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Alumni Weekend 2016

Five Questions: Sandy London '98

C. Alexander London, better known around these parts as Sandy London ’98, has dedicated his fifteenth book, The Wild Ones to his fifth grade teacher, John Xanders '77, better known around here as Mr. X.

“He was the teacher who got me to enjoy reading by letting me read stories that set my imagination aflame,” London said. “I’m not sure I’d be a writer today if I hadn’t had the fifth grade experience I did in his classroom.”

Mr. London talked with us about his new series, the “relay race” of writing for young readers, and Mr. X’s note on a class assignment that London still follows today.

Your book dedication says “To Brian Jacques, whose books made me a reader, and to Mr. Xanders, who made me read them.” How did Jacques’ Redwall series inspire you as a reader and writer?

Mr. X shared the Redwall books with us as a class, first through reading aloud, and then by steering me toward the rest of the series. I wasn’t much of a reader before then, but something about the way he read made me want to read more. He brought the books alive, and then, when he saw I had an interest, he engaged that interest. He encouraged me.

It was Mr. X who got me to write the Brian Jacques a letter, even. My first author letter. That opened up a world of possibilities to me. I’d always been a daydreamer, but suddenly, those hours of staring out the window watching squirrels became something more. My imagination didn’t seem so weird anymore. It seemed like something that mattered. If a tiny mouse could be heroic, maybe so could I. Mr. X was the spark that lit that fire for me.

You mentioned that you still have a horror short story you wrote as a fifth grader. What was the title?

It’s called In the Basement. At the end of the second draft, Mr. X wrote a comment that comes in handy every day for me now as a novelist: “What next?”

Also, making us do drafts was certainly a good training for what I do now. Most of the magic of writing fiction happens for me in revision!

This will be your fifteenth book, how did you decide this would be the one you dedicated to Mr. X?

Well, this book is the first in a series and it’s kind of my homage to those Redwall books. It’s also an epic talking animal fantasy, one for a different time and certainly one with my unique spin on it (think Gangs of New York meets The Rats of NIMH), but it is the kind of book I would’ve loved in fifth grade, the kind of book I never would have found had I not read Redwall first. I would not have written it had Mr. X not gotten me reading. So it seemed fitting to dedicate it to him.

How did you tell Mr. X about the dedication?

I didn’t tell him I was doing it. I just mailed him an advanced readers copy and signed it to him. I sure hope he enjoys the book!

I did speak to Mr. X’s class two years ago, and actually told them the story of how he turned me into a reader, which was pretty exciting for me. I share my stories with kids all over the world, but to come back to Gilman, to speak to my old homeroom and talk about books with a new generation of boys who sat where I once sat is just an immense honor and a real joy.

Writing stories for young readers is a relay race. Through Mr. Xanders and the books he got me reading, I had the baton passed to me, and when I share my books with new students, I am passing the baton to them. I can think of no better job in the world

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