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Gratitude, Encouragement and Inspiration: My Eighth Grade Teacher, Mr. David Smallwood

So much goodstuff has happened to me since 2010, when I was offered my first book contract. This is one of a series of blog posts (in no particular order) about people to whom I am grateful. Posts so far: My career-changing SCBWI conference – My thank you letter to the SCBWI – A thank you to Justin Chanda and Simon & Schuster Children’s.

Above: My eighth grade teacher, David Smallwood, surprised me (and yes, made me weepy) last year by attending my very first book launch, for my illustrations in I’M BORED.  Not only that, but he gave me a folder full of my writing back then, which he had kept all these years:

Most of these stories and poems were written solely to show my teacher for the pure fun of it, NOT because they were assigned. All were typed manually (with mistakes laboriously fixed with correction fluid), and a few illustrations. Back then, I mainly wrote science fiction, horror and mystery, and was fond of twist endings.

David Smallwood (I still can’t help but think of him as Mr. Smallwood, though he encourages me to call him David now) is the first teacher who ever encouraged me in my creative writing. I loved his sharp wit and the way he noticed individual students, no matter how quiet or shy. I clearly remember how much his comments about my writing made me more confident, drew me out of my shell.

We used to have a “who can be more witty/snarky” letter war going on that I hugely enjoyed. I used to spend hours with a thesaurus in my efforts to find longer and longer words in our literary one-upmanship contest:

I’m still fascinated by words, slightly off-beat humor and snark.

After I graduated from grade school, my friend Cathy and I used to go back and visit Mr. Smallwood from time to time. As high school students, we felt so sophisticated and grown-up as we reminisced with our former teacher about our year, exchanged gossip about what others from our class were up to. Sometimes Mr. Smallwood would ask me about my writing.

Visits grew less frequent once I started attending university. I reveled in my new independence. Unlike high school, I found boys that interested me AND were interested IN me: geeky nerdboys who liked the same books and movies as I did, who didn’t think me odd for not wearing makeup and hating clothes shopping. I had a boyfriend.

Earnscliffe Public School seemed so very distant, though from time to time I found myself thinking of Mr. Smallwood because none of the profs I had in university inspired me the same way. Mr. S and I would exchange snailmail letters, but the time between our letters grew as I got distracted by my studies and then by work.

Years passed, and we eventually lost contact until we found each other on Facebook. Last Fall, I sent him an invite to the launch of I’M BORED at Type Books in Toronto on whim, not really expecting that he’d be able to attend since he lived out of town and we weren’t really in touch. 

At the launch, he hung back behind most of the people, so I didn’t see him until I signed books. Even then, he was one of the very last people in line. I can’t remember what he said, but I recall recognizing the voice and looking up. Then screaming, “MR. SMALLWOOD!!!”

I was SO incredibly touched that he had made the trek out to attend my very first book launch, and proudly introduced him around. My husband had heard many stories about my favorite teacher, so it was a special pleasure to finally be able to have them meet in person.

Side note: Although I’ve gotten close a few times, my agent and I haven’t yet found a home for my middle grade novel manuscripts. I’ve shelved two so far and I keep working on my craft. Some of my Torkidlit pals, the MIGWriterscritique group and friends/family help me finetune my stories. I’m much more confident about my writing now than I was in the beginning, and continue to work on getting better.

When I updated Mr. Smallwood on what was going on with my writing, he encouraged me not to give up on getting my novels published.

And I won’t. 

It WILL happen.

To Mr. David Smallwood and all the school teachers out there who continue to encourage young people in pursuing their creative passions: THANK YOU. You make more difference than you can possibly imagine.

(Thanks to my friend Walter K. for the book launch photos.)

Tags: Inkygirl