Brentsville High School Principal Writes Fantasy, Mystery Novels

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 12, 2009

Robert Scott, principal of Brentsville District High School, is living, quite seriously, in a fantasy world -- a world that involves magic portals, an alternative realm and horror.

Yes, Scott is the responsible and earnest overseer of one of the Prince William's top high schools, which annually posts the highest SAT and Standards of Learning scores. But there is another side to Scott, 40, a longtime educator who in the past decade has nurtured an author's career in genres that are formally labeled fantasy fiction or mystery thriller but that others might call low-brow.

Published by Gollancz, an imprint of the London-based Orion Publishing Group, Scott's books are available in the United States and much of Europe and include a three-part epic about a banker and teacher who stumble into an another world. He is in the process of finishing "15 Miles," about a Richmond detective investigating what appears to be a double homicide.

Scott's three-book series, "The Eldarn Sequence," seems akin to C.S. Lewis's "Narnia" books, with an intriguing plot about a mysterious tapestry found inside a bank deposit box. (Full disclosure: This reporter has not read the nearly 2,000 pages of the sequence, save for the first several.) On the other hand, "15 Miles" sounds like it belongs far from Brentsville's library: Part I, titled "OxyContin, Scotch, Cigarettes, and Sara," features an OxyContin-popping, obscenity-prone detective who rants about not caring about drug offenses and bemoans child pornography investigations because they make him feel "slimy."

His police dialogue can be witty and sarcastic, reminiscent of the HBO series "The Wire," with characters using humor to cope with their burdens.

Here's an excerpt from the unedited manuscript made available by Scott's publisher that shows the detective spouting off at a bar: "Think about it, Doc. First, there's dope. We can't win that. I swear . . . there's drugs in every car, every house, every high school locker in America. And in the end who really gives a [expletive]? If you're a crack head or a smack junkie, what do I really care? Take all you want."

In an interview, Scott said he takes his stewardship of Brentsville very seriously and that it is important to keep a division between one realm, so to speak, and another.

"When I wake up in the morning, I am a schoolteacher," Scott said. "I never think of myself as a writer. I am not prepared to even consider leaving education to write full time. I suppose if the books had done wildly well or if the publisher offered me a huge sum of money, it's something I might have considered. Most days, I feel like a poser, a schoolteacher who's good at telling stories."

He added: "I try to keep my life as a storyteller sort of separate from life as a principal here, although the news is kind of leaking out and people [are starting to] hear those Eldarn books are in the library."

Scott grew up in New Jersey and attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where his first artistic passion was classical guitar. After he graduated in 1990 with a music degree, he traveled in Europe, giving concerts. He returned to the United States to teach guitar at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst but soon realized "I knew nothing about education," he said. "I was the planet's worst guitar teacher."

So, as a graduate assistant, Scott took free courses and obtained a master's degree in special education in 1994 from the university. "I always felt like the special education classroom was a good place to get elbow-deep in cognitive development theory and how students think and make sense of information, learn and remember," he said.

After graduate school, Scott headed west to Colorado, working for eight years in a Denver area school district, initially with students with disabilities, then with gifted students.

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