Tom Stohlgren – Off Switch

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My latest novel is entitled Off Switch. It’s a story about a lovable high school teacher who passes out in an Irish pub and is sentenced by his wife to an ultra-strict Catholic rehab center. If he doesn’t convert and complete the four-week program, he can kiss his wife and daughter goodbye. Instead, he takes an unconventional path to recovery. We all know a Charlie Sheen and Amy Winehouse, because 1 in 4 Americans is a binge drinker! Why is it so difficult to say “when” and why doesn’t rehab work?

Tell us something about yourself.

I was born in Oakland, California, as was my lovely bride. I’m a well-published scientist – one of the top ten most productive scientists in the world on harmful invasive species. I’m also a teacher and writer. I rediscovered the joy of creative writing, when my little league coaching days came to an end as my children aged. I’m a hopeless romantic, madly in love for almost 40 years. I wear Hawaiian shirts every day.

What inspired you to write this book?

A few years back, I carried someone very close to me to an alcoholic rehab center. I saw, first-hand a group of normal, everyday people reaching out for help. I learned that most rehab centers have a success rate of 5% to 10%–shocking low. This situation was unacceptable. I began to ask, “Why isn’t rehab working?”

How did you choose the title?

We all need to develop an “Off Switch” – not just for drugs and alcohol, but for bullshit – can I say that in an interview? We need to differentiate fact from fiction. We need to develop critical thinking skills and accept personal responsibility. We may need to evolve to do it!

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

I worried about who I might offend with such a book. Many well-intentioned people are involved in rehabilitation programs. Many people sincerely believe that they are “powerless over alcohol.” Many people want to share responsibility with, or seek help from, a higher power. Many people want to believe that rehab programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous work well – but they don’t, and never have. These were tough “issues” to come to grips with while writing. I don’t want to offend people, I want to help them help themselves.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

In community college in Oakland, California, I took a creative writing class. Writing scientific papers on the job requires the same confidence, grammar, structure, and skill sets. I love to write.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I drink a lot of coffee. I change seats in the house or head to a coffee shop for a burst of energy. Superstitions are for saps!

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

The names of my characters are a blend of old and new friends, scientific colleagues, and biologists from every country.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

While writing the book, I found myself searching deep questions about the human psyche. Why do we believe what we do? How long do we hold on to bad theories and ideas. I bring up the Flat Earth Society in the book as a keen example of a bad theory – a flat earth – that hung around for over 4,500 years. The last president of the Flat Earth Society died in 2001! How long will it be before we surrender our failed theories of creationism, intelligent design, A.A., and a “higher power”? I learned to be more skeptical about our everyday fictions.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I wrote the novel, and the screenplay based on the novel at the same time. A typical screenplay uses less that 5% of the text volume of a novel, so that helped me get to the main story elements quickly. In doing it all over again, I might try to write the screenplay first to use it as an extended outline.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I like to read books from which major motion pictures were based. Yes, I like Dan Brown, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Ian Fleming, Carl Sagan and many more. I can’t imagine writing a novel without imagining it as a major Academy Award-winning film. I write the screenplays for all my novels as a way to “dream big.”

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I’m working on two additional books this year. One, “The Battle for the Black Hills” the third book in a trilogy where injustices against Native Americans are atoned for—the Indians win large tracts of land back from the United States. This presents massive problems for current land owners and holders of water rights, as you might imagine. The second book, which I’m co-authoring with my son, is a story of a young baseball player on the day of the major league draft. It’s called “Draft Choice.” The story revolves around a young man who has “no plan B” if things don’t go well on draft day. It’s full of surprises.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Dream big, write often, love more.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

We all know people who drink too much on occasion. We often view this as harmless behavior, until we look at the loved ones in their wake. This book is tailor-made for people who consider themselves “critical thinkers,” while recognizing the frailties of the human condition. The book is meant to help readers accept personal responsibility for all their actions, and push the envelope of human evolution. Comic book heroes battling unimaginable foes are not in short supply. We need real heroes from everyday life to guide our way.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

My website is www.TomStohlgren.com