Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Interview with author Michael Thal

Good-ByeTchaikovsky (March 2012) by Michael Thal
Publisher Royal Fireworks Press
Grade:5- 10

Leo Tolstoy writes, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” This may be exactly how both author Michael Thal and his main character, David Rothman feel. Both are affecting others’ lives with their work, and both did not actively decide to make a change to themselves. Rather, one was decided for them. Author Michael Thal lost his hearing in his forties as a result of a virus and writes, "I was motivated to write Good-Bye Tchaikovsky as a way to heal the pain of my hearing loss”. Thal was a teacher for decades before becoming a writer. Already having touched so many, this book is another opportunity to bring a message to young people. In Good-Bye Tchaikovsky, Deaf Character David is already going through the change of adolescence and the change of receiving world-wide attention; he must now confront his own body that has changed literally overnight. As a violin virtuoso, his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto draws attention from the masses including the Queen of England. On his twelfth birthday, David loses his hearing. Both Thal and his character David could have pitied themselves but instead, they both rose to the meet the changes in their lives.

Below is my interview with author Michael Thal who describes with experiences with his book Goodbye Tchaikovsky.  
(To the right is a picture of the author from last summer while visiting Virginia City, Nevada. Don't worry; he isn't really a jailbird!)

SP: What made you decide to make David's character deaf or to even include a deaf character especially one who could use sign language?
MT: David Rothman, the POV character in Goodbye Tchaikovsky, appeared in the opening scene of the book as he played Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto before a sell-out crowd. The 11 year-old child prodigy was one of the best violinists in the world. The morning of his twelfth birthday the boy woke up to a profound silence. I chose a hearing child turned deaf for my book’s novel because I wanted to explore the emotional effect of hearing loss on an adolescent. I lost my hearing at the age of 44. I was curious what the reaction would have been to a pre-teen and the affect of deafness on his development during his teen years.

SP: How does your experience as a sixth grade teacher help you write a book for a young audience?       
MT: I taught elementary and middle school for 28 years. I understand the age group. This comprehension helped me as an author to develop realistic dialogue and emotional reactions to character life problems.

SP: What type of research did you do for the book to make your characters realistic? 
MT: Before I even had the idea for the book, I studied ASL at a Tripod program in Burbank, California. After the program was terminated I attended ASL classes at Pierce College, in Los Angeles. My knowledge of sign was a huge help when I spent a few days observing classrooms at the Marlton School. This is a school for the Deaf and hard of hearing in Los Angeles where ASL is the primary language used in the classroom. My friend and former ASL teacher, Stephanie Johnson, was kind enough to let me watch her class and introduced me to other teachers at the school so I could observe their classes, too. I also interviewed people who attended Deaf schools as adolescents. My interview with Deaf actor/director Troy Kotsur was a huge help.

SP: Since you have experienced some hearing loss, have you learned any American Sign Language? 
MT: Just for the record, I am legally deaf in my right ear and have a profound loss in my left. After the doctor told me I had a progressive hearing loss, it seemed to me a no brainer to start learning ASL. I’ve been studying the language for the last 18 years. Though I’m close to fluent, I am slow at reading finger spellings and Deaf friends have to slow down a bit. However, I find that I understand them better than hearing people, even with my hearing aides on. I am so glad I learned and encourage all hard-of-hearing people to do the same.

SP: What do you hope that readers will learn or take away from the book? 
MT: I want readers to understand how lonely it is to be deaf in a hearing world. I want them to realize how important it is to look at a Deaf or hard of hearing person and speak slowly. None of us want to be dismissed with comments like, “Oh, never mind.” Or “It isn’t important.” For a time, my own brother wouldn’t talk to me because he didn’t want to repeat himself. Hearing loss is an invisible disability. I hope Goodbye Tchaikovsky takes away some of the screens and adds texture to the problem.

SP: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time? 
MT: I hope they enjoy themselves and provide me with feedback. I encourage them to visit my website at or e-mail me at Perhaps they will also enjoy my novel, The Legend of Koolura, a story about a sixth-grade girl who has very cool powers, which she uses to battle a stalker determined on destroying her and her friends.


Penny's Tales said...

Fabulous interview/post Michael. I didn't realize your deafness was so extensive. I took ASL years ago simply to help me move up on the pay scale at work. It is an unbelievable thing to know. I also have a downs granddaughter (a year old) and they are working with her on sign language. Congrats on all your successes, Michael.


Unknown said...

Great book I enjoyed to read your book. Looking forward your next one.

Unknown said...

Love your book! I already look forward your next one! Thank you for sharing. ASL leads me to success on anything except hear.