It's amazing, the power of a Christmas gift.
For Matthew Kirby, author of "The Clockwork Three," the gift of the "Wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula K. Le Guin during his sixth-grade year was a life-changing moment. It's the book, he says, that inspired him to become a writer.
"I became aware of what words can do and what a story can do and how meaningful it could be," Kirby told the Deseret News. "It just inspired me to that degree."
Kirby, who works as a school psychologist at Mountain View Elementary School in the Davis School District, may have had the passion for writing as a youth, but that didn't parlay into success until much later.
Writing was something Kirby always had in the back of his mind as something he wanted to do, but it wasn't something he really seriously considered as a career option until his wife encouraged him to go for it. And that lit a fire.
It was another Christmas, and another present that helped Kirby move forward. This time, it was a laptop from his wife while they were both struggling students at Utah State University. The gift allowed Kirby to get more writing in while he was on campus.
At first, Kirby went through the typical cycle of writing, submitting and getting rejected. He wrote mostly adult science fiction and fantasy and experienced minor success along the way. But at some point, he realized that he was going in the wrong direction, the stories he wanted to write were the stories he wanted to tell kids.
And so he changed his focus.
Out of that change came the story of a musician, a maid and an apprentice clockmaker.
As an undergraduate study in history, Kirby spent a lot of time in the USU library. One day he found a book about child street musicians in late 19th century. Inside, there was a story about a boy named Joseph, or Giuseppe in Italian. Kirby did some digging and went to the archives of the New York Times and newspapers of the day and read more about the young musician.
"His story was just so compelling to me," Kirby said. "I knew I wanted to tell that story in some way. I didn't know whether it would be strict historical fiction or the inspiration for some other kind of story, but Giuseppe turned out to be one of the pieces of 'The Clockwork Three.' "
Giuseppe's story percolated for a while inside Kirby's head — during graduate school he had to put active writing aside. Meanwhile, the idea for two more characters, a maid and an apprentice clockmaker, were also simmering.
When Kirby actually sat down to write, all three stories seemed to merge.
"I realized that their stories were really interconnected, that they were all part of a larger story," Kirby said. "At that point, I started weaving them, and they just came together, they just fit."
Kirby doesn't think of himself as a writer who writes with a message. He doesn't intend for readers to take his point of view away from his book. What he does know, however, is that readers tend to bring things to the table when they're reading.
"If I were to hope for anything," Kirby said. "It would be that readers are able to take something from the book that they need at that time or that helps them in some way."
In a larger sense, working on a daily basis with kids, Kirby is passionate about literacy and the power of reading, "I hope that my book inspires other kids to read books and that they become lifelong readers," he said.
That passion extends to Kirby's current position as a school psychologist.
"I love what I do," Kirby said. "It's very rewarding to me, and it keeps me in touch with the kids on a daily basis. It kind of keeps me in tune with things they are thinking about and wondering about, the things that are exciting to them and also things that scare them."
And what do Kirby's students think about him becoming a published author?
"They think it's pretty cool."
If you go:
Who: Matthew Kirby
What: "The Clockwork Three" launch
When: Sept. 30, 6 p.m.
Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City