Former Timmins educator, now an author, is working hard to get young people more interested in reading.
So does “Popchuck’s End” truly mark the last we’ll see of the trio of young protagonists from this trilogy, written by Timmins native Paul Toffanello?
Don’t bet on it.
“I’m working on two other novels with the same characters,” Toffanello revealed this weekend. “One of the novels, the working title is ‘Mystery of the Mattagami Mist,’ and it’s got a really interesting premise of these three kids actually being lost in the bush on their own on a canoe trip. And so that one is coming along, but they won’t be part of the Popchuck series. I think this is the end of the actual Popchuck series.”
The Popchuck trilogy focuses on the spooky adventures of 12-year-old Neil Wybred and his two best friends Adam and Ally.
They live in Nimmitsville, an anagram of Timmins, and the description of many locations cited in the books are lifted straight from places like Camp Bickell, the old Timmins Public Library and what was formerly Flora MacDonald School.
“I’m always trying to get a piece of Timmins in my stories so ‘The Mystery of the Mattagami Mist’ is really again an opportunity to bring those characters into a context that I’m aware of,” said Toffanello.
Toffanello, who is on a promotional tour, is booked for the entire week to speak at a dozen elementary schools in Timmins, talking to students about creative writing and his experiences trying to get published.
“I do bring an educational element to my presentations which I think they (the school boards) appreciate,” said Toffanello, a former educator himself.
“When I talk to kids at schools, I really, really emphasize the importance of reading. I try to get kids to understand by using the analogy of lifting a weight with your arm and what happens to your bicep. And they always know it grows. And I say, ‘Well, your brain is like that but it needs words and vocabulary, and then you get smarter with every new word that you understand and that you can use and articulate.’”
The other key message he tries to get across to kids while spurring their interest in creative writing is to “write what you know.”
“When you write what you know, you don’t have to be confounded by remembering all the details of, for example, the old Timmins library. It’s in my head. I know it in detail, so being able to create the setting makes it easier to focus on the plot and the characters and on the development of the story.”
“Popchuck’s End,” the latest in the popular trilogy, is fresh off the presses.
Toffanello said the manuscript was sent to the printers about two months ago and the book was just delivered three weeks ago.
“Book 1 (Popchuck’s Ghost) was at Camp McAbre which Timmins people would know as Camp Bickell, and it was a simple story of three kids who discover a ghost and find the bad guy.
“Book 2 (Popchuck’s Revenge), the bad guy reappears three months later at Halloween and they go through an adventurous discovery that their school is filled with witches and warlocks.
“And Book 3 (Popchuck’s End) is a year later, and the kids have been given the opportunity to go to Salem, Mass. So the whole setting is Salem and the bad guy finds his way back and this time the tension is heightened to the extent that the lives of the three kids are pretty much in danger. And, as you can imagine, there is a very frolicking and fast-paced mystery that needs to be solved and the kids try to do it themselves, which is central to my stories.
“I won’t give away the ending, but I will say it does turn back to Camp McAbre at the very end.”
He said when he wrote the first book in the series, he had “reluctant readers” in Grades 7 and 8 in mind as his target market.
Toffanello said his marketing data has since shown the book series is mostly popular with readers between Grades 4 and 7.
The popularity of the series has opened the door to the prospect of a film production of the trilogy.
Calgrove Media, an independent California-based producer of family films, announced last year it had acquired the movie rights to the book series and is planning to produce three feature films based on that trilogy.
Toffanello said he has been involved in the process throughout and the experience has been eye-opening.
“It’s a slow process. I’m learning that the development of a movie takes anywhere from two to four years. We’ve just hit the two-year mark now.”
Jet Jurgensmeyer, a young American actor, perhaps best known for his roles as Spanky in the 2014 film The Little Rascals Save the Day, and as Bobby in the 2016 Disney Channel television film Adventures in Babysitting, has been attached to play the lead character.
“We still have Jet Jurgensmeyer (who turns 14 next month) as the main character. If we don’t get moving, he’s going to get too old for us, and he knows that, but he can flip to a different role.”
“We brought in a new director who has an incredible series of successes in his life and I’m really happy about that … We’re still in the mid to final investment search phase. And that’s going OK.”
Toffanello said Lisha Yakub Sevanian, the film producer and founder of Calgrove Media, is looking at the spring of 2019 to start shooting.
“I believe once this director is on board, he’ll bring a lot with him and that will propel it quite quickly into a new phase.”
Toffanello added, “There is a chance that we might be able to film in Northern Ontario. Right now, we’re looking at Vancouver or Northeastern Ontario. We’re just not sure where yet.”
Anyone wishing to purchase “Popchuck’s End” or any of the other books in the series can do so by going online at popchuck.ca or contacting the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toffanello will also be at the Timmins Public Library this Saturday from 10:30 a.m. where he will be selling copies of his latest release and meeting with anyone who wants to come by and say hello.
Original article by Ron Grech, Timmins Times. Published on: October 15, 2018 | Last Updated: October 15, 2018 11:29 AM EDT