By Martie Thompson
Newly published author and Mandarin resident David Gaslin recently wondered if many people know how many published authors there are living in Mandarin.
“If someone has the ‘itch’ to write, I thought it might motivate them to know how many authors there actually are here and in the northeast Florida area,” Gaslin said.
As a high school reading teacher responsible for bringing struggling students’ reading levels up to grade level so they could graduate, he felt motivated to write a book that once people started reading, they wouldn’t be able to put down. He named the first book that affected him like that as “Jaws.” He said that especially in school, there are a lot of boring books one must read, but finding interesting books are key to keep young readers motivated so they don’t fall behind.
Gaslin said he always knew he wanted to write a story for kids about bullying, and he began by writing short stories for his grandchildren. One 30 page story led to a few more and after a friend read them all and was impressed, he decided to try to get the story published. After many rejections, he found a publisher willing to give him a chance and then the “hard” work of page design, chapters, and illustrations began. About six months later, Gaslin finally had a copy of his book for middle school readers, “The Little Tree that Changed Everything,” in his hands. He has since started writing a fantasy trilogy, also aimed at middle school readers, featuring a fairy princess. The coronavirus pandemic has slowed publishing efforts, but he is delighted that he has settled on an illustrator for the books, a local high school student.
His advice for aspiring writers? First, talk to people, especially other writers. Gaslin said he likes to go to open houses, such as at the Mandarin Museum, where local authors’ books are for sale. Secondly, he said to never give up. He sent 150 letters to potential publishers and all said “no” before finally one said “yes.”
Author Bob Nay, who also lived in Mandarin for many years before moving to St. Johns County, said he writes books not because of a love of writing, but because of a desire to share stories.
“You can tell stories one time,” Nay said. “If you write the stories down, they will be around for a long time.”
As a math major, he worked for Blue Shield. Upon his retirement he wanted to share family stories with future generations. He especially liked research, and said he initially thought about writing as merely writing a letter to someone and then adding on the details.
Nay’s seven books include four family history books and then three others that also tell family stories — just not his family’s. Perhaps most well known is “I Am a Full Fledged Floridian: The Life and Times of William Webb,” which is sold at the Mandarin Museum gift shop. Like his other books, Nay spent a lot of time researching museum and military records and learned that Webb moved from his home state of New York to Mandarin and operated an orange grove where the Mandarin Museum is now located. He said researching this book helped him to learn even more about Mandarin’s history, and he donated all proceeds to the Mandarin Museum.
Nay said he thought it was important for aspiring writers to play to their own strengths; his is research, so his books require a lot of that. Additionally he said a teacher once gave him some good advice: just start writing and don’t worry about grammar and form at first — just try to keep from being chaotic.
Juvenile fiction author and Mandarin resident Jane R. Wood is well known among school children for her five-book historical fiction series set largely in the southeast. Her first book in the series, “Voices in St. Augustine,” was purchased in bulk by the Duval County School District after teachers requested it, saying that their fourth graders liked to learn about history through fiction. The third book, “Trouble on the St. Johns River” has an environmental theme and is set in Mandarin. It even has a scene set at County Dock.
“I like to weave a fun fictional story around history and vice-versa,” Wood said. “I know my young audience and try not to overwhelm them with the history.”
Wood said she fell in love with writing in fourth grade while working on a poetry project. She said she discovered the “magic of words.” She took creative writing classes in college and eventually became a seventh grade teacher where, like Gaslin, she was responsible for getting some of her students to read up to grade level. She moved on to a corporate job and was ultimately laid off as the result of corporate downsizing.
“I had always said, ‘one of these days’ I’ll write a book,” Wood said. “After the downsizing, I realized that maybe today is that day.”
She decided to self publish her books and created Florida Kids Press. She had help from her husband and son, but eventually had to learn all about printing, distribution, marketing and social media — the skills that many writers who use a traditional publishing company don’t really need to learn.
Wood recommended that aspiring writers “do their homework!” She suggested calling other authors and attending book events like the Jax Book Fest and the Amelia Island Book Festival. Wood also made note of two different groups for would be authors to check out: a writers’ group, such as the Florida Writers Association (https://floridawriters.net/) and a publishers’ group, the Florida Authors and Publishers Association (https://myfapa.org/), which focuses more on the publishing aspect. Both organizations have local groups.
Photo courtesy David Gaslin
Author David Gaslin at a signing for his book, “The Little Tree that Changed Everything.’