What Does a Teen Author and a Teen Hypnotist Have in Common?
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I became a writer by accident. I wrote my first book at age twelve as a seventh-grade language arts assignment for a track and field coach who, randomly, had to cover an English class. Having never taught creative writing before, he gave us carte blanche to work on whatever we wanted–from mid-February through the end of the year in June. True story.
“This is as good as anything they’ve got down in the library,” said one of my best friends, acting as the 1976 equivalent of a beta reader. It’s still one of the best reviews I’ve ever received, and it inspired me to submit my novel to a publisher. (Full disclosure: My mom typed it for me. 12 year-olds with keyboarding skills were rare in 1976.)
I chose Scholastic because, at the time, I was class monitor for the book orders. I figured I was practically an employee already, not to mention keeper of the bonus points.
I signed a contract for This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall a few days after my 13th birthday, and the book was published when I was a freshman in high school. I’ve been writing for more than three-quarters of my life–I turn 50 later this month–but I think the key has been never to stray too far from the kid I was in that middle school language arts class.
Jackson Opus, the hero of The Hypnotists, is exactly the age I was when I wrote my first book. The premise was instantly familiar: A twelve-year-old who randomly discovers he has an innate ability that puts him in play in the adult “real” world. Of course, Jax’s ability is many levels of magnitude cooler than mine–he happens to be the world’s most powerful natural hypnotist. For years he’s been unknowingly influencing the lunch lady to give him extra gravy, and his basketball opponents to miss their free throws. But he’s reaching the point where it’s no longer possible to keep from him the secret of who he really is: the nexus of the two greatest hypnotic families in history. And, of course, the revelation of Jax’s potential also brings him to the attention of unscrupulous people who want to harness his power for their own dark and nefarious purposes.
Part of the beauty of writing about a character like Jax is that every scenario has implications in two different worlds. On the one hand, he’s like a kid in a candy store. He’s just discovered that he can make anybody do exactly what he wants them to. 12 year-old life doesn’t get much more awesome than that. At the same time, he realizes that he’s the only person who can save the country from a false mentor who plans to use Jax’s talent to tamper hypnotically with a presidential election. Having power is an amazing feeling, but with it comes amazing responsibility. And you can’t have the former without the latter.
I experienced shades of this back when I was trying to play teen author like it was a game, only to realize I was working with real adults who were doing their real jobs. It was hardly on Jax’s level, with the fate of the nation and possibly the world in his hands. But it’s tempting–even for a 50 year-old ex-kid author–to place myself, just for a moment, inside the incredible hypnotic mind of Jackson Opus.
In that spirit, here’s a final suggestion: When you exit this web page, you will remember nothing of me or this blog post. However, the next time you enter a library or bookstore, it will be your urgent desire to seek out a copy of The Hypnotists…
About the Author: Gordon Korman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of various titles in the popular The 39 Clues series. He has written more than 60 books for kids and young adults, and lives in Great Neck, NY with his family.