FAQ for Books & Life

John Reynolds Gardiner’s Answers

FIRST – STONE FOX book (1980)

101. Believe me, if the dog had not died in the legend, I would not have had her die in the book.

102. I wanted Stone Fox (the character) to be mysterious (for suspense), so I made him not talk and a no-nonsense sort of person.
(He talked only once.)

103. I called the dog Searchlight in the book because I visualized a Belgian sheep dog with this white spot on its forehead and then the name just popped into my head.

104. I named Willy little Willy so that you would worry about him more than if he was called big Willy. More worry, means more suspense, which means more interest.

105. I made grandfather sick so you would care what happens. He did not have a stroke, he was depressed.

106. Stone Fox was protecting his dogs, which he thought little Willy might hurt, so that’s why he hit him. Willy should have asked for permission before petting Stone Fox’s dogs.

107. Stone Fox let little Willy win because if Searchlight had not died, Willy would have beaten him.

108. Yes, it’s very unfair for Searchlight to race against five Samoyeds, but it sure adds to the suspense.

109. No, I did not have a pet die when I was ten. I said her “heart burst” instead of “heart attack,” because it was more descriptive and more visual (and less painful). Searchlight’s heart burst the same way a balloon opens.

110. It is okay to cry. Tears are the voice of the heart.

111. The ending is called “bittersweet,” because the main character gets what he wants (Grandfather gets better), but at a price, Searchlight dies.

112. The Rocky Mountain legend was told to me by Bob Hudson, of Hudson’s Café in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I was thirty years old when I heard it. Four years later I turned the legend into a story. Why? Because I cried when I heard the legend, and I knew that if I could capture that feeling on paper, you would cry too.

113. Although the story was inspired by Bob Hudson, the characters were inspired by Andrew J. Galambos, a teacher of mine, who taught me the difference between right behavior and wrong behavior.

114. I didn’t write a Chapter Eleven because the story is technically over when the race is over, and it’s implied that Grandfather got better and that little Willy would probably get another dog. There are no plans to write a STONE FOX II.

115. I picked Wyoming because that’s where the legend took place. I lived in the state of Idaho. There are potato farms in Idaho and Wyoming. None of the things in the book happened to me, except for the part about killing the bird.

116. No, I’ve never written any other books that refer to STONE FOX. And, no, I had never experienced anything that little Willy went through (before I wrote the book). However, many years after the the book was published, I moved to Rogersville, Missouri, where I lived on three acres with three dogs, a cat, a pony, and a baby calf that had to be bottle fed.

117. In the early 1970’s the expression stone fox was used to mean “an attractive person.” I used the name Stone Fox in a story about a scientist. My writing teacher said, “That sounds like an Indian name.” Later when I needed an Indian name, I remembered what my teacher had said.

118. My research for STONE FOX was done with the WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA. I knew nothing about the 1920’s, other than they didn’t have television, and a lot of cars (in the country).

119. The illustrator, Marcia Sewall, (also for SARAH PLAIN & TALL) found two mistakes in my original manuscript. I had said that an early frost is bad for a potato crop. Wrong. It’s an early freeze that’s bad. I also had a strap around the boy’s back to keep him from falling off when Searchlight lunged forward. Wrong. Racers don’t use straps. So, I changed it to “If it weren’t for a lucky grab, he would have fallen off the sled for sure.”

120. My two other books are: TOP SECRET (1985), about a boy who turns himself into a plant for his science project. and, GENERAL BUTTERFINGERS (1986), about a very clumsy boy who leads three aging ex-commandoes into one last battle.

121. I cannot find John’s answer to your question – “Why did Stone Fox even help little Willey”? My answer: Stone Fox wanted the money just as much as Little Willy. I think Stone Fox felt compassion for Willy’s struggles, Willy’s pain in the death of Searchlight, Willy being so ahead of the other racers, and Willy being so close to the finish line it seemed like the right thing for Stone Fox to do – Let little Willy and Searchlight to win the race.


