Gary Blackwood’s love of books and flair for the dramatic emerged at an early age; he struck a deal with his mother to stop sucking his thumb in exchange for a set of Gene Autry comic books. He and a classmate once raced to see who would be the first to read the entire set of Dr. Doolittle books in their one-room school house.
The author and playwright was born in Meadville, PA. He immigrated to Canada in 2005, living briefly in Antigonish, NS, before discovering Tatamagouche. “I’d always wanted to live in or near a small, self-contained town,” he says. “It seemed like my kind of place.” He lives on several acres of land that, though relatively secluded, are within walking distance of the village. Blackwood assumed the role of Writer in Residence for Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library in late September 2009.
Blackwood started submitting stories to magazines as a teenager. At age 16, he received an encouraging rejection letter from the renowned science fiction writer Frederick Pohl, who was then editor of a SF magazine. Three years later his short story, “Cliffs of Gold”, was published in Twelve/Fifteen magazine. Blackwood spent the next several years “writing stuff and not selling it”. He self-published an adult historical novel, The Lion and the Unicorn, in 1983. Then in 1987, Antheneum published his first juvenile novel, Wild Timothy. It was followed by The Dying Sun in 1989 and Beyond the Door in 1991. Meanwhile, several of his plays were performed on U.S. stages. During the dry spell that followed, Blackwood worked for the Institute of Children’s Literature. Having had success with young adult novels, he reworked an adult manuscript into a youth novel. The result was The Shakespeare Stealer, published by Dutton in 1998. The novel grew into a trilogy. The stage adaptation of The Shakespeare Stealer has been performed at the Kennedy Center, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and several other venues in the U.S.
Blackwood has received several honours for his work, including:
Fantasy, fast-paced adventure, stories of survival – Gary Blackwood’s novels have it all. He takes his young readers back in time to the Elizabethan era, warps them forward to a second Ice Age and shuttles them off to an alternative world. During the ride, readers witness young protagonists being tested by extraordinary situations where they must rise to the occasion.
Blackwood published his first youth novel, Wild Timothy, with Antheneum in 1987. Roughing it in the woods is not 13-year-old Timothy’s idea of a good time; he’d rather read a book. When he becomes lost in the woods during a camping trip with his father, he must reach inside himself for strength and skills he didn’t know he had in order to survive.
Several of Blackwood’s novels are set against historical backdrops. He enjoyed historical novels as a kid and says they give young readers a doorway into a subject they might otherwise think is boring. The trick is to weave the historical details into the story in a natural way, so that readers get a history lesson on the side while enjoying the tale. His Shakespeare Stealer series is a romping adventure in the world of Elizabethan England. In the first book, The Shakespeare Stealer (Dutton, 1998), readers learn about daily life and the inner workings of the theatre as Widge, the protagonist, uses an early system of shorthand to try to steal Shakespeare’s latest play for a rival troupe. Love, sabotage, and the plague are a few other challenges Widge faces in the trilogy.
Blackwood sometimes delivers history with a twist, exploring how things might easily have turned out differently. It is the British, not the colonists, who are prevailing in the Revolutionary War when a spoiled British teenager becomes a reluctant spy in America in 1777 (The Year of the Hangman, Dutton, 2002). In Second Sight (Dutton, 2005), Joseph is enjoying the fame of an elaborate mind-reading hoax cooked up by his father when a clairvoyant girl foresees a plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.
Gary Blackwood’s non-fiction books for young readers reflect his interests in history, adventure, and the outdoors. One of his favourite books as a child was Around the World in Eighty Days. As he played with the idea of writing a sequel to the Jules Verne classic, Blackwood decided to tell the tale of a real life voyage: the first around-the-world automobile race. The Great Race: the Amazing Round-the-World Auto Race of 1908 (Abrams Books, 2008) recounts the journey of six cars from four countries as they competed in a race across America, through Siberia, Asia, and Europe, ending in Paris.
