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Remembering Coach Geysen and Professor Carrigg

It’s been a while since I posted here a lot has happened and I feel like I need to talk about it. This might be a long, rambling post but I’m just gonna roll with it.

First the good stuff: Never Dead had a sale back at the beginning of February and it did extremely well. So well, in fact that it became the number 2 horror book in the US behind a book edited by some guy named Jordan Peele. I am a huge fan of Peele’s work and to see my book right up there next to his (and above a couple of Stephen King books) was a surreal feeling. If you happened to buy the book during that sale, thank you so much for helping it get as high as it did on that list. It was also #1 on a few other lists. Truly an amazing feeling.  As always, Never Dead and all my books are available signed on my shop.

More good news: I finished the first draft of the third and final installment of the Mr. Nightmare series and it comes it at a whopping 120,000 words. I still have some editing to do so the word count might go up or down, but usually my books stay pretty much right in the same zone. For reference, Never Dead is my longest published book and it is 105,000 words.

Now for the not so great news. In the past few months, two of the people who I would consider inspirations to me and who helped put me on the path to become a writer have passed away. Both of them were teachers and I can’t possibly put into words the effect they had on my writing journey, but I will attempt to do my best.

First is a college professor and my undergraduate history advisor Anne Carrigg. I had Professor Carrigg for three or four history classes throughout my time at Stonehill College in Easton, Ma.  She was also one of my academic advisors (I had two because I was also enrolled in the Secondary Education program) I have told this story before on panels and on podcasts but I think it bears repeating here. During an African History course I took with Professor Carrigg we had an interesting final exam. Because the subject matter was so broad, it was impossible to cover all of the information we learned all semester in a typical final exam. Professor Carrigg was also not the type to assign a typical written history paper similar to the ones we’d been writing all semester.  (This was a Professor who taught a course called Playing Fields as Battle Fields which required watching and keeping a scorebook for Red Sox games during the semester. All of her classes were scheduled in the morning because she was an avid Red Sox fan and wanted to be able to watch the games in the afternoons or evenings.) So instead of assigning another footnoted, researched history paper, Professor Carrigg asked the class to write a historical fiction piece about some of the subjects we’d learned about. The work was to be fiction, but the historical facts had to be accurate. I had ripped though most of Stephen Kings books the last five or six summers prior to this and had begun to fall in love horror books in general but I hadn’t yet given any thought to actually trying to write anything more than a short story here or there. When I sat down to write this assignment, I decided to lean into the horror and make it a historical horror fiction story. I’d complete the assignment but would add some horror elements to it to make it a little more interesting to my 19 or 20 year old head. I looked for the assignment in my save files but it seems it’s gone (or trapped on a floppy disk somewhere). When I finally handed in the assignment I was very proud with how it turned out. When I met with Professor Carrigg to get my grade I was pleased to find out it was an A. I’ll never forget what she said to me that day in her office. “Your historical writing is always good,” she said. “This is even better. I hope you continue writing.” I might not remember what the story was about but her words, and that assignment are on my mind often. So thanks Professor Carrigg, I did keep writing.

Just a few weeks ago, I lost another person who has been influential in my writing journey, my former high school English teacher and track coach, Tom Geysen. Coach Geysen has been a part of my life for a long time. I had him as a teacher in 8th grade, he was my track coach for 4 years and I even had the opportunity to teach his grandson when I was teaching history at Tri-County RVTHS in Franklin, Ma.  With Professor Carrigg there is a single story that had an effect on me because I knew Coach Geysen for such a long time, there are so many stories I could point to about how he made my laugh or offered advice or motivated me to be better in school, in sports or in life because he did all three of those things on a daily basis. After knowing someone in different ways for almost 30 years it hard to find one day or single piece of advice that stands out more than another. I can, however, remember a time when I felt as though saw a new side of Coach Geysen not just as a coach or as a teacher but as a person outside of those labels. I was in my Junior year of college and we were assigned to observe a teacher that we admired for our former high school. Naturally, I called up Coach Geysen and asked if I could sit in on his classes for a couple days. He said of course I could and a few weeks later as I was in my old high school sitting at the back of his classroom watching the master at work. I sat in on classes for three days and things went pretty smoothly for the first two days. I was feeling good about the assignment and was sitting in the back of the classroom writing the journal I needed to hand in to my professor for a grade when, in between classes, Mr. Geysen came up to me. He stood over me, in that moment I felt less like a college student and more like I was back in 8th grade again.

“Joey,” he said. “You’ve been watching this for the last few days. You saw the lesson three times already today, do you want to give it a shot and teach this last class?”

My eyes must have gotten wide because then he added “ Just run the lesson like I did. I’ll be here the help you out. You’ll be fine.”

So I went ahead and did it. It was nerve wracking at first but I was able to get through the whole class. I helped some kids out and Coach Geysen didn’t have to jump in once. He took over at the end of the class because he had homework to give and some other information they needed to know for the rest of the week. After that, the class ended and it was my last day in his classroom. We talked after the students had left and he told me I had done a good job for no prep time and it being my first time teaching a full class like that. When we shook hands he told me that he was certain I’d be a “great teacher but that you’d be successful at anything if you really focus on it.”

He didn’t know that he was going to inspire me as much as he did to write and to stay at it through 15 years of mostly rejections, but he did and I was always thankful for that. I’m proud to know that he had signed copies of a few of my books when he passed away.

I was saddened to learn about the passing of both Professor Carrigg and Coach Geysen. I was lucky to have known them both and grateful to have been able to know them not just as teachers  but as people. My life is better for having known both of them. One thing I've taken away from this is that we don't always know what someone is going to remember and how those little things can change or inspire a person. I hope I have or that I will inspire someone as much as these two educators inspired me.


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