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Otfinoski, Steven 1949-

Otfinoski, Steven 1949-


PERSONAL:

Surname is pronounced ott-fin-a-ske; born January 11, 1949, in Queens Borough, NY; son of Anthony (an insurance salesman) and Helen Otfinoski; married Beverly Larson (a high school English teacher, freelance writer, and editor), April 18, 1981; children: Daniel, Martha. Ethnicity: "Polish and German American." Education: Attended Boston University, 1967-69; Antioch College, B.A., 1972.

ADDRESSES:

Home and office—1559 North Peters Ln., Stratford, CT 06614. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Hartford Times, Hartford, CT, news reporter, 1972-73; Field Publications (Middletown, CT), Middletown, CT, assistant editor for Read magazine, 1974-75; freelance writer, 1975—. History Alive! (traveling theater company), performer, 1992—.

MEMBER:

Dramatists' Guild.

AWARDS, HONORS:

One-Act Play Award, Quaigh Theater, 1983, for The Bookworm; Playwriting Award, Community Children's Theater of Kansas City, 1985, for The Princess and the Pea; competition winner of Summer Festival of New Plays, Rhode Island Playwrights Theater, 1989, for Still Life with Dead Grizzly; competition winner, Connecticut Playwrights One-Act Festival, Warner Studio Theater, 2000, for A Pirate's Life, and 2002, for Anne Bonny: Pirate Queen; included among "books for the teen age," New York Public Library, for Triumph and Terror: The French Revolution and Poland.

WRITINGS:


FOR YOUNG READERS


The Monster that Wouldn't Die and Other Strange but True Stories, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1976.

(With Diane Carlson) The Blood Suckers and Other True Animal Stories, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1976.

The Rubber-Soled Kid and Other Funny Superstars, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1976.

Plays about Strange Happenings, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1976.

The World's Darkest Days: Stories of Great Tragedies of the Past, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1977.

The Red Ghost and Other True Animal Stories, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1977.

(Compiler) Fun for All: Jokes and Cartoons to Make You Laugh, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1977.

High Flier and Other Fast Action Stories, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1977.

The Third Arm and Other Strange Tales of the Supernatural, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1977.

Monsters to Know and Love: Stories of Chills and Fun, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1977.

Sky Ride and Other Exciting Stories, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1977.

The Verlaine Crossing, illustrated by Stanley Fleming, Pitman (Belmont, CA), 1977.

Tony, the Night Custodian, Janus Books (Hayward, CA), 1977.

Plays for Group Reading, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1977.

Space Trucker and Other Science Fiction Stories, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1978.

The Zombie Maker: Stories of Amazing Adventures, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1978.

Village of Vampires, illustrated by Chris Kenyon, Pitman (Belmont, CA), 1979.

Fun to Read Funny Stories, Playmore (New York, NY), 1979.

(With Annie Mueser) Cobra in the Tub and Eight More Stories of Mystery and Suspense, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1980.

(Editor and contributor) Face at the Window and Other Stories of Suspense and Adventure, Field Publications (Middletown, CT), 1980.

(Compiler and contributor) Know Power: Everything to Know about Everything, Playmore (New York, NY), 1981.

The Screaming Grave, Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1982.

History Alive! (plays), Educational Insights (Rancho Dominguez, CA), 1982.

Midnight at Monster Mansion (multiple adventure novel), illustrated by Michael Racz, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1984.

TV Superstars Scrapbook 1, Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1984.

TV Superstars Scrapbook 4, Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1985.

Superworld (adventure), Scholastic (New York, NY), 1985.

James Bond in Barracuda Run (multiple adventure novel), Ballantine (New York, NY), 1985.

TV Superstars ‘86, Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1986.

Wild on Wheels, Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1986.

Carnival of Terror (multiple adventure novel), Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1986.

Cosby, Punky, Kate, and Allie, Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1986.

The Secret of Pirate Island, Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1986.

