Thursday, July 21, 2011

Author interview: Michael Thal talks about Goodbye Tchaikovsky

Michael Thal grew up in the suburbs of New York City on Long Island. He has a twin brother, Elliott, and an older brother, Harry. After graduating from the University of Buffalo he earned his master's degree in education at Washington University, St. Louis. When he moved to Los Angeles, he continued his education and earned another master's degree in Reading. He became interested in writing during his days in Buffalo writing reports for his history professor, Dr. David Abosch. While working for a private company in L.A. developing educational materials, he wrote a short story. His boss thought it was more of a treatment for a novel. Years later The Light: An Alien Abduction was published.

I recently had the opportunity to learn more about Michael Thal and his latest novel, Goodbye Tchaikovsky. . .

Tell us about your path to publication.
This is an interesting story. I responded to an e-mail request for authors regarding the need for writers to craft books about how a child went from little kid to astronaut, lawyer, or doctor. Since I spent 28 years in the classroom, I decided to write my story about why a pre-teen decided to become a teacher. I wrote “Between Two Worlds” for Scobre Press. They accepted the completed manuscript and put it on hold. Two years later, they decided to publish ONLY non-fiction books. I was livid, but what could I do? So I sought out other publishers. Finally, through the Writer’s Market I discovered Royal Fireworks Press, a Unionville, New York publisher. Their focus is gifted students. I waited for two years for them to go from manuscript to published book. Last winter the publisher sent me the edited document stating, “I have finished the editing of your book, which I enjoyed very much. It is very well written and required little from us.”

I started writing the book in 2004. It has gone through about 4 revisions. I got feedback from my on-line writing group, CritsInternational, which was a huge help. Royal Fireworks Press didn’t like my title because they felt it wouldn’t get enough hits on a search engine, so they changed the name to “Good-Bye Tchaikovsky.”

You've written over 60 short stories and articles. What are some of the challenges of writing a novel compared to a short story?
Actually, I’ve had over 70 articles published in print publications, but who’s counting? Writing an article is so much easier than writing a novel. First, organization is simpler. A novel needs more files where an article but one. For example, I’m currently working on an article for San Diego Family Magazine. First I write the query, get the editor interested. Once she gives me the go-ahead, I write a brief outline and develop questions needing answers. Then I contact a few experts, get their responses, then put the article together like a jig saw puzzle.

A novel first comes with an idea. For Good-Bye Tchaikovsky, I had to present the idea to the publisher. Once he approved, I developed the plot through outlining. I also had to develop the characters and setting. It gets complicated, so I keep a notebook of all the details to refer to as I move through the chapters. Tchaikovsky took over a year to write. The article I’ll send to my editor will have taken me 2-3 hours. Huge difference.

How do you think your experience as a teacher has affected your writing career?
I enjoy writing for children and their parents. I’m the father of two wonderful daughters, Channie and Koren. Being a dad has influenced my writing, too. Since I was a teacher for ½ my life, those skills have kept me organized and focused to the task. I also write a column for the Los Angeles Examiner about parenting and education, which I call, “Dear LA Teacher.” After reading a few of those articles you can tell it was written by an educator.

Tell us about your new novel, Good-Bye Tchaikovsky.
A twelve-year-old violin virtuoso, David Rothman, is plunged into a deaf world, necessitating him to adapt to a new culture and language in order to survive.

Rothman is an overnight success. He performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in New York’s Symphony Hall with rave reviews attracting the attention of the Queen of England. His future is laid out for him like a well-lit freeway. Then, on his twelfth birthday, David suffers from a sudden and irreparable hearing loss, plunging him into a silent world.

The novel shows how an adolescent boy copes with deafness. How will he communicate with his friends? What can he do about school? Where does his future lie?

What inspired you to write your new novel, Good-Bye Tchaikovsky?
I grew up in the hearing world. As a child I played the violin, went to concerts, movies, and Broadway shows. When my daughters were still in elementary school, I woke up to a profound silence caused by a virus. The virus attacked again six years later making my right ear deaf and my left with a 65% loss. I can understand people one-on-one, but not in groups.

At the age of forty-four, the severe hearing loss took me away from my job as a sixth grade teacher. From that experience, I was inspired to write this story. It shows by example how middle school children can cope with adversity. If a person has a willingness to learn and an open mind to explore all possibilities, he can find a way to succeed.

I thought to myself, what would have happened to me if this occurred when I was in middle school? (I was teaching 6th grade at the time.) Since I couldn’t understand what my students were saying to me even with the hearing aides, I got disability from my ENT specialist. That’s when I decided to write professionally.

When Sobre Press approached me, I thought about how I would have reacted at age 12 to my hearing loss, and then wrote the book. As an adult, I took lip reading classes, and got very involved in ASL (American Sign Language), which I can “speak” fluently. (That took over a decade to learn; and I’m still learning.)
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A big thanks to Michael Thal for sharing his story behind Goodbye Tchaikovsky. Please visit Michael Thal, LA Academic Success Examiner

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