Joe Hudson Jr., an eighth-grade science teacher at Harris Road Middle School in Concord, is inspiring kids to read with his recently released first novel.
The fictional book, "Holla' If You Hear Me," is about two unlikely best friends who help prevent a terrorist plot to kill the U.S. president who's visiting Charlotte.
"It's getting kids who have never read a book before interested in reading," said the 52-year-old Concord native. "I've had kids come up to me already and say, 'Mr. Hudson, I really don't like to read, but I like your book.' And that's like the thrill of all thrills. It just doesn't get any better than that. That's what I hope this has the potential to do."
The book is geared toward middle and high school students, and that's good news for Hudson, who teaches at one of the largest middle schools in the state. So far, his readers include about a third of the school's 1,500-plus students as well as friends, family and other teachers and staff.
Students at the school are required to read 20 minutes a day, and Hudson said word about his book is slowly spreading.
The first week after he published it, about a dozen students were reading it in his class. He also donated four copies to the library, which made a waiting list.
Hudson, who wrote, edited and self-published the book, has sold half of the 1,000 paperbacks he had printed. He admits there are a some mistakes, so he came up with an online editing contest, where students, or anyone who buys a book, can submit found errors for a chance at a $50 gift card to Game Stop. The contest ends Dec. 14.
The book, available online, is $8.50. For excerpts or to enter the contest, visit www.willanddnovels.com.
One of the first books Hudson read was John Grisham's "A Time to Kill." He was in his 20s and, like some of his students, he didn't like to read.
These days he reads 50 or more books a year. And it's a pastime he's shared with his wife, Kelly, 49, for decades.
"Reading is a big part of our travels," said Kelly. "It's kind of our wind-down thing."
After a 30-year stint running a landscaping business, Joe went back to school to become a teacher. The characters in his book are loosely based on himself and his teaching experiences in Charlotte and Concord during the last 10 years as he moved from one career to another."The whole story came into my head as I was landscaping on weekends and I didn't have school stuff in my mind," he said. "I got the idea from two kids that I taught in Charlotte. One was from Highland Creek (a more well-to-do neighborhood) and the other was from the Double Oaks community. They were as far apart as you could get. We were in science class one day, and I put them together and they worked really well together."
After the end of each school year, Joe and Kelly take a two-week vacation to the British Virgin Islands. Over four years on those trips, Joe would make notes and think about his book. He only writes while on vacation.
Then, the economy got bad, his wife's real estate career slowed, fewer landscaping jobs were available, and their annual vacation disappeared. But that didn't stop Joe, who insisted on finishing his novel on a beach.
"I went to Home Depot and I bought three bags of play sand," he said. "I put them underneath my umbrella table out on my deck, so I could have my toes in the sand. I brought a box fan outside and put it on a chair beside me so I could have the breeze blowing on me...and it was like being on the bay again."
He said he has at least four other book ideas he could write over the next decade if funding wasn't an issue. Spoiler alert: his next book also will feature the same characters, Will and D, in a school-based setting - and someone from the first book will get killed.
Neither one of Hudson's former students know his novel is loosely based on their interaction, but while Joe was trying to track down the students online, he said he discovered that the student from Double Oaks had ended up in jail.
"It's just not how I wished it had turned out," he said about his former student who once opened up to him about seeing his uncle get shot over a drug deal in his apartment kitchen. "Because he did have that potential. But they would never know (the book was about them) unless I told them. And I plan on telling them one day."
Kelly said underlying messages in the book encourage kids to find the good in each other, that anyone can be their friend and school can be a lot of fun.
"When Joe started teaching, he was finally doing what he was supposed to be doing his whole life, and that just opened up his mind," she said. "I think it had a lot to do with the couple of boys the book is loosely based on. I think it made him want to put his story down on paper."