Section: AUTHOR PROFILE
Among teenage readers, Carol Gorman is known for her mystery and suspense novels, but her writing career began with the publication of an article on parenting."The Mayberry Method," was accepted by the first magazine she sent it to and convinced Gorman that perhaps she could write. She quickly turned to writing mystery and suspense tales. Perhaps it was because her mother often entertained her with mysteries to solve. When her mother didn't have a mystery for her, Gorman imagined one of her own."Our house was set near a deep ravine. At night it was filled with darkness. One of my best friends lived on the other side of the ravine. We used flashlights to send secret messages back and forth."
Gorman says, "I love reading scary books so I really enjoy writing them." And write them she does. Carol has over 22 books to her credit. Many of them are in the mystery and suspense genre--some under her own name, some under a pseudonym (Jane Ballard), and some as a ghost writer for other authors (usually series writers) who take the credit.
Gorman was raised in a traditional home in Iowa City, Iowa. Her father was a pediatrician and her mother a homemaker. There were three other children, a sister and two brothers. During her college years, she envisioned a future in the dramatic arts. "I tried out for the part of Maria in West Side Story and I made it. I had to dye my hair dark. The next year I wanted to play Peter in the story of Peter Pan. When I got the part I had to cut off my hair. The same man who set up the apparatus to fly Sandy Duncan on Broadway came to Iowa City and brought the equipment that allowed me to fly as Peter Pan. It was wonderful."
By the time Gorman earned her college degree, she had established her own family roots in Iowa, where jobs for actresses were not plentiful. Her next few years were spent teaching language arts to seventh graders. It was during these years that her husband, Ed Gorman, who has written more than a dozen mysteries and historical fiction for adults, began to encourage her to try writing." I probably would never have started writing if I hadn't married a writer," she admits.
Despite receiving many rejections during her early writing years, Gorman negotiated to write and research nonfiction titles for Franklin Watts. Two of those nonfiction titles, America's Farm Crisis (1987) and Pornography (1988), received wide praise. America's Farm Crisis was named one of the best nonfiction books of the year for junior high and older readers by the New York Public Library.
Gorman continued to hone her writing and persisted in her efforts to produce a publishable novel. She wrote two novels that never sold. Her third novel, Chelsey and the GreenHaired Kid, sold right away to Houghton Mifflin for hardback publication (1988). Later, Pocket Books issued a paperback edition. The main characters are Chelsey, a spunky girl in a wheelchair who witnesses an "accident" and Jack, a green-haired kid, who team up to convince the police that the accident was not what it seemed.
Chelsey and the Green-Haired Kid was cited as an outstanding book for the reluctant reader by the American Library Association, earned the Ethical Culture Book Award, was nominated for three state young readers' awards, and was recommended in a Ladies' Home Journal article titled "How to Get Your Kids to Love Books." Gorman says the fact that Chelsey is confined to a wheelchair is really incidental to the story. But the fact that both Chelsey and her friend Jack (because of his green-hair) are a little on the edge of the mainstream does tend to bring the two of them together. Chelsey's mode of travel helps to provide one of the most chilling episodes in the book. In that scene Chelsey and Jack are attempting to "run-away" from the villains who are chasing them. The only way the two youngsters can go is down -- down a steep hill. Jack hops on her wheelchair and they go at roller coaster speed down the hill.
The idea for putting a character in a wheelchair grew out of a job Gorman had at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital and Clinic. There she saw children and teenagers maneuvering through life in wheelchairs, observed the reaction of others to those in wheelchairs, and recognized that those children had the same hopes, dreams, and interests as those who were not physically challenged.
The idea for using the hill also came from Gorman's home town where there was a particularly steep hill that challenged motor vehicles and pedestrians alike. In the book the hill was dubbed "Suicide Hill." Gorman says that generally she gets ideas from people and events she sees and hears about. In fact, Gorman acknowledges that many of her main characters "have a lot of me in them." Gorman considers Chelsey to be "filled with more nerve" than she is but feels they are alike in many ways.
