Paul Kropp and I go way back to 1988 when I took his writing course at Sheridan College and through it wrote my first novel Blueberries and Whipped Cream, quickly followed by Jump Start for Paul’s famed Series Canada for reluctant readers. Over the years, he would call on me for various projects. There was always a lovely lunch or party involved, part of the wooing process. At Scholastic I wrote Smoky and the Gorilla and Double Dribble for an educational series of his. When he worked at Chapters, Paul convinced me and a lot of children’s authors to write “Coles Notes” on various subjects to rival the Dummy and Idiot’s Guides. At the party at his house, many writers expressed dismay and regret and worry over accepting something they had no experience in writing, myself included. But I worked hard on A Mom and Dad’s Guide to Martial Arts, couldn’t disappoint Paul, and through it learned how to write nonfiction. I ended up working at a magazine for eight years as a result of the experience.
He always had great vision for even the wildest projects and convinced others to see it his way too. I admired his dedication and passion but mostly I enjoyed his sense of humour. Over all these books, we shared so much laughter and became good friends.
More recently, Paul started his own publishing firm HIP and I wrote, on his invitation, Dog on Trial, a kind of reluctant reader Marly story where the dog does not die. We enjoyed some laughs over a funny book that he made funnier with his editing.
Kropp asked me to sign the book at Reading for the Love of It, February 2014 and then took me to lunch. Over a delicious Italian pasta and a glass of wine, he convinced me to write a survival story, maybe something with a plane crash. I’ve crashed a small plane before for a publishing house in Norway called Stabenfeldt so even though I was working on a bigger project, I agreed, thinking it might be a quick easy book.
Somehow I ended up embroiled in research with pilots and a doctor and doing way too much work for such a short piece. Because it was for an older audience, Paul wanted some edge: “a character should die in the story.”
I hate it when characters die.
Seemed a shame for so much work to hit such a small audience so I asked if I could send it to my Norwegian publisher. Paul agreed and separated the rights in the contract. Eli Toresen, the wonderful Stabenfeldt publisher, liked it but found the injuries a bit too graphic for her Girl It Series. So with a few thousand more words, an added subplot, and some more medical research I was able to save my character.
I didn’t know it would be my last lunch with Paul or my last book. On August 22, he died after a short fierce battle with cancer. He’s one character that medical science could not save. I only wish I could re-write this ending.
Kraslanding, the Norwegian version of Survival printed the day after Paul’s funeral and will be in readers’ hands in November. The dedication will read:
For Paul who launched a thousand reading and writing ships
and this one small airplane.
He did so many wonderful things for his students and worked so hard to make reading accessible to so many, I realize it’s selfish and trite to focus on how this loss affects me.
But now I will be forced to fly a little more solo and I will miss him.