Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I'm a school principal and a writer. The problem, however, is that during the school year the role of principal ALWAYS trumps that of writer. So it was a genuine pleasure to visit Aubrey Elementary in Burnaby, British Columbia this afternoon as a guest author.

I took off my tie before driving over. Too principal-ish. Upon arrival, a student in the hallway asked, "Are you Gregory Walters?" Not Mr. Walters, but Gregory Walters. It made me smile. For one afternoon in a school building, I did not have to investigate who clogged the boys' toilet, I did not have to mediate a dispute between archrivals (best friends only a day earlier) and multitude of URGENT emails had to sit neglected next to SPAM.

I was grilled, but in a good way. "Who is your favorite author?" "Why did you have Tom throw worms?" "What's your favorite Gordon Korman book?" "Have you written anything else?" "What made you come up with the Richmond Racist?" "Why do they change things in movies that are based on books?" "Do you get rich as a writer?"

The grade 5, 6 and 7 students were inquisitive, respectful and informed. Hard to say, but maybe I inspired one audience member to read more or write more. What I know for certain is that they inspired me to get back to my writing.

Right after I deal with those emails...

Friday, May 21, 2010


I completed a collection of short stories, written for boys aged 12-14 and now I'm looking for a publisher. Seems there isn't an established market for this sort of thing, yet I'm convinced boys would enjoy short pieces of fiction that they could skip around and read in brief sessions. The topics range from funny to serious--different flavors for different days. In all cases, I've striven to make the characters and situations compelling and memorable.

Here's one as a preview. I'd love to read reactions in the Comments section!


Leon Bennett was pulling an all-nighter. He’d gone to Shawn Randall’s house for a birthday sleepover along with Hunter Bibby, Ray Leung and Dallas MacLeod. With full reign of the basement, they planned to stay up until dawn. It was clear by the snores that only Leon had kept his word.

Not that he particularly wanted to. Sleep would be a good thing if Leon could be sure he’d dream about going fishing or saving his family from a menacing but relatively harmless ogre. Even a freefall off a cliff would be acceptable. Trouble was Leon knew exactly what would be in his dreams. Axe murderers.

No, Leon wasn’t a psychopath, as far as he knew. He’d never thought of axe murderers until Shawn’s birthday. Out of all the DVDs crammed on three shelves, Hunter picked Hack.

Never let a guy named Hunter pick the movie.

Leon wasn’t the squeamish type—didn’t even tear up when he broke his leg in a mountain climbing accident last year. However, he lived a sheltered life. There was a strict ban on video games in the Bennett home and the only movies he saw were sports-themed or comedies fixated on flatulence. Hack was his first horror movie.

What a baptism! No matter how many times he told himself there must have been barrels of tomato juice on the set, it made no difference. Each death involved severed body parts with blood spewing all over the screen. Hunter and the others guffawed and roared in approval. Leon found every minute excruciating. At one point, he excused himself to go to the bathroom, hoping he’d be spared at least two killings. To his mortification, they paused the film so he wouldn’t miss a thing.

If the bad guy had had two heads or a half-severed arm of his own, Leon could have handled it. Or if his fiancĂ© had been executed by terrorists or the guy’s dog had been run over, it would have been okay. Leon kept waiting for a motive, maybe something to redeem, or at least explain, the character. Nothing.

He kills because he can.

Were all horror movies like that? Who came up with this movie? Did the guy’s family attend the premiere and, at the party afterwards, gush, “We’re so proud of you!”? Or did they pay the extra fee to get a twenty-four-hour locksmith to change the locks? Stat! Maybe the whole premise came to the writer after a bad reaction to eggplant. But then who jumped up and agreed to direct? And to star in the thing?

Apparently, Leon was the only one disturbed. They slept blissfully. They’d probably welcome a nightmare with an axe-wielding maniac.

Monday, March 15, 2010


As promised last week, here are Tom's opening remarks from the original manuscript of Fouling Out. Perhaps it will provide more insight into his character. Any feedback is welcome. Leave a comment if you'd like.