Master of the Past (multiple adventure novel), Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1987.

The Shrieking Skull, Weekly Reader Books (Stamford, CT), 1988.

Hispanics in American History, Volume 2: 1865 to the Present, Globe Books, 1989.

Jesse Jackson: A Voice for Change, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1989.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Innovator, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1989.

Marian Wright Edelman: Defender of Children's Rights, Blackbirch Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Nineteenth-Century Writers, Facts On File (New York, NY), 1991.

Alexander Fleming: Conquering Disease with Penicillin, Facts On File (New York, NY), 1992.

Lewis and Clark: Leading America West, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1992.

The Stolen Signs: A Southside Sluggers Baseball Mystery, illustrated by Bert Dodson, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992.

Who Stole Home Plate?: A Southside Sluggers Baseball Mystery, illustrated by Bert Dodson, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992.

Nelson Mandela: The Fight against Apartheid, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1992.

Gun Control: Is It a Right or a Danger to Bear Arms?, Twenty-First Century (New York, NY), 1993.

Oprah Winfrey: Television Star, Blackbirch Press (New York, NY), 1993.

William Gaines: MAD Man, Rourke (Vero Beach, FL), 1993.

Triumph and Terror: The French Revolution, Facts On File (New York, NY), 1993.

Igor Sikorsky: Father of the Helicopter, Rourke (Vero Beach, FL), 1993.

Joseph Stalin: Russia's Last Czar, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1993.

Putting It in Writing, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.

Blizzards, Twenty-First Century (New York, NY), 1994.

Great Black Writers, Facts On File (New York, NY), 1994.

The Truth about Three Billy Goats Gruff, illustrated by Rowan Barnes-Murphy, Whistlestop (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.

Poland, Facts On File (New York, NY), 1995, revised edition, 2004.

Whodunit? Science Solves the Crime, illustrated by Betsy Scheld, Scientific American Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1995.

Boris Yeltsin and the Rebirth of Russia, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1995.

Scott Joplin: A Life in Ragtime, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1995.

The Czech Republic, Facts On File (New York, NY), 1996, revised edition, 2004.

Speaking up, Speaking Out: A Kid's Guide to Making Speeches, Oral Reports, and Conversation, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1996.

The Kid's Guide to Money: Earning It, Saving It, Spending It, Growing It, Sharing It, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

Bulgaria, Facts On File (New York, NY), 1999, revised edition, 2004.

New Hampshire, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Ukraine, Facts On File (New York, NY), 1999, revised edition, 2004.

John Wilkes Booth and the Civil War, Blackbirch Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Bugsy Siegel and the Post-War Boom, Blackbirch Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Hammerheads and Other Sharks, World Book (Chicago, IL), 2000.

Hedgehogs and Other Insectivores, World Book (Chicago, IL), 2000.

Ladybugs and Other Beetles, World Book (Chicago, IL), 2000.

Time to Share: The Wild Thornberrys, Simon Spotlight (New York, NY), 2000.

Coin Collecting for Kids, Innovative Kids (Norwalk, CT), 2000.

Georgia, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Marco Polo: To China and Back, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Francisco Coronado: In Search of the Seven Cities of Gold, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Maryland, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Washington, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2003.

William Henry Harrison, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2003.

African Americans in the Visual Arts, Facts On File (New York, NY), 2003.

African Americans in the Performing Arts, Facts On File (New York, NY), 2003.

Abraham Lincoln, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Ruthrford B. Hayes, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Afghanistan, Facts On File (New York, NY), 2004.

The Baltic Republics, Facts On File (New York, NY), 2004.

Harry S. Truman, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Vasco Nuñez de Balboa: Explorer of the Pacific, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Juan Ponce de León: Discoverer of Florida, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Bram Stoker: The Man Who Wrote Dracula, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 2005.

Extraordinary Short Story Writing, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 2005.

