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Lunch With The Admiral

inspiring teachersYesterday I had lunch with none other than First Lord John Fiora –– or as we call him here at Iceberg, award-winning author John Fioravanti. It was a working lunch, as important things are afoot, but I can’t elaborate on those just now. Instead, I want to talk about John, and how he earned such an important place in the Defense Command universe.

That story begins fifteen years ago, in classroom 107 at St. David C.S.S. here in Waterloo… but since this is a Defense Command-tagged note, I should go back even further, and set some context.

Back in 1996, when my family left Newfoundland for Lethbridge, Alberta, it was a bit of a shock for my system. I’d traveled off the island many times, but moving from the rock to live in big sky country was a lot for an eleven-year-old. I was lucky to be writing Star Defenders at the time –– that early predecessor to what eventually became Defense Command. Being able to dive into a fictional universe helped immensely as I got used to the new environment… but just as helpful was finding a properly good school in my new hometown.

Father Leonard Van Tighem was (and remains) an exceptional place; great teachers, fine students, and good friends. It was junior high, so naturally there were tough times, awkward moments, and unrequited loves –– some of which I’m almost over –– but there was also a huge amount of support for a kid from Newfoundland who liked to write stories in his spare time. I don’t know if the teachers and staff were aware of how much it meant for a student who felt foreign to find friends among their ranks, but it truly had an impact.

inspiring teachers
An auspicious return to FLVT in 2005, with Mrs. Steitz, Ms. Hay, and Marlene Stasiuk (now Tanaka) in the middle.

From the top there was Principal Garth Renyk, and then there were teachers and staff like (in random order): Ms. Steitz, Mr. Parr, Mr. Pasquotti, Ms. Hay, Ms. Hoveling, Mr. Mac, Mr. Polio, Ms. Vienneau, Mr. Templin, and Ms. Barbero. The school librarian, Helen McAllindon, was especially good –– I recall she once had me read Beowulf and dissect it for themes. It was a memorable exercise, which to this day informs the way I analyze what I read and write. Beyond all these excellent people, two teachers had particular impacts.

The first was Greg Noyes, science teacher and Vice Principal. At FLVT we had the option to select ‘community service’ for one of our elective classes; basically, it amounted to spending one period a day helping out around the school. I chose to work for Greg, helping in the school office or in the classroom. I wouldn’t have termed it this way back then, but I felt like a staff officer –– like someone who was able to contribute in a small way to the running of the operation. As much of a nerd as that made me, the responsibility was awfully good for my sanity –– it usually is.

Less good for my sanity was Marlene Stasiuk (now Tanaka), who was my Language Arts teacher. More than anyone else at FLVT, she really encouraged my writing, and as punishment for that terrible idea, she was one of very few people who ever had to suffer through reading the Star Defenders version of Defense Command.

Well, maybe ‘punishment’ is an over-dramatization, but suffice to say there’s a reason that, in Defense Command proper, Greg Noyce and Marlene Stoll appeared as well-respected Admirals. I was still in university when I drafted The Rogue Commodore, and after visiting FLVT for writing workshops and a book launch in 2005, the importance of good teachers was foremost on my mind. I wanted to repay them… by stealing their souls for fictional characters. Go figure, I’m twisted.

inspiring teachers
With Greg Noyes and Helen McAllindon, before writing workshops and a book launch at FLVT, in 2005.

Anyway, that’s the context… but what happened after we moved from Lethbridge to Waterloo in 1999? Showing up at a new school for Grade 10 was rather daunting, and though I looked forward to a fresh start in a new province, I was quite conscious that St. David was four times the size of FLVT. Also, because Ontario high school consisted at the time of Grades 9 to 13 (in Alberta and Newfoundland, high school was 10 to 12), I was a year late in finding friends.

Fortunately, I made two very quickly. One is my best friend Peter Caron (Charlie Peters, the evil genius), and the other was the crazy history teacher from room 107, who weirdly was teaching English in the year I arrived.

As readers of Journey will know, John had a standing policy: he ate lunch in his classroom, and left the room open to all who wanted to join him. I was on board from day one, and though the ebbs and flows of life have since swept us in and out of touch from time to time, our friendship has survived graduation, job changes, retirements, and, of course, the vendetta at the end of the Martian War.

Lunch yesterday was a reminder of how far we’ve come, and how lucky I was –– maybe we both were –– that I landed at St. David when I came to Waterloo. I was already writing by the time I got here (I was drafting The Human Equation on the drive across Canada), but there’s no doubt that the support of the Room 107 lunch club, and that mad teacher, was important. There’s a reason John was the emcee at my first-ever book launch… and when the time came, no one else could become Defense Command’s First Lord of the Admiralty.

inspiring teachers
Idea: let’s send Greg and Mik to attack Mars!

So here’s to John, and all the inspiring teachers in Lethbridge… and frankly, to good educators everywhere. I suppose it’s easy to be frustrated by the restraints now placed upon you; these days we have terms like ‘helicopter parents’, students are reportedly immune to deadlines, and smartphones have the potential to turn classrooms into cyber-quagmires.

But in the midst of all that noise, you mustn’t doubt that you can make a difference. As John explains in Journey, be human and lead by example; you may not get through to everyone, every year, but those you connect with will be better for your efforts.

Though if you’re incredibly unlucky, that weird Newfie kid who always tucks in his shirt will one day co-opt you into a book. And believe me, that’ll suck.