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Interview with Michael Thal

 
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Clive
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2005 5:05 pm    Post subject: Interview with Michael Thal Reply with quote

An Interview with Michael Thal
by Dave Rothman


Michael L. Thal lives in Sherman Oaks, California and is an accomplished freelance writer and author. He penned The Light: An Alien Abduction and The Legend of Koolura. His current novel, Between Two Worlds, will be published by Scobre Press in 2006. Michael has written and published over thirty articles for magazines and newspapers. He won First Place in the Writer’s Digest 73rd Annual Writing Competition, Inspirational category, for his story, “The Lip Reader.” You can read his monthly education column, “Ask Michael,” in SIGNews www.signews.org or visit him at his website at http://www.authorsden.com/michaellthal . You can contact Michael at writinghigh@adelphia.net

I talked by phone with Michael Thal on March 12, 2005, and we decided to do this interview the same day via e-mail even though it wouldn’t be as spontaneous as a face-to-face meeting or phone discussion. After Michael immediately responded to my first set of questions, I sent him some follow-up questions. The following is the unedited interview:

David Rothman - Michael, thank you for allowing me to interview you for The Horse’s Mouth. Congratulations Michael . . . how do you feel about winning a first place prize in the Writer’s Digest writing competition?

Michael Thal - It was a shocker. At first I sat there numb looking at the e-mail just sent me. A few days later, when the Writer’s Digest editor called, I knew it was for real.

DR - Did you do a lot of rewrites and editing to get your entry ready for submission?

MT - For sure. When I thought it was perfect, I sent it to my writing group. They gave me suggestions, and then I did more rewrites.

DR - What was your inspiration for the narrative?

MT - “The Lip Reader” which is on my website, was inspired by my fiancé, Jila. Here’s a woman who lost most of her hearing when she was two years old. Yet she learned to speak her native tongue, Farsi, survived by lip reading, and when she moved to the United States at thirty-five, she became fluent in English. She reads, writes, and speaks English better than some natives. And she lip-reads English like a champ.

DR - Michael, how long have you been publishing stories and articles?

MT - The first article published was in The B’nai B’rith Messenger back in 1983. I spent the summer in Israel and interviewed a few Israeli soldiers regarding the war in Lebanon. The story was called “Peace in the Galilee”.

DR - What stimulated you to become a writer?

MT - I had a wonderful college professor, Dr. Abosh. He was my Japanese History professor. We had to turn in a paper every few weeks. I enjoyed the research and putting the puzzle together which formed the term paper. It was fun and I usually got A’s.

Then, one night back in the late 70’s I had a very vivid dream. I woke up and jotted it down before going back to sleep. That dream became a passion, which took twenty-five years to write. Adventure Books eventually published it: An Alien Abduction. Unfortunately, the publisher went out of business and I’m seeking a new publisher for that book.

During the summer of my forty-fourth year I had a sudden hearing loss. As a school teacher, things turned from bad to worse. It was hard understanding my students. Eventually, I adjusted. Six years later I had another attack rendering my right ear legally deaf. The classroom became a daily nightmare. But over those six years I studied about the writing process and wrote my second novel, The Legend of Koolura. My ENT specialist suggested I take permanent disability. The day I stopped teaching was the day I became a full time freelancer. So to answer your question, the severe hearing loss was the catalyst that pushed me over into the writer’s life.

DR - Michael, you said it took six years to write your second novel, The Legend of Koolura, which you wrote while you were coping with your hearing loss and still teaching. Once you became a full time writer, how long did it take to write Between Two Worlds?

MT - I started it in July and finished it in December—six months.

DR - Over those same six years you “studied about the writing process.” What did you spend most of your time studying?

MT - I subscribed to Writer’s Digest and read the magazine from cover to cover.


DR - You were a teacher. What subjects did you teach?

MT - My last teaching assignment was in a sixth grade classroom. I taught Reading, Writing, Science, Math, etc.

DR - How long ago did you retire from teaching and become a full time writer?

MT - I left teaching in December 2000.


DR - Are you mainly a writer of novels or a writer of articles?

