Mikael Carlson - When a History Teacher Runs For Congress
Mikael Carlson is an award-winning political fiction author, army veteran, and avid traveler. His works have won him a silver medal from Readers' Favorite, two National Indie Excellence Awards, and a Global E-book award. He was named one of the '50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading' by The Authors Show in 2018. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, The iCandidate.
Please give us a short introduction to what The iCandidate is about.
Former Green Beret turned history teacher Michael Bennit likes to inspire his students. After losing a bet to one of his classes, he finds himself running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Partnering with his students to campaign exclusively on social media, the race turns into a national sensation. When he starts climbing in the polls, the sleazy incumbent will stop at nothing to hold onto his seat and destroy his upstart campaign at any cost. The iCandidate is an inspirational story about how average citizens and ordinary kids can change an election just because they put their minds to it and try.
What inspired you to write about a history teacher who finds himself running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives?
I was a substitute teacher in a high school for almost two years and drew on my interactions with students for the plot. I learned that many of them like structure, fairness in both praise and discipline, and want to be challenged. They also like making bets. When a teacher would leave a quiz for me to administer while he or she was out, the students would invariably try to make a deal or bargain to avoid it. That is where the premise of the bet at the heart of The iCandidate comes from. That leads to the questions of whether students could run a campaign and if they would want to. Those are two of the areas I explore in the story.
Tell us more about Michael Bennit. What makes him tick?
Michael is a combat veteran and special forces operator who took his instruction skills to a high school classroom after he left the military. He spent much of his adult life in service to his country and wanted to spend the rest of his working years doing something peaceful by inspiring the minds of America’s youth. Because of both experiences, he believes in an almost idealistic version of government where politicians represent the people who elect them and not the special interests who finance their campaigns or political parties who demand their allegiance. It also makes him determined to succeed, driven, and almost immune from criticism, especially when it’s not constructive. Most of all, he cares about his students and is very protective of them and their futures.
Your book explores the power of social media - tell us more about why you incorporated this theme into your story.
The iCandidate started off as a screenplay back in 2007. At that time, the story centered on using features like chat rooms and message boards. When I sat down to write the novel in 2013, Facebook had gone public and was on its way to becoming a global powerhouse. Twitter was growing exponentially, and other social media outlets were popping up everywhere. I knew that this level of connectivity to each other had the potential to change the way the world interacted and wondered what that could look like in a political context. Real-life has diverged from the more optimistic vision that the story portrays. I think most readers would agree that the story is more plausible today than when I wrote it because of the mainstream acceptance of social media in our lives.
The iCandidate received several awards. What was the experience like?
It’s always nice to be recognized for something you produce. There are a lot of great authors out there who pour their hearts and souls into their writing. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to bring stories to our readers, and I was honored to win those awards, especially knowing the caliber of my contemporaries. For the silver medal, I was awarded from Readers’ Favorite, I even flew down to Miami to accept it. While having it hung around my neck was thrilling, meeting so many great creators was the highlight of the weekend.
Why does the idea of an outsider running for Congress and winning appeal so much to readers?
People, Americans in particular, have a soft spot for the underdog. It’s what makes movies like Rocky and real-life events like the Miracle on Ice so compelling. In politics, it is my firm belief that most Americans are tired of partisan politics. It leads to cheating and corruption.
Which character in this book was the most challenging to create?
The antagonist in the story is almost cartoonish in how shady he is, and the protagonist is not as deep and complex a character as I have written in later book series. The most challenging character was also my favorite to write – his teenage campaign manager Chelsea. She started as a shy kid who had to come into her own in the national spotlight. Her journey, even though the three sequels to this story, saw her change the most. Michael Bennit is on a hero’s journey, but Chelsea has one as well. In some respects, watching her come of age in the environment of this series was just as interesting as watching Michael cope with national politics.
What did you have the most fun with when writing this book?
Most people would probably rather visit a dentist than become a substitute teacher. They remember the ones they had in school and the horror stories they’ve heard about modern teaching. My experience was much different – I loved it. The most fun about writing this book was thinking about all the great kids I had the privilege of meeting when I was there. It wasn’t always champagne and roses, but it was rewarding. I had a lot of great times, and writing about the classroom brought back a lot of good memories for me.
Which line from the book is your personal favorite, and why?
This question is a little like asking me to pick a flavor of ice cream: there are so many that I love. Michael had a horrible relationship with the principal of the high school he taught at. His methods weren’t accepted by the administrators who believed in standardized testing and a more regimented, robotic way of teaching. One of their final interactions is when Michael is placed on suspension, and the principal is gloating. These are his final words, spoken as almost any former Green Beret would say them: “You only know how to play it safe and do what you’re told. I challenged a small group of students, and together we inspired a nation. You challenge and inspire nothing, including yourself. Stand here and gloat all you want about taking my job, but always remember that I have experienced more in the past three months than you will for the rest of your miserable, pathetic life.”
This is book 1 of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
The iCandidate can undoubtedly be a standalone novel. There is no need to finish the series to have a rewarding experience, but reading what happens next is a draw for many. In the real world, we hear candidates say many things that often never come to fruition when they reach office. Michael and his student staff are different and not bound to the same constraints. It makes them a threat to the entire political class, and a reader can only imagine the obstacles they face in the subsequent books.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
My writing habits are fairly normal, but the story of how it started isn’t. I had written the screenplay for The iCandidate before I met my now wife. She is an avid watcher of reality television, and it’s an interest that we do not share. One day, when she was watching one of those shows, I told her out of sheer boredom that I was going to write a book. Seven months later, I published The iCandidate. There are numerous references to reality television shows within that novel and its sequels. Almost without exception, that was what she was watching on television when I was writing that chapter.
What are you working on right now?
My several book series are divided into subject matters. The Michael Bennit Series was about campaigning and governing. I have a new series featuring journalist Tierra Campos that probes modern media and its relationship with the government and the people. The first book in that series, Justifiable Deceit, came out in March. The sequel, Devious Measures, is scheduled for publication on September 1st. I have also embarked on a rewrite of the political thriller The Eyes of Others with designs on that series being a window into all the shady activities and corruption beleaguering our political, economic, and social systems.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I can be seen on Facebook (authormikaelcarlson), Goodreads, and my website at www.mikaelcarlson.com. I try to respond to all messages because I enjoy the feedback I get from readers. There are a lot of entertainment options in this world, from music and television to movies and reading. I appreciate those who are willing to spend time with my characters and embark on a journey with them.