Stan Lee: Comic Book Genius, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 2006.

Television, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Rockets, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Latino Americans in the Arts, Facts On File (New York, NY), 2007.

Henry Hudson: In Search of the Northwest Passage, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2007.

David Livingstone: Deep in the Heart of Africa, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to books, including My Giant Story Book, Playmore (New York, NY), 1981; Christmas Fun World, Playmore (New York, NY), 1981; and Hispanic American Biographies, Globe Books, 1988.

"HERE WE GO" SERIES; FOR CHILDREN


Into the Wind: Sailboats Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Riding the Rails: Trains Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Pedaling Along: Bikes Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Behind the Wheel: Cars Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Taking Off: Planes Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1997.

To the Rescue: Fire Trucks Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Around the Track: Race Cars Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1998.

On the High Seas: Ships Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Wild on Wheels: Motorcycles Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1998.

On the Road: Trucks Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Blasting Off: Rockets Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Whirling Around: Helicopters Then and Now, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1999.

FOR ADULTS


Idea to Manuscript: Writing Books and Stories for Children and Young Adults, Calco Publishing, 1993.

The Golden Age of Rock Instrumentals: A Loving Tribute to the Pioneers of the Instrumental Era, Billboard Books (New York, NY), 1997.

The Golden Age of Novelty Songs, Billboard (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor of a short story to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

PLAYS


A Revolution Relieved: In Word and Song, toured schools and churches in Connecticut, 1976.

At Crazy Jayne's (one-act comedy), produced at Stage-lights Theatrical Club, New York, NY, 1978.

Love of Frankenstein (comedy), produced at Actor's Playhouse, New York, NY, 1978.

Great Moments from the Good Book (comedy sketches), produced at Arts Café, Hartford, CT, 1982.

The Bookworm (one-act comedy), produced at Quaigh Theater, New York, NY, 1983.

The Ventriloquist (musical comedy), produced at Quaigh Theater, New York, NY, 1983.

Stooge Night, produced at Quaigh Theater, New York, NY, 1985.

Wedding Bell Blues (one-act comedy), produced by American Theater of Actors, New York, NY, 1986.

Cutting Edge (one-act; adaption of a short story), produced by American Theater of Actors, New York, NY, 1987.

Conscience (one-act; adaptation of a short story), produced by American Theater of Actors, 1987.

We the People (musical), music by Richard Amend and Mary Lang, produced in Stratford, CT, 1987.

Still Life with Dead Grizzly (historical drama), produced by Rhode Island Playwrights' Theater, Providence, RI, 1989.

Remember Then (comedy-drama), produced by the Theater Artists' Workshop, Westport, CT, 1990, and in New Playwrights' Series, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, 1991.

Stratford Characters (historical drama), produced in Stratford, CT, and Festival of the Arts, Stratfordon-Avon, England, 1991.

Two for Freedom (solo shows based on America history; contains "New England Woman, Phillis Wheatley: Black Poet of Boston" and "Braggarts, Bulldoggers, and Desperadoes: The Black Cowboys"), produced by History Alive!, 1992.

Direct from Hell: An Evening with Ambrose Bierce (solo show), produced by Oronoque Reader's Theater, 1998, and Stratford Library's Readers' Theater, 1999.

A Pirate's Life (solo show), produced by Warner Studio Theater, Torrington, CT, 2000.

Anne Bonny: Pirate Queen (solo show), 2002.

CHILDREN'S MUSICALS


The Birdfeeder, produced at Quaigh Theater, New York, NY, 1982.

The Ghosts of Gloomy Manor, music by Karl Blumenkranz, produced at Quaigh Theater, New York, NY, 1982.

The Christmas Santa Lost His Ho! Ho! Ho!, music by Mary Lang, produced at Quaigh Theater, New York, NY, 1983.

Snow White, music by Mary Lang, produced at Calliope Storybook Theater, Eatontown, NJ, 1984.

