Korman wrote first book at age 12
By Angie Landsverk
Last September, Xavier Trindal sent an email to author Gordon Korman and invited him to visit Waupaca.
Four days later, Korman responded to the message and told Trindal he would love to visit the community, but the invitation needed to come from a principal or a librarian.
Librarians from Waupaca’s elementary and middle schools collaborated with staff at the Waupaca Area Public Library to make it happen.
On March 1, Trindal introduced the author to the middle school’s sixth through eighth graders.
“I invited Gordon Korman to come here and talk to us. He’s the author of more than 80 books,” said the eighth grader.
“He’s not kidding,” Korman said. “He’s the one who initially contacted me to come here. If not for Xavier, this never would have happened.”
Korman said Trindal’s invitation resulted in a three-day mini tour in Wisconsin for him.
The children and teen book author also spoke to elementary students earlier that day and ended the day with an evening presentation at the public library.
As Korman spoke to middle school students in the auditorium, the 52-year-old noted it is the 40th anniversary of when he wrote his first book.
That book was “This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall.”
It was a seventh-grade English project.
“My track coach had to teach English,” Korman explained. “He was a nice guy, a good teacher. But at the time, he had never taught writing in his life. He drew a blank and said, ‘OK, work on whatever you want for the rest of the year.”
That was in February, and Korman had until June to work on the project.
He recalled receiving a grade of a B+ on it.
Initially, Korman received an A+.
One grade was deducted for messiness, he explained.
“It was the ‘70s. There weren’t computers,” Korman told the students.
He wrote the entire project in cursive.
That school year, Korman also happened to be the class monitor for Scholastic book orders.
He decided to mail the book he wrote to the address on the book order form. His mother first typed a manuscript for him.
“I got lucky,” Korman said.
The person who opened it read it and shared it with his boss, who also liked it.
A few days after his 13th birthday, Korman signed the contract for his first book.
By then, he was an eighth grader. He was a freshman in high school when it was published.
“The book’s been out for 38 years,” he said. “It’s wild to see your seventh-grade project in Korean or Portuguese.”
Korman talked to the students about how he gets ideas for his books.
In one instance, a tour of a school’s science lab resulted in one when he learned the class was raising a chicken – to eventually eat.
He had to write about that.
“If you really think about it, all stories are really about what if?” he said. “If you ever get writer’s block, ask, ‘What are the what ifs of my story?’”
The father of a 17-year-old son, 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, he spends a lot of time watching them and paying attention to their word choices.
Korman enjoys his work and said he first comes up with an idea and then the characters.
He writes about three drafts for each of his books and said if he is able to write three pages or 1,000 words in a day, that is a decent day.
His mother was a writer, and the first thing Korman does when he writes something is to email it to her.
He said she has been his best collaborator.
“Writers tend to be observers,” Korman said.
He encouraged those interested in writing to read a lot and to make writing part of their daily life.
When asked if there is any other career he would have wanted to pursue, he said that when he was 2, he wanted to be a dog.
“In school, I got better grades in math and science than in English,” Korman said. “I guess if I had not done well on that English project, I would have gone more into math or science.”