Michael Thal has Masters degrees in education, but he moved from teaching to writing articles about education and children. He also writes Young Adult novels. The Koolura books – The Legend of Koolura, Koolura and The Mystery at Camp Saddleback, and Koolura and the Mayans – feature a young protagonist who learns that she has superpowers.
You taught Middle School in the past. You are a highly qualified educator. So how much of this has influenced you in your writing?
Actually, it influences my writing a lot. For example, in The Legend of Koolura, Koolura spends a great deal of her day in the classroom. The schedule, happenings in the room, and teacher comments are all very real. Even the student dialogue is bits and pieces of remembered comments students made in my classroom.
Do you feel your background makes research into, for example, Mayan culture, easier? Is research second nature compared to other writers you know?
I write a lot of articles for my blog, and in the past for magazines like “Highlights for Children.” Research has become second nature. When researching Mayan culture, I easily found articles on the subject I was looking for, did the necessary reading and note taking, and then applied my newly acquired knowledge to add realism to my novel. Also, I have two master’s degrees in education. I had to do a lot of research to earn those degrees, and that knowledge as helped me as an author.
And what about the writing itself? Clarity is beneficial when teaching at any level, but in school classes it’s likely to be more important. Inspiring interest in your subjects is also important to learning. But do you feel fiction writing has similar principles?
Wow! Good question. One of my favorite classes taught to my sixth graders was Social Studies. Many of my students were limited English speakers, so I had to break things down to their simplest components. To do so, the children learned to take notes, read text, write questions, and answer them. Writing a book like Koolura and the Mayans where my characters travel back into the past required me to consider the games the Mayans played, their clothes, customs, and eating habits to produce a realistic novel. So, yes, fiction writing has similar principles.
How much of the sci-fi aspect in the Koolura series is straight fantasy (by which I mean out of your head) and how much is based in research, howsoever “fringe” these ideas might be?
I had to do very little research for The Legend of Koolura because a good part of the story takes place in the classroom. After teaching for close to three decades, I had that one down pat. A lot of research had to be accomplished for the other two Koolura books. For example, in Koolura and the Mystery at Camp Saddleback I actually visited a sleep away camp in the Santa Ynez Mountains outside of Santa Barbara. I took a tour of the camp, took pictures, and asked a lot of questions making Koolura’s camp experience very realistic. As to Koolura and the Mayans, I actually traveled to Monte Alban near Oaxaca, Mexico and again took copious notes and pictures.
The science fiction aspect of the books where Koolura travels back in time or to an alien world was made up. Since no one has ever traveled through time nor visited an alien world beyond our solar system, I figured having Koolura do this through a thought was as good as any means of time/space travel.