Mrs. Claus to the Rescue!, music by Karl Blumenkranz, produced at Quaigh Theater, New York, NY, 1984.

Sleeping Beauty, music by Richard Amend, produced at Club Bene Theater, Sayerville, NJ, 1985.

The Princess and the Pea, music by Richard Amend, produced at Club Bene Dinner Theater, Sayerville, NJ, 1985.

Rumpelstiltskin Is My Name!, music by Mary Lang, produced at Club Bene Dinner Theater, Sayerville, NJ, 1985.

SIDELIGHTS:

A professional writer for children, Steven Otfinoski is the author of plays, mystery novels, and numerous works of nonfiction that allow young readers to pursue their interests in people, places, and historic events. From profiles of both nations and states to biographies of such notable individuals as helicopter inventor Igor Sikorsky and children's rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman, Otfinoski's books have been praised for their clear prose and unbiased presentation. Reviewing Boris Yeltsin and the Rebirth of Russia, School Library Journal contributor Pat Katka described Otfinoski's writing style as embodying "clarity and verve."

Otfinoski was born in the borough of Queens, New York, and raised in Farmingdale, on Long Island, the oldest of three boys. "When I was ten, our family moved to my father's hometown of Middletown, Connecticut," he once commented. "I was an introspective boy and spent much of my time reading books, watching television, and daydreaming. I fell in love with horror and suspense movies at an early age." This early love of the mysterious would inspire much of Otfinoski's later fiction for children, including The Third Arm and Other Strange Tales of the Supernatural and The Screaming Grave.

"Although I wrote comics, stories, and poems throughout my childhood, it wasn't until studying a year abroad in London while in college that I truly discovered the joys of writing," Otfinoski explained. "I kept a journal and wrote down descriptions of places and people and my thoughts and feelings of the life around me. After graduation back in the states, I quickly got my first writing job, as a reporter for the now-defunct Hartford Times. Newspaper writing with its tight deadlines and emphasis on clear, precise writing was excellent training for me, as it is for most writers. However, I soon grew tired of writing about town meetings and car accidents and quit after only a year."

After leaving the Times, Otfinoski spent a summer traveling, then returned home to Middletown, "determined to start a spectacular career as a freelance writer." However, he quickly realized that such a goal was going to take more than ambition. "My efforts at writing witty greeting cards and spine-tingling short stories for mystery magazines were doomed to failure," he admitted. "As the rejection slips piled up on my writing desk, I decided I'd better get a full-time job doing anything to earn money before I tried my dear parents' patience beyond endurance." Luckily, Otfinoski's hometown was also the home of Xerox Educational Publications, publishers of the My Weekly Reader school newspaper and other educational periodicals. Although Xerox had no openings in their editorial department, Otfinoski took a job in the company's mail room. After getting to know several editors, he was offered the job of assistant editor on Read magazine, a periodical for secondary students. "I enjoyed the mixture of editing and creative writing and might be there still," Otfinoski noted, "if I wasn't laid off in one of several notorious staff cutbacks after only a year on the job. My boss cried openly at the suddenness of my ‘termination,’ but I was actually quite happy. I knew working in an office wasn't for me and I was already looking forward to once again trying my hand at being an independent freelancer."

Because of his experience in writing to deadlines, and with the help of the contacts made at Xerox, Otfinoski's second attempt to strike out on his own as a professional writer was successful. Surprisingly, he never deliberately decided to channel his efforts into books for young people, the avenue that has been his greatest success. "It just sort of happened by accident," he admitted, "and I've never regretted it. [Kids'] interests in adventure, the mysterious, and the supernatural, are my interests as well. And when I sit down to write I don't ask whether my readers will like what I'm writing. I try to please myself first. If I'm interested in what I'm writing, I take it for granted that they'll be interested too. And nine times out of ten I'm right."

