Author Daniel Kilday has done lots of school talks since publishing his first book, “Molly Warner: School Reporter,” but he called his reasons for coming to Gresham Middle School selfish.
“I wanted to return to my school and walk these halls again and meet the students,” he said.
Kilday lives in Austin, Texas, but he started out in Knox County, attending Rocky Hill Elementary School, then moving to Gresham when his father, the Rev. Bill Kilday, became pastor of Fountain City United Methodist Church. He went on to graduate from Central High, where he wrote for the school newspaper. He attended Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, majoring in broadcasting communications, then landed his first “real” job as a morning producer at WATE back home in Knoxville.
He’s had many on-air positions with several stations since then, but when he and his wife started a family, Kilday made a career change.
“Those hours are not conducive to being a father,” he said. “I wanted to have a job where I would actually see my family. I started doing sales jobs here and there, but I always had an itch to get back into (journalism) in some form or fashion.”
So, two years ago he started writing. At first, “Molly Warner: School Reporter” was a simple story to entertain Kilday’s children, but it became something more.
“What was happening two years ago was the election, and we had a lot of what I perceive as attacks on the free press,” he said. “There was a lot of really ugly language being thrown around about the press and reporters and media in general. I wanted to make a statement about my feelings towards that. I wanted to express to children why it’s important to have a free press in our society.”
But the message is couched in fun. Molly Warner is a sixth grader and notorious gossip at Robert K. Howard Middle School, but the principal turns Molly’s gossip to better use by placing her on the school newspaper staff. Molly finds a juicy story at the school and digs in, determined to uncover the truth, but along the way she learns what it takes to be a great reporter.
The book contains several nods to Gresham and Central. The Howard Middle School mascot is the bobcat, and the school newspaper is called “The Scratching Post” after the Central newspaper.
“I sort of had Gresham in mind when I was writing the book. In my head, Howard Middle School looks like Gresham, and there are clues in the book that people who went to Gresham or Central will pick up on,” said Kilday.
His presentation to students will include a reading from the book, plus discussion of the First Amendment and freedom of the press.
“The First Amendment in my opinion is what really gives us our freedom,” Kilday said. “We can have open discussion and share opinions about our elected officials. We can have these discussions and have them in an open setting without fear of being thrown in jail. You get to ask tough questions and get to follow up with people to find out if they’re doing what they say they’re doing. That’s something that not a lot of other countries have.”
Kilday is already writing a Molly Warner sequel. He’s also promoting the first book with appearances, festivals and signings, and recording an audiobook version of “Molly Warner: School Reporter.”
“It’s really kind of mindblowing. It was not something that I necessarily set out to do. I wrote this story for my kids, and when it was done I said, ‘This isn’t so bad. Let’s see if people agree with me.’ But it’s been a lot of fun, and my family’s been amazing. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Kilday will speak 8:30 a.m. Monday, May 7, at Gresham Middle, and at noon the same day at Gibbs Elementary School. “Molly Warner: School Reporter” is available for purchase online on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Info: www.mollywarnerbook.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.