After I became an elementary school teacher, I began reading daily to my students after lunch. I discovered how much the students enjoyed listening to me read books and I loved reading them. I was getting children to love reading as well. As time went on, I read books to my own children at home. It was apparent, as the years passed, that children’s books were becoming better and better. I began to wonder if I could write children’s books but I was busy teaching, working a second job, and raising a family.
Eventually, I seriously decided to write for children. My wife saw an ad in a magazine for the Institute of Children’s Literature and suggested I take the aptitude test. I thought it was a scam but I took the test and passed it. I really couldn’t afford to take the class but my wife said we’d work it out. She supported me and, in 1983, I received my diploma. My wife surprised me with a secondhand desk and I set up a small writing area in our bedroom using an old typewriter.
After Marguerite Henry, author of Misty of Chincoteague, and Wilson Rawls, author of Where the Red Fern Grows, visited my school, I knew I wanted to be a real children’s author, and visit schools.
I joined Wyoming Writers, began attending writing conferences and retreats, and treated myself like a real writer. In 1986, the local chapter of the International Reading Association, of which I was a member, helped fund a trip for me to attend a Tomie De Paola workshop in New Hampshire for more instruction and inspiration. In 1988, I won a second prize in a Wyoming Writers contest. I still have a copy of the $45 check on my bulletin board. I started writing and sending out manuscripts, and collecting rejection letters. Money was tight raising four children on a teacher’s salary so my son Darin helped me collect aluminum cans along the roadside to get money for postage to send out manuscripts.
In 1989, I found a brochure for the Fifth Annual Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua, New York. I read it over and over, and dreamed how awesome it would be to attend. But, working three jobs, there was no way to afford it. I wrote them a letter about the possibility of getting a scholarship. Then, one Sunday morning, I received a phone call informing me I had received a full scholarship. I spent a fabulous week with Eve Bunting, Lois Lowery, Pam Conrad, and Walter Dean Myers. Now, I was ready to go!
I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and began attending their workshops and retreats. I met Will Hobbs, a Colorado author of many young adult books, and learned a lot. I decided I wanted to be like him (kind, considerate, and affirming). We became friends and, later, he told me my writing was almost there. He suggested I invest in a computer to make writing easier so I took out a loan, and did.
In 1992, at a Colorado SCBWI retreat, I met Bruce Coville who had also been a second grade teacher and we connected. In 1995, I wrote The Hand for his book, Bruce Coville’s Book of Nightmares.
I took part in The Wyoming Writing Project in 1994, which helped encourage me even more. I attended three of the project’s writing retreats (1996-1998) where I wrote Inside the Clown and Falling Stars. Somewhere along the way, I wrote a picture book series titled Old Granny Crumcake and some illustrations were started. But, after a budget cut, the project was terminated. It was a crushing blow.
I was very excited when, in 2000, I had a short story, You’ll Be Good For Him, published in Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul.
Inspired by Pam Conrad’s book, Prairie Songs, I wanted to write a book about the West. In 2002, my very first middle grade fiction book, Secret of the Black Widow, was published after 24 rejections, and became a 2004-2005 Indian Paintbrush Award nominee.
The rest is history. I now have a variety of published books, three alphabet books, a picture book, a board book, six middle grade fiction books (including Angel’s Landing published by Booklocker), and one young adult book. As the current Wyoming Poet Laureate, I have three poetry books(one adult and three children) with two more soon to be published.
Eugene M. Gagliano, known by many as the “Teacher Who Dances on His Desk,” is an award winning children’s author/poet/speaker. He is the current Wyoming Poet Laureate. Gene has presented at 165 schools, and at IRA, teacher, SCBWI and library conferences, and for libraries and book festivals. Check out his website at gargene.com, or follow him at facebook.com/dancingteacher.
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