At the Ontario Library Association super-conference last week, I also met Rene Schmidt, the author of Leaving Fletchville (Orca). Rene and I have been in touch because it turns out we met about 40 years ago! There is another coincidence: Rene's grandfather was the minister in a Dutch town close to where my grandparents lived; they were very kind to my family during difficult times and remained in touch after the war.
Rene lives in Ontario, and teaches Grade Six at Stockdale Public School, north of Trenton. Like me, he combines a career as a teacher and writer. He is also the author of a book called Canadian Disasters (Scholastic) which came out in 1985 and has sold over 70,000 copies (at one point the book was re-issued under the title Disaster!).
Rene and I went out for coffee after the conference and we chatted about our families and, of course, about our lives as writers. I asked him how he came up with the character of Brandon, the narrator of Leaving Fletchville. Brandon is a tough guy and a bit of a big lug, but he has a good heart. "I taught that type of kid many times," Rene explained.
Rene also observed that for many authors, their first project tends to be autobiographical. "Ever notice the first manuscript is about yourself? Once you get that out of the way, you can write some decent stuff. Now I don't want to be mean-spirited," he added, "a lot of people will write excellent novels about themselves." So Rene, it was great to meet you again (apparently last time we met, my sister and I tried to lock him in a closet!) and thanks for sharing some of your thoughts about writing!
I'm off this afternoon to a videoconference with students from Franklin Elementary School. I'll fill you in tomorrow on that. 'Bye for now from me
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Rene was a taxicab driver and student at York U. when I met him through living in the same boarding house in Toronto. He would, on alternate weekends completely disassemble his Squareback VW engine and spread the bits and metallic parts across the driveway, or else paint the car an outrageous but authentic tartan design and then drive around Yonge Street collecting compliments from well-meaning passers-by. Later in life while meting and wooing his wife Shirley, he helped rebuild a church organ in a groovy neighborhood in T.O. whose exact name I don't recall. He is the authentic article, and I only wish to be half as groovy as Rene, or even his older brother, whose exact name I don't recall.