Welcome to the wonderful world of a regular guy who just happened to write 80-something books for kids and teens.
–Gordon Korman, About Gordon Korman
A manuscript Gordon Korman sent to Scholastic while serving as the class monitor for Scholastic Book Orders launched his writing career. Seriously! This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall was published by Scholastic when Gordon Korman was only a freshman in high school. Now he’s been writing for more than three-quarters of his life. According to Scholastic, Korman’s trademark storylines of slapstick humor, madcap adventures, and high-spirited characters have helped make him a favorite author of school-age readers across Canada and the United States. His books have also been translated into close to 30 languages and been sold over 25 million copies worldwide.
A Canadian by birth, Gordon Korman grew up mostly in the Toronto area. His father worked as an accountant and his mother wrote an “Erma Bombeck-type column” for a local newspaper. Biography reports that in elementary and middle school Korman was always fond of writing—especially his own brand of zany stories and scenarios. “I wasn’t a big reader for some reason, but I always tried to put in creativity where I could: if we had (to write) a sentence with all the spelling words for that week, I would try to come up with the stupidest sentences, or the funniest sentences, or the craziest sentences I could think of.”
Korman’s writing career began at the age of twelve. It started by his writing a story assignment for his seventh-grade English class. The big movies at the time were ‘Jaws’ and ‘Airplane” and, according to Biography, everyone in his class were going to write action stories. “It was my mother who brought me down to earth. She told me to write about something a little closer to home.”
From this little push, Korman created the characters Boots and Bruno, whose escapades create havoc in their small private school, Macdonald Hall. The track and field coach had to teach English. For creative writing, he gave us total freedom to work on whatever we wanted for the rest of the year. It was February. That added up to a class period per day for more than four months. Biography quotes Korman as saying he kind of got carried away and accidentally wrote the first book. The characters became real people to him.
“The class had to read all the assignments at the end of the whole business, and a lot of people were coming to me and saying how they really liked it. I suppose anyone who writes 120 pages for class is going to attract a certain amount of attention anyway—and I just got the idea of seeing if I could get the book published.” Korman sent his manuscript to the publisher Scholastic Canada and, at the age of fourteen, witnessed the publication of both his first book and first best seller, This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!
After his initial publication success, Korman published books at the rate of one per year, writing them during summers when he was on vacation from school. At age eighteen, he was voted the Most Promising Writer under Thirty-five by the Canadian Author’s Association. Besides his Bruno and Boots titles, he has also created several other popular series. Korman has also created memorable characters in standalone novels
According to Biography, Korman strives to write stories that provide a healthy dose of humor for his young readers. Like many authors, he writes the kind of stories he wanted to read and couldn’t find when a young person. “I think that, no matter what the subject matter, kids’ concerns are important, and being a kid isn’t just waiting out the time between birth and the age of majority. I hope other kids see that in my work.”
What else is the secret of Gordon’s success? “It’s a combination between real life and pure imagination,” Korman tells Scholastic. “I always start off with something real, but then I unleash my imagination to make it more exciting, funnier, or a better story. To be honest, by the time a book is done, you can’t recognize much of the real-life part. It’s been changed too much. But I never could have gotten there without it.”
Gordon Korman now lives on Long Island, outside New York City, with his wife and family. When not writing, he’s usually driving one of his kids to some practice or rehearsal or game. Otherwise, he’s on the road, appearing at schools, libraries, and bookstores, meeting his readers. Nickelodeon recently brought Gordon Korman’s New York Times bestselling Swindle series to life in a made-for-TV movie. I’ll review the first of the latter tomorrow. Save the date: May 20!
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