Keith’s book, W is for Wrestling, won my Free Book Edit contest. This involved having two independent judges considering it to be one of the 10 best entries. Then he was required to line up more votes than the other finalists.
In the event, out of 1205 votes cast, Keith’s entry attracted 353, the next highest being 145. There were two reasons for this. One is that it was a fine entry, and people sent along by other entrants very often chose W is for Wrestling as one of the three they were asked to vote for. Second is a unique marketing strategy. Keith used his professional situation to recruit a great many schoolkids to vote in the contest.
His prize was a full edit of his manuscript, which I duly completed. Technically, I found the book to be already excellent, so I didn’t have as much work to do as with most editing jobs, and Keith being an English teacher is only a partial explanation. I’ve worked on many projects written by teachers and academics that I had to return with more red than black.
I have now found the time to interview Keith on Bobbing Around.
Keith, I learned from your book that wrestling is a great tool for building character, inner strength and self-confidence. Until now, I’ve always thought that the eastern martial arts were great for that, but didn’t realize that wrestling could do it too. Is this fact, or only in your book?
Legendary coach Dan Gable states, “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.” I agree. Unlike Dan, I was a mediocre wrestler, but I learned much from both my days as a competitor and as an Ohio Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame coach about goal-setting, perseverance, sacrifice, and commitment. I depend on these same traits in my job, my relationships, and, to be sure, my writing. My protagonist, Alex Corrigan, adopts these traits when he joins the wrestling team somewhat by accident. He discovers that winning on the wrestling mat depends as much on having heart and commitment as it does on physical skills and talent.
I can imagine myself being an elementary school teacher, but controlling and inspiring teenagers is something else. I read a lot about lowered standards, lack of self-discipline, teachers being denied the tools and authority to control classes, and the way many kids reject education. Do you have advice for teachers and parents?
Let me begin by advising teachers. First, base every lesson on research — a best practices approach — instead of modeling yourself after teachers you liked in high school or college. Research tells us that a teacher’s skill is the primary indicator of student academic success, so teachers have to be professional about their role as an educator, meaning they are prepared for every class and use class time productively. They begin at the bell and end at the bell. As award-winning educator Harry Wong has said, students should leave school exhausted from working hard, not the teachers. Effective teachers also know how to establish solid relationships with parents and community members and build rapport with their students. Communication is the key in both respects — that is, keeping parents regularly informed about their child’s academic progress and showing students you care about them.
In addition, I suggest teachers become very familiar with the contract they’ve signed to work in that school district so administrators cannot take advantage of a teacher’s good nature (I know that sounds pro union but the unfortunate fact is this happens. I worked once in a school district where teachers were asked to attend athletic events to act as security, sit spaced out in the bleachers, and break up fights when they occurred. Sorry, not in the contract.)
My advice to parents is to be actively involved in their teenager’s life. Too often, by the time the child becomes a teen, the parent is tired from attending all those elementary and middle school-age events, both school and non-school related. Indeed, they finally want a break and time for themselves because their energy level is lower. As a parent myself, I readily understand how exhausting it is to raise a child. I also recognize that parents may want their son or daughter to learn how to be independent and not depend on adults to handle the problems in their lives. Young adults, however, need guidance and supervision more than ever, especially about their school activities (sports, clubs, social events) and academic performance.
Apart from teaching, wrestling, and coaching, what do you do for fun?
I enjoy reading other YA fiction and watching movies that involve young adults as the main characters. I also work as a radio broadcaster for wrestling meets. Unlike other sports like football and baseball where listeners can picture in their mind the action on the field based on the broadcaster’s comments, I find it very challenging to describe two wrestlers’ movements and positions on the wrestling mat to help a listener visualize the action.
Keith, how did you manage to send so many schoolkids along to vote in my contest?
I contacted colleagues who teach English in a variety of school systems with the request that they encourage their students to vote for my novel. They readily agreed because, like me, they saw this as a solid opportunity for a literary/civics lesson as in having students read parts of a diverse group of books and then vote for three favorites based on a personal criteria.
Obviously, this strategy worked, because a large number voted for my novel.
Is this your first major writing project, or do you already have a writing portfolio?
To date I have published ten books (two 2nd editions), including my debut novel My Last Year of Life (in School), which was traditionally published. However, I am looking for a new publisher for the two YA novels I’ve written, including W is for Wrestling. I have also published several short stories for both national print and online magazines like Visions, Attic Door Press, Hicall, Wrestling USA, The Mill, Lutheran Journal, and Storgy, among others. Previously, I was recognized as one of Ohio’s top writing teachers by Ohio Teachers Write magazine.
Every book has unstated aims. What are your hopes regarding how reading W is for Wrestling will influence teenagers who read it?
The book is for all male and female teens, but my true target audience is those young people and their coaches who participate in wrestling at any level (youth, middle school, high school, college). I observe that there is a definite scarcity of realistic YA sports fiction, especially wrestling-oriented. Thus, I want my readers to discover what it takes to be a wrestler and appreciate the sport and the young men and women who compete in it.
What are your plans for your book?
Currently, I have submitted chapters and the entire manuscript to a few traditional publishers. However, based on a suggestion from a writing colleague, I am considering self-publishing on Amazon KDP. I think the world needs to see a novel whose primary characters are wrestlers and coaches.
Writing is addictive. Do you have plans for your next novel?
I am 52,000 words into my next novel, which has another school setting and involves a gay teen, his best friend, and their algebra teacher — all of whom must deal with an accusation of sexual impropriety. The title is What He Said.