Today, Larry Enright has the pleasure of interviewing the infamous Tom Ryan, ten year-old hero of the newly released A King in a Court of Fools, and author of the lost journal, the Book of Tom. 

As background, A King in a Court of Fools begins with a book — The Book of Tom — a journal writing assignment from Tom Ryan’s sixth-grade teacher, Sister Jeanne Lorette. That’s what she called it anyway. Tom called it punishment. In it, he chronicles the adventures of the Caswell Gang, a group of siblings and friends with two things in common — their love of adventure and their allegiance to Tom, their king.

The 1950s book was misplaced a long time ago, and all the children have since grown up, but Harry, Tom’s youngest brother, still remembers it and retells for us one of its stories in a nostalgic, heartwarming, and humorous way that will have you wishing for adventure, too. 

I sincerely hope you find the interview with Tom as much fun as I did trying to keep him from destroying my office.

Larry: Welcome, Tom and thank you in advance for behaving yourself during the interview. I know you have an appointment after school in the principal’s office for detention that you’re so looking forward to, so on to the first question — when and why did you decide to become a writer?

Tom: I “decided,” as you call it, when Sister Jeanne Lorette made me do it by assigning the punishment of keeping a journal for the rest of the year. It was a bum rap, a set-up I tell you. I had nothing to do with those thousand caterpillars released inside the eighth grade classroom. The green stains on my shirt were purely coincidental and all the evidence was circumstantial. There’s no justice in a court of parents.

She thinks she got me, but I fooled her. I used her punishment to keep a journal of my gang — the Caswell Gang. That’s my brothers and sisters, and four other friends from my sixth grade class. I’m their king, and boy did we have fun.

Larry: It sounds like you enjoyed writing it.

Tom: Funny thing is, I did. I actually had a blast writing about our adventures. Can you believe it? I never knew being a king could be so much fun.

Larry: King, eh? That’s interesting. I’m sure your parents had some input into that. Tell me, where do you do your best writing?

Tom: At the Isaly’s Dairy Store up on Main Street, home of the Klondike Bar. Never heard of the Klondike? Let me explain it this way. A great man once said that the history of the world could only be appreciated by reading it from the Book of Tom, so I’ll read you one of the things I wrote.

A vanilla ice cream square dipped in milk chocolate — that was the Klondike bar created by the Isaly Dairy Company of Youngstown, Ohio in the early 1920s. They named it after the Klondike River in Alaska because Alaska is covered with vanilla ice cream all year long and the Klondike is really a river of chocolate. Polar bears love ice cream. They eat so much of it they turn white, and the more they eat, the whiter they get. Most people don’t know that, but that’s because the polar bears scare them off. They want all the ice cream for themselves. Why else would they have a polar bear, a big scary one, on the Klondike’s foil wrapper? Come on, use your head. 

See what I mean? We didn’t know Isaly’s was the largest dairy chain in the world. We thought we had the only one right there in our neighborhood. But one thing we did know was that it was the only place you could get Klondike bars and Skyscraper cones. That makes it the best place in the world to play nickel hockey on the oversized counters, or stop off for something cold after a hard day at the movies, or to write about the Caswells.

Larry: I’ll bet you met a lot of interesting people there. Who would you say was your biggest influence?

Tom: My archenemy, Frankie Marx. Just say his name and it’s enough to make my blood boil. Frankie’s too smart for his own good — the only boy with straight A’s in the sixth grade. Doesn’t he realize how tough that makes it on everyone? And Frankie is his own public relations department complete with loudspeaker and regular public service announcements — “I got an A on the spelling test, Tom. What did you get?” Blah, blah, blah. 

Worse, Frankie is the teacher’s pet, every teacher’s pet. He has that market cornered and was even voted by the gang most likely to open a pet store before he was twelve. All the girls like Frankie, too. Every day his Mom packs extra Kit-Kat bars for him to give to his favorite girl friends. They fawn over him and fight over them. Every day. It’s disgusting. He’s cornered the market on girls, too. And worse still, Frankie’s a blabbermouth. No secret is safe with him. Not even guy secrets. There is nothing about Frankie Marx to like and everything to hate. It’s good versus evil, right versus wrong, superhero versus archenemy. How’s that for an influence?

