In the near future, Eastmont Middle teacher Marc Gregson will be in a unique position. His English Language Arts students could do book reports on novels written by him.
The first book of Gregson’s upcoming “Above the Black” trilogy is set to be published in January 2024, with the next two books of the young-adult fantasy series scheduled to be released in 2025 and 2026.
Truth be told, Gregson has no intention of assigning his own novel as a class reading option. But his 10-year effort to find an agent and hook a book deal stands as tangible example of perseverance for his students. And he certainly hopes his books, which his publisher, Peachtree’s imprint Peachtree Teen, is pitching as an “Attack on the Titans” meets “Hunger Games” adventure, resonate with students.
“I’m like, ‘If you do my book, guys, I know it pretty well, so don’t try to fake your way through this one,’” Gregson joked in a Connect Canyons podcast interview.
Gregson has had fun updating students on different aspects of the book and what it’s taken to make his ideas come to life on its pages: a fantasy world and compelling story set on floating islands in the sky with flying ships and airborne serpents, vicious kill-or-be-killed competitions, and a twisted meritocracy.
Last year, he received his book offer for “Sky’s End” while in his seventh-period class and shared the good news with his students. Likewise, he then received the green light for the second and third books in seventh period this past school year.
His students have also created fan art of the sky serpents and giant monsters, which Gregson proudly displays in his classroom.
Last week, Gregson received permission to have his first book cover unveiled with Eastmont Middle students. His publisher sent the artwork to his wife, who shared it with Principal Stacy Kurtzhals. Gregson and the Patriots saw it together for the first time when it was displayed from a projector at the May 25 assembly.
The cover was officially released to the public on May 31.
“Sky’s End” comes out on Jan. 2, 2024, but is available for pre-order at places like The Printed Garden, King’s English Bookshop, Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart Books. He also has pre-order links on his social media channels.
This whole process has been a collection of pinch-yourself moments for Gregson, who wrote five books, learning and fine-tuning his craft along the way, until finally landing an agent during the pandemic and then securing the publishing deal for “Sky’s End.”
“It was funny. After I celebrated with my wife, I went and sat outside in my backyard. The wind was just blowing … there’s a dog barking, everything was normal,” he recalled. “But I felt like I had just achieved this thing that I had been dreaming of my whole life, and it was just me sitting there just happy.”
Finding time to be a teacher and an author comes down to making priorities and pursuing what you love to do. Gregson loves both his day job and side gig.
“People often try to make time for the things that they really enjoy,” he said. “And I love writing. It’s a big passion of mine.” He also loves teaching and can’t imagine not teaching, no matter how well his book sells.
Gregson wakes up early sometimes to write for an hour or two before going to school. Other times, he writes at night. Consistency is key. Gregson suggests that wannabe writers should write and read a lot.
“Read good books and read bad books. Read books that you don’t like and try to figure out why you don’t like them, that’s a really good thing to do,” he said. “You practice and figure out what exactly about the book you didn’t like or the writing that you didn’t like.”
Gregson loves to share a lesson he learned from a video featuring actor Jack Black, who offered a key to breaking into filmmaking: “Embrace being bad.” Same concept applies to writing or anything else you want to pursue.
“It’s OK to be bad when you first start out. Just get out there and just start creating. Just be bad and be okay with it,” Gregson said. “The more that you practice it, the better at it you’re gonna become. And then eventually you’ll surprise yourself. You’ll be having fun while you’re being bad, and then you’ll surprise yourself after a couple years that suddenly you’re not bad anymore. You’re starting to get pretty good.”
Then, just keep writing and writing, and revising and revising. And writing. And revising. And reading. And writing. And revising. And, of course, expect good things to happen in your seventh-period class.