopher bypassed college and headed straight for work.

Work came in many shapes through the years. Christopher was a shortstop for a Class C minor-league team in Smith Falls, Ontario. He drove trucks and sold umbrellas and worked in a theater. But since he was 14, he wanted to write.

Christopher began his writing career in 1940, when he wrote a detective story that was accepted by Detective Box Magazine. He would go to the newsstand every month, hoping his story was in. The story was finally printed, Christopher says, laughing, in 1943 "Other people could have become better writers than I am," Christopher said. "I was just more determined to become a writer. In 1940 I wrote 100 detective stories before finally getting one accepted."

Being a children's author wasn't in Christopher's plans. He wanted to write novels of suspense and mystery. At that time, he was working at a General Electric plant near Ithaca, N.Y., and he would write during lunch and type his work at night. But he found his niche writing children's literature. He's written three books for adults - none of which sold particularly well.

In 1952, over Thanksgiving weekend, Christopher wrote his first children's book - "The Lucky Baseball Bat." That book is still in print. The Christopher home looks like every other on its quiet street in Rock Hill. From the outside, there is no sign to tell that children are being created inside.

Christopher writes in a quiet office that is too small. He says his office is always the smallest room in the house, even though it has the most stuff in it. His books alone take up the top three shelves of a large bookshelf - spanning 34 years of writing. The titles fall off like fragments of the sports page - "Two Strikes On Johnny," "The Counterfeit Tackle," "Tall Man In The Pivot," "Ice Magic," "The Kid Who Only Hit Homers."

Each book has a piece of Christopher's life. "Most of my ideas come from my own experience," Christopher said. "A lot is from observation and a lot is from imagination. More observation I think. "You have to be keenly interested in children. You have to understand them. Some people think that children's books are easy, but they are really more difficult because of the understanding you need."

So many books have followed, so many titles. Christopher has written books about baseball and football and basketball and hockey and tennis. He has written three adventure books, countless articles for The Christian Science Monitor and other such publications. He has written words for an old comic book and has designed a mystery puzzle game. He is working on a wrestling book. But he says no matter how many books he writes or how many projects he gets involved with, the characters keep separate identities in the memory. "While I'm writing every book, I'm that character," Christopher said. "They never blend. I never look at the other books while I'm writing."

Christopher gets between 30 and 40 letters a week from children and teachers and librarians thanking him and telling him how much they enjoy his books. Christopher says those letters give him a lift. In children's books, the author must pour himself into the work. It will take Christopher three months to finish a book - a mix of fun and the hardest work. "I think of times when I get emotional writing books," Christopher said. "Sometimes I write, and there are tears in my eyes. It's very important. I know when I feel like that, the reader will feel that way." He smiles.

This is the 25th anniversary of the year he quit all his other jobs and decided to turn to his writing full time. "I don't think I'll ever retire," Christopher says. "I know I can't ever stop writing."