Turning the Page


Lilly St. Angelo

THE MAN HIMSELF: Jerry Brickley, creative writing and English teacher, tells an animated story during his B2 Creative Writing class. Brickley is retiring after this school year after being at CHS for 27 years

For the past 27 years, Jerry Brickley, creative writing and English 11 teacher, has lived with two professions: a teacher and a writer. Some Tuesdays he is a sponsor for Creative Writing Club, and for second period Blue Days, he is also a mentor to Grace Coleman and Laura Anderson, English independent study students and seniors. But this May, Brickley will retire from his long career at CHS.

“I teach creative writing because it’s important; all writing involves the creative process,” Brickley said. “It’s just not enough to be a good technical writer, but you want to try and write in the way that people are interested in reading what you have to say. So, what I try and do is help students find their own personal voice, their own way of saying things and improve their writing through better vocabulary, their use of the language and so on.”

November is National Novel Writing Month, but Brickley has been celebrating writing with his students for his whole teaching career. The unique, personal touch that Brickley adds to his classes, combined with his passion for writing are qualities students said they will miss. Brickley’s love for stories, however, won’t die with his retirement. Brickley plans to channel his creative energy full time into his personal writing in order to accomplish goals that he has always dreamed of attaining.
The main subject of his retirement are three main large-scale projects: his first novel, titled Hearts of the White Cockade, a mystery series titled The Marshal of Metropolis and a screenplay titled The Life and Legend of Poker Alice.

He has already published multiple essays, short stories and poems, but his novel, he said, is the first time Brickley has attempted a project of such proportion: around 60,000 words.
As a person of Scottish descent, Brickley developed Hearts of the White Cockade with Scottish main characters in the French and Indian War era covering 1745 to 1756. The narrative follows a separated family from Scotland to France to the New World, who find themselves entangled in the fur trade frontier on Lake Ontario. Even if the genre doesn’t appeal to some people, Brickley said he believes the novel will bring the era to life.

“People are afraid of history. They hear ‘historical fiction’ and think it’s going to be a textbook; it’s not. One of the points that we’ve had in doing living history is to try to bring the history alive, to make it more human,” Brickley said. “I think as people realize that it’s about people and human condition just in a different time period, they start to get interested I’m hoping it’s (the) kind of story that appeals to a wide audience because it’s got everything in it; you’ve got family, you’ve got romance, you’ve got intrigue, action, danger and some history and culture all mixed together.”

Brickley said the book’s second draft is finished and he will keep editing and looking for an agent so he can publish it in the near future. His dreams of publishing also goes for his second book, The Marshal of Metropolis, which will be a mystery series; a genre he has never dabbled in before.
“I’ve always enjoyed reading mysteries, (and) I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. The lead character is a retired U.S. marshal living in the tip of Illinois, a place called Metropolis, at the beginning of the Civil War,” Brickley said. “I think it’ll be a fun character to play with so I’ve really had a lot of fun researching. And again, because I’ve done Civil War reenacting, I have some background in the history of that as well.”

As a movie buff, Brickley said he looks forward to writing his biopic screenplay, The Life and Legend of Poker Alice. It is about an infamous poker player and feminist in the West during the late 1800s.
“(She) knew all the major characters that you know from western lore. She ran a gambling parlor at one time and a brothel. She’s a really fascinating character that I don’t think anybody has really explored, and I think her story is also interesting to me because she’s a really unique independent person,” he said.

Writing screenplays is something new to Brickley, and his special dynamic with watching movies drew him to pursue creative writing in that format.

Brickley said, “I’m one of those people who doesn’t just watch a movie but kind of take it apart and think it in terms of the movie from the writer’s standpoint. I think (Alice) is a very visual story. She was a rather flamboyant character, very prim and very proper, yet through the interesting set of circumstances ends up living most of her life in saloons and going from town to town. There are a number of elements about her that are very interesting.”

The year before his retirement, Brickley agreed to help seniors Coleman and Anderson make an Independent Study creative writing course where he would help them on an individual basis and pace them with deadlines.

There were two determined goals that spurred the independent study: 50 pages of a novel due in December for a writing contest and a finished screenplay, both, coincidentally, in the historical fiction genre.
Anderson said she started the independent study program with Brickley after taking his creative writing class as a sophomore and was upset she couldn’t take it again.

“We were talking and I was like, ‘Hey Mr. Brickley, would you sponsor a class if I tried to push for a class where I could just write, and you could help me, and it would be constructive, and you would give me deadlines, so I would actually write?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah,’ so I went and I talked to my counselor (who) supported it, so I had to go to the English department (chair), and she asked me what I wanted from the program and what I wanted from Mr. Brickley, and then after that, Mr. Brickley and I set up the curriculum,” Anderson said.

For Anderson and Coleman, Brickley’s willingness to take them under his wing in his last year of teaching speaks volumes about his caring spirit and has helped both students reach for their full potential as writers.

“He really has been the biggest mentor for my writing,” Coleman said. “He introduced me to other famous historical writers, and he started my love for the classics from the movie he showed in class, ‘Mister Roberts.’ Whenever I’m stuck in my writing, he knows enough about writing and about history that he always has some sort of suggestions I never thought to do. He (has) really encouraged me to go any direction I can with my writing and not to focus on what I think it should be but to explore and see what happens. He draws people out. He makes writing a little less intimidating and talking about writing a little less intimidating.”

In addition to his writing projects, Brickley said he will also enjoy participating in his favorite hobbies such as playing in his Celtic folk band, the Rusty Musket, doing historical reenactments, sailing and traveling. But Brickley, with his passion for working, said his retirement is more time to enjoy doing what he loves most—writing.

“Yeah, it would be nice not to have to get up at 5 a.m. every morning, but I think I still have that work ethic and would want to apply it in some way-do something rather than just lay about,” Brickley said. “My primary job in retirement is going to be to enjoy life as much as possible.”