Today, TeachingBooks.net welcomes author David Stahler, Jr. as he stops by on his blog tour.
I did more research than usual for Spinning Out (Chronicle, 2011). This novel explores a few real-life issues I don’t have a lot of background on. It’s also the first novel I’ve written that isn’t science fiction. Usually the word “research” suggests hours on a computer or pouring through texts in a library, but in this case the research took a different form and it was quite fun. To research components of Spinning Out, I consulted a range of colleagues I work with at Lyndon Institute, where I teach English. It’s great to have access to so many smart people with interesting backgrounds and expertise in certain subjects.
My novel revolves around a production of Man of La Mancha and this theater component presented the most significant challenge in terms of research. I had to get it right. I had been in a couple plays in high school, but that was a long time ago. I was almost starting from scratch. I worked alongside an excellent drama teacher, who invited me to watch the auditions and attend the rehearsals for the fall musical. She also answered all my questions about theater lingo and production schedules.
The other major aspect of my novel is the mental illness component. The narrator, Frenchy, is seeing a school counselor due to his father’s suicide. (His father was a Guardsman who returned from Iraq with PTSD.) The other main character, Stewart, begins to have symptoms of schizophrenia. This was a tricky part of the book that, again, had to be right. Fortunately the school I work at has a full-time psychologist as well as an administrator who has worked with mental health patients for decades. These colleagues not only steered me toward the right reading material, but were able to answer all my questions. (“Would a person suffering from this condition act this way? Would the person do X?”)
There were a few other little details I received help on. My school’s welding instructor (yes, our school has a fantastic welding program!) helped me with all the metal-work sections. And he and our physics teacher both helped me with the logistics of how one might blow up a wind turbine.
Being a high school teacher is great help when it comes to writing for and about teens—every day in the classroom feels like research! But it was exciting to realize the benefit of being surrounded by knowledgeable colleagues while writing Spinning Out. My novel wouldn’t be nearly as authentic without the research I did by consulting my colleagues.