Life is supposed to be a lot of fun, isn't it? I mean, I'm a kid so that's what it's all about. I don't know about adults. They seem to spend all their time making sure people don't have fun.

I guess they let some people have fun as long as it's the quiet, boring kind of “fun” that I have no interest in. Like reading. Or playing Rummy.

Maybe adults all had bad childhood experiences so they want to make sure I go through my share of them, too. I'm certain I've already had more than enough. Somebody else out there must be getting a free ride.

My name's Tom Hanrahan and I'm twelve years old. In just three months, I'll be transformed from a child to an adolescent as I enter my teen years. I don't usually care much for birthdays, but this one's gonna rock. It'll be a whole new start for me.

I wish you could move out when you're thirteen. I could manage just fine. I don't really see why society would want to fight so hard to keep me with my family. What's that saying about walking a mile in another person's shoes? If some government person or earnest social worker walked even a couple meters in my Nikes, I'm sure they'd tell me to toss the shoes and walk barefoot.

I'm not going to tell you about my family 'cuz I just don't know how to explain it all. My folks are still together, but I wouldn't say that's a good thing. I'm the youngest of four kids. Don't go calling me the baby of the family. I hate that. Who came up with that stupid expression anyway? It must have been someone who's an older brother or sister who wanted the satisfaction of branding the youngest one for life. How can any sane, educated person call a twelve year old the "baby of the family" and not stop to question the sense of it?

See, that's what I do. Anytime someone asks me about my family, I find a way to stray off subject until the person forgets what was asked in the first place.

For a person like me, school should be a welcome retreat. It's not. If I make it through grade twelve, I'll shock not only every teacher that's ever had me, but myself as well. I'm not exaggerating. My teacher last year, Mr. Osmond, actually said to me in front of the whole class that I was "just plain stupid" and that I'd "never amount to anything." Funny how I can't remember anything else he said or taught during the whole year.

He's probably right.

I think teachers get ticked off 'cuz they get stuck with students like me. I wouldn't want to have to teach me. Anyway, school's not really about numbers and verbs. I'm the most popular kid by a long shot. Everyone knows me. Everyone wants me on the same team in P.E. I’ve been the best basketball player in the school for at least the last three years. That makes me extra cool. Everyone wants to be seen with me at lunch and recess.

Too bad they don't give you grades for recess.

My best friend's Craig Trilosky. We've been in the same class together since grade two. We've always done everything together. If he ever moved, I don't know what I'd do. He's the only cool guy in the whole school. (Of course, he's not as cool as me, but I wouldn't want anyone to be cooler than me anyway.)

Lately, he's been acting a little different--like he's too good for me or something. Sometimes he bows out of hanging out after school so he can do, get this,…homework. He's not the homework type. We haven't had a fist fight for two years, but I think that's what it's coming to. It's up to me to remind him that we're supposed to be having fun.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Fouling Out was originally written from the first-person perspective of both Tom and Craig. In the beginning of the manuscript, they often wrote about the same incident while having wildly different takes on what happened. Then, as the plot evolved and their relationship changed, their alternating accounts chronicled entirely different events. Toward the end of the tale, the accounts referred to similar circumstances once again, keeping in tune with the arc of the story.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to publication. Well, not funny at all. Frankly, it was painful. I’d only submitted the manuscript to one publisher and, while there was initial interest, my work did not fit within Orca Book Publisher’s word count limit. (I’d presented it as a young adult novel, thereby allowing a greater word count, but the editor saw it as juvenile fiction.)

I had the option of either cutting my manuscript by 25,000 words (without any certainty that Orca would ultimately accept it for publication) or shopping it around elsewhere. Since I’d received at least something positive as a response—it wasn’t one of those dreaded form rejections, after all—I decided to whittle the text down. The obvious, if not easiest, thing to do was eliminate one character’s point of view. Tom’s version of events was left on the cutting room floor. Much more had to be done, of course, in terms of deleting but also in adding some essential aspects of the plot that had only been in Tom’s account and ultimately, long story shortened, Fouling Out got the green light.