Ideas often take a great deal of time to germinate and grow into a full-fledged manuscript. Almost 10 years ago, Gorman spoke about where she gets ideas for her writing, "For instance, not long ago I had lunch with my son in a restaurant that employs several hearing-impaired people. One of these employees, a young man, was clearing tables and staring at me. At least 10 times during the meal, he caught my eye, then smiled and nodded. I never did find out why I received so much of his attention that day, but I turned that incident into the beginning of a book. The young man had witnessed a murder, and the woman having lunch is a TV reporter. He asks her (through writing and gestures) to help him." That idea germinated for months, in fact, years. Now, in 1996, she says,"I am writing a book with a deaf character." Gorman notes that her research generally "starts at the library, but my favorite kind of research is a personal involvement with my subject. In preparation for writing the story with a deaf character I took a class in American Sign Language, visited classes for deaf elementary students, visited a church with deaf services, and had written and signed conversations with people who were deaf." Her book's working title is Hear No Evil, but it is a title that is Likely to change as the plot is worked and reworked. The story as it is now is a suspense novel for middle grade readers. Gorman outlines the plot, "Jill's best friend Valerie is killed by a hit-and-run driver, and the only witness was Jill's seven-year-old deaf sister. When the killer realizes there was a witness, Jill's sister becomes his target."
Another current project involves writing about an Amish family who takes in a rebellious young woman who is offered a substantial sum of money for her education if she will first spend a year with an Amish family. Her uncle who has made the offer is convinced that the experience will make the young woman worthy of his investment in her future. The working title for this book is Shadow of a Doubt. In preparation for writing the book, Gorman has researched the Old Order Amish culture. "I've read books on the Amish, but I've gotten involved with the Amish personally, too. I've been to an Amish wedding, an Amish "sewing" or quilting, and have lived for several days with an Amish family." During those days with the Amish family, Gorman helped pluck feathers from chickens, clean them, and prepare them for cooking. She assisted with the canning of vegetables and other food put up for the family's winter store of food. She's read books by lamp light and has shared meals with the family.
One of Gorman's novels for the younger I adolescent reader is T.J. and the Pirate Who Wouldn't Go Home (Scholastic, 1990). T.J.'s eccentric Uncle Ainsley manages to build a time machine but instead of transporting the two of them into the past the machine transports a pirate from the 1690s to the present. Captain Billy enjoys eating Big Macs, watching game shows, and burglarizing stores and pick pocketing people, just the behavior one might expect from a pirate. However, in the 1990s those behaviors can land someone in jail. Uncle Ainsley and T.J. are eager to find a way to send Captain Billy back to his time, before they all wind up in jail. Undoubtedly some of the inspiration for the time travel in this novel came directly or indirectly from Gorman's childhood love of "anything written by Madeline L'Engle. She also "loved Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden."
Two of her most popular suspense titles have been published only in paperback, Die for Me (Avon, 1992) and Graveyard Moon (Avon, 1993). As a youngster, Gorman herself felt somewhat like the character Talley in Die for Me, who describes herself in second grade as an "ugly, fat Little [girl] with the glasses and frizzy hair and no teeth." When Talley returns to her childhood home, as a high school student, none of her old classmates recognize her "thanks to diets, hair straighteners and contact lenses." But the treatment she received from the other students in elementary school has not been forgotten. This mystery focuses on a group of high school friends who seem to have been targeted to die, one by one. And the person responsible for the deaths seem to be one of them. Which one is the question. Readers named this book to the International Reading Association's Children's Choice list for 1994.
Graveyard Moon is a suspense title that begins during Kelly's initiation into a closed group of friends. The initiation takes place in a graveyard where Kelly is ordered to go into an especially dark area. No one could have known that a dead body would be there and the initiation ends quickly. But for Kelly the horror has just begun. Everywhere she goes she feels the killer is behind her. The suspense builds as Kelly realizes who the killer is and that she is likely a next target.
