On June 28, author Gordon Korman is publishing his 100th book with Scholastic. You read that right– The Fort is Gordon’s 100th published book for young readers, after the publication of his first 44 years ago in 1978 when he was just 12 years old.
The Fort is the tale of the aftermath of a hurricane that has ripped through the small town of Canaan. A motley crew of eighth grade boys – Evan, Jason, Mitchell, and CJ – meet to explore the devastation. The group is annoyed to find that Evan has brought along the new kid– a boy named Ricky who doesn’t have any friends. But Ricky is the one who finds a trap door in the middle of the woods– a door to an old 1980s bomb shelter, unearthed by the hurricane.
Inside the bomb shelter, the boys discover a completely intact underground room with electricity and an old television, and vow to keep the existence of the shelter to themselves. Thus, the creation of The Fort.
Gordon didn’t intentionally choose The Fort to be his 100th book. “It just worked out that way,” he says. “It wasn’t until I did an official count that I realized it was going to be my 100th. I think it was the perfect book to be just that– I’ve written a lot about friendship in the 44 years that I’ve been doing this. I think of all the friendships I’ve created, this is the one I’m most proud of.”
The ragtag team of boys certainly are the epitome of friendship. Reminiscent of The Sandlot, Stand by Me, and Stranger Things, the story revolves around a group of kids who band together to save the day. Whether it be fending off an abusive stepfather, navigating a new relationship, dealing with a troublesome older brother who hangs out with the wrong crowd, or trying to survive being the new kid, Evan, Jason, Mitchell, CJ, and Ricky each have their own troubles and their own story to tell. They also have each other’s backs as best they can. “What I hope resonates with readers, even on a subconscious level, is the friendship between the guys,” says Gordon. “The beautiful, but at the same time messy, warts and all, visceral, kind of multifaceted glory of their friendship. These kids love each other, but if you break down the dialogue, they don’t say a lot about how they feel. It just sort of comes through in their actions and later on.”
In the bomb shelter, Gordon takes his crew of boys and has them interact with remnants of 70s and 80s culture. “The cool factor of the fort itself was the most fun part of writing this book,” he explains. “Trying to see from the perspective of today’s kids– how they would interact with a record player and music from the 70s… Just writing about these kids watching Jaws, which was the movie that scared me so badly in the 5th grade that I wouldn't go to sleep until I was positive that the shark on my Jaws t-shirt was face down in my drawer… In a lot of ways it was generationally perfect for when I was the age of the kids in the story.”
Gordon writes for young readers because when he first began writing at the age of 12 for a 7th grade assignment, he was writing for kids like him, and for kids his age at the time. “My theory is that the middle grade years are the years you become in charge of your own opinion,” says Gordon. “What has sort of stunned me is how important the stories that we love as kids, particularly middle grade age kids, stick with us our whole lives. But I have to admit, my 12 year old self, when I first started writing, is much closer to my readers in age than I am,” he says. “I gotta sort of stick with whatever my gut was back then.”
If you’re an aspiring writer, Gordon advises making writing a part of your everyday life. “Make it something you do every day, or almost every day,” he says. “What I find odd is that it doesn’t really matter what kind of writing it is, you can blog and journal and not do any of that stuff and just always have a project you're working on. One of the things I see as I travel is that this is more of an adult thing than a kid thing. Adults will say they’re going to write a book one day and describe it and it seems so thought out in their head. And you’ll always hear they haven’t started it yet. There are a lot of would-be writers out there that are waiting for the stars to align. I think that it would have been like that for me too, if it weren’t for that 7th grade English assignment, or if something hadn’t really forced me to write a story.”
The Fort by Gordon Korman is on sale June 28. Learn more and preorder your copy here.