201. In the STONE FOX made-for-TV movie (NBC 3-30-1987), Searchlight’s name was changed to Morgan, because the dog only responded to his own name, Morgan. Twenty million people saw the NBC movie.

202. The potato farm was changed to a cattle ranch because they had to film in one season, and they picked winter because of the race.

203. No, I never lived on a potato farm. I’m a city-slicker, sorry to say (but don’t tell anyone).

204. STONE FOX was filmed in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Yes, we were there for a few days.

205. The book would make a 45-minute movie, so they had to add things to make a two-hour movie.

206. The movie producers thought the ending was too sad so they had Stone Fox give little Willy a puppy to make it a happier ending.

207. The movie and the book were not alike because I sold the rights, which means they could do anything they wanted.

208. Sure, I still know Bob Hudson. I write him every year. Last year when I visited him in Idaho Falls, we signed books together at the library.

THIRD – John Reynolds Gardiner Personal

301. My birthday is December 6, 1944. I was born in California No, I’m not rich. Yes, I have a car. I write one book a year. I love to read. My favorite subject in school was Math.

302. My personality can best be described as cheerfully determined,
i.e. I plan to do something with my life, and enjoy myself at the same time.

303. I’m short and stocky with brown hair, blue eyes. I wear glasses. I married Gloria on May 6, 1978. She is not a writer or an illustrator, but she is a good editor. We have three daughters: Carrie (1981), Alicia (1982), and Danielle (1983) – and one granddaughter, Lana (2003).

304. No, I am not very smart. I just work hard. No, I can’t draw very
well. My favorite book as a kid was PADDLE TO THE SEA by Holling Holling. My favorite food is steak. 303. Yes, I remember when I was in the fourth grade. I went to Valmonte ES in Palos Verdes, California.
My teacher’s name was Mrs. Polk.

306. When I was your age I loved to write, but I was a poor speller and I received low grades on my stories, which discouraged me so much that I stopped writing.

307. School was not fun, but it was later. I took classes that I was
interested in. I became a writer because I wanted to be creative.

308. I enjoy reading very much, although I didn’t read as a kid.

309. I was 28 when my brother encouraged me I take my first writing
class – a screenwriting class. I sold my first book (STONE FOX) when I was 33.

310. My hobbies: reading old books, and collecting photographs of
famous scientists.

311. I have an older brother, an older sister, and a younger sister.
I used to have a rabbit named Speedy, and a cat, and a rat.

FOURTH – John Reynolds Gardiner - Writing

401. No, I’ve never written a book with an animal as the main character, but I’d like to. How about The Vampire Flea?402. Yes, STONE FOX was my first book. And it sold to the first publisher I sent it to. However, I had been writing television scripts (unsuccessfully) for six years before that.

403. My advice to beginning writers is to write every day for three years and don’t show your work to anyone. At that time, if you haven’t given up, you’ll be ready. During this time also take as many writing classes as possible and read as many books (both fiction and
HOW TO BOOKS). The secret to writing a lot of pages is not to re-read what you’ve written until you’re done.

404. It takes me about one year to write a book. I am a full time mechanical engineer (thermodynamics), and I write on my lunch breaks. No, I don’t write just fiction, but that’s all I’ve been able to sell.

405. STONE FOX took one year to write – six weeks on Chapter One. It was hard enjoyable work. Why enjoyable? Because I like the feeling of putting words on paper.

406. Writing is enjoyable hard work, like playing your favorite sport or twenty-four hours without sleeping – you still like it, but you’re tired. Beginning a story is enjoyable – Ending a story is enjoyable It’s the hard work in between that’s not so enjoyable.

407. Three things inspired me become a writer: One – a man named Andrew J. Galambos, who inspired me to do something with my life that will live on after I die. Two – my brother, Ken Gardiner, who got me to take my first. Three – my screenwriting teacher, Mr. Wells Root, who loved my imagination.

