Douglas Gillies
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Douglas Gillies, author My dad used to write in his spare time. He owned a lumber yard in a Canadian town where I learned how to play hockey and drive a stick-shift Vauxhall on icy roads. Dad built houses, schools, and a church or two, but he always wanted to be a writer. It seemed to me that writing was about the finest thing a person could do.

The words started coming to me when I was two. I stood on the staircase holding the banister with both hands looking at my baby sister. She had just come home from the hospital. She was lying in a bassinet looking up at the ceiling, and I was no longer the youngest kid in the family. The first words I remember saying were, "Uh oh."

Mrs. Lee was my favorite English teacher in high school. She said to me one day after school, "You have a way with words." She selected an anonymous poem as the winner of a contest, and the poem was "published" on a bronze plaque that was fastened to a rock in the courtyard of the school. It begins, Here rests the eagle . . . At graduation, Mrs. Lee looked me with mischief in her eyes and said, "You wrote that poem. No one else could have written it." Then she handed me my diploma.

After UCLA law school, I fixed up a Volkswagen bus and headed for Canada with my girlfriend, a bank teller who had grown up in The Valley. I was going to be a reporter for The Toronto Star. My girlfriend and I broke up three days later. She took the VW back to LA after dropping me off at a barn on the north coast of San Francisco Bay, where two friends from law school were holed up waiting to hear from the Board of Bar Examiners. Steve had a super sound system, so we listened to albums at full blast until we received notices in the mail that we had each passed the bar exam. Then it crossed my mind that I might try being a lawyer. I could always be a writer if it didn't work out.

Law taught me that every word counts. It trained me how to ask the right question. Every sound in a courtroom is a part of the record. I learned to be brief, to get to the point, and say things that nobody else was willing to say. I wrote pleadings, poems, briefs, articles, declarations, scripts, contracts, and short stories. Gradually I stopped taking so many cases as I continued to write.

Thirty years after I tried my first case, I published Prophet--the Hatmaker's Son, the biography of Robert Muller. He changed the world and improved our chances of survival as Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. My story covered his early years, when he fought in the French Resistance and then decided to become a peacemaker. Prophet was followed by Paradise Earth (2008) and 101 Cool Ways to Die (2009).

Sometimes I still hang on with both hands, look around at the world, and say, "Uh oh."

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