Larry: Well, you certainly set us straight on that. Are you fortunate enough to be able to write full-time?

Tom: I have too many other things to do, like last week after the big rain we had to build the Hoover Dam in the street.  It rained so hard the side yard had become a lake stretching from the house to the woods. It spilled over the curb into the street feeding a raging river that ran from the woods to the corner, ending in a waterfall at the storm drain. We dammed the river with mud and leaves but we needed a floodgate. Good thing we’d been collecting bricks for months from the Shannons’ house while it was under construction and hid most of them in the woods to use when we built our fort. The few specials that we’d found we kept stashed in the garage. They were special because they had three holes in them — perfect for a floodgate. We stuck one in the dam, and water poured through the holes in three streams, allowing the puddle to drain, just like the Hoover Dam, better than the Hoover Dam. We also tried to generate electric power from it, but that didn’t work out so well.

Larry: Very ingenious. I’m sure the streets department thought so, too. If Hollywood came knocking who would you want to play you in a movie?

Tom: It would have to be Tom Terrific. You’ve probably seen him on Captain Kangaroo. Not only is he terrific, but his name is Tom, and he lives in a tree house just like our secret hideout in the woods. It’s a cherry tree, deep in the woods, but not just any old cherry tree, The Cherry Tree. It’s the tallest tree around and if you climb to the top everything you see belongs to the Caswell gang. And guess what? Our claim saying just that is staked by a sign tacked to the base of the tree, warning off anybody who happens by. We defend it with our lives. Those are the rules.

Larry: I’ll keep that in mind if ever I go that way. Next question. Name six people, dead or alive, you’d love to have as guests seated around your dinner table.

Tom: That’s not a question.

Larry: You know what I mean.

Tom: Fine. Captain Midnight, Bill Mazeroski, The Cisco Kid, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, and Rin Tin Tin – but he’s need a special doggy chair, I think.

Larry: What one piece of advice have you found the most important in your writing career?

Tom: The most important advice I got was from Sister Del Rey, the school disciplinarian at Saint Catherine’s. She never smiles, never frowns, never laughs. She’s never angry. That’s because she is a robot Sister with super powers that the nuns got from the Sears catalog. When her robot eyes look around a room, you’d better duck down under your desk. Her advice to me was “Do it, Tom, or you’ll spend the rest of the year in detention getting acquainted with every piece of dirt on every floor in the school.” Good advice.

Larry: Yes, I should think so. And finally, if you were stranded on a desert island what three books would you choose to have with you?

Tom: Any issue of Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang, The Hardy Boys – The Tower Treasure, and another composition notebook so I could start another journal. I could get used to this writing thing.

Larry: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy detention schedule to be interviewed and I wish you all the best with your book.

Tom: And thank you for interviewing me. I have to go now and sit quietly for the next two hours with Sister Del Rey. If you see me wandering around like a zombie it’s probably because she ate my brain.

About the book: A King in a Court of Fools, originally published as a serial novel, is Larry Enright’s second published work. It is humorous, nostalgic fiction about kids growing up in the 1950s and has been already enjoyed by ages ten through ninety-one. It is available in both eBook and paperback from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Click for details to Purchase or sample A King in a Court of Fools.

 
About the author: Larry Enright was born to Irish Catholic first-generation immigrants and raised in Pittsburgh. After college, he moved to the Philadelphia area where for the past 40 years he has filled his life with many careers including musician, teacher, programmer, researcher, and writer. He has written three other novels, including the best-selling Four Years from Home. Visit Larry Enright's site.  


Thanks so much Larry. It's been great fun to meet you both! Good luck with the launch.

Happy Reading!

Sibel XX