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Retired WKHS teachers now published authors

Richard King, a retired WKHS teacher, published "When Maples Turn Red" earlier this year. He will be signing books at the Town Hall Square Gift Shop in Beaver Bay next Saturday. (Courtesy of Outskirts Press)1 / 4
Aftar Richard King had a stroke at the age of 53, he promised himself that if he recovered he would write a novel. The retired WKHS finally published that novel this year and will be signing copies at the Town Hall Square Gift Shop in Beaver Bay next Saturday. (Courtesy of Outskirts Press)2 / 4
John Salls speaking to a class in Hector, Minn. The former WKHS teacher published his first novel in 2010 and will be signing copies at the Town Hall Square Gift Shop in Beaver Bay next Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Salls)3 / 4
John Salls, a retired WKHS teacher, published "First Year" earlier this year. He will be signing books at the Town Hall Square Gift Shop in Beaver Bay next Saturday. (Courtesy of Outskirts Press)4 / 4

In 1985, Richard King had a stroke. He lost the ability to read and write and couldn't remember the alphabet.

"I was really in bad shape," he said. In the grueling physical therapy sessions that followed, the former William Kelley High School teacher made himself a promise.

"I made up my mind, I'm going to prove that I can lick this by writing a novel," he said.

"When Maples Turn Red" is the result of that tenacity. King, now 81, just self-published the novel that took 25 years to complete. He will be at the Town Square Hall Gift Shop in Beaver Bay with fellow retired teacher, John Salls, on Sept. 28, for a book signing. Salls, 73, released his debut novel "First Year" in 2010.

The two teachers have made careers of honing the writing skills of others and each has been working on his novel for decades. Both books have a male protagonist, but beyond that, the two stories are very different.

"First Year" follows a young man on his first teaching assignment.

"It's about one year in the life in a fictional school," Salls said. Education is in Salls blood -- he and his wife are both teachers, and his parents were educators, too. He drew on that wealth of experience to write the novel.

"I tried to be truthful," he said of the novel. "I tried to introduce (the readers) to the challenges students and teachers face."

Since retiring in Ortonville, Minn., Salls said he and his wife have remain active in public education, attending many plays and concerts at the local schools.

King, originally from New York, settled in Silver Bay after serving in the Army. He still lives there today, but his novel takes readers back to his home.

"It went around in my mind for a long time. The character is completely fictional but I borrowed the setting from when I was growing up. It's a coming-of-age story," King said. There's plenty of action, too.

"It's practically Indiana Jones at times," he said.

With more than a half-century of combined teaching experience, Salls and King said they both enjoy helping younger kids express themselves through writing.

King first wrote for his junior high school newspaper and yearbook and went on to get his doctorate in creative writing. He said teaching students to write is a process of self-discovery as well as an art form.

"They discover themselves," he said. "They also discover how writing creatively is a kind of magic because you're creating something... It's like how Houdini or somebody uses tricks to make people believe what isn't true. You're getting people to believe this story."

Salls' first writing experience was in third grade, and he still remembers how he felt after reading the story to the kids in his class and seeing their positive reactions.

"That got me going," he said. "I enjoy taking an empty page and filling it with words."

As for teaching, he echoed King, saying it often helps kids find themselves. He said the most rewarding experience is when a student is struggling in other subjects and creative writing helps him or her find strength and a voice.

Both authors will have books available at the event on Sept. 28. "When Maples Turn Red" is available on and "First Year" is available at Town Hall Square Gift Shop in Beaver Bay, Cross River Heritage Center in Schroeder and Bookstore at Fitger's inDuluth.

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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