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Million Dollar Author

Dan Gutman pens books about children overcoming overwhelming odds.

<ro>"I like to take an ordinary kid and put him in an amazing situation."

<ro1>— Dan Gutman, author

<1b>By Mike Salmon

<2b>The Connection

<bt>Author Dan Gutman found his niche in the children's book world by combining sports and "Million Dollar" situations. In his work, it's not unusual for a child to win $1 million by sinking a basketball shot or to travel through time with the help of a $1 million baseball card.

"I like to take an ordinary kid and put him in an amazing situation," Gutman said.

Gutman shared some of his experiences with fifth graders at Cardinal Forest Elementary on Tuesday, Dec. 16, using a slide show and a dose of comedy to get the students laughing.

"A lot of the kids have read his books," said Sonya Esvesteve, the Cardinal Forest librarian.

Gutman showed the students that through writing, they should dream and look to the seemingly impossible.

"I was rejected a million times," Gutman said. Then he moved onto a career in which he has had 42 books published.

The students at Cardinal Forest Elementary School were familiar with the series and got involved in the characters as well. In "The Million Dollar Shot," the main character made the basketball shot and ended up buying the food factory his mother was fired from. That was Nichole Edwards' favorite part.

"I also liked when he bought Fimble Foods," Nichole said.

Demetrie Gamble, 11, has read a few of Gutman's books and is now writing his own.

"I'm trying to finish a book about a boy named Eiei," Demetrie said. "He's trying to save the world."

Gutman used his own experience with books and sports to try to motivate the students. Early in his career, he tried to write comedy like Dave Barry, but he wasn't successful. Gutman didn't like reading or wasn't talented in sports, but he found a career in writing children's books about those subjects nonetheless.

"When I was a kid I hated reading," he said.

Gutman would start with an idea, do an outline, research and start writing. Each book took about one year to write and he wasn't afraid of rejections. Gutman held up a notebook full of rejection letters, from publishers such as Scholastic, Orchard Books, Putnam Books, Little Brown Inc., and Bridgewater Books.

"Did I give up?" he asked the students.

Finally, Harper Collins accepted his book "The Million Dollar Baseball Card." The book is going to be made into a television movie in April starring Matthew Modine.

"I felt so great because I had to wait through two years of rejections," Gutman said. "I'm glad I didn't quit on this book. When your teacher wants you to write it again, don't get angry."

GUTMAN LIVES in New Jersey with his wife Nina, and children Sam and Emma. After graduating from Rutgers University in 1977, he wrote a little bit and then started his own computer game magazine, which he later sold. He's also had articles published in Esquire, Newsweek, USA Today and other national publications. In 1994, Gutman finally had his first book "They Came From Centerfield," published.

He gets ideas from his family as well as the newspaper and everyday life. His son Sam provided the computer game idea for "The Kid Who Would Be President," Gutman admitted. When researching for "The Million Dollar Shot," he talked to a 71-year-old doctor who made 2,750 free throw baskets in a row, which was the world record.

"He revealed to me his secret," Gutman said.

His next book, "The Million Dollar Strike," is about bowling and is due to come out soon. Another book he's working on called "Race For The Sky," is about a child that was at the Wright Brother's famous flight.

"I told the story of the Wright Brothers through a kid's eye," he said.

Gutman has reached the end of his "Million Dollar" series though, and when a Cardinal Forest Elementary student asked about the possibility of incorporating car racing into the series, Gutman couldn't see that happening. The environment was one reason.

"I don't get car racing," he said. "Why should cars waste gas driving around in a circle?"