Arts & Sciences

Brandman adjunct Chris Baron's first middle-grade novel lands a publisher

April 12, 2018 by Cindy O'Dell
Chris Baron

Adjunct faculty member Chris Baron in his San Diego City College Writing Center office.

One of the unexpected benefits of online learning is the people you meet virtually. For some Brandman students, that someone is Chris Baron.

Baron teaches undergraduates English classes online, including Writing and Rhetoric (ENGU 103) and Writing About Literature (ENGU 104). Both School of Arts and Sciences courses focus on developing critical thinking skills through writing. He’s also taught courses on ethics and leadership.

It’s just one of many roles he juggles. The others include his position as head of the Writing Center at San Diego City College, parenting duties with his wife (fellow writer and Brandman adjunct Ella deCastro), being an award-winning poet and author of a soon-to-be-published middle-grade novel in verse with the working title “Weight.”

While it will be a year before “Weight” hits the market, the novel generated enough interest that Feiwel and Friends (a children’s fiction division of MacMillan Publishers) bought it in a “preempt,” a publishing term that stops or bypasses the usual auction of a writer’s work by his agent. In other words, somebody really liked reading it.

From idea to novel in verse

If all that sounds easy, Baron is happy to set the record straight. “Every step of the way is so challenging.” That includes more than two years of writing (and many more years to convince himself he should do it), getting feedback from his “amazing” group of writing peers, spending nine months revising it and then finding an agent and trimming 30,000 words from the original 70,000 to fit the target length of middle-grade fiction. “I have less control than I think I do.”

The novel, while fictional, has links to his youth, including a summer in Marin County’s Stinson Beach and a family he calls “pretty eccentric.” 

“At the core of the book, there’s a boy who is overweight and has been that way all his life. He gets fed up with being teased. There are family issues. This is his journey over a summer to make changes in his life.”

Writing the novel, he said, helped him connect to the struggles his students face juggling jobs and families and homework assignments. While he doesn’t assign his published books to students (including “Lantern Tree: Four Books of Poems,” in collaboration with three other poets, and “The Baron Journals,” a collaboration with artist and author Randall Hasson), he does share the writing process and the progress on his novel. “They’re excited about it. They get on my mailing list, and I appreciate that.”

Why Brandman

Chris Baron
Chris Baron

Although he started teaching in-person classes, originally leadership classes at the behest of business school faculty member Helen Eckmann when Brandman was Chapman University College, he enjoys the switch to both online and English, having earned his Master of Fine Arts from San Diego State University.

The college athlete (crew) turned writer and teacher traces both career choices to Glover Davis, a poet and professor emeritus of creative writing at San Diego State University and a former college athlete as well. While Baron had always like writing since high school, it was when Davis rejected one of Baron’s poems as “garbage” and told him to write something real that everything changed.

“I wrote a poem about rowing. It’s still one of my favorites. I realized I didn’t have to write a certain kind of poetry. It takes someone being real with you, which is also why I started teaching. I can have an impact by being honest. 

“I respected him as a writer. I want to be a practitioner. Then I have grounds to be real with people about writing. So, both poetry and teaching,” said Baron, reiterating his commitment to Brandman.

“There is a difference in the quality of instruction and the expectation of students compared to other online universities. Brandman students come in fully engaged.”

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