MT - I write both. The last novel fell into my lap. A publisher contacted me to write a middle school novel about a child growing up to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, artist… I picked teacher, because I know that best.

I spend most of my days doing the following:
Querying editors with story ideas. I’m trying to get published by one of the Sisterhood (Family Circle, Ophra, Woman’s Day, etc) When an editor likes my idea I get right on it. For example, two weeks ago the editor of The Jewish Journal liked an idea I had. I spent most of my writing time working on that article.

I also query agents and publishers about my two books. Since Adventure Books took a nose dive a few years back, I’ve been looking for that elusive publisher.

DR - How do you organize your days for doing each?

MT - I get up by 7:30. I’m at the computer by 8:00 going through the morning e-mail. I have a list of things that needs to be done. I usually do writing chores in the morning and marketing and reading in the afternoon.

I’m also the moderator of an on-line critique group, CritsInternational. Here writers post their work and other writers critique the work helping each other improve upon our skills. It’s been very beneficial to me and my writing colleagues.

DR - What was your inspiration for your latest novel?

MT - Between Two Worlds is the story of an eleven-year-old violin virtuoso. He’s very successful at what he does. The day after his world premier in New York City, he wakes up to a profound deafness. Now he must confront life without sound. How will he survive? I took my years as a teacher and my experience with hearing loss and put it on this kid.

DR - Do you write articles for different reasons than writing stories?

MT - I have a monthly column in SIGNews on educational issues. I like to write about that because I know it so well. I spent 28 years in a classroom. I’m also a father. I write about parenting issues. Nothing annoys me more than fathers abandoning their kids. I’ve had a few articles published in Wonder Years and Daughters. And I write about deaf issues and have a platform in SIGNews. Before Hardcore Muscle Magazine went under, I wrote articles for them regarding men’s health issues and body building.

DR - What advice would you give to young people who want to become writers?

MT - Don’t quit your day job unless you have a nice disability check coming in. Last year my writing made a little more than $4000. I also supplement my income tutoring kids and editing college students’ term papers. But don’t give up on your dream. Stay focused. Set a writing schedule for yourself and stick to it. See your projects through then learn to write a good query letter and synopsis. Tenacity is your best friend.

DR - Michael, why do you write?

MT - It’s not for the money. It doesn’t really pay well. I like seeing my name in print. I enjoy putting the pieces of a word puzzle together and creating an article that thousands read. As a teacher, I influenced thirty-two lives sitting in front of me. Now, I can influence thousands. That’s a big responsibility; one I take very seriously. Everything I write, I try to make it my best.

DR – Do you read a lot of fiction?

MT - Yes. Right now I’m reading Asimov’s I, Robot. I try to read as much as possible. I even read books for two review sites on the Internet. I’ve reviewed about thirty books in the past four years.

DR – Michael, who are your favorite authors? What are your favorite novels?

MT - I like Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Ben Bova, and John Grisham. I used to read all the Star Trek novels that came out. Noel Carroll’s book, Never By Blood, is an excellent read.

DR - What about classics? Do you enjoy any of the classic authors or authors of the early and mid-twentieth century?

MT - Like I said, I’m reading Asimov. That’s about as classical as I’ve gotten. For a while I was teaching Ernest Hemingway’s great-granddaughter. I was thinking of reading him, but the girl moved to New York City for a modeling job. So the heck with Hemingway.

DR – Michael, thank you for visiting with us at The Horse’s Mouth. Members of the
Writers Voice may ask you a few questions over the next couple of weeks, and we would enjoy your checking back to answer those questions.

Feel free to submit any of your short stories or articles, and Clive will post them in The Most Recently Posted Works forum. We invite you to participate in the other forums at the Voice when you have time. Good luck with your new novel, Between Two Worlds.

MT - Thanks for having me.
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Michael Thal Interview
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2005 2:18 pm    Post subject: Question Reply with quote

Which do you enjoy more, writing articles for magazines or writing a novel?
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Harry
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2005 10:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The writers you admire seem to be cut from the same cloth. They write adventure, mystery and science fiction -- do you have any interest in writers of the new school? People like Michael Cunningham for instance, or do you think that is that a limited field of fiction?
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DaveR
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2005 9:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Michael notified me that he's out of town and should be able to respond to questions Saturday. Ask away.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2005 5:55 pm    Post subject: Re: Question Reply with quote

Michael Thal Interview wrote:
Which do you enjoy more, writing articles for magazines or writing a novel?


