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Author's 40-year career began with book written in middle school

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    Gordon Korman

    Owen Kassimir

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When best-selling author Gordon Korman talks about growing up in the book business, he’s not talking figuratively.

His first novel, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall, began as a 7th grade English project.

At the time, Korman served as a book monitor for Scholastic Canada at his Toronto school, and he sent his manuscript — with some typing help from his mother — to the address on the form.

Though he was thrilled to have the book published, Korman said, looking back, his most vivid memory is one of “a grating impatience.”

“I wrote that book when I was 12, and it took four or five months to hear back,” he said. “I was 13 when I signed that first contract and 14 and in high school by the time it actually was published, which is not bad from my perspective today, but when you’re 12, that kind of waiting is not in your DNA.”

About 40 years and more than 90 titles later, Korman still has an ability to relate to youngsters.

“I have always felt that there are some people who remember what it’s like to be a kid, and I’m sort of lucky to be one,” he said.

This week, Korman will make two appearances in Wood County to share his story as an author and his love of reading. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the author will be at Wood County District Public Library, 251 N. Main St., Bowling Green, and at 7 p.m. Thursday he will be at the Walbridge Branch Library, 108 N. Main St., Walbridge.

“I love the kids’ book world,” said the author, who has sold more than 28 million books during his career. “I think there was probably a time when I thought, ‘This is all fine now, but eventually I’m going to write for adults.’ I have no interest in writing for adults anymore.”

Part of that, Korman said, is the connection that adults tend to have to certain books that they read as middle schoolers.

“It’s almost like this period, what you would call middle grade as opposed to picture books, is when you become in charge of your own opinion. It’s no longer that you like the book that your mom reads so well and does all those great voices. You get to choose what you want to read and what you don’t.”

He studied film at NYU but has always worked full time as a writer.

“It’s easier when you start at 12,” he said. “It gets you through the lean years.”

Korman, who now lives on Long Island, N.Y., has three children from whom he occasionally gets ideas and input. But, “I really don’t want to create any pressure on them that they have to be fans,” he said.

His most recent book Supergifted, released in January as a sequel to Ungifted, returns to Donovan Curtis, who has never been gifted, and his genius friend Noah Youkilis, who, with one of the highest IQs around, longs for an opportunity to fail if he wants to.

Korman’s next book, Whatshisface, is due in stores May 8. It tells the story of Cooper Vega who recently moved with his family to the Shakespeare-obsessed town of Stratford. As the new kid in town, Cooper can’t seem to catch a break. He makes a bad first impression, and the state-of-the-art smart phone that his parents bought him as an I’m-sorry-we-had-to-move-again gift won’t work properly. Soon Cooper realizes that his device is troubled by more than a technical glitch; it’s haunted by the ghost of a boy who lived in the time of William Shakespeare who seeks to right a wrong in history.

“The original kernel was kids and their phones and the idea that you can be so obsessed with the fact that your phone is quirky, because technology is so advanced now, our devices can do weird things,” Korman said. “It’s almost like our devices have their own personality and a kid could get a haunted phone.”

The author considers himself a “cheerleader for reading” and reads a lot of children’s books to stay current on the industry.

“It’s kind of a treat for me to read something for adults,” he said, noting his favorites include Michael Chabon and Kurt Vonnegut. “A lot of times it’s based on what I’m working on.”

For example, he’s planning a World War II story, so much of what he’s reading now is researching for that.

Even though he has written about history such as in Whatshisface and in a Titanic trilogy, Korman said as a writer his first priority is to entertain.

“I have no interest in anyone reading my books and saying, ‘Now, I know the meaning of life,’” he said. “That’s not to say my books are devoid of any social relevance whatsoever, I just think that’s kind of secondary. The most important thing is to tell a good story.”

For example, his book Schooled about a student who grew up homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, was heralded for an anti-bullying message. That feedback initially took the author by surprise.

“If I sat down and tried to write a book saying that bullying is bad, it would have been lame,” he said. “It would have been preachy and didactic and not any fun to read.”

Maria Simon, head of youth services at Wood County District Public Library, calls Korman’s books “humorous and action-packed” with “what-if stories that are so gripping for kids.”

His visit is part of the youth community read program, which seeks authors that have a wide appeal, she said.

“He has so many books, that’s kind of the glory of Gordon Korman,” she said. “There’s something for everyone.”

During his stay in Bowling Green, Korman will visit middle schools in Bowling Green, Northwood, and Lake Township.

Korman considers the best part of his job to be meeting the readers.

“What I do is such an isolated thing. It’s just you and your computer and only a couple of people even know about it,” he said. “The idea that a year down the line, 18 months down the line, hundreds of thousands or millions of people are reading what you wrote is a very cool feeling.

“To get out there and actually see it in person is a lot of fun and sometimes surprising. … It’s really nice to get out there and see the impression [your books] have on readers.”

Most of all, he said, “There is no greater joy in my life than knowing that there are people out there laughing at all the right places.”

Contact Shannon E. Kolkedy at: skolkedy@theblade.com.

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