Blackwood has written three series of non-fiction books for young readers, published by Benchmark Books. The Unsolved History series delves into baffling events like the extinction of dinosaurs, what happened to the crew of the ship Mary Celeste, and the death of King Tut. It looks at the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, to name a few, and introduces people who believed they were important historical figures such as Joan of Arc and Billy the Kid. The books are being re-released this year with a news series title, History’s Mysteries.
The Secrets of the Unexplained Series explores the paranormal and unusual phenomenon, while the Bad Guys series looks at some of the more notorious occupations throughout history.
Gary Blackwood Non-Fiction Bibliography:
Secrets of the Unexplained series:
Bad Guys series:
Pirates, Benchmark (New York, NY), 2001.
Highwaymen, Benchmark (New York, NY), 2001.
Outlaws, Benchmark (New York, NY), 2001.
Swindlers, Benchmark (New York, NY), 2001.
Gangsters, Benchmark (New York, NY), 2001.
Unsolved History series:
Debatable Deaths, Benchmark (New York, NY), 2005.
Enigmatic Events, Benchmark (New York, NY), 2005.
Perplexing People, Benchmark (New York, NY), 2005.
Legends or Lies?, Benchmark (New York, NY), 2005.
Given a choice, Gary Blackwood would spend his time writing plays, plays, and more plays. In reality, novels pay the bills better than theatre scripts; however, writing for the stage remains dear to his heart.
The Tatamagouche, N.S. resident got involved in amateur theatre as a high school student in the United States and continued to act in plays in college. Somewhere along the line he discovered that writing plays was “a lot more fun than acting and a lot less work”. His first play to be performed on stage was Come on in, the Water’s Over Your Head at Muse Theatre, Cleveland, OH, in 1971. During the next three decades, many of his scripts came to life on stages in several U.S. venues. The Count of One was also translated into Catalan and performed in Cardedeu, Spain, in 2005.
Blackwood’s plays are primarily aimed at adult audiences, but he also wrote a stage adaptation of his popular juvenile novel, The Shakespeare Stealer (Dutton, 1998). It was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 2002; Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle, WA, in 2003; Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, in 2006; Nashville Children’s Theater, Nashville, TN, in 2006; and Vittum Theater, Chicago, IL, in 2006.
Blackwood says writing for the stage is a much faster process than writing novels, but comes with its own challenges. He focuses on “freewheeling” plays that aren’t reliant on sets and costumes. He finds adapting his own work for the stage is actually tougher than adapting other people’s work, because of the temptation to include every element and detail of his books.
Blackwood has turned his hand to another aspect of theatre; he is currently directing plays with the North Shore Players in Tatamagouche. He will also serve as 2009-2010 Writer in Residence for Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library.
Gary Blackwood Plays Bibliography:
Come on in, the Water’s Over Your Head; Muse Theatre, Cleveland, 1971
Attack of the Mushroom People; University of MO--Rolla, 1981; Missouri Southern State College, 1990; published Players' Press
Thoreau, one-man show; various engagements, 1982-1993
Futures; Stone's Throw Theatre, Carthage, MO, 1991; published Players' Press
Dark Horse; Ferndale Rep, Ferndale, CA, 1993; Stone's Throw Theatre, Carthage, MO, 1997
Morning Star; Youth Center Theatre, Walsenburg, CO, 1994
The Count of One; Sunset Center Theatre, Carmel, CA, 2001; Little Lost Arts, Branchville, NJ, 2003; Cardedeu, Spain 2005.
Ethan Frome, stage adaptation; published Baker's Plays
The Shakespeare Stealer, stage adaptation; Kennedy Center; 2002; Seattle Children's Theatre, Emerson College, 2003; Children's Theatre of Charlotte, Nashville Children's Theatre, Vittum Theatre, 2006; published Playscripts.com
Fateville; Dayton Playhouse, Dayton, OH, 2003