Following his personal interests in the area of nonfiction has resulted in a wide-ranging list of titles to Otfinoski's credit. From politics to personalities, he has written on many topics relevant to top-of-the-news issues, enabling young readers to grasp the political and social changes occurring throughout the world. In the early 1990s, after the fall of communism in Russia, Otfinoski published books on Soviet leaders Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as books profiling Eastern Europe. In Boris Yeltsin and the Rebirth of Russia, he examines the rise of a democratic Russia against Yeltsin's long political career as an advocate of change in a formerly oppressive state. Commenting on the book in Booklist, Frances Bradburn noted that "Otfinoski captures [Yeltsin's career] with an easy writing style that belies the complexity of both the man and his country."

Otfinoski's Bulgaria is one of several books profiling modern nations in a timely manner. Part of Facts On File's "Nations in Transition" series, the book focuses on the past, present, and future in this Eastern European country. Containing numerous photographs and maps, as well as a pronunciation guide, Otfinoski's volume clarifies the history of a nation that has gone through many changes. Praising the volume as of value to both teachers and students, Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld commented that Bulgaria aids in "learning about a variety of governments, … political transitions, and the intriguing history of a country still trying to find its identity."

In addition to writing on political, geographical, and biographical topics, Otfinoski has also put together several books to help young people in the day-to-day navigation of their lives. The subtitle of his Kid's Guide to Money: Earning It, Saving It, Spending It, Growing It, Sharing It covers the gamut of money management for the modern teen. In Speaking up, Speaking Out: A Kid's Guide to Making Speeches, Oral Reports, and Conversation, he helps teens deal with the hurdle of their first public speaking experiences: everything from small talk at parties to introductions between friends to classroom presentations. Calling the text "brisk" and "fluent," Stephanie Zvirin praised the book in her

Booklist review, noting "It's about time to see [the discussion of charitable contributions] given some due." In School Library Journal, Jonathan Betz-Zall observed that "Otfinoski's friendly, low-key approach" made his book particularly effective in "encourag[ing kids] to behave responsibly."

Besides writing books for young people, Otfinoski is also a popular playwright, and since 1992, has produced and written for his own traveling theater company for young audiences, History Alive! The company performs one-person shows about people from American history at schools and libraries throughout Connecticut and New York. Recently, Otfinoski has begun writing books for adults. The Golden Age of Novelty Songs, published in 2000, traces the humorous history of novelty music in the rock era. He has also written biographical dictionaries on people in the arts: on African Americans and on Latino Americans.

Asked where he gets his story ideas, Otfinoski explained that a major source for his fiction and plays has been the "vast treasure chest of literature, movies, and theater that is our cultural heritage. I enjoy adapting famous works and sometimes spoofing them. In other cases I draw on my own childhood and experiences as a student. If there's a germ of truth and real experience in the story, it's always easier to write and make believable to others." In many cases, it is the publisher that determines the story. "A good instance of this is one of my favorite books, The Screaming Grave. The publisher called, gave me the title, a one-sentence description about a boy walking through a graveyard at night and hearing a scream, and asked me to write the book in about four weeks. From this meager beginning, I came up with a plot and characters and wrote the thing. My ‘inspiration’ was that if I didn't meet the deadline I might not get paid!"

Describing his life as a freelance writer for young people, Otfinoski commented: "Being a professional writer means being able to write well, quickly, and sometimes, on demand. Sometimes it's frustrating, but, all in all, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:


PERIODICALS


Booklist, April 1, 1995, Frances Bradburn, review of Boris Yeltsin and the Rebirth of Russia, p. 1385; April 1, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Kid's Guide to Money, p. 1360; March 1, 1999, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Bulgaria, p. 1201.

School Library Journal, March, 1995, Pat Katka, review of Boris Yeltsin and the Rebirth of Russia, p. 233; June, 1996, Jonathan Betz-Zall, review of

Kid's Guide to Money, pp. 145-150.

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