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Sandy Journal

Eastmont teacher shares excitement of his first book to be released with students

Aug 11, 2023 09:49AM ● By Julie Slama

Eastmont teacher Marc Gregson shows the cover of his novel, which will be released Jan. 2, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Marc Gregson)

When students return to Eastmont Middle School, they may be standing in line for language arts teacher Marc Gregson’s autograph.

His novel, “Sky’s End,” is book one of an epic trilogy, Above the Black, that follows teenager Conrad’s adamant reclamation of status and power after his devious uncle exiles him to live as a Low. This action-adventure set on floating islands follows a tumultuous revenge plot as Conrad enters the Selection where he joins one of 12 Trades to battle giant monsters in sky ships, forge unexpected alliances, and rescue his sister from a twisted meritocracy swarming with treachery.

Gregson, who gave two presentations last spring to students about his book and also revealed the cover to them at an assembly before summer break, said the book will be released Jan. 2, 2024.

“My book was the No. 1 new release in teen monster fiction on Amazon from the plethora of pre-orders that all came in all at once, which was super exciting, super fun,” he said, adding that it still can be pre-ordered at The Printed Garden, King’s English Bookshop, Barnes and Noble, Walmart, Hudson Booksellers and Indie Books amongst others.

The trilogy takes place where the people of the Skylands live on floating islands — “which are like full of chunks of earth that are floating, levitating up in the sky with ecosystems and cities up there” — and they float above a bed of black clouds, which is how the trilogy title got its name. 

“These clouds are like acid, and they are going to eat the flesh right off of your bones. They also act as a wall and we don’t know what’s below those clouds,” he told a group of students. “My publisher called my book, ‘Attack on the Titans’ meets ‘Hunger Games.’ If you’re familiar with those series, I think you might get excited for this.”

During a presentation, three students volunteered to role play the book’s meritocracy— a government that is ruled by the more powerful and educated.

“This system only works for people who are strong. There is another status and it’s not high, middle or low. It’s called Select Status and to be in this, you have to pay money. It’s for the people with great minds and you are going to be selected by one of the 12 trades that will stick with you for your life,” he said, then asked which trade the students thought his main character would have in the book that is being marketed for ages 14 and older.

He also answered questions about who will narrate the audio book — “I don’t get to choose” — from when it will be available as an e-book — the same day it will be released.

He touched on how he got into writing as a Churchill Junior High student.

“I was 14 when I was assigned to write a Halloween story. I always had been creative, so I started writing. It went beyond the sketches I used to do, and I kept writing and writing. I fell in love with it there,” he said.

His three-page English assignment was supposed to be a couple pages. He turned in 10 although his teacher only graded the first three pages.

Now, the Skyline High graduate turned English teacher encourages his students to write.

“I get excited when my students are writing one of my fast-finishers I have on the board. Anytime I can get my students to practice writing, I’m excited. I do have students who are plugging away at writing their own books and they bring them up to me to read to give them feedback,” he said. “I love teaching and I love writing. With the new technology that’s out, some of my students ask, ‘Why do we need to know how to do this? We can just tell a computer to do it for us.’ I tell them, ‘Writing is being able to collect our thoughts and organize them in a way so you can effectively communicate.’”

Currently, Gregson is writing the last book in the trilogy, which is set to come out in 2026. The second book is to debut in 2025. Already he has other science fiction ideas for future works.

“I had a bunch of fun with the second book. It was an absolute blast because I’d already established the world and most of the characters, so it was just fun and energetic. The sequel, the final one, I’m enjoying it because I love the Skylands and feel like in this world there is so much I haven’t been able to explore and I still want to,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated by mysteries and things that are not in reality. As a kid, I used to have a hard time being interested when a teacher would assign us a book; it would always be one where he lives a sad life and the dog dies. With fantasy and science fiction, it just clicks with me.”

He has remembered that lesson as a teacher.

“I used to assign a mystery book report, a biography book report, a fantasy and sci fi book report. Then a couple years ago, I decided to let my students self-select their book reports and I found a higher engagement with my students. I always get students who tell me that they don’t like to read, and I tell them that it’s probably because they’re not reading the right thing. I tell them to go diversify what they’re reading and pick things that interest them,” he said, laughing that the students could soon pick his novel to read for an assignment. “As a kid, I was all about nonfiction. I’d read about lions. I researched World War II. I would go to the Holladay library, and I would bring home a stack of books, something to research. Then, in junior high, I kind of stopped reading for a bit — up until a day I got in trouble. That’s when my teacher sent me the library and the librarian set me up with ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card. When I put it down, I asked, ‘How did he do that?’ I set off this in this journey in my mind. That, and the Halloween story assignment, kind of started everything.”

It was around the time of Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings movies were coming out that Gregson decided he would “write this big epic fantasy.”

“I wasn’t a very good writer. I think my intelligence is creative intelligence. I was very creative, but I didn’t know how to translate that to the page. I had a really hard time with that first book; it took me nine years to write,” he said. “It was a disaster, but I’m proud of it. People always give me a weird look when I say I’m proud of something that’s terrible, but I did it. I wrote it.”

After that, his second book only took five months to write — and each one after, got easier. None of those fantasies ever were published.

This book is his sixth.

“Each time I was writing, I experimented with different age groups. This was my first time writing for young adults and I really found my voice. I like the pacing of young adult literature and middle grade literature,” he said. “It’s helpful being a teacher and being able to be in the mindset of the teenager when I’m teaching them every day. I’m able to share with them about persevering, overcoming challenges and believing in ourselves. I’ve told them, point blank, that what I wrote just last night was terrible, but it was just one day, and I will write again. When I tell them I’ve been writing for 20 years and writing is hard, they’re like, ‘whoa.’ They’re learning that I also have to edit my work and do revisions. One of the things that I’ve learned is that our first ideas are often not our best ideas. We just get an idea out on the paper, but then we need to expand and revise to come up with a better idea.”

His shares his writing process and tips with his students and his 5,500 followers on TikTok.

“My students always tell me to dance on TikTok, but I’m not a dance guy. I did one over the summer and I told them it’s the only one I’m ever going to do,” he said. “This all has been surreal. Sometimes, I remember seeing myself as a teenager with having big dreams and now, I climbed that mountain that was so hard to climb. It’s been incredible and now, I share that little life advice with this age group. It’s fun to connect and share the excitement.” λ