That was my dream. Every aspiring author longs to be published and I am still proud of that accomplishment. I have no regrets about the compromise I made and, while Tom’s account could certainly shed more light on the personalities of both of the main characters and some of the events that occur, I am thrilled with Fouling Out, as published.

Still, every so often, Tom’s character nags at me.

Why’d you cut me? Why not Craig? You like him better, don’t you?

It’s not a bad thing when your characters talk to you. During the writing process, they have to come to life. In fact, the plot and the dialog for Fouling Out often changed from what I’d initially envisioned because, as the characters become more fully realized, they took control over their thoughts and actions.

Whenever that happens, I’ve hit that sweet spot. The writing flows better and, when I go astray, my characters let me know. And believe me, a character like Tom did not hold back in telling me something was lame. (He used other words, but I did modify his language in deference to the younger target audience—and their parents and teachers.)

Next week in this blog I’ll publish Tom’s opening remarks from the original manuscript. For interested readers, I hope it will provide more enlightenment into a character whom some have misunderstood.

Look for it on March 15. Tom will finally have his moment!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fouling Out Makes the List for Best Books for Kids & Teens 2009

I got a letter from my publisher last week, informing me that Fouling Out is included in The Canadian Children's Book Centre's Best Books for Kids & Teens 2009. According to the Centre, the criteria for inclusion is as follows: "excellence in writing and illustration; quality of production and design; relevance of subject matter; and entertainment and enrichment value." The publication is for purchase and you can go to Centre's site for more information. As so many outstanding children's books are coming from Canadian publishers, I am honoured to have my first novel receive recognition.

In other news, today is my first day of my yearlong sabbatical to pursue writing more seriously as a craft. You can follow my experiences on my new blog, Day Job Gone--It's Time to Write! Click on the link in the top right corner of this site.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How can you be a writer when you're a school principal?

How can anyone be a writer when working full-time at any other occupation? Sadly, that is the reality for most authors. Very few make enough money to quit their day jobs.

When I get that question, it sometimes comes with bit of a sting. It's as if principals are rule enforcers, stuffy folks with ties tightly wound around their necks. (Okay, I do admit to some discomfort whenever I must do up the top button and sport a tie. I imagine ties were invented by the wife of the man who invented girdles.)

Before becoming a principal, I worked as a teacher. I became a teacher because I loved marking papers. Just kidding. I chose the teaching profession because I love working with kids. It is still a treat to create lessons and work them out in the real world of a classroom. Teachers (and principals) can be some of the most creative folks on the planet. They just need to make sure the paperwork doesn't overwhelm them!

I must admit that, after a day at school, I do not feel the energy or the creative spark to write. I have read about authors who schedule in the time to write each day and stick to this commitment. I, however, am not one of those people. Yes, I could sit in my home office and write for the sake of writing. Maybe after an hour I'd have a sentence or two I could salvage, but more likely I'd have a pile of mush that begs for the delete button.

Everyone has his or her own style. I write when I am motivated, just itching to explore some ideas. I am most refreshed and motivated during summer, winter break and spring break. Beginning this summer, I am taking a year's leave of absence from being a principal. I will get to experience a full year of being a full-time writer. No more excuses about fatigue. No more distractions (other than my two schnauzers). Of course, I'll have to live a simple life given that I won't have a steady income. The idea makes me nervous--and excited about the opportunity!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ask the Author

Every occupation or pastime generates common questions. It's not that our curiosity has limits; rather, certain queries get the conversation started. Sadly, we often don't have enough time for deeper discussions. I shall devote the next blog entries to some of the questions people ask when they discover I have a book in publication or, better yet, after they read Fouling Out.

Some of the questions I will answer include:
  • How can you be a writer when you're a school principal?
  • Are you more like Tom or Craig?
  • Are the characters in Fouling Out based on real people you know/knew?
  • Do you really think the responses of the two mothers are realistic?
  • Is there going to be a sequel?
  • Are you writing anything else?
  • How rich are you now?