During Gorman's own high school years she attended a school where tunnels reached under the building."I noticed one of my classmates was at school in the morning and often was not in class. One day I asked him where he went. He offered to show me the tunnels under the school--the place where he retreated during the day. We did not realize that our voices would carry through the tunnels and be heard. The next day the entry into the tunnels was padlocked." Readers of Graveyard Moon will recognize this anecdote when they read the book and discover a similar scene. The Black Angel on the cover of the book and a landmark in the graveyard where the story opens is reminiscent of the Black Angel which guards a cemetery near Gorman's childhood home. The book was selected by students in grades 7-12 for the International Reading Association's Young Adult Choices for 1995.
Gorman often weaves bits and pieces of her own life into the books she writes. Sometimes it's a favorite meal (fried chicken and mashed potatoes) that shows up in a book. Other times it's a character, a name, or an actual event that is woven into the story. "I keep a name file. When I am visiting a school and readers ask me to autograph books, I take notice of interesting first and last names. I enter them into my file and then when I am writing a book I will use those names in the book. Not the same person's first and last names but an interesting first name with another's last name. While I am reading newspaper articles or magazines, I often come across interesting names. I put those in my name file too."
A two-story house in her hometown and a large stately looking house with a half-circle driveway became part of the settings in Jennifer-the-Jerk Is Missing (Simon & Schuster, 1994) and in The Miraculous Makeover of Lizard Flanagan (HarperCollins, 1994). She and her husband later bought the two-story house.
The age group to whom her books will appeal is a deliberate focus for Gorman."When I decide I'm going to write a book, even before I have the idea, I'm thinking in terms of who will be reading it. So, yes, I know immediately the age of my future book's reader."
"Usually, before plotting the entire novel, I'll write a couple of chapters to get to know my characters and the world in which they live," Gorman says."That background helps me plot the rest of the book. Plotting is very hard work for me, and I need a lot of information about these people in order to know what they will be doing toward the end of the book."
For seven years, Gorman taught language arts on a part-time basis, then she decided to concentrate on writing full-time. In the beginning she thought she would schedule regular office hours for herself."But I realized after a few days, that didn't make sense. Hours spent writing are not as important as the quality and quantity of work produced. So then I scheduled myself to write four pages a day, and that was much more successful. I write page numbers on my calendar before I start writing, so I know on what page I should end my writing each day. On many days, I write past where I'm supposed to be. But this method of scheduling keeps me on track so the book is finished on time or early. I schedule myself to write five or six days a week."
Soon a sequel to The Miraculous Makeover of Lizard Flanagan, Lizard Flanagan Super Model, will be published. Also on tap is another thriller from Avon, Back From the Dead. While those are closer to publication Gorman continues to write other books. Currently Gorman is working on rewriting "Hear No Evil" to create a focus that will appeal more specifically to a publisher who has expressed interest, and she is continuing her research into the culture of the Old Order Amish community. More Lizard Flanagan titles may be in the works and perhaps Gorman will find a way to include information she has gathered, about the Underground Railroad, in a mystery title.
When she is not writing, Gorman says, "I also enjoy trips to New York to see my agent and editors. I love reading, gardening, having dinner with friends, and going to my aerobics classes Gorman also spends many hours visiting schools," I love speaking at schools. It gives me a chance to talk to students about writing and publishing, and it also helps me keep in touch with my readers. While I'm there, I look at what the students are wearing, listen to their conversations and, if I have the chance, talk with them about school and life. All of this helps me stay current and in tune with what my readers are experiencing."
Carol Gorman and her husband live in Iowa. Her son Ben is a student at the University of Virginia. Gorman enjoys hearing from readers. Letters may be sent to her at her publishers' addresses.
Sharron McElmeel is the Library Media Specialist at Harrison Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a well-known author of professional books. She featured Carol Gorman earlier in Gorman's writing career in Bookpeople: A Second Album (libraries Unlimited, 1990) and has included several of Gorman's titles in a chapter on mysteries in her most recent title, Educator's Companion to Children's Literature, Volume 1: Mysteries, Animal Tales, Books of Humor, Adventure Stories, and Historical Fiction (Libraries Unlimited, 1995).
Sharron L. McElmeel
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