408. I got the idea for STONE FOX from a legend, the idea for TOP SECRET from a science class, the idea for GENERAL BUTTERFINGERS from a newspaper article.

409. I plan to write at least one story (book, play, or movie script) every year for the rest of my life. In fact, I’ll probably die with a story unfinished. Why? because why stop doing something you enjoy doing?

410. No. I did not write Cinderella

411. Book – STONE FOX
To save his grandfather, willy must win a dog-sled race against the Indian Stone Fox, who has never lost. “Superb storytelling.” – The New Yorker

412. Book – TOP SECRET
Ten –year old Allen Brewster turns himself into a plant for his science project but nobody believes him. “A delightful, humorous story.” – Booklist

Clumsy Walter must lead three aging ex-commandos into one last battle. “A wonderful inter-generational story.” – Boston Glove

Nine questions to test your manuscript to see if it’s publisher ready The Writer Magazine (January, 1990)

415. Song – I’M YOURS – A young woman looks up her father who may not know she exists Jerry Williams Music (2000)

Gloria Gardiner’s answers:

001. The first book John read, by choice, was Exodus at age 18.

002. At age 28, John took his first writing class – a screenplay writing class, and he started submitting screenplays and teleplays.

He recommends the book: Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field.

He also recommends his life-long love of – The Writer. (writermag.com)

“How to Write a Book That’s Not Boring”, is in their January 1990 issue

003. STONE FOX was submitted as a screenplay in 1978, a TV producer felt it would make a better children’s book. STONE FOX was published April 1980, and made into a television movie that aired on NBC March 30, 1987.

004. How to Write a Story That’s Not Boring, by John Reynolds Gardiner was published in the January 1990 issue of The WRITER magazine. (writermag.com).Nine Points to Use to Test Every Idea for a Story

1. The main character must want something.

2. Why can’t the main character have what he wants?

3. What happens if the main character doesn’t get what he wants?

4. How does the main character struggle to get what he wants?

5. What additional hardships does your character face?

6. When does it appear hopeless?

7. Does your main character get what he wants?

8. When is the distress alleviated?

9. What is unexpected or surprising about the ending?

005. How to Live a Life That’s Not Boring, by John Reynolds Gardiner was a self-published (POD) Print on Demand booklet (2004) through Ingraham Press and currently not available. (ISBN 0-9753162-0-6)

This book is based on an article I wrote for The Writer Magazine (January 1990) entitled, How to Write A Story That’s Not Boring, which was a summary of everything I had learned over my eighteen-year career. As discussed in the article, every story – be it a play, a novel, or a movie – must contain certain ingredients to make it not boring. I used a series of 9 questions to test for these key ingredients. It wasn’t until later, after the article was published, that it occurred to me that these same 9 questions could be used to test a person’s life (a person’s life story), thus this book “ How to Live a Life That’s Not Boring”, was born. I’ve made this book short and, I hope, to the point. After all, I wouldn’t want to bore you.


June, 1987


Thank you for writing to tell me how much you enjoyed my book, TOP SECRET. Miss Green was planted and grew into a big tree ( I hope no one uses her for firewood). The Silver trophy was won by a senior, but no one seems to remember his (or her) name or what his (or her ) project was. I got the idea for TOP SECRET in a science class. The teacher was talking about a plant getting its energy from the sun, just as you get your energy from a hamburger, or a car gets its energy from gasoline. And then I thought, what if a boy were to get his energy from the sun?My writing career began at age 28 when my brother dragged me to a television writing class. That was fifteen years ago, and I’ve been writing ever since. I have written two other books. One is called STONE FOX, about a boy who helps his grandfather regain his will to live (it was made into a television movie, which aired in March on NBC). The other is called GENERAL BUTTERFINGERS, about a very clumsy boy who leads three aging ex-commandoes into one last battle.

Thank you again for writing to me.

John Reynolds Gardiner