Articles, but books are cool too.
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MichaelThal
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2005 5:58 pm    Post subject: Re: Question Reply with quote

Michael Thal Interview wrote:
Which do you enjoy more, writing articles for magazines or writing a novel?


I enjoy writing both. An article takes a lot less time. It also pays more. For example, last month I wrote articles for The Jewish Journal and SIGNews. Today I got checks from each. Twenty-five years ago I started a novel. Thus far it made less money than the two articles I wrote.

Writing a book is like conceiving a child. You take that infant from birth to adulthood as your personal responsibilty. (That of course depends on the conscience of the parent.) Since I have a conscience I make sure my book finds a nice home and then I market it. Marketing is like sending your kid to college. It can be expensive and time consuming. If you're lucky, your book reaches a lot of people and you make some money. Most times it doesn't. But you had something important to say and you're happy you did it. For like a child, that book will go out into the world and touch someone special.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2005 6:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Harry wrote:
The writers you admire seem to be cut from the same cloth. They write adventure, mystery and science fiction -- do you have any interest in writers of the new school? People like Michael Cunningham for instance, or do you think that is that a limited field of fiction?


Michael Cunningham won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for Fiction. He's a guy we can all learn from. I think all writers need to read the work of champions like him. We can learn something about style and technique.
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DaveR
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2005 9:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Michael, I've got two questions concerning writing a novel. What do you consider most difficult about writing a novel? What do you find most difficult in getting it published?
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 29, 2005 4:00 pm    Post subject: Writing a Novel Reply with quote

DaveR wrote:
Michael, I've got two questions concerning writing a novel. What do you consider most difficult about writing a novel? What do you find most difficult in getting it published?


The most difficult part of writing a novel is staying consistent. I find myself taking meticulous notes about characterization and setting. For example, I don't want Character A to have brown hair in one scene and black hair in the middle of the book.

Getting a book published is the tough part. I have control of the writing process. I can tell myself "Turn off the TV and back to the computer screen." I wish I could tell an agent and or publisher, "That book sucks. Look at this one. I wrote it and know it's great!" Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Getting a book accepted by a publisher is just out of the writer's hands. Tenacity is the key word.
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Jax_rerun
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 04, 2005 8:58 pm    Post subject: Editing Process Reply with quote

Hello Michael.

When I read "The Lip Reader" I enjoyed how concise and almost journalistic it was. I would like to know more about your editing or proofreading process such as: Do you do several drafts? Do you use different approaches for a novel versus a column? Is there a lot of back and forth editing between you and the publishers?

Thanks.
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MichaelThal
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 06, 2005 8:58 am    Post subject: Re: Editing Process Reply with quote

Hello Michael.

When I read "The Lip Reader" I enjoyed how concise and almost journalistic it was. I would like to know more about your editing or proofreading process such as: Do you do several drafts? Do you use different approaches for a novel versus a column? Is there a lot of back and forth editing between you and the publishers?

Thanks

I'm glad you enjoyed "The Lip Reader." First I did my interviews. Then I wrote the article, put it aside for a few days, and read it. I made changes. Then I made a hard copy and read the piece out loud. Made a few more changes. Then I sent it to my writer's group. Three people read it. Three people offered suggestions. I took their advice, some I disgarded. I wrote the article again. When I was finally happy with it, I gave it to Jila, my fiance who the piece was about. Did it ring true to her? After she made her comments, I did the final draft and sent it to the Writer's Digest contest. I was honored to have won first prize for the Inspirational Category.

As to my other work. I usually follow this process with most of my writing. So far, editors of my articles have never asked me to make changes. My two published books were a different story. They edited, showed me what they did, I made suggestions, and then the books were published. I'm waiting to hear from Scobre Press regarding my latest book, "Between Two Worlds."
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