The Story Behind the Book: ‘Plan B’ by Steven Verrier
The Story Behind the Book is Literarily Speaking’s newest feature. Here we find out either the inspiration behind authors’ books or how they got published. Today’s guest is Steven Verrier, author of the young adult fiction novel, Plan B.
I was actually in a classroom full of hyperactive students when I began writing my latest novel, Plan B, which, incidentally, starts off in a classroom, too.
I’d had misgivings about the state of public education dating all the way back to my incarceration in public schools back in the last century. Sure, the kids had grown bigger and harder to control since then, and pregnancy appeared to have replaced influenza as the leading medical concern for teenage female students, but there was a lot that hadn’t changed at all since I was a student. Kids were still supposed to work quietly in class, though they seldom did. They were supposed to raise their hands before asking questions, though few seemed to bother. And they had to ask permission before going to the restroom.
There was still a battle for control going on in many classrooms. Teachers would give instructions; students would comply – or they wouldn’t. Sometimes teachers, in falling short of exerting control over their more difficult students, would be too tough on other kids who weren’t hard to manage at all. Sometimes one student would misbehave and another would be punished. Or one student would attack another, who, in putting forth a reasonable self-defense, would end up with the same punishment as the attacker.
Teaching has never been an easy job. Most teachers tried – and try – to be fair, but still …
While overseeing a class of students a few years ago, I imagined what might ensue if a well-intentioned teacher put a rule ahead of sound judgment.
I quickly came up with this scenario:
A student had to go to the bathroom, and the teacher – from her perspective – had to say no. Why? Because the boy didn’t have any ‘restroom passes’ left to use during the current semester, and the teacher wouldn’t bend a rule.
I decided the boy was a model student, placed him in a high school in Texas, and didn’t have to go much further before getting the urge to start writing. My mind was racing, and I wanted to get this scenario written out before it got away. I don’t remember what I put the students in my class to work doing at that moment, but whatever I had them doing, I remember sitting at the teacher’s desk and writing, in fast forward, the opening scenes of Plan B. I didn’t have a title in mind yet, but I knew this would be a book about a student denied a basic courtesy – if not a right – by an overzealous teacher. Within minutes, I’d painted a picture of the fictional Medford High School as a place where rules seemed to take precedence over good sense. I had the protagonist, fifteen-year-old Danny, begging his teacher to let him go to the restroom. I had other kids on Danny’s case. I had Danny experience a wide range of emotions and sensations as he tried to figure out what to do. I had him looking at authority with scorn for the first time in his life. And, finally, at the end of the first chapter, I had him mortified when, after all the delays he’d endured, he had an ‘accident’ on the way to the restroom.
In my classroom that day, I was so rapt in writing the opening to Plan B that I’m sure I wasn’t very attentive to the needs of my students. If one of them had asked permission to go to the restroom I probably would have been so slow to answer that the student might have suffered the same fate Danny did.
Still, I’m glad I started writing Plan B on the spot like that. Had I waited until school was out I don’t think the opening chapter would have nearly the same urgent, fast-forward quality it has.
I’ve said it before: A writer has to be ‘on call’ – if not on duty – twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes simply taking notes will do when an idea comes your way, but other times you’ve just got to drop everything, shut out the world as best you can, and write out that page or chapter before the window of magical opportunity is gone.
Steven Verrier, born in the United States and raised in Canada, has spent much of his adult life living and traveling abroad. Publications include Plan B (Saga Books, 2010), Tough Love, Tender Heart (Saga Books, 2008), Raising a Child to be Bilingual and Bicultural (Hira-Tai Books of Japan), and several short dramatic works (Brooklyn Publishers, USA). Currently he is living with his wife, Motoko, and their five children in San Antonio, Texas.
You can visit his website at StevenVerrier.com