011: Scott Stambach – Teacher Lands Book Deal for First Novel

Building The Habit

Scott is an unlikely fiction writer, he is a physics teacher who loves literature. He started writing short stories and quickly went to writing novels. His first book The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko was an award-winning breakout novel that was published and he is working on his second.

In this interview, he discusses how he finds his ideas, writes his books and how he landed a publishing contract for his first book.    

Scott Stambach lives in San Diego where he teaches physics at High Tech High Media Arts. He also collaborates with Science for Monks, a group of educators and monastics working to establish science programs in Tibetan Monasteries throughout India. He has written about his experiences working with monks of Sera Jey monastery and has published short fiction in several literary journals including Eclectica, Stirring, and Convergence.

[01:30] His Early Beginnings as a Writer

  • Initially wanting to be a rockstar, Scott got inspired after reading the book House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. Upon finishing it, he just had this thought of wanting for people what the book just did for him. And he seriously committed to it from that point on.
  • WIthout even proper training, Scott started writing about short stories. At that time, he would teach all day. Then at night, he’d go to some coffee shop and write his 500 words.
  • He’d write 20-30 short stories for a year and a half through the process, he thought of publishing it as a collection of short stories. He now describes it as a very naive move since writers do not publish a collection of short stories.

[05:05] Getting an Agent for Your Book

  • Check out WritersMarket.com, where you can subscribe to it for a fee and they’d give you the numbers and email addresses for every agent in North America , some in Australia and England.
  • A month later, he got an email from one interested agent telling him that short stories that don’t seem all related to each other, except for one story they found particularly interesting and would make a really great novel.
  • Scott says that if you get any bite, you jump on it. And that’s what Scott did!
  • At that time, he called the story as The Quiet Catharsis of Ivan Isaenko, which was about a 17-year-old boy who lived his entire life in an asylum for victims of Chernobyl. So he went for it with the same process of writing 500 words a day.

[06:50] Building a Habit: Writing 500 Words Per Day

  • He personally believes this is how work gets done. If you do 500 words a day, at the end of the year, you have 180,000 words, which is one and a half to two novels.
  • If you can just make the commitment and do it, there’s a choice regardless of how you feel every morning.
  • It does’t matter how you feel, just write your 500 words a day. After emailing his whole manuscript, he just kept waiting until he got an affirmative response.

[10:56] Developing the Character

  • In writing his book, Scott drew his inspiration and study point from an award-winning documentary he saw called Chernobyl Heart. The film brought cameras inside of the hospitals in Ukraine where they were looking to how much of the radiation has caused certain health issues and deformities in these kids. Scott describes this as a graphic, no holds barred, shocking documentary. In fact, he says it’s one of things that can shock you so much that you won’t forget it.
  • And Scott gleaned so much lessons from this, seeing these patients and thinking about how would you approach connecting with human beings when you yourself don’t believe that you’re worth connecting with or believe that you’re lovable.

[15:00] Doing Your Research

  • So Scott experimented with the voice and he ended up with a character that’s very endearing and lovable. And whatever has flawed him is due to the deep need to feel the connection and to feel loved.
  • You have to start from a place and once you’re able to explore the world through your writing, the research needs will come up. And this is the kind of research you can do, and by leveraging the power of the internet, everything is so easy to look up.
  • You will have to discover some of these stuff as you’re writing. You don’t need to know everything in order to write. You have experiences you can bring with you. Besides, you’re creating a fictitious character.

[17:41] Getting Ideas for the Title

  • The original title didn’t make it to the final cut due to some feedback he got from his editor.
  • After 50 name changes, they finally came up with “The Invisible Life” aside from the meaning of the story where the character viewed his life as invisible.

[21:25] Getting Picked Up by a Publisher: Grab the Opportunity!

  • Scott recommends that if you’re booked is picked up by a publisher, go grab it because it opens you to so much more opportunities.
  • If it doesn’t work out, then self-publish. And if you don’t self-publish, then don’t write. At the end of the day, you do this because you’re an artist.
  • As to quitting your job, it depends on how your book does. And the chance of being a bestseller is kind of remote. Money is involved but live your life whatever you want it to be but don’t expect it to be a complete game-changer since that can be reserved to the top 1-2% of the books being published every year.

[25:17] Scott’s Next Book

  • Scott talks about his next book set in Rio de Janeiro which has another interesting pieces to it including some synchronicities from the past.
  • Another lesson Scott wishes to tell writers is that nothing is certain. HIs first book won a lot of awards and it sold copies. And this second book, being so different, his agent would describe it as being so literary so they’re still trying to figure out how to market it. So while your previous book may do well, there is no guarantee your next will.

[31:00] Scott’s Last Pieces of Advice

  • Write from a perspective that you value art and you value writing. Do it from this perspective and you’re already a success! You’re doing something that’s life-enhancing and that makes your life more three-dimensional and you come alive.
  • If you want to finish a book and get published, commit to it like you do to a marriage or raising a child. You have to be a good parent no matter how you feel and that’s the same as writing.
  • Set yourself a reasonable goal, either a time goal or a word goal, and just do it every single day regardless of where you are or how you feel.
  • Lastly, learn how to love rejection. You’re doing this for art’s sake and for your own sake, not because you want to be rich and famous. You get to a place where you can get 150 rejection letters and you’re still putting yourself out there. As for Scott, he got 160 rejections before he got his first acceptance. There’s no reason to quit!

Book Recommendations:

Episode Resources:



The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko

Chernobyl Heart

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011: Scott Stambach - Teacher Lands Book Deal for First Novel011: Scott Stambach - Teacher Lands Book Deal for First Novel

011: Scott Stambach - Teacher Lands Book Deal for First Novel