Teacher of the Year has been out for a little more than a month and the response thus far has been extremely gratifying. I am thankful that there has been press, and favorable press, too. I am really excited for some features coming out later this month from some really cool publications. Not that there haven’t been some negative responses. Inflammatory topics like No Child Left Behind (in specific) and education (in general) as well as the way I characterized the people and situations surrounding my main character, Scott Eisenberg, were all bound to create some strong reactions. My publicist, the incomparable Desiree Bussiere, and my close friend, Howard Lerner, have been reminding me over and over to develop a spine of steel and “own” everything in the novel. I think it is good advice for any writer because let me tell you—it is scary and daunting putting anything out in public!
The questions I have received most often since Teacher of the Year was released have been variations of the following:
•Is the main character you?
•How much of the book is real?
•Did you base any (or all) of the characters on real people?
•Are you afraid of how people in your teaching community will react?
•Can kids read your novel?
I’ll answer these over the next couple of blogs.
They are great questions, and here are some short responses.
Is the main character you? When I first outlined the idea for the novel, I thought it would be kind of fun to make the main character an extension of myself, similar to the way Jerry Seinfeld or Larry David made their main “characters” in Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, two very, very funny shows. I immediately came up with the name Scott, my middle name, and Eisenberg, a variation on my father’s name (Isenburg), before he changed it in 1946. (Quick story here: My parents were married in 1946, right after the war. Neither one of them wanted to be pegged as Jews, particularly my dad, who grew up in the only Jewish family in a small Illinois town where anti-Semitism apparently ran fairly rampant. There is a picture of him on the first day of first grade with a bandage over his eye where he had been hit with a brick after verbal taunts for being a Jew. My mom and dad played around with the letters in Isenburg and created Ibur. As a lover of irony, it doesn’t get much better than my parents trying to distance themselves as Jews by inadvertently changing their name to an extremely holy name straight from the Kaballah. In ancient Jewish mysticism, an ibur is the good spirit that inhabits a body.) The problem became evident after the first twenty pages. I was bored stiff by this character, and I also realized it was extremely limiting to use myself as a stand-in for Eisenberg. So, while my DNA is sprinkled throughout the novel in Eisenberg, I also devoted quite a bit of time to considering how I would personally respond to certain situations I put Eisenberg in, than chose to have him do or respond to something completely different than me… if it was both funny and relevant to the plot. I probably should have changed Scott Eisenberg’s name, but it just became ingrained at an early stage of the book.