The purple perk is as bustling as I always remember it. People are finishing breakfast, there’s a break neck energy to the place. The weekend is here, yet business continues to boom. It is here I talk to Colin Paulson. Paulson is the author of the novel Aarial – about a troubled boy named Dylan who is trapped within two different worlds. In one he is a troubled youth struggling in school and with a terrible home life. The other he is an heir to the power of Aarial.
The story wasn’t quite what I expected at first.
This was my doing. Reading fantasy worlds, you almost get a hint of magic at the very beginning – instead, this book is grounded at the very beginnings in the realities of the classroom. Unlike a lot of fantasies in the market, the classroom feels much more like a real place. Most books get an idea of the dialogue, but very few manage to convey the full experience and memory the classroom has. Collin manages to bring the teacher, Mr. Peters and the various students in the room.
When the fantasy world is finally introduced, you get the sense initiially that Paulson is uncomfortable with it. There is hesitation in his descriptions, a sense of unsurety. It fades as the novel grows deeper but you notice those first few steps.
As for Dylan, I have to confess I didn’t like him so much when I met. His behavior seemed irrational and not exactly friendly. As I read deeper into the story, I found myself rooting for him. He had gone through a lot both at home and in his world. I have to credit Paulson who managed to make Dylan someone you can understand.
It’s a great book. You can find out more about it at http://www.aarial.ca or you can find the link on my sidebar.
I talk to Collin about this, his writing and his aspirations.
Joshua Pantalleresco: This is a break for you isn’t it?
Collin Paulson: Oh yes. Right now I’m grading sixty papers this weekend. I needed to get out of the house for a bit.
JP: I bet. What are you grading?
CP: A six paragraph letter essay on the books they are currently reading. It may not sound that glamorous, but this assignment accomplishes a lot of things. It forces my students to pay attention to what they are reading and go deeper into their books. My students need to work on writing paragraphs. Some of these essays are good and you actually say “yes!” when you finish reading them. But many of them are still learning how to do this. Some of them will have ten ideas in one paragraph or just write these huge giant blocks of writing and as a teacher this is a good thing to see where your students are at, language wise. Sometimes it’s challenging to read.
So while it’s formulaic, it’s a good tool that lets me do multiple things as a teacher. It makes my students pay more attention to the book they are reading, and gives me a good idea of where my students stand in composition.
JP: That’s kind of neat. I always wondered what was the point of some of those assignments. Now I know.
CP: At the end of the assignment I write a letter back to them explaining what was good, what could be improved and make suggestions for other books they might like to read.
JP: Yikes! That’s a lot of writing.
CP: Oh yeah.
JP: You know what you should do, you should give your class the option to correcting you with the assignment.
CP That’s a good idea.
JP : It’d be cool to see your students edit you. I’m sure you make mistakes yourself.
CP: I do my best, but when you write sixty letters it is almost guaranteed.
JP: Besides, what student doesn’t want to correct his teacher?
CP: They do anyways. Every time I misspell a word on the whiteboard they like to call me out.
JP: What are you teaching right now?
CP: Grade 8 humanities. The story takes place when I was teaching in grade five.
JP: Have you had students like Dylan?
CP: Dylan is based on a real student. I had the idea and started writing this story years ago, but teaching prevented me from working on it as I’d like. The story kept developing on its own in my mind. One day this student came into class and I found myself expanding and finishing it.
I think every teacher has a student like this. When some of my colleagues read the story they told me that they recognized Dylan in students they have. I have had several Dylan’s in my teaching career.
JP: Speaking of the classroom, I was really impressed with your descriptions of how a class works. You seemed really comfortable writing it.
CP: Well it’s definitely something I’m familiar with.
JP: I bet. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve read a class scene in that kind of format in any fantasy. It’s really good.
CP: Well thank you. What surprised me is how much my students and other readers like it too. I always thought the fantasy aspect of the books would be the parts people would like the best, but a lot of people like those scenes.
JP: Count me among them. Any particular influences with your fantasy writing?
CP: I love King Arthur, Harry Potter, Lord Of the Rings.
JP: Are you going to write more?
CP: I have a folder full of ideas, but I havent’ had time to develop them. I’m working on the sequel to Aarial, but I just don’t have the time. Isn’t that everyone’s problem?
JP: I saw you at the comic con. Where else have you done appearances for you book?
CP: I went to a class that studied my book as a novel study. It was fun to chat about your novel with kids. It’s not your novel anymore. It’s neat to hear students ask you questions. I’m constantly surprised when they keep asking questions I can’t answer. I just didn’t know. They were good questions.
JP: What’s your favorite question you didn’t answer?
CP: I keep getting asked if I am Mr. Peters. I always say “no”, but I guess there is a little of me in all my characters. I have had my own students say, “that is exactly what Mr. Peters would say.” Perhaps there is more of me in the story than I would like to admit.
JP: So what are you working on right now writing wise?
CP: I started working on a sequel. I also kind of want to do something else. It’s all still in that folder unfortunately.
As for Aarial itself, Rachel Small is editing my book for a new edition. I remember being with Derek Donais at the Calgary Con and watched people approach his book way more often than they looked at mine. He is more known than I am, so that is part of the reason, but many people were drawn to his book based on the cover. That is when I realized how important a cover is. I decided to hire an artist to redo it; then I thought I should hire an editor. From there, I decided I better hire a person to reformat it. I did the same thing with my kitchen a few years ago. It started with the sink and ended up being a whole kitchen reno.
In light of that and some of the questions my students asked I got Rachel Small to edit my manuscript. I’m releasing a new edition of the book for next year, with a new cover and everything. I’ve been grateful for this. Rachel has made me work on making the book better by asking questions and pointing out some flaws in the story.
JP : I get that. When you write something, you get so close to it that you tend to forget things.
CP: Then you got to figure out how to make certain points connect.
JP: When I get into those positions I try to see what these plots have in common. It helps sometimes.
CP: I think my favorite part of this process was showing my students my corrected manuscript. They gape at the amount of corrections that need to be done. My students hate editing, and it is good for them to see that everyone needs to edit their work.
JP: I bet. When is the new version coming out?
CP: I’m hoping January.
JP: Alright, for those of us who can’t wait is there anywhere we can get the book?
CP: You can get the old one at Monkey Shines and Owl’s Nest books in Calgary.
JP: What are your remaining goals as a writer? What’s next for you?
CP: At this point I’m still developing. I want to do something different.
I also like the idea of developing the story further, figuring out why Dylan is what he is. We’ll see where things go.
JP: Do you prefer teaching or writing?
CP: I need a balance. Even if I became successful at writing, I think I’d need to teach. I need to have that outside connection. Writing is such a solitary activity, and if you don’t get out in the world, you have nothing to write about.
JP: What do you hope people take from your writing?
CP: There are a few things I hope for. Number one is that readers are entertained and get lost in my story for a few moments each day.
The second thing I want people to take away is that everyone has a back-story. Dylan is a troubled boy who has difficulty coping with the reality around him. We often judge people too quickly without trying to gain an understanding of where they are coming from and why they behave the way they do. This doesn’t mean that we should accept everything everyone does, but we should try to see things from someone else’s perspective.
Thirdly, I would like everyone to take something different away. What one person finds intriguing another person may not, so I hope that there is enough in the story that it appeals to a variety of people in a variety of ways.