A lifetime of diverse experiences contributes to author's success

March 17, 1995|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

For more than 20 years, Theodore "Ted" Taylor avoided writing a sequel to his award-winning first book, "The Cay," which has sold nearly 3 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1969.

Although he wrote several successful books after "The Cay," Mr. Taylor wasn't ready to revisit his story about a racist boy stranded on a life raft with a black man until 1991, when he wrote "Timothy of the Cay." Completing the story gave him a sense of relief.

"If you're lucky enough to have that kind of success, you're afraid to tamper with it," said Mr. Taylor, 74, an author of books for young adults who will speak at Mount Airy Public Library at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

"I had gotten about 200,000 letters from young readers saying, 'When are you going to finish?' " Mr. Taylor said in a telephone interview from his home in Laguna Beach, Calif. "But it took me 22 years to get up the courage to do it."

"Timothy of the Cay," was named Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association in 1993.

The author is in Maryland to receive an award from the Maryland International Reading Association for his book, "The Sniper," the story of a young boy trying to protect himself and the animals in his family's wildlife park from a sniper. The book's theme of survival is a common thread that runs through some of Mr. JTC Taylor's most popular works, including "Sweet Friday Island" and "The Cay," which is part of the sixth-grade reading curriculum in most Carroll County schools.

Maria Toomey, children's librarian at Mount Airy Public Library, said young readers are drawn to the adventure in Mr. Taylor's books.

"The idea of having to survive in adverse circumstances appeals to children and young adults," Ms. Toomey said.

In addition to conveying a sense of adventure in his writing, Mr. Taylor said he strives for authenticity.

"I hope that they'll say, 'This feels real, it sounds real, the people are real, the places are real,' " he said.

A native of Statesville, N.C., Mr. Taylor began his writing career as a sports reporter on his high school for the Portsmouth Star newspaper. His salary was 50 cents a week.

He said a lifetime of diverse work experiences has contributed to his success as a writer. While he was growing up, he plucked chickens, crabbed on a creek and sold the crustaceans for a nickel each, and tended to the injuries of boxers.

He fell in love with the Caribbean while he was in the Merchant Marine and the Navy in World War II, and has used the islands as settings for several of his books.

Mr. Taylor never attended college, but he said his years as a

journalist, working for five newspapers, made up for his lack of formal education.

"The newspaper guys did it for me," he said. "I started at the age of 13 and had guys who helped me and told me what I was doing wrong, chastised me, beat me up. They were wonderful teachers, and they did it for free."

In addition to his on-the-job training, Mr. Taylor credits his success as a writer to discipline.

"I work seven days a week, from 8:30 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, except during football season," Mr. Taylor said. "It's like I work for the Bank of America."

Mr. Taylor said he got the idea for "The Cay" while he was doing research for an adult nonfiction book in 1957; he came across an account of an 11-year-old Dutch boy who disappeared on a life raft.

For 10 years, the image stayed with him. In Mr. Taylor's story, the Dutch boy became Philip, a racist boy from the author's childhood. "The Cay" explores the relationship between Philip, who becomes blind, and Timothy, a black man who joins him on the raft.

Mr. Taylor has described the book as "a subtle plea for racial tolerance."

The sequel, "Timothy of the Cay," examines Timothy's life before the life raft adventure.

Between writing his 55 books, Mr. Taylor has worked steadily in the Hollywood entertainment industry as a press agent, story editor and associate producer.

"I really hated Hollywood, but I made very good money," he said. "I could finance myself for the next six months while I wrote a book."

Mr. Taylor's movie credits include "Tora, Tora, Tora," "The Sand Pebbles" and Teacher's Pet."

He has just completed another book for young adults,"The Bomb," which focuses on U.S. relocation of the Bikini Atoll inhabitants after World War II to clear the way for atomic and hydrogen bomb testing. He's working on "Naughty, Naughty Knife Work," which he describes as a "bloody suspense" novel for adults.

"It's been a wonderful experience," Mr. Taylor said of his long writing career. "If you can go most of your life without having a boss -- God, that's heaven."

Registration is required for Mr. Taylor's discussion at Mount Airy Public Library. To register